Fellows will study classic examples of rhetoric and contemporary political speeches, with a view toward understanding the relationship between political rhetoric and emotions, and how these connections can be both useful and dangerous, especially for democracies.

Image: Hubert Robert, Landscape with Temple Ruin and People Listening to an Orator, 1750

Robert Bartlett on rhetoric and its consequences for democracy.


Robert C. Bartlett

Robert C. Bartlett is the Behrakis Professor of Hellenic Political Studies at Boston College. His principal area of research is classical political philosophy, with particular attention to the thinkers of ancient Hellas, including Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle. He is the co-translator of a new edition of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session


  • Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book 1, Chs. 1–3
  • Socrates’s Account of Rhetoric in Plato’s Gorgias (463a–c, 464b–466a)

Epideictic Rhetoric

Judicial Rhetoric

Deliberative Rhetoric


Discussion Questions:

  1. What is Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric?
  2. What is the gist of Aristotle’s critique of the “technical writers” who dealt with rhetoric before him?
  3. Can you think of recent examples of deliberative rhetoric?


On Pathos

  • Aristotle, Rhetoric, 2.1–2 (on anger) & 2.8 (on pity)
  • Cleon on the Fate of the Mytileneans (Thucydides, 3.36–49)

On Ethos

On Logos


Discussion Questions

  1. How does Cleon’s speech to his fellow Athenians exemplify the use of pathos as a mode of persuasion? How well does it do so?
  2. As between Nixon and Obama, who in your judgment more effectively portrayed his own character in a favorable light?


Rhetoric & Style

  • Rhetoric, 3.1–2
  • Mark Twain, “Die Schrecken der Deutsche Sprache” [“The Horrors of the German Language”] (November 21, 1897)
  • General George S. Patton, “Speech to the Third Army” (June 5, 1944)
  • Woody Allen, “My Address to Graduates” (August 10, 1979)

Rhetoric in Times of Crisis & Doubt

  • Abraham Lincoln, “On the Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions” (January 27, 1838)
  • Neville Chamberlain, “Munich Agreement” (September 30, 1938)
  • Duff Cooper, “Speech in the House of Commons” (October 3, 1938)
  • Winston Churchill, “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” (May 13, 1940)
  • John F. Kennedy, “Cuban Missile Crisis Speech” (October 22, 1962)
  • Jimmy Carter, “Crisis of Confidence” (July 15, 1979)
  • Bill Clinton, “I did not have…” (January 26, 1998)
  • Allan Bloom, “Western Civ” Address at Harvard (December 7, 1988)


Discussion Questions

  1. How well does the style of Patton’s speech reflect its purpose and content?
  2. As between JFK, Carter, and Clinton, who in your estimation dealt with the crisis facing him most effectively?



Discussion Questions

  1. Evaluate the arguments, and the manner of presenting of the arguments, of any of the anti-suffrage speakers.
  2. Who makes the better argument: Power or Sommers—and why?

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