Historical Rhetorics/The Big Aristotle/Clayton, Edward W. "The Audience for Aristotle's Rhetoric."

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Clayton, Edward W. "The Audience for Aristotle's Rhetoric." Rhetorica 22 (2004): 183-203.

Edward Clayton attempts to make a claim of single, unified audience for Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Clayton’s article assesses the “four main claims concerning the audience Aristotle intended to receive the Rhetoric” (203). He examines the support for Rhetoric being directed toward Athenian legislators, the Athenian public (or an “elite subset of the public” (183)), Aristotle’s own students, or a variety of audiences (based on the hypothesis that Rhetoric was not written as a unified work).

Calling on statements in Rhetoric, Ethics and Politics, as well as historical data, Clayton asserts that he can disprove three theories of audience and concludes that the most likely audience is Aristotle’s students. This inference is based a great deal on challenging the support provided by scholars for the other three audiences. Clayton points out that Aristotle held a seemingly negative view of Athenian legislators and public (intellectually) and held a clear notion of an ideal city (which he felt Athens was not), thus disproving the idea that Aristotle would be writing to these groups. Similarly, Clayton finds the historical data supporting Rhetoric being written at a variety of times for a variety of audiences spotty and inconclusive. Ultimately, Clayton concludes that the most likely audience of Rhetoric was the students under Aristotle’s guidance, as they would have been the most capable of following “Aristotle’s methods and conceptual language” (200).