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Emily Jo Schwaller Professor Ryan ENGL450 October 15, 2013 How Definitions of “Good Orators” Reshapes Understanding of Ethos Virtues, morality, Truth; all these ideals are tainted by twenty-first century readers after the plethora of philosophers, religious texts, and media influences that came after the classical rhetoricians. Yet, it is important to look at these texts to see how the complicated definition of ethos has arisen based on the ideals of a “good orator” held by early authors. Ethos branches out past credible accomplishments to embody an entire person. It is rooted not only in ideas, but also in kairos, and the ethics of the rhetorical scene. Early rhetoricians’ views are contradictory as they try to define the “ideal orator” due to the shifts in cultural values as well as the rise of Early Christianity. These contrary views have blurred definitions of ethos, creating a complicated multi-facade view of how rhetors and orators possess credibility through ethics. One of the major shifts between rhetoricians is how philosophical questions should be addressed. Isocrates “rejected Plato’s view of philosophy as the search for absolute truth, seeing it as more properly the study of how to address the immediate practical problems” (67). Isocrates places more value in the love of wisdom and honor, and attributes those factors to “good orators”. Of those that do not have the virtues Isocrates ascribes to “good orators” he will attain less ethos, “for if he fails to find causes of his character, he will accomplish nothing to the purpose” (77). Isocrates is linking together ethos with character, and finds the two interdependent on each other, an idea that continues on in later rhetoricians, such as Cicero and Quintilian.


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Despite Isocates’ disagreement between Plato’s search for truth, he does state in Antidosis, “I hold that man [the good orator] to be a philosopher who occupies himself with the studies from which he will most quickly gain that kind of insight” (77). Thus, Isocrates’ is aligning a “good orator” and a “good man” with being a philosopher. This is understood contextually because at the time philosophers got to be educated and literate above others. This shifts with the rise of Early Christianity as clergymen and people in powerful positions within the church become more literate, hence churchmen gain more credibility, as they are the ones who are writing. By looking at the literacy of different rhetoricians a pattern of values begins to arise, those with the opportunity and education to be literate get to dictate the reasons why an orator/writer should be listened too, hence literacy and opportunity establishes ethos. Cicero continues Isocrates’ belief that “good orators” need to be studying to gain insight, yet rather than attributing that to being a philosopher, Cicero instead places more weight on students of multiple subjects. The relationship between students and teachers is a heavily important one to Cicero, and a lot of factors he attributes to “good orators” are due to the education someone receives. Within De Oratore he states, “For excellence in speaking cannot be made manifest unless the speaker fully comprehends the matter he speaks about” (296). Being well versed is thus sanctioned above all things and “he does not require philosophy” (313). Cicero even explains “virtue as being taught to mankind” it is not inherently within orators or man. This is an interesting distinction between whether or not ethos can be gained or if it naturally resides within a speaker. This is especially blurred with the rise of Christianity.


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Cicero’s value of education is linked with ethos, in order for the orator to persuade an audience it is important that they have knowledge to gain credibility. He states, “Thus for the purposes of persuasion the art of speaking relies wholly upon three things: the proof of our allegations, the winning of our hearers’ favor, and the rousing of their feelings to whatever impulse our case may require” (324). This image encompasses the three main rhetorical appeals: logos, ethos, and pathos. The contradiction between Cicero and Isocrates is whether or not to be a “good orator” it is important to be a philosopher, yet rather than the occupation itself it shows a shift between different modes of studying. Philosophy became part of the areas important to study as a rhetor, rather than being the only thing that needed to be studied, this begs the historical question about what other subjects arouse during Cicero’s time that were equally worth studying, and who had more of an ability to get an audience to pay attention, a philosopher or a politician. Quintilian, standing on the ideas of his predecessors, is heavily concerned with a “good man” being linked with a “good orator.” It is important for Quintilian, that not only the orators have attractive virtues, but the teacher as well, “Let a master therefore be excellent as well in eloquence as in morals” (369). This aligns more with Cicero’s idea that values are not inherent, but taught. If ethos is attributed to whom audiences should be listening too, than for students their teachers must both be ethical as well as credible. He argues, “no man, unless he be good, can ever be an orator” (413). Yet, in order to be an orator a person also has to be educated, creating class and gender ostracization that leak into the definition of ethos. He goes on to state, “the business of oratory lies either in persuading, or in speaking, in a manner adapted to persuade” (385). By linking together


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education as well as morals, oratory becomes extremely isolated to privileged, white males. Ethos is thus attributed to those, like Quintilian, who have been raised in a specific, elite class. With the rise of Christianity, early views of philosophers, as well as who can be educated gets complicated, blurring the lines of ethos and creating a newer definition. Augustine ascribes “goodness” to “righteousness” replacing past language of morality, with more religious overtones. He states, “let righteousness, not evil, gain a willing hearing” (467). By establishing the binary between good and evil, the way modern audiences view morality becomes important to the definition of ethos. Credibility becomes aligned with piety and what is pleasing God, no longer making ethos linked to one audience, but the potential of others. Augustine’s placement of where “good oratory” comes from is unique, and becomes interwebbed with the Christian doctrine, “when good Christians render this service to good Christians, both speak what is their own, because God is theirs, and to Him belong the words which they speak” (484). This enables ethos to be connected in a fitting trifecta, between God, the audience, and the speaker. Not only must the orator be credible, but by establishing the audience as “good Christians” there are prerequisites the audience itself must meet, as well as the person from whom all speech comes from, God. By the time rhetoricians get to Early Christianity, not only are they ostracizing the illiterate, as well as other minorities, but eventually the non-Christians. Ethos, as the possession of credibility and ethics, is thus redefined by the shift in values between rhetoricians. At first philosophers inhabit ethos, but by the time rhetoricians get to Quintilian, whether or not a rhetor has to be a philosopher is not even mentioned; instead


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it is dictated by learning as well as being “good.” This ambiguous term becomes clearer with the rise of Christianity, and the sharing of a doctrine. Ethos originally can be learned, but by the time rhetoricians reach Augustine it is gifted, coming from God. This classification of who gets to be listened to becomes both myopic whilst also wider. In the Medieval Ages with the rise of a middle-class and literacy more people can gain the education to be a rhetor; yet without being sanctioned by God he or she will still lack ethos, and thus an ability to persuade an audience. The nature of ethos is subject to change with the rise of political, social, and cultural movements, yet as it is rooted in “good oratory” certain aspects such as ethics and credibility remain stable.


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