Date of Award

Fall 12-12-2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. George Pullman

Second Advisor

Dr. Eddie Christie

Third Advisor

Dr. Scott Lightsey


Medieval rhetoric, as a field and as a subject, has largely been under-developed and under-emphasized within medieval and rhetorical studies for several reasons: the disconnect between Germanic, Anglo-Saxon society and the Greco-Roman tradition that defined rhetoric as an art; the problems associated with translating the Old and Middle English vernacular in light of rhetorical and, thereby, Greco-Latin precepts; and the complexities of the medieval period itself with the lack of surviving manuscripts, often indistinct and inconsistent political and legal structure, and widespread interspersion and interpolation of Christian doctrine. However, it was Christianity and its governance of medieval culture that preserved classical rhetoric within the medieval period through reliance upon a classic epideictic platform, which, in turn, became the foundation for early medieval rhetoric. The role of epideictic rhetoric itself is often undervalued within the rhetorical tradition because it appears too basic or less essential than the judicial or deliberative branches for in-depth study and analysis. Closer inspection of this branch reveals that epideictic rhetoric contains fundamental elements of human communication with the focus upon praise and blame and upon appropriate thought and behavior. In analyzing the medieval world’s heritage and knowledge of the Greco-Roman tradition, epideictic rhetoric’s role within the writings and lives of Greek and Roman philosophers, and the popular Christian writings of the medieval period – such as Alfred’s translation of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, Alfred’s translation of Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care, Ælfric’s Lives of Saints, Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies, Wulfstan’s Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, and the anonymously written Vercelli and Blickling homiles – an early medieval rhetoric begins to be revealed. This Old English rhetoric rests upon a blended epideictic structure based largely upon the encomium and vituperation formats of the ancient progymnasmata, with some additions from the chreia and commonplace exercises, to form a unique rhetoric of the soul that aimed to convert words into moral thought and action within the lives of every individual. Unlike its classical predecessors, medieval rhetoric did not argue, refute, or prove; it did not rely solely on either praise or blame; and it did not cultivate words merely for intellectual, educative, or political purposes. Instead, early medieval rhetoric placed the power of words in the hands of all humanity, inspiring every individual to greater discernment of character and reality, greater spirituality, greater morality, and greater pragmatism in daily life.