rhetorical exercises
Rhetorical Pedagogy:
Rhetorical Analysis
Rhetorical Exercises

Rhetoric has always been a pragmatic concern (though natural ability and theoretical instruction are considered complements of rhetorical practice--see Rhetorical Ability). From the time of the ancient Sophists, rhetoric has been a discipline providing exercises to prepare students for speaking and writing.

Practice speeches have predominated as exercises within the rhetorical tradition, including

  • the progymnasmata, a set of 14 preliminary exercises focused on subsidiary skills needed within a complete speech; and
  • declamations (divided into suasoriae and controversiae), in which students finally practiced composing and delivering complete deliberative or judicial orations.

Both the progymnasmata and declamation exercises, however, rely upon principles and methods found within the practice of imitation, especially the emphasis upon the rhetorical analysis of literary models. Such close analysis provided students means for learning methods to develop their own material, and by marking and copying out passages they began to glean commonplaces, descriptions, maxims, and figurative language they could apply elsewhere.

Like imitation, amplification can be considered both a principle and a set of practices within rhetorical pedagogy, and was closely associated with it. While amplification sometimes carried the restricted meaning of increasing the pathetic appeal of a given speech, it more generally meant the activity of composing variously upon a theme provided from a model passage or author. Erasmus of Rotterdam's De copia was significant in this regard, providing a rationale and a host of specific methods for amplifying and varying language. Similarly, "copia" has sometimes named a fulsome quality of style, but within rhetorical pedagogy this labeled a famous Renaissance textbook and a set of methods by which one learned to vary and amplify both thought (res) and expression (verba) (see Copia).

Exercises in Imitation, Amplification, and Variation

Rhetorical exercises in imitation, amplification and variation are found broadly within rhetorical pedagogy, both at the most rudimentary and advanced levels. Instruction in imitation, and exercises to amplify and vary would precede doing practice speeches, but would also be employed to help polish and develop the progymnasmata or declamation exercises. The various exercises in imitation, amplification, and variation are based upon or make use of the four categories of change, and are permutations of the basic notion of imitation: to change the content of a model while retaining its form, or to change its form while retaining its content:

  • Varying a sentence
    Eramus demonstrates how to add, subtract, invert, and substitute both grammatical and rhetorical elements of a model sentence (giving 150 ways to say "Your letter pleased me greatly" as an example).
  • Double Translation
    A favorite exercise of Juan Luis Vives, this included translating a passage from Latin to English, letting it rest a day, and then (without help of the original) attempting to retranslate the English back into Latin.
  • Metaphrasis
    This included "translating" within a given language from one genre to another, such as a prose letter into a poem.
  • Paraphrasis
    This exercise did not mean to shorten a model text but to express its meaning using other words.
  • Epitome
    To abbreviate a model text or passage, boiling its content down to a pithy summary.

Sources: See Burton, ch. 5-6 for details from Renaissance primary sources, and especially Erasmus, De copia.


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Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University
Please cite "Silva Rhetoricae" (rhetoric.byu.edu)