Not Quite Persuasion: Violence, Bondage, and the Ancient Roots of Rhetoric


ACLS Fellowship Program


World Languages and Cultures


Current crises of failed dialogue, polarization, and civil unrest demand a re-examination of the emotionally manipulative dynamics of rhetorical speech. Due to a supposed synergetic development between rhetoric and democracy, however, certain dimensions of human persuasion are often overlooked. In ancient Greece, for example, one such aspect was that embodied by a little-known erotic goddess of Inducement or Agreeable Compulsion (in Greek, Peithō). This deity operated in both the public and private spheres to provide individuals with the power of making others “willing to submit,” at times without recourse to an open process of fair argumentation. Through several close analyses of ancient Greek dramatic, poetic, and sophistic texts from the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E., this project re-examines and definitively situates Peithō as a binding, pre-rational, and potentially violent force central to the conceptual development and use of rhetoric (rhētorike) in ancient Greece and still today.