Classical Rhetoric: A Brief Overview of the Five Canons

Aristotle on Rhetoric

"Let rhetoric be [defined as] an ability, in each [particular] case, to see the available means of persuasion." (Kennedy translation)

"Rhetoric then may be defined as the faculty of discovering the possible means of persuasion in reference to any subject whatever." (Freese translation)

Classical Rhetoric: A Contemporary Definition

"Rhetoric is a primarily verbal, situationally contingent, epistemic art that is both philosophical and practical and which gives rise to potentially active texts."

--William Covino and David Jolliffe,
Rhetoric: Concepts, Definitions, Boundaries

The Five Canons of Classical Rhetoric

Invention: coming up with ideas

Arrangement: ordering your discourse

Style: saying things well

Memory: more than mere memorization

Delivery: presenting your ideas in various media

First Canon: Invention

Kairos: seizing the moment, being aware of the rhetorical situation

Stasis: asking the right questions, usually related to fact, definition, value, and policy

Topoi: places to look for an argument, "a mental store of argumentative strategies, or lines of reasoning" (Covino and Jolliffe 88)

Pisteis: ways to persuade, either invented or discovered

Invention: Entechnic pisteis, or Means of Persuasion that one Invents

logos: giving good reasons, making logical arguments

ethos: projecting a credible character, being a believable person

pathos: connecting with the audience’s values, beliefs, and emotional states

Invention: Atechnic pisteis, or Means of Persuasion that one Discovers

Facts and Data

Statistics and Reports

Testimony and Interviews

Polls and Surveys

Second Canon: Arrangement

Arrangement, sometimes called "disposition," is the art of ordering the material in a text so that it is most appropriate for the needs of the audience and the purpose the text is designed to accomplish.
(Covino and Jolliffe 22)

Arrangement of Classical Arguments

Exordium: an introduction to make the audience attentive and receptive

Narratio: making your claim

Partitio: forecasting your argument

Confirmatio: arguing your case

Refutatio: meeting counter-arguments

Peroratio: concluding appropriately

Third Canon: Style

"Style, sometimes called elocution, is the art of producing sentences and words that will make an appropriately favorable impression on readers or listeners" (Covino and Jolliffe 23).


Grammatical conventions: "correctness"

Diction: appropriate word choice

Sentence structure: four sentence patterns; loose and periodic sentences

Figures: parallelism, antithesis, inversion, repetition

Tropes: metaphor and simile, synecdoche and metonymy, hyperbole, rhetorical questions, litotes, irony, oxymoron

Fourth Canon: Memory

Making your writing memorable

Connecting with shared cultural memories

Databases as electronic memory

Fifth Canon: Delivery

Page design: fonts and page layout

Visual design: graphics and text

Media: paper, web pages, video, audio

Oral presentations