The Medieval Liberal Arts Curriculum: Rhetoric

In Ancient Greece, Rhetoric was a discipline that was stressed by the early philosophers including Plato. During the Middle Ages, the rise of a school of philosophy known as neo-Platonism, came to be favored by certain scholars, and with this intellectual movement built around the philosophy of Plato came the emphasis also on Rhetoric as a necessary part of education.

By definition Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Through the use of well-crafted language students learned about the techniques of oral expression and strategies of debate. Historically, the study of Rhetoric emphasized the arrangement of words and phrases, the techniques of delivery, the importance of style and invention, and the cultivation of memory

As a field of study based on oral skills, however, Rhetoric would be superceded in the Liberal Arts curriculum by disciplines stressing written skills. With the advancement of printing and proliferation of texts, scholarship, moreover, would come to place a far great weight on the written word as a medium of intellectual exploration and pursuasion. Thus, according to Martin Camargo in his study of Rhetoric, "by 1300 all the developments that characterize medieval rhetoric had either reached maturity or already expired."1
____________________ 1Martin Camargo, Rhetoric in The Seven Liberal Arts in the Middle Ages, ed. by David Wagner (Indiana University Press, 1983) pp.96-124.
Medieval and Renaissance Home Page
Medieval Universities
Medieval University Curriculum

The Medieval Curriculum


The Trivium

The Quadrivium