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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2009

E 387R • Medieval Rhetoric and Poetics

Unique Days Time Location Instructor


Course Description

The central focus of this course will be on the Poetria nova, the rhetoric text par excellence of the later Middle Ages, which has survived in more than two hundred manuscripts from all over Europe. According to medieval commentators and teachers, this work combined verse form and rhetorical doctrine in a new hybrid that taught writers how to shape language for rhetorical as well as aesthetic purposes. It was used to teach both prose and verse composition, and it influenced most of the major Latin and vernacular writers of the later Middle Ages and early Renaissance. We will also read short examples of the more technical rhetorical treatises on individual prose genres such as letters and sermons.

The early debate about using pagan texts to teach Christian rhetoric will be represented by Augustine's On Christian Doctrine, a focus of the first part of the semester. The final section of the historical part of course will be organized around important developments in late medieval rhetoric, including the influence of Latin rhetoric and poetics on vernacular writers (including methods of characterization and plot development based on classical inventional techniques) and the re-emergence of civic rhetoric with the Humanists. We will conclude by analyzing the use of rhetoric in several short literary works chosen by the class.

Throughout the semester we will address issues of written versus spoken rhetoric, gendered terminology in rhetorical discourse, and the implications of the history of medieval rhetoric for modern academic aesthetic and pedagogical concerns.



Augustine, On Christian Doctrine

Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Poetria nova

selections from commentaries on the Poetria nova

Anonymous, The Principles of Letter Writing

Humbert of Romans, Treatise on Preaching

Dante, De vulgari eloquentia

Mary Carruthers, selections from The Book of Memory and The Craft of Memory

Douglas Kelly, The Arts of Poetry and Prose

Martin Camargo, Ars dictaminis, ars dictandi

Christoph Maier, Preaching the Crusades: Mendicant Friars and the Cross in the Thirteenth Century

Ron Witt, "The Origins of Humanism as a Stylistic Ideal" and “Civic Humanism and the Rebirth of the Ciceronian Oration”


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