Why is emotion the property of style?
Tuesday May 12, 2015, at 16.30
How did style—figures of thought, rhythm, tropes, and other devices—become self-evidently the resource for shaping emotional response? In medieval poetics and rhetoric, emotion was seen as the property of style, an axiomatic truth that persists to the present day. I will trace the history of this apparent axiom and explore how generating emotion came to be treated in the Middle Ages and beyond as the domain of style or elocutio. Such an idea is not supported in the major rhetorical theory of classical antiquity (Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian). Rather, it originated with the imperial rhetorics of the fourth and fifth centuries. But it was in patristic thought, especially in St. Augustine and in Cassiodorus, that this principle gained new authority for Christian rhetoric. The influential rhetorical thought of Augustine and Cassidorus perpetuated the notion that emotion is aroused through style. In medieval and even renaissance rhetorics, this notion became a fixture, a habit of practice that was naturalized into teaching and poetics.
Rita Copeland is Rosenberg Chair in the Humanities and Professor of Classics, English, and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Her fields include the history of rhetoric, literary theory, and medieval learning. Her new project is on rhetoric and the emotions in the Middle Ages.