Tuesday, April 8, 2008

REVISED 4/9/08: The evolving relationship between logos, ethos, pathos

During our last meeting, we talked about how Richardson uses Clarissa to think through the relationship between logos, ethos, and pathos. Richardson's attempts to negotiate the relationship between these three modes of persuasion (which have their roots in the rhetorical tradition) is part of a very long literary tradition that runs from Aristotle's Poetics/Rhetoric to Edward Young's Conjectures on Original Composition (which was actually addressed to Richardson) and beyond. In thinking over this tradition, I tried to sort out what theorists might have had the greatest impact on Richardson's understanding of ethos-logos-pathos. I took a class on recurrent themes in the history of literary criticism and chose a couple of the works that I thought would be most valuable to someone interested in exploring why Richardson may have chosen to work through logos-ethos-pathos the way that he does.

Longinus, On Sublimity
At a time when philosophers and rhetoricians were focused on the balanced relationship between logos-ethos-pathos established by Aristotle's Rhetoric, Longinus touted the predominance of pathos. Longinus was turned off by the hyper-stylized nature of oratory, and he believed that a truly great writer could achieve sublimity in his writing primarily through pathos, or the writer's rendering of great thoughts and strong emotions. Of course, the rendering of pathos required eloquent logos, but logos was a vehicle for pathos.
On Sublimity had a major comeback in the mid-18th century after it was translated from the Greek into English in the 1730s. It brought the notion of greatness into 18th-century intellectual thought, and the notion was taken up in Mark Akenside's Pleasures of the Imagination, Joseph Addison and Richard Steele's The Spectator (in the imagination essays), and Edward Young's Night Thoughts. Richardson was most definitely exposed to these works in one form or another, so it might be interesting to more closely examine his take on pathos/the sublime.

Cicero, De Oratore
Unlike Aristotle and his Greek predecessors, Cicero championed logos over ethos and pathos. His five pillars of rhetoric (invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery) were all concerned with the ways in which one orders one's speech to suit one's audience and achieve one's goal (his careful attention to language is not unlike Richardson's).
Cicero enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the 16th century when Desiderius Erasmus (who enjoyed his own resurgence in popularity as a cultural symbol of the Enlightenment period) translated his works from the Greek into English. The English translations were immensely popular and had a great impact on late 17th, early 18th-century English culture. They were compulsory reading in English primary schools, and it is quite possible that Richardson got a healthy dosage of Ciceronian rhetorical values at a young age.

St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
St. Augustine was the first theorist to suggest that the ethos of the writer, rather than the ethos of the characters within the work or the ethos of the audience (which was established by Aristotle in Poetics and Rhetoric), was crucial to the success of a work. The idea that a virtuous writer is a successful writer may have filtered down to Richardson, who most definitely examines the relationship between the ethos of the writer and the writer's command over logos throughout his novel. Interestingly enough, Erasmus also translated Augustinian works.

Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism
Edward Young, Conjectures on Original Composition
These last two works are necessary to any understanding of 18th-century criticism, and while I can't remember any explicit conversations about logos-ethos-pathos, there are definitely great things in here that give a sense of the literary values of the age.

If I think of more works or if someone is interested in this topic, I'll be sure to post!

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