Abstract: The later thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries in Italy saw a marked new interest in the study of Ciceronian rhetorical theory, in both Latin and vernacular contexts. This reflects the increasing prominence within the civic culture of the Italian communes of practices of oral and adversarial rhetoric which the dominant instrument of rhetorical instruction in this period, the ars dictaminis, was ill-equipped to teach. While the utility of the strategies of argument taught by Roman rhetorical theory was widely recognised in this period, the ethical attitudes implicit in that theory represented a challenge to prevailing Christian constructions of the moral decorum of speech. Classical rhetorical theory may thus be seen to have constituted a destabilising presence within late medieval ethical discourse: a situation which presisted, to some extent, even after the political and cultural changes of the later Trecento had displaced rhetoric in Italy from a primary to a secondary, literary and educational, role.
- Copyright 1999, The International Society for the History of Rhetoric