Glenn, Cheryl. "sex, lies, and manuscript: Refiguring Aspasia in the History of
Rhetoric.” On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998.
Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 1999. 336-351.
Aspasia, a woman rhetorician from Miletus–what’s modern day Turkey–stood
in an improbable role during the heyday of the rhet-charged Greek polis.
A contemporary of the patriarchy of better-historicized–Pericles, Xenophon,
Aeschines, Aristotle and Sophocles–Aspasia affected the public sphere and
contributed, with notable influence, to the votary of male officials.
Cheryl Glenn’s 1995 Braddock-winning essay, invokes mapping metaphors to suggest
gendered displacements while appropriating Aspasia a legitimate place in the
rhetorical tradition. The essay is necessarily encyclopedic; it also piles
through a fair amount of best-guesses, probabilities and likelihoods in a
successful attempt to carve out historiographic room for Aspasia.
Glenn’s work situates Aspasia in the context of heavily patriarchal rhetorical
tradition. In doing so, she exposes openings and possibilities in
the sketchy historical record, and ends with a call for ongoing re-readings of
the rhetorical tradition that ask questions about representation, absence and
silence, and that accept Aspasia as a beacon for modern feminist scholarship in
My foothold in classical rhetoric is shaky at its most stable. Reading
"sex, lies, and manuscript" helped me see the tradition as a contested
realm, and the trick for the scholar of classical rhetoric–it seems–is to
explore the nebulous areas, to inquire about what’s missing and why, and to see
the tradition anew by refreshing it with now-relevant questions. It’s
clear I need to spend more time with B&H’s The Rhetorical Tradition;
I’ve plans to crack it later this summer.
The "sex, lies, and manuscript" reference gets explained later in
Glenn’s essay (or is it in the afternote?). I never saw the movie sex,
lies, and videotape, so the allusion was a stretch. I think it
might have come across more resolutely for readers ten years ago, but the
reference didn’t seem adequately sustained, sufficiently built-in for
me–especially for the juxtaposition of manuscript and videotape.
Probably would make better sense if I checked out the movie, eh?
I wondered how differently each of the characterizations–"[one who]
ventured out into the common land, [one who] distinguished herself by her
rhetorical accomplishments, her sexual attachment to Pericles, and her public
participation in political affairs"–rolled together to give Aspasia a
single sense of persona. For that matter, did Glenn find these overlapping
identities competing? Manipulable? Exclusive? It’s not easy to say
with precision, but especially in the places where Glenn needles at Pericles’
legitimacy (suggesting, basically, that "Aspasia surely must have
influenced Pericles in the composition of those speeches that both established
him as a persuasive speaker and informed him as the most respected
citizen-orator of the age" (342)), I had the sense that the unverifiability
of it all encroached on Glenn’s argument. And, of course, I recognize that this
also points to an imperfect historical record and the difficulties of writing
across +/- 2,500 years.
I picked up a few terms that I’d heard before (some of them, anyway), but
that I hadn’t explored lately: arete and homonoia. As
Glenn casts them, arete tends toward an elite sense of governance by
virtue–a kind of oligarchic/aristocratic democracy, whereas homonoia
called for virtue by all, no matter gender or social class, for the good of the
entire democratized polity. According to Glenn, "Thus was manifested
the complex tension between the elitist arete and a more democratic homonoia.
Another useful term was panhellenism, which points to "a doctrine
sorely needed to to unify the Greek city-states, just as it satiated the male
appetite for public display." The term is used in a way that might
allow something like diversity or heterogeneity (especially in
relationships, I guess) stand in its place. And the last noteworthy term
is consubstantiality. The funeral orations aspired to this
attribute of consubstantiality, which basically means that the experience–the
rhetorical effect–would be replicated throughout time, so "the shared
experience of this rhetorical ritual linked [!] everyone present even as it
connected them ‘with other audiences in the past’ (Mackin 251)"
(344). Consubstantiality. Consubstantiality.
"Such challenges not only restore women to rhetorical history and
rhetorical history to women, but the restoration itself revitalizes theory by
shaking the conceptual foundations of rhetorical study" (336).
"When other women were systematically relegated to the domestic sphere,
Aspasia seems to have been the only woman in classical Greece to have
distinguished herself in the public domain" (338).
"By every historical account, Aspasia ventured out into the common land,
distinguished herself by her rhetorical accomplishments, her sexual attachment
to Pericles, and her public participation in political affairs"
"The Menexenus contains Plato’s version of Socrates’ version of
Aspasia’s version of Pericles’ Funeral Oration, further recognition of Aspasia’s
reputation as rhetorician, philosopher, and as influential colleague in the
Sophistic movement, a movement devoted to the analysis and creation of
rhetoric–and of truth" (344).
"Jarratt explains the sophistic rhetorical technique and its
social-constructionist underpinning with her definition of nomos as a
‘self-conscious arrangement of discourse to create politically and socially
significant knowledge…thus it is always a social construct with ethical
dimensions’ (60)" (345).
"Our first obligation, then, as rhetorical scholars is to look backwards
at all the unquestioned scholarship that has come before; then, we must begin to
re-map our notion of rhetorical history. By simply choosing which men and women
to show and how to represent them, we subtly shape the perceptions of our
profession, enabling the profession to recognize and remember–or to forget–the
obvious and not-so-obvious women on our intellectual landscape" (349).