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CAC2051 : The Ancient Art of Spin: Classical Rhetoric in Theory and Practice (stage 2) (Inactive)

  • Inactive for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Jakob Wisse
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


How do you influence an audience so that they will accept what you say as true, or at least plausible? How do you try to influence their behaviour and policies? How do you come across as a nice, trustworthy and/or knowledgeable person? And how can you whip up an audience’s emotions?

The power of oratory, again recognised today, was well known to the Greeks and Romans, and in this module we will study some of the many speeches from antiquity that illustrate it. The emphasis is on the court speeches of Cicero – perhaps the greatest orator of antiquity –, but we will also look, e.g., at Greek speeches made in court (Lysias) and in the assembly (Demosthenes). We will also look at rhetorical theory, to see whether it offers answers to the above questions.
Finally, we will study two or three modern speeches, illustrating that the techniques used for studying ancient oratory can also be employed in understanding its modern counterpart. These may include Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Gettysburg Address’ and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’.

The aims of this module are:
1. To provide students with an understanding of classical and especially Ciceronian rhetoric, including its political, social and intellectual background.
2. To provide students with an understanding of the relevance of (classical) rhetoric as well as its limitations for studying other ancient genres and for studying modern speeches and texts.
3. To enhance students' skills at analysing ancient texts in translation.

Outline Of Syllabus

Rhetoric in practice: orators studied may include (in chronological order) Lysias, Demosthenes, Cicero, Roman declaimers (as preserved by Seneca the Elder), Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King.

Rhetorical theory and related material (in chronological order): authors studied may include: Plato (esp. his Phaedrus), Aristotle (Rhetoric), the anonymous author of the Rhetoric for Herennius, Cicero (esp. his De oratore [On the Ideal Orator] and Orator), Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Petronius, Seneca, Quintilian.

Appropriate secondary literature keyed to the above texts will also be read and discussed.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture281:0028:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion601:0060:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading661:0066:006 hours reading/week (set speeches, theory and sec. literature)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching51:005:00Seminars
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities101:0010:002 hours prep per seminar
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study311:0031:00General consolidation activities
Jointly Taught With
Code Title
CAC3051The Ancient Art of Spin: Classical Rhetoric in Theory and Practice (stage 3)
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will have a strong interactive component, which is the rationale for making all hours PiP. This is important in a subject that relies heavily on constant student engagement with rhetorical texts, which are completely interwoven with their historical and theoretical background. During the covid period we have had ample experience with non-iP teaching, and we know that students simply do not engage as well with that.
The lectures are used:
1. to introduce the (historical, intellectual) context of the prescribed texts
2. to show in practice how to analyse passages from a speech and a speech as a whole
3. to discuss students' reading and understanding of the prescribed texts and of the relationships between rhetorical theory and practice
4. to make explicit historical and other relationships between the texts read
5. to discuss the students' reading and understanding of the prescribed secondary literature, and the methods available to check and evaluate these secondary sources against the primary ones

The seminars are used for giving students the opportunity for in-depth engagement with, and discussion about, central rhetorical problems (from the interpretation of the use of character in speeches to the issue of the morality of rhetorical manipulation).

Independent study is supposed to be used:
1. to read and analyse the prescribed (primary and secondary) literature
2. to complete the assessed assignments

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination1201A8024-hour take-home exam
Exam Pairings
Module Code Module Title Semester Comment
CAC3051The Ancient Art of Spin: Classical Rhetoric in Theory and Practice (stage 3)1N/A
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M20600 words, on a Ciceronian passage from list provided, due mid-Semester
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Examination is important: while it also tests the skills outcomes, it particularly tests the knowledge outcomes. An exam is the best way of testing all of the latter, and the only feasible way of testing the first: it is vital that students make sure that they have a command of the facts of the court cases involved and of the overall lines of approach taken in the speeches, without being able to rely on time-consuming use of reference tools.

Assessed essays test (and offer practice relevant to):
1. the first 4 intended knowledge outcomes
2. all intended skills outcomes

Reading Lists