Historical Rhetorics/Plato's Relationship to Rhetoric/Clark, Randall Baldwin. “Geriatrics.”

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Clark, Randall Baldwin. “Geriatrics.” The Law Most Beautiful and Best: Medical Argument and Magical Rhetoric in Plato’s Laws. New York: Lexington Books, 2003. 71—88. Historical Rhetorics/Plato's Relationship to Rhetoric/Clark, Randall Baldwin. “Geriatrics.”


Clark’s book uses historical research about Ancient Greek medical practices in order to better understand Plato’s rhetorical philosophy in Laws. One of Plato’s latest works, Laws imagines an Athenian explaining to a Cretan and Spartan why the highest purpose of legislation is not to ensure victory in war, but the good of the people, and that the best legislation garners citizen compliance without the use of brute force. In order to achieve this, magistrates must write laws which not only demand order, but persuade their citizens to abide by it of their own free will, just as a good physician artfully dialogues with and gently persuades a patient toward better health and medical treatment (Plato 719—720).


In the chapter titled “Geriatrics,” Clark argues that Plato’s rhetoric is “medicinal” in three ways. First, unlike in the Gorgias where Socrates equates rhetoric with a false form of health and healing, in Laws Plato depicts the doctor as the paragon of persuasion, showing that his healing art is dependent on his rhetorical art, and bedside manner. In this way, the Athenian shows that Legislation too, is dependent on the art of persuasion. Second, Clark outlines how the Athenian’s own rhetoric follows a Hippocratic model of medicine, by beginning with dialogical questioning, speaking affably with the patient and his friend, and providing a prescription for the sickness only after he has brought his patient along in happy agreement. In this way, Clark says, Plato appeals to the historical moment in which Hippocratic, or technical, medicine began to revolutionize Greek culture: “artful rather than capricious . . . persuasive rather than forceful, . . . the Hippocratic physician . . . soon became the standard for the enlightened rule of one man over his fellows . . . Sophists, philosophers, statesmen, and their ilk—all attempted to appropriate the cachet to their respective endeavors. . . . technical medicine became the very model for the arts of rhetoric, education, philosophy and politics” (76-77).


~Jessica Masri Eberhard