Sample Analyses of Rhetorical Forms

[ * It is not certain whether this great speech was accurately reported by Plato, or composed by him on the basis of the historical facts.]

Conclusion: Follow my example and prefer virtue to life itself.

Although Socrates is apparently pleading for acquittal, he does not expect to achieve this, and his real purpose is to exhort the Athenians to virtue. He believes that, although in the heat of mob-violence they will condemn him, later they will remember his words, and these words will have their effect. Consequently, he aims above all at leaving an indelible impression on their minds.


Introduction (17-18):

  1. He will plead his case very simply, since he was never on trial before.
  2. 2. He will take up the old charges first, because they have bad the deepest influence on the jury.

Exposition of the case (narration):

Socrates does not make a separate exposition, because the charges against him have already been stated by other speakers. He merely repeats them in the course of giving arguments to refute them.

Argumentation or refutation of the charges (18-35):
  A. Answer to the older charges, made by the poet Aristophanes (18-23)
    1. Socrates is charged with atheism because he has dabbled in Science.
       Answer: He denies that since his student days be has had any concern for
       questions in natural science.
    2. He is charged with taking money for his teaching.
       a. It is not wrong to take money if you can really sell wisdom.
       b. It was the sophists who made this claim, not Socrates, as
         he shows by the story of an encounter he had with a sophist.
    3. It is charged that there must be some foundation for these old
       charges, or they would never have become so widespread.
       Answer: Socrates tells the story of the answer of the oracle of
       Delphi, and of his own search for wisdom which has led him to
       be an annoyance to many people who claimed to be wise, and who
       consequently have slandered him.
  B. Answer to new charges (made by Miletus and Anytus [24-351;
    1. Direct refutation of the accusers (204-27):
       a. They charge he has corrupted youth.
         Answer: Socrates cross-questions Miletus to show that
         he is not sincere in his claim to be a protector of youth.
       b. They charge he is an atheist and has introduced new gods.
         Answer: Socrates again cross-questions Miletus and reduces
         him to contradicting himself.
    2. Refutation by an explanation of his conduct (28-32):
       a. He has always pursued wisdom in preference to every other good:
         1) Example of the heroes in poetry who preferred death to dishonor.
         2) Example from Socrates' own army record.
         3) Enthymeme: To fear death is to pretend to be wise; therefore
            I cannot fear death.
         4) Maxim: God is to be obeyed rather than men,
       b. His mission is to correct the public.
         1) If they kill him they will need another correction, and they
            will get none so disinterested, as is proved by his poverty.
         2) He has never meddled with political affairs. He proves this
            by the story of his divine signs, and by the story of his
            refusal to assist either the democratic or the oligarchical
            party in their political wrong doing.
     3. Refutation by the witness of his long life (33-35):
       a. He has no regular disciples and has never charged for his teaching.
       b. He attracted people only by appealing to their curiosity through
          his questioning.
       c. He calls on the relatives of the youths he has influenced to
          say whether he has harmed them or protected them.
Conclusion (36-42):
   1. He will never change his way of life, even at the risk of death.
   2. He does not wish to offend the crowd, but he cannot plead for mercy:
     a. Because an old man should not give a bad example.
     b. Because he should not lead them to break their oaths to judge
        fairly and not for sentimental reasons.
 After he has been condemned, he adds the following:
   1. The decision was a close one, and not really significant.
   2. Ironically he proposes as his sentence that he be given public honors.
 After the death sentence has been passed, be concludes:
   1. He is not responsible for his own condemnation, because he
      has done his duty in riot asking for mercy, and they should
      have done theirs in waiting for an old man to die.
   2. He prophesies that the judges will be condemned by posterity.
   3. He consoles his friends by reflections on death and immortality.
   4. He makes a last request: Correct my son, as I have corrected you. 


I: What kind of speech? It is judicial since the speaker wishes the audience to pass judgement on a past action; yet its ultimate purpose is political, looking to the future,

II: The Arguments:
A. The character of the speaker:
1. In the introduction Socrates at once tries to establish his character with his audience.
a. He shows his intelligence by his ironic wit in pretending that the other speakers have almost convinced him of his own guilt.
b. He shows his good moral character by indicating that, although he is an old man, he was never before brought into court on any charge.
c. He shows his good will by saving that he is amazed that the other speakers had warned the jury that he was a clever speaker, since his real difficulty is that he is too plain-spoken, and that they will forgive him if he, an old man, continues this habit of plain speech with them.
2. Throughout the rest of the speech Socrates is chiefly concerned, not with obtaining an acquittal, but with convincing them of the fact that he has always acted for a public-spirited motive. He knows that because of their prejudices they may not accept this at once, but that it will sink in and convince them after his death.

B. The analysis of the audience:
Socrates seeks to appeal to the audience and thus:
1. Render them of good will. This is very difficult, since they have been prejudiced from youth by the plays of Aristophanes and by other gossip to believe him a sophist. He attempts to drag this unconscious prejudice out into the open, so that they will ask themselves whether it really has any solid basis.
2. Render them attentive. He promises to attack his opponents, and makes the jury anticipate an interesting clash of wits.
3. Render them docile. He does this by a clear ordering of the charges, and by his interesting explanation of the origin of things they have always beard, but whose foundation they had never known. By appealing to God he also makes them realize their responsibility to listen carefully.
C. The arguments:
It would take too long to analyze each of the arguments, The outline above shows how expertly Socrates makes use of all the methods of argumentation, enthymemes, maxims, examples, signs, etc. It will be seen that he aims at the following:
1. He drags out into broad daylight the old, half-conscious prejudices, and showing their flimsy foundation. This he does in the answer to old charges. (A in outline).
2. He strives to discredit his accusers by direct cross-questioning which reveals their insincerity and stupidity. (B 1).
3. He then explains his own conduct, using a whole series of arguments drawn from literature, history, and commonly accepted moral principles to show that his strange conduct is in accordance with the traditions of Athens, (B 2 a).
4. He then defends this conduct by the history of his mission. (B 2 b).
5. And he concludes by pointing to the history of his life, and calling on the audience to witness to it, (B 3).
Style: The style is of marvelous beauty in every respect. Notice especially the use of:
1. Irony and wit.
2. Stories, some of an allegorical character.
3. The famous metaphor of the gad-fly and the horse.
4. The impressive use of prayer and prophecy.
5. The cross-questioning, making use of dialectics.
6. The use of climax and anti-climax.
He even concludes (as Aristotle later advised) with an asyndeton or broken sentence, indicative of solemn emotion. "The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways -- I to die, and you to live. Which is better, God only knows."
Arrangement: This is shown sufficiently by the outline. Especially noteworthy are the cleverness of the introduction and the very great beauty of the conclusion.


This is, of course, an epistle on a spiritual topic, and nevertheless it is very similar to a political speech. In it St. Paul writes as he would have spoken to the Galatians if he had been present, and seeks to lead them to a definite course of action as a community.

Conclusion: In the future put your faith in Christ and do not worry about the ceremonies of the Old Law.


 1. Greetings (1:1-5).
 2. Appeal to their attention (1:6-10).

Exposition (narration): Strangers have come in St. Paul's absence and
greatly confused the new Christians of Galatia by saying that they must
keep the ceremonies of the Jewish Law and that St. Paul was negligent
in not requiring them to do this (1:11-2:21).

 A. Doctrinal arguments:
   1. Justification is from faith in Christ and not from the Old Law.
     a. Proved by the Galatians' own experience (3:1-6).
     b. Proved by the example of Abraham (3:7-29).
   2. The Christian life is a life of freedom:
     a. Proved from the nature of slavery and freedom (4:1-20).
     b. Proved by the example of Ismael and Isaac (21-31).
 B. Practical application:
   1. General counsel: Do not depend on the ceremonies of the Law,
      but on the New Law of Charity (5:1-26).
   2. Special counsels:
     a. Fraternal correction (6:1-5).
     b. Good works (6:6-10).

Conclusion: Follow me and glory only in the Cross of Christ (6:11-18).

I. What kind of speech? It is a political speech, since it aims at leading this community to a definite future action, namely, the rejection of Jewish ceremonies and the following of St. Paul's leadership and of his teaching on faith in Christ and the commandments of the New Law.

II. The Arguments:

A. The character of the speaker:
St. Paul in this epistle especially aims at showing his character by a very frank revelation of his feelings:
a. He shows his intelligence (see especially 1:11-24) by showing that he was educated in the Jewish Law, but that his teaching comes from God and not from men, and is approved also by the authorities of the Church.
b. He shows his good moral character by referring to his conversion (1:15), and his acceptance by the apostles (1:18 and 2:6-10), and his courage in rebuking even St. Peter (2:11-14).
c. He shows his good will toward the Galatians by his whole tone of indignation and loving anxiety in chapters 1 and 2. What better proof that a man seeks our welfare than that he is so disturbed and broken-hearted to hear of our difficulties?
The whole narration of Chapter 2 is especially devoted to giving the history of St. Paul and showing what kind of man he was.

B. The analysis of the audience:

The occasion of the epistle was the news that his Galatian converts, mostly Gentiles, were being won over by certain "false brethren" to the doctrine that Gentile converts to Christianity had to keep the Jewish law as Christ and the apostles did. Acceptance of this doctrine would logically have led to the conclusion that faith in Christ and the redemption of the Cross were insufficient for salvation, and would have made the conversion of the Gentiles very difficult. These Judaizers had gone to Antioch (Acts 15:1 ff.) and there, it seems, had wrongly alleged that all the apostles taught their views, hence that St. Paul was no real apostle. Then some of them had come to Galatia and spread the same story.

Their chief argument was that the Law of Moses was everlasting, since Christ had said that he did not intend to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.

St. Paul realized that his audience were sincere people, only anxious to do the right thing, but they were Gentiles and not yet very well instructed. His method is to make them ashamed that they have been taken in so easily, to arouse in them their rightful pride as Christians in their newly found liberty, and finally to appeal to their generous desire to live a new and perfect life.

Thus be seeks to destroy their fear and anxiety by infusing in them a righteous anger, and a healthy shame of their own timidity, and finally great confidence and hope.

C. The arguments:

The outline sufficiently shows the argumentation. Notice that he first speaks to them theoretically in terms of the Bible, but then hastens to make this very practical by translating doctrine into a way of life.

St. Paul argues both from the Galatians' own experience and from examples taken from the Bible. The last is appropriate because this proves his own mastery of the Jewish Law, and refutes the manner of arguing used by his opponents. He also makes use of analogy, in comparing civil slavery and freedom to spiritual slavery and freedom.

So impassioned is St. Paul's utterance that at first sight it may not appear very logical; but if analyzed section by section, it will be seen to be based very squarely on principles. St. Paul bases his argument on a revealed principle which the Galatians had learned at baptism, namely, that they had been saved by Christ crucified. However poorly instructed or ignorant they might be, this truth had been made very clear to them and they had accepted it. Hence St. Paul begins with this principle on which all agree (even his opponents), and argues by means of the following enthymeme, which is stated in various ways:

If justice is from the law, then Christ died in vain (2:21).
This is an abbreviated form of a hypothetical syllogism:
If justice is from the Law, then Christ died in vain.
But: Christ did not die in vain,

Therefore: justice is not from the Law (i.e., you need not keep the ceremonies of the Law).

The minor of this syllogism is the principle which all the Galatians had learned and accepted and which, therefore, St. Paul can implicitly assume.

D. Style

St. Paul's style is not polished, but fiery, vehement, with one thought tumbling after another. This is appropriate, since it conveys his overwhelming sincerity. His hearers could not help but believe so earnest a man. At the same time he makes very clever and careful use of scriptural quotation and argument, and toward the end of the epistle he quiets down to simple but earnest practical advice, given in a much calmer style.

E. Arrangement:

This is shown by the outline. Note that here St. Paul gives an especially long exposition, because in this case he needs to make the background of the whole matter very clear. Note also that in a letter like this the introduction and conclusion are put in a conventional form common in letters.


The following is taken from a letter written by Jefferson to Walter Jones after Washington's death, It does not have the form of a full ceremonial speech, of course, but it well illustrates the tone of such a speech. Since the text follows, the student may supply his own outline.

I think I knew General Washington intimately and thoroughly, and were I called on to delineate his character, it should be in terms like these.

His mind was great and powerful., without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion. Hence the common remark of his officers, of the advantage he derived from councils of war, where hearing all suggestions, he selected whatever was best; and certainly no general ever planned his battles more judiciously. But if deranged during the course of the action, if any member of his plan was dislocated by sudden circumstances, he was slow in readjustment. The consequence was, that he often failed in the field, and rarely against an enemy in station as at Boston and York. He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man. His temper was naturally irritable and high toned; but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendency over it. If ever, however, it broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in his wrath. In his expenses he was honorable, but exact; liberal in contributions to whatever promised utility; but frowning and unyielding on all visionary projects, and all unworthy calls on his charity. His heart was not warm in its affections; but be exactly calculated every man's value, and gave him a solid esteem proportioned to it. His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one would wish, his deportment easy, erect, and noble, the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback. Although in the circle of his friends, where he might be unreserved with safety, he took a free share in conversation, his colloquial talents were not above mediocrity, possessing neither copiousness of ideas, nor fluency of words. In public, when called on for a sudden opinion, he was unready, short, and embarrassed. Yet be wrote readily, rather diffusely, in an easy and correct style. This he had acquired by conversation with the world, for his education was merely reading, writing, and common arithmetic, to which he added surveying at a later day. His time was employed in action chiefly, reading little, and that only in agriculture and English history. His correspondence became necessarily extensive, and, with journalizing his agricultural proceedings, occupied most of his leisure hours within doors. On the whole, his character was, in its mass, perfect, in nothing bad, in few points indifferent; and it may truly be said, that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him in the same constellation with whatever worthies have merited from man an everlasting remembrance. For his was the singular destiny and merit, of leading, the armies of his country successfully through all arduous war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example.

How, then, can it be perilous for you to take such a man on your shoulders? I am satisfied that the great body of republicans think of him as I do. We were, indeed, dissatisfied with him on his ratification of the British treaty. But this was short lived. We knew his honesty, the wiles with which he was encompassed, and that age had already begun to relax the firmness of his purposes; and I am convinced he is more deeply seated in the love and gratitude of the republicans, than in the Pharisaical homage of the federal monarchists. For he was no monarchist from preferences of his judgment. The soundness of that gave him correct views of the rights of man, and his severe justice devoted him to them. He has often declared to me that he considered our new Constitution as an experiment on the practicability of republican government, and with what dose of liberty man could be trusted for his own good; that he was determined the experiment should have a fair trial, and would lose the last drop of his blood in support of it. And these declarations he repeated to me the oftener and more pointedly, because he knew my suspicions of Colonel Hamilton's views, and probably had heard from him the same declarations which I had, to wit, "that the, British constitution, with its unequal representation, corruption, and other existing abuses, was the most perfect government on earth, and that a reformation of those abuses would make it impracticable government." I do believe that General Washington had not a firm confidence in the durability of our government. He was naturally distrustful of men, and inclined to gloomy apprehensions; and I was ever persuaded that a belief that we must at length end in something like a British constitution, had some weight in his adoption of the ceremonies of levees, birthdays, pompous meetings with Congress, and other forms of the same character, calculated to prepare us gradually for a change which he believed possible, and to let it come on with as little shock as might be to the public mind.

These are my opinions of General Washington, which I would vouch at the judgment seat of God, having been formed on acquaintance of thirty years. I served with him in the Virginia legislature from 1769 to the Revolutionary War, and again, a short time in Congress, until he left us to take command of the army. During the war and after it we corresponded occasionally, and in the four years of my continuance in the office of Secretary of State, our intercourse was daily, confidential, and cordial, After I retired from that office, great and malignant pains were taken by our federal monarchists, and not entirely without effect, to make him view me as a theorist, holding French principles of government, which would lead infallibly to licentiousness and anarchy. And to this he listened the more easily, from my known disapprobation of the British treaty. I never saw him afterwards, or these malignant insinuations should have been dissipated before his judgment, as mist before the sun. I felt on his death, with my countrymen, that 'verily a great man hath fallen this day in Israel.'

More time and recollection would enable me to add many other traits of his character but why add them to you who knew him well? And I cannot justify to myself a longer detention of your paper.

Vale, proprieque tuum, me esse tibi persuadeas.


Conclusion: George Washington was a man of greatest integrity who would have remained Jefferson's friend if he had not been deceived by slanderers.

I. What kind of rhetoric?

This letter was written when many eulogies of Washington were being made, and people were curious what Jefferson, who had once been close to Washington and then had become his chief political opponent, really thought of him. This was embarrassing, since Jefferson could not denounce a great man admired by all and recently dead, and on the other hand be could not praise the former leader of the other political party. It is therefore a letter similar to a ceremonial speech, but one given in awkward circumstances, demanding considerable tact. Jefferson undoubtedly knew that this letter might very well get into public print.

II. The arguments:

1. Character of the speaker:

Jefferson wishes to appear as one who knew Washington very well and has a right to speak about him (this shows Jefferson's intelligence); he also wishes to appear as one who is very fair and objective, able to appreciate the good qualities even of an opponent (this shows Jefferson's good character); and be wishes to show that he and the members of his party (called "Republican" but actually the first form of our present Democratic Party) were never opposed to Washington as an individual (this shows their good will to the public, i.e., they have only opposed Washington for the public good, and not for personal motives).

He achieves this by his tone of great moderation. He avoids everything that would be undignified or envious, although he makes occasional thrusts at his opponents (e.g., "I am convinced he is more deeply seated in the love and 'gratitude of the republicans, than in the Pharasaical homage of the federal monarchists").

2. Analysis of the audience:

Jefferson knows very well that the public admires Washington's memory and would never endure any attack on it. On the other band, be also knows that many of them fear a return to strong one-man government. Hence be takes care to praise Washington, but to imply that he was too favorable to the Federalist Party and filled by the Federalists with pessimistic fears about democracy. By showing these two sides of Washington he hopes to leave the impression in the audience that Washington was a great man, but that his party is dangerous to popular liberties and is only using Washington's prestige to further this aim.

Jefferson realized that "the people" are always afraid that their liberties will be removed by some group of powerful men, and are easily made suspicious of such groups. He also knows that " the people" are likely to be hero-worshipers and hence to accept a party which had so great a leader as Washington.

3. The arguments:

This letter is almost wholly descriptive, but note the following;

1. First he gives a very balanced picture of Washington's great qualities, and his limitations. These limitations make the picture seem realistic and convincing. We are inclined to be sceptical of a eulogy which mentions only good points. His general point is that Washington was a man of very solid character, but somewhat limited in his intellectual capacity. (First paragraph).
2. He then shows that Washington had a rather tentative belief in the republican form of government. He wished to give it a fair trial, but he was really sceptical it would succeed.
3. He then explains that Washington became estranged from him both because of the gossip of the Federalists and because of lack of confidence in republican government.

The conclusion obviously is that Washington was a man of great character, but of very real limitations, which explain his failure to support Jefferson's party. Thus the letter consists in the use of two devices: amplification of Washington's moral character, diminution of his political judgment in supporting the Federalist Party.

III. Style:

This letter does not have all the polish of some of Jefferson's more famous writings. It shows, however, the carefully balanced and clear sentences common in the prose of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. It conveys the impression of "good-sense" and moderation.

The student will notice that some of the words would seem strange today in Jefferson's usage. For example, "his colloquial talents," "pompous meetings," etc.

IV. Arrangement:

The arrangement is simple and orderly. Jefferson states his purpose and then devotes a paragraph to each of the three points of the argument given above, although these paragraphs seem somewhat long for present day style.