Communication Theory and the Ancient World. Part 1.

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Communication Theory and the Ancient World. Part 1.

The Apostle Paul and Psychagogia (ψυχαγωγία)

Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

Proverbs 18:21 (KJV)

Rhetoric

The word “rhetoric” (ῥητορική), is a victim of “Semantic Drift” that has seen its classical meaning changed from its original Greek meaning: skill in speaking articulated as the art of persuasion, into propaganda or empty talk.

“Aristotle never defines the art of rhetoric through the supposed product, the speech, nor the full command of the art of rhetoric through the perfection of the product, i.e. the excellent speech. Instead, Aristotle defines the rhetorician as someone who is always able to see what is persuasive (Topics VI.12, 149b25); correspondingly, rhetoric is defined as the ability to see what is possibly persuasive in every given case (Rhet. I.2, 1355b26f.). Indeed there are passages (Rhet. I.1, 1355b15–17) in which the persuasive plays the same role in rhetoric as the conclusive plays in dialectic or logic.” (Christof Rapp 2022)1 Rapp, Christof, “Aristotle’s Rhetoric”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2022 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2022/entries/aristotle-rhetoric/>. Quintilian uses the terms “ Rhetoric is the art of speaking well (ars bene dicendi) and the orator knows how to speak well (Inst. 2.17.37).2Quintilian. With an English Translation. Harold Edgeworth Butler. Cambridge. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1920. available at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2007.01.0060%3Abook%3D2%3Achapter%3D17%3Asection%3D37

Plato has Socrates define rhetoric in Phaedrus by having Socrates ask the question “Is not rhetoric in its entire nature an art which leads the soul (psychagogia [psûchê (soul) and agogê (transport)]) by means of words (logon)3Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by Harold N. Fowler. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925. Accessed via http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0059.tlg012.perseus-eng1:261 (ψυχαγωγία τις διὰ λόγων)4Platonis Opera. Ed. John Burnet, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1903. Accessed via http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0173%3Atext%3DPhaedrus%3Apage%3D261 [261a]). Therefore rhetoricians are to associate the psyche with the logos or in other words, the soul with speech (with the idea to move the will towards action).

John Jasso gives us a definition: “I employ the term psychagogia to refer to the complex of concepts
under consideration, denoting a rhetorical theory in the Platonic tradition for which the main
object is the soul and for which the main activity is the leading of the soul.
5Jasso, John Joseph (2014) PSYCHAGOGIA: A STUDY IN THE PLATONIC TRADITION OF RHETORIC FROM ANTIQUITY THROUGH THE MIDDLE AGES. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished) p. 10 Available at http://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/21784/

Volumes of scholarly work has been written on the subject 6ASMIS, ELIZABETH. “‘Psychagogia’ in Plato’s ‘Phaedrus.’” Illinois Classical Studies 11, no. 1/2 (1986): 153–72. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23064075.

Moore, Christopher. “Socrates Psychagôgos (Birds 1555, Phaedrus 261a7).”

Welborn, L. L. “Paul and Pain: Paul’s Emotional Therapy in 2 Corinthians 1.1–2.13; 7.5–16 in the Context of Ancient Psychagogic Literature.” New Testament Studies 57, no. 4 (September 2011): 547–70. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/s0028688511000142.

Harold W. Attridge; Paul and Philodemus: Adaptability in Epicurean and Early Christian Psychagogy. Journal of Biblical Literature 1 January 1997; 116 (2): 376–377. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/3266253
and looking into the nuances, minutia and intricacies on the topic is not in the scope of this post.

The modern view reduces modes of persuasion to a simple dichotomy between appeals to the rational and to the non-rational. Reason and calculation on the one side convinces the rational part, while the use of words to entice and incite the non-rational part appeal to a persons emotion, passion and appetite on the other. This dualistic vision of persuasion, disconnects from any notion of a spirited element “that often decides the fate of the agent by aligning with either reason or the appetites” in the internal struggle of the soul. (John Jasso. 2014) 7Jasso, John Joseph (2014) PSYCHAGOGIA: A STUDY IN THE PLATONIC TRADITION OF RHETORIC FROM ANTIQUITY THROUGH THE MIDDLE AGES. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished) p. 13 Available at http://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/21784/

We see the Apostle Paul using the dialectic method of argumentation (question and answer) in the agora “(marketplace) every day with them that met him” (Acts 17:17). It is clearly demonstrable that the Apostle Paul used rhetoric in his epistles and elsewhere and hence his familiarity with its use is unquestionable. Timothy Seid concludes:

The type of language used in the philosophical schools is so close to what we find in Paul, and his methods of guiding and forming early Christian communities so closely parallels that of the philosophical groups.

Timothy Seid8Seid, Timothy. “Psychagogy in Paul: What Is It, How Does it Help Us Understand Paul, and Why Does it Matter?” Available at https://web.archive.org/web/20111110044120/http://scs.earlham.edu/~seidti/psychagogy.pdf

That he understood rhetoric as psychagogia can be strongly inferred from the Mars Hill episode in Acts 17:18-34. Paul addresses the council of the Areopagus in his opening statement as “Men of Athens” (Andres Athenaioi , ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι)9“How you, men of Athens, have been affected by my accusers, I do not know; but I, for my part, almost forgot my own identity, so persuasively did they talk;” an allusion to how Socrates addressed his accusers in Plato’s Apology ([Apol. 17A] 10Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966. Available at https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0170%3Atext%3DApol. centuries earlier. It is an account of the speech Socrates makes at the trial in which he is charged with not recognising the gods recognised by the state, inventing new deities, and corrupting the youth of Athens (Mem. 1.1.1; Apol. 24B and C)..11Xenophon Memorabilia 1.1.1 “The indictment against him was to this effect: Socrates is guilty of rejecting the gods acknowledged by the state and of bringing in strange deities (καινὰ δαιμόνια [kaina daimonia]): he is also guilty of corrupting the youth.” Xenophon in Seven Volumes, 4. E. C. Marchant. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann, Ltd., London. 1923. Available at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Xen.+Mem.+1.1.1&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0208 and Plato Apology 24B and C “it states that Socrates is a wrongdoer because he corrupts the youth and does not believe in the gods the state believes in, but in other [24c] new spiritual beings.”Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 1 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966. Available at https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Plat.+Apol.+24&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0170 These same accusations were brought against the Apostle Paul by the Athenians “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities (ξενων δαιμονιων [xenon daimonion])—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18).

Paul will go on to directly quote the Greek poets Epimenides of Crete and Aratus of Soli. “The first part of verse 28 comes from Cretica by Epimenides, and the second part of the verse from Hymn to Zeus, written by the Cilician poet Aratus. To be sure, both of these lines were directed at Zeus in Greek literature, but Paul applied them to the Creator of whom he spoke.” 12Gangel, Kenneth O. Acts. Vol. 5. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.

Allusions to the Greek playwright Aeschylus, the roman stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca and the Hellenistic Jew Philo of Alexandria, are also made.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

(II Corinthians 13:14 [ASV])

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

Footnotes

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