Rhetoric in Ancient Literature

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The Power of Speech and Rhetoric in Ancient Western Literature

The power of speech is demonstrated in the Genesis creation account, in which God employs words to create everything in the cosmos from nothing. Because speech stems from one's mental notion, one should never underestimate the mouth as a weapon for constructing reality. It has a command of influence based on one's position in society; leaders may persuade their followers to believe in their ideals. Some followers may even be willing to give their lives to defend them. Rhetoric is the art of persuading an audience by utilizing pretentious, intellectually empty, complex, and disingenuous words. He struggles with supernatural creatures and the wrath of gods. On the other hand, his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus deal with her suitors who have been eyeing both Ithaca's throne and Penelope's hand in marriage. On arrival, Odysseus wins a contest that proves his supremacy, kills his wife's suitors, and reclaims his throne. This paper identifies instances of rhetoric in 'The Odyssey' and discusses how human language and its powers are meditated upon in ancient western literature.

The Rhetoric in Odysseus' Address to Calypso

The first rhetoric is in Odysseus' address to Calypso where he begs for his freedom. He flatters the goddess for her height and beauty, and informs Calypso that his wife Penelope does not compare to her in any capacity. Odysseus uses oratory skills to get on the goddess' good side without invoking her wrath. She felt adored and develops a soft spot for Odysseus. He expresses humility and feebleness in his words by mentioning that his journey may be subject to wrecking by other gods in his voyage. That made Calypso feel very powerful knowing that Odysseus acknowledges that his safety will be compromised without her. Importantly, Odysseus is keen to not mention that he wants to return to his wife because it would make Calypso jealous and bear dire consequences for him. He instead talks about his quest to return home and Calypso sympathizes with him by granting his freedom.

Rhetoric in Odysseus' Approach to Nausikaa

Odysseus also uses rhetoric when he approaches Nausikaa the princess requesting for assistance. He is naked and needs assistance from her. She talks to the princess to reassure her that he had no intentions of sexually assaulting her despite having no clothes on. Odysseus carefully selects words that imply to Nausikaa that she is supreme to her and there is nothing he can do to harm her. His skill in manipulation helps Odysseus to obtain the favor that he needs from Princess Nausikaa. He compares her to virgin goddess Artemi to show Nausikaa how much he holds her in high regards.

The Power of Rhetoric in Odysseus' Journey

Notably, The Odysseus shows various instances that Odysseus has used his speech to his advantage. He persuades his audience by praising their abilities and humbling himself to appear smaller than them. That massages their ego and they feel obliged to grant Odysseus whatever he needs from them. In most western literatures, the rhetoric theme has been employed significantly. Odysseus' experience at war has had him earn favors from many people in his kingdom. He is full of empty words that are meant to add flattery to his audience and most of them are women. Females feel appreciated when their femininity is acknowledged. In the book, Odysseus being a king that humbles himself enough to praise princesses and goddesses earned him all that he wanted. He got freedom to return home to his wife Penelope and his kingdom was restored after winning a contest that validated him.

The Role of Rhetoric in Ancient Western Literature

Western literature of the 19th century encouraged speakers to attempt to move audiences to see their points of view. Rhetoric forms the basis for developing an argument to persuade audiences. Aristotle launched the approach of appealing to the ethos, logos and pathos of the person being addressed. Pathos tackles the emotion, logos uses reason, and ethos persuades of character. Odysseus uses all the three tools of persuasion in the mentioned instances. In appealing to the goddess, he tells her that the reason he needs to let him go was because he needed to be home again. Logically, Calypso gets to understand the reason why she should release Odysseus and allow him to return home. He paints himself as a humble individual and acknowledges that he is mortal and will be exposed to many risks but he still wants to travel home. Odysseus mentions his inadequacies as a human being to make Calypso feel superior over him. The ethos applied validates his character as a helpless person who wants to try to go home despite all obstacles. Pathos is seen in Odysseus' flattery of the goddess that melts her heart in a significant way. He praises Calypso's physique, beauty, and height and makes her feel attractive. She feels that Odysseus' desire to leave home has nothing to do with her because he acknowledged that she was better than his wife. Emotions of love must have made Calypso lenient with Odysseus and prompted her to release him to go home.

Choice of words is very significant to the outcome of any particular situation. If Odysseus was honest enough to tell Calypso that he wanted to go home to his wife and reign over his kingdom, he would have never been granted freedom to leave. The skill of picking words will ensure that the right emotions were evoked. Rhetoric allows speakers to use empty words and deceit in persuading their audiences. Odyssey found his wife extremely beautiful in and out, but he had to tell the goddess that her beauty was beyond Penelope's. Praising his wife would have made Calypso jealous because she was in love with Odysseus. Therefore, he focused on the desired outcome of the circumstances confronting him and used it to his advantage. Similarly, Odysseus used verbal rhetoric in his encounter with Princess Nausikaa. Though she felt threatened by the fact that the man was naked, his words of flattery reassured her of her safety and guaranteed her an assault-free conversation. If Odysseus would have spoken words that demonstrated a lustful man, he would have tainted the princesses' perception of him. Instead, he earned her trust and got the needed help eventually. Rhetoric is evident in Odysseus' address to goddess Calypso and Princess Nausikaa where he manages to use words that trigger the outcome he desired. Ancient western literatures valued this approach to influence as seen in Aristotle's approach. Similarly, Odysseus uses ethos, pathos, and logos in his persuasion to capture the reasoning, emotions, and to ethically convince his audiences.

Work cited

Butler, Samuel. The Odyssey of Homer. 1900. Ed. Louise Ropes Loomis. New York: Walter J. Black, 1944.

May 10, 2023

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