The Origin of Rhetoric Research Paper

May 6, 2021 by Essay Writer


The origin of the rhetoric theories is rooted back to the times of Ancient Rome and Greece. Though Aristotle is recognized as one of the first philosophers who raised the question of rhetorical art and coined the notions of ethos, pathos and logos as the main components of effective persuasion patterns, some researchers point at the links between Aristotelian lectures and Homer’s Iliad.

This essay suggests that despite the importance of applying all three components of ethos, pathos and logos for a successful attempt of rhetorical persuasion, the dialogues from Iliad by Homer demonstrate that the situational constraints can prevent the speaker from persuading the listener and need to be taken into consideration for choosing the most effective strategies.

It would be quite interesting to discuss the influence of Homer’s Iliad on further development of rhetoric theories, trying to identify the main sources of persuasion in the work, comparing the rhetoric patterns implemented by the characters to Aristotle’s conceptions.

In this paper, we focus on the Book Nine of Homer’s Iliad which is devoted to the attempts of king Agamemnon’s “ambassadors” to persuade Achilles to fight against the Trojans. “Language in use creates and changes the opinions that are our only available knowledge” (Bizzel 38).

The purpose of this paper is to analyze persuasion in The Iliad, analyze whether the notions of logos, pathos and ethos are applicable to the dialogues from Book Nine and if they are, why Phoenix, Ajax and Odysseus fail to persuade Achilles.

Aristotle emphasized the three most important components of persuasion, namely ethos, pathos and logos. The Greek philosopher used the term ethos for defining the credibility of the orator’s words which depends on the character and trustworthiness of the speaker and the impression which he/she produces upon the listener.

It is important that the person who delivers the messages should be accepted as a specialist in the field whose opinion is worth listening to. The authority of a person is an important component of the notion of ethos, but this authority should relate to the field of discussion; time and place also traditionally mentioned when ethos is discussed are also important.

Pathos denotes the emotional coloring of the speaker’s words used with the aim of appealing to the listener’s feelings and evoking the emotional response. This component varies because the emotional reactions always vary and are difficult to predict. Still, this component is significant for motivating the auditor to share the speaker’s mood and recognizing the attitude before sharing the belief.

Logos denotes persuading by reasoning, turning to the logical laws, providing the listeners with food for thought and pointing at the logical links between various factors. Though Aristotle did not appreciate unethical persuasion, discussing the logos component, the philosopher introduced the notion of enthymeme, a rhetorical syllogism which makes the auditor recognize a false statement as true.

Frobish (2003) discusses ethos in context of Homer’s Iliad. He states that in Homer’s work, ethos “does not refer to some quality of character but to a haunt or an accustomed place of activity”; however, it is possible to “talk of character as it relates to persuasion” (Frobish 19). He highlights that in the Iliad, a man was a sum of his actions.

Let us provide a brief example that illustrates the essence of logos, pathos and ethos. A doctor says to his patient that he/she should decrease consumption of salt, as salt is harmful for his/her health. If a doctor highlights the appeal of logos, he/she would provide a patient with results of scientific researches and statistics.

In case pathos is highlighted, a doctor would say that a patient will die very soon if consumption of salt is not decreased.

Ethos implies that a doctor would highlight his knowledge and experience which give him opportunity to advice on salt consumption (compare: at a soccer match, a doctor tries to persuade a listener that one soccer team is better than another; this question does not refer to his competence of a doctor, and the place does not strengthens this authority as well – this is the illustration of how we settle the mentioned discrepancy about ethos).

Logos, Ethos and Pathos in Iliad

In the Book Nine of The Iliad, Homer depicts the dialogues between Phoenix, Ajax and Odysseus sent by the king Agamemnon, and Achilles. Let us analyze these dialogues from the perspective of logos, ethos and pathos.

We will try to find cases of using these three appeals in the speeches of the men sent by the king Agamemnon, critically evaluate their effectiveness, define the weak points of their reasoning and the main reasons of their failure.

First of all, we need to pay attention to the fact that the king’s “envoys” are the worthy men of stature and credibility in the eyes of Achilles. This is a strong appeal to ethos: the king expects that the authority of these people will help them to succeed in their negotiation.

Still, Achilles as the auditor is aware of the fact that it is Agamemnon who sent the orators and this fact prevents him from sharing the beliefs of people whom he considers trustworthy. Let us analyze the dialogue between Odysseus and Achilles.

The narrator begins with pathos, describing the terrifying situation and trying to evoke the emotional reaction in the listener: “For haughty Trojans and their famous allies/ have camped close to the ships and barricade/ and lit many fires throughout their army” (Homer 186).

However, Odysseus does not limit his narration to using the pathos component only and tries to intensify the effect produced by his words, implementing other persuasive patterns. He continues: “So rouse yourself, late through it may be,/ If you’ve a mind to save Achaeans/ from their suffering at this Trojan onslaughts./ If not, you’ll suffer future agonies./ You won’t find any cure for such despair (Homer 186)

In this excerpt we see the example of combination of pathos and logos in the speech: the expressions “late through it may be”, “suffer future agonies”, “despair” demonstrate strong appeal to a listener’s emotions, while predicting the possible consequences of the auditor’s choice and actions, Odysseus uses the logical laws.

Odysseus also promises numerous gifts which Achilles will be given in case he agrees to fight against the Trojans: this part of the monologue refers to the notion of logos as well: the narrator describes the benefits which a listener will get in case he agrees. We can notice that Achilles understands the ethos of the dialogue: he calls Odysseus “Divinely born son of Laertes, Resourceful Odysseus” (188).

Besides, Odysseus speech sounds rather persuasive, because he uses all possible means for influencing the listener’s decision: appeals to his feelings, points at possible devastating consequences and tries to take advantages from the auditor’s attitude to him.

The fact that the main Aristotle’s patterns can be found in the speech of the main character can hardly be denied, and the question of the main reasons of their failure in persuading the auditor arises. Ahilles explains that he does not need the gifts he is promised (Homer 191) and this statement can be related to the weakness of the logos component.

An example of more successful logos is present when Achilles provides a strong argument, explaining that in case he fights against Trojans, he will lose his life, but his fame will remain, while if he goes home his fame will die, but he will stay alive (Homer 192). Thus, the weakness of the logos component and Achilles’ awareness of the fact that it was Agamemnon who asked Odysseus to persuade him caused the failure of the first speaker.

After Achilles’ response, Phoenix begins talking. In his monologue, we see highlighted pathos and logos in both what and how Phoenix says: he tells Achilles his story in emotional manner and advices to avoid mistakes he talks about (Homer 198).

We can also find the elements of ethos at the beginning of Phoenix’s speech: he reminds Achilles of how Achilles was sent to him when he was “young, knowing nothing about war…” (Homer 192). He says that Achilles is like a son for him, which highlights Phoenix’s authority and services in bringing Achilles up.

Again, with his answer, Achilles demonstrates that Phoenix’s appeals are ineffective for him, “…do not confuse my heart with these laments, these speeches of distress…” (Homer 198). Both pathos and ethos components of Phoenix’ speech do not influence the auditor’s decision though Achilles himself recognizes that he is impressed with the words and has to make efforts for overcoming the manipulator’s strategies.

Ajax, the third narrator, focuses on pathos in his speech. He uses expressive phrasing and appeals to Achilles’s feelings: “For Achilles has turned his great spirit/ into something savage in chest./ He is cruel and doesn’t care for friendship of his comrades…” (Homer 199) He finishes his speech with highlighting ethos: ”…We, of all Achaeans, are the ones/ most dear to you, your closest friends…” (Homer 199)

Again, the speaker does not manage to persuade the listener. Achilles talks about the issue which has a stronger emotional I pact on him, “… my heart chokes with rage when I recall how that son of Atreus behaved towards me… (199).

Though all Aristotle’s appeals are present in the speeches of Phoenix, Ajax and Odysseus, their attempts to persuade Achilles appeared to be ineffective because of additional circumstances which need to be taken into consideration while evaluating the effectiveness of the ethos, pathos and logos components.

Aristotle would respond that the realization of the ethos component with such an honorable person as Achilles is problematic from the very beginning.

The auditor is certain in his own position and disregarding his respect to some of both ethos and pathos components is also diminished with the fact that the speakers deliver Agamemnon’s messages and the listener’s personal attitude to the king overlaps his opinion of the speakers. The dialogues under analysis can be regarded as the battle of the clashing egos, and it became a serious hindrance for the success of the persuasion patterns.

Logos, Pathos and Ethos versus Honor, Material, Power and Justice

An interesting approach to analysis of the persuasion components in Iliad is offered by Reyes in his “Sources of Persuasion in the Iliad” which was published in Rhetoric Review in 2002. In this study, the researcher outlines four appeals of persuasion used perpetually through the course of The Iliad: honor, material, power and justice (Reyes 23).

The analysis of the particular sources of persuasion used in The Iliad does not contradict Aristotle’s theory of ethos, pathos and logos but rather provides a more detailed explanation of the strategies used by the speakers for appealing to the auditor’s feelings. When a narrator appeals to honor, material, power and justice, his/her speech can contain components of ethos, pathos and logos, highlighted stronger or weaker.

Relating the dominant persuasion themes of the epic poem to the Aristotle’s teaching, Reyes admits that “Homer can be cited as the first to see persuasion as teachable, as something that one person can give to another” (Reyes 31).

Thus, the conscious implementation of the persuasive strategies by Homer’s characters reduced the effectiveness of the components. Along with the situational constraints such as the interpersonal relationships between Agamemnon and Achilles and their personal traits became the main reasons for the failure of persuasion strategies used by Phoenix, Ajax and Odysseus.


A comprehensive analysis of various attendant circumstances and the situational context is important for evaluating the effectiveness of the ethos, pathos and logos components of the persuasion strategies used by the orators for the purpose of influencing the auditor’s decisions.

The example of the dialogues from Homer’s Iliad demonstrates that implementation of the Aristotle’s rhetorical theories can be insufficient for persuading the listener.


Bizzel, Patricia and Bruce Herzberg. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Bedford: St. Martin’s, 2001. Print.

Frobish, Todd S. “An Origine of a Theory: A comparison of Ethos in the Homeric Iliad with that Found in Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” Rhetoric Review 22.1 (2003): 16-30. Print.

Homer, Johnson, Ian C. Johnston and Ian Crowe. The Iliad. Arlington, Va.: Richer Resources Publications, 2006. Print.

Reyes, Mitchell G. “Sources of Persuasion in the Iliad”. Rhetoric Review 21.1 (2002): 22-39. Print.

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