We must not suffer it to lead us into rhetoric about the deadness and the darkness of the middle ages, or hamper our inquiry with preconceived assumptions that the re-birth in question was in any true sense a return to the irrecoverable pagan past.
The only extant prose work which may be assigned to the end of this period is the treatise on rhetoric known by the title Ad Herennium (c. 84) a work indicative of the attention bestowed on prose style and rhetorical studies during the last century of the republic, and which may be regarded as a precursor of the oratorical treatises of Cicero and of the work of Quintilian.
To the latter Hugh Blair seems to refer when, in his work on Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres (1783), he acknowledges his obligations to a manuscript treatise on rhetoric by Smith, part of which its author had shown to him many years before, and which he hoped that Smith would give to the public. Smith had promised at the end of his Theory of Moral Sentiments a treatise on jurisprudence from the historical point of view.
Finally, the practice of rhetoric and eristic, which presently became prominent in sophistical teaching, had, or at any rate seemed to have, a mischievous effect upon conduct; and the charge of seeking, whether in exposition or in debate, not truth but victory - which charge was impressively urged against the sophists by Plato - grew into an accusation of holding and teaching immoral and unsocial doctrines, and in our own day has been the subject of eager controversy.
Nevertheless, rhetoric and disputation, though at the present day strangely neglected in English schools and universities, are, within their limits, valuable instruments; and, as specialization in teaching does not necessarily imply specialization in learning, many of those who attended the lectures and the classes of a rhetorician or an eristic sought and found other instruction elsewhere.
The Rhetoric has been edited by Sudhaus (1892-1895); the De Ira and the De Pietate by Gomperz (1864 to 1865); the De Musica by Kempke (1884); De Vitiis by Ussing (1868); De Morte by Mekler (1886).
One of the most obvious defects of this school is excessive attachment to polysyllabic terms. Lydgate is not quite so great a sinner in this respect as are some of his successors, but his tendency cannot be mistaken, and John Metham is amply justified in his censure Eke John Lydgate, sometime monk of Bury, His books indited with terms of rhetoric And half-changed Latin, with conceits of poetry.
But the author of this rhetoric most certainly recognized three genera (T pia 'y v71), since, besides the deliberative and judicial, the declamatory genus constantly appears in the work (chaps.
Induction (E7rayo.y17) and syllogism (ovXXcytcr oc), the general forms of inference, do not occur in the Rhetoric to Alexander.
The point of Aristotle was to draw a line between rational and other evidences, to insist on the former, and in fact to found a logic of rhetoric. But if in the Rhetoric to Alexander, not he, but Anaximenes, had already performed this great achievement, Aristotle would have been the meanest of mankind; for the logic of rhetoric would have been really the work of Anaximenes the sophist, but falsely claimed by Aristotle the philosopher.