Style, character, and persuasion in aristotle’s rhetoric

Kristine Bruss, Richard Graff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Aristotle’s Rhetoric leaves a number of unanswered questions, among them the nature of the relationship between verbal style and ethos, or character, as a means of persuasion. Statements throughout the Rhetoric suggest a connection between manner of expression and persuasive character, but Aristotle’s ideas in this area are underdeveloped. Here we argue that Aristotle’s stylistic theory, while not demonstrably inconsistent with the technical proof through character, cannot be made to conform neatly with it in most salient respects. Though Aristotle does not explicitly identify style as a means through which the speaker may convey the impression that he possesses positive intellectual or moral qualities, he does recognize a role for lexis in the expression of generic character traits and is aware that an inappropriate style will damage the speaker’s credibility. Hence, attention to style is important for the presentation of a plausible ethos and, in this limited respect, style does contribute to the maintenance of persuasive character. This conclusion must be inferred from passing remarks in the Rhetoric. The absence of a more fully developed theory is curious in light of the availability of examples from the discourse of Attic logographers like Lysias, a speechwriter universally praised by later critics for his mastery of ethopoeia (character portrayal).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-72
Number of pages34
JournalAdvances in the History of Rhetoric
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2005


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