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VOL. 2 NO. 2, SPRING 2010

one of the primary forces in using classical rhetoric for contemporary writing instruction. Before publishing this widely used textbook, Corbett (1963) argued for the benefits of borrowing ideas from the ancient Greeks and Romans for use in twentieth-century composition classes. Several of his recommendations are general: classical rhetoric demands a focus on audience and the audience’s needs, and on appeals to reason, emotions, and credibility. Corbett also addresses a version of stasis theory popularized by the Romans and adapted from the Greeks to help students formulate thesis statements.

More evidence of the use of classical rhetoric to teach current composition students can be found in the number of successful textbooks following Corbett’s, including works by Connors (with Corbett, 1988) D’Angelo (2000), Crowley and Hawhee (1999), and others. Corbett’s 1965 text was the model for Crowley’s first edition of Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students (1994). (Crowley admits even to patterning the title of her book after that of Corbett, her former professor. ) Both textbooks explain the artificial proofs of ethos, pathos, and logos in the historical context of the Ancient Greeks, demonstrating how modern stu- dents can learn to strengthen appeals in writing about contemporary topics by learning how the Ancient Greeks used those proofs in an oral culture. e text- books above also spend some time with syllogistic reasoning as explained in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, demon- strating how the premises and conclusion in a syllogism can be amplified to draw attention to parts of a modern argument.

Frank D’Angelo’s Composition in the Classical Tradition (2000) is a textbook that takes a somewhat different approach to borrowing from classical rhetoric.

  • is book is based entirely on the progymnasmata, the

multi-step progression of assignments from the simple narrative, a retelling of events, to the more complex legislation, an argument for or against certain laws.



D’Angelo provides brief but instructive explanations of how these steps were used in ancient times before offering sensible suggestions for adapting each step to modern issues in a sequence of assignments that can work in college writing classes. For the narrative, for example, D’Angelo offers an exercise in which a parent must write a letter detailing issues she is having with her twelve-year-old daughter, issues that make sense in the context of modern America.

It seems to follow, then, that teachers of writing in all disciplines might also find guidance in classical rhetoric on other issues in modern writing, such as policy-making for plagiarism, even though the ancient Greeks and Romans had radically different ideas of text ownership than do modern Americans. Stasis theory, purportedly created by the Greek rhetorician Hermagoras in the late second century, BCE, is par- ticularly instructive in finding ways to address plagia- rism in any writing-intensive class. It is quite possible that Hermagoras adapted stasis theory from the earlier work of Aristotle (Rhetoric, III) from some two cen- turies earlier; however, Hermagoras asks more focused questions than did Aristotle.e questions, which seem determined to take us from the particular to the gen- eral, are these:

  • »

    1. Conjecture: Is there an act to be considered?

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    2. Definition: How can that act be defined?

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    3. Quality: How serious is the act?

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    4. Procedure: Should some policy be invoked?

(Crowley, Hawhee, 1999) Applying specific contemporary cases to the scrutiny of these questions will necessitate some qualification a n d m o d i fi c a t i o n , b u t t h e g e n e r a l i d e a o f s t a s i s t h e o r y remains the same.

Conjecture: e first step, of course, is to ask if plagiarism has occurred in any given situation. For most teachers, that question arises because of suspicion. While reading student papers, we come across one that trips an internal alarm. e paper, or a passage in the

Bolin – Addressing Plagiarism


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