The rhetorical ideas inherited from the Greeks have established the notion that skilled use of language is always indicated by eloquent expression, and that silence is either an aberration or a lack of skill. As we penetrate the silence that has surrounded one of the great civilizations of the earth, however, and look at Egyptian rhetoric, we find alternative views on what makes a skilled speaker. While the Egyptians esteemed eloquent speaking, a skill that in fact had a very high value in their society, Egyptian rules of rhetoric also clearly specify that knowing when not to speak is essential, and very respected, rhetorical knowledge. The Egyptian approach to rhetoric is thus a balance between eloquence and wise silence. Egyptian rules of speech also strongly emphasize adherence to social behaviors that support a conservative status quo. For the Egyptians, much more than for the Greeks, skilled speech should support, not question, society. The few studies of Egyptian rhetoric which have previously been done discuss some of the moral components of that rhetoric and the importance of silence. The current study looks at Egyptian attitudes toward language as both a magical and a practical element of life, and in addition this study places the rules of Egyptian rhetoric solidly within the Egyptian social system.
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