* This guide on writing a Classical Essay was written by Serena Beetner and Mary Bruinius, former Writing Center Consultants, in fulfillment of an assignment for the Writing Center staff development course, Topics in Composition. The purpose of this guide is to provide insight into the Classical Essay as well as to provide helpful hints and advice to anyone who may be completing a similar assignment.
In ancient Greek and Roman society, rhetoricians developed
an established method of argument known today as classical oration.
Classical oration consists of six parts: the exordium, the narratio,
the partition, the confirmatio, the refutatio, and the peroratio. This
method of persuasion is still used in modern classrooms as a model for
-- Exordium: The introduction
-- Narratio: Sets forth facts of the case.
-- Partition: The thesis.
-- Confirmatio: Writer lays out and supports arguments.
-- Refutatio: Writer looks at counter arguments and demonstrates why they aren't compelling.
Things to Ask Yourself after You Write Your Argument:
Examples of Assignments: Below are examples of progymnasmata, or elementary exercises used to teach rhetoric.
--Expand on a common expression.
--Retell a story from poetry, history, fairy tales.
--Write a descriptive essay about an object noting its physical characteristics in the order in which they appear.
--Write a composition that asks and answers a political or theoretical question, arguing some significant contemporary issue.
--Praise or denounce a law.
An 18th Century Example of a Classical Oration in the Form of a Written Essay: A Modest Proposal by Jonathon Swift
-Exordium: Background on the overcrowded situation in the country, the beggars, and the children.
-Narratio: The children are a hindrance on the working population.
-Partition: In order to solve the problem of overpopulation, we ought to sell the children for food and use the skins for handbags and boots.
-Confirmatio: Statistics demonstrate this would be a good solution to the population problem. One child would feed a family, and it would lesson the Roman Catholic population. Poor tenants will have something of their own that they can sell to make money. It will help marriage.
-Refutatio: Population will be decreased, but speaker views this a s good thing. No one else will take an active stance to help the economy.
-Peroratio: Although the speaker will not benefit, the
nation as a whole will benefit from taking his suggestions.
Corbett, Edward P.J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. 4th ed. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Crowley, Sharon. Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students. New York, New York: Macmilliam College Publishing Company, 1994.
Spurgin, Sally De Witt. The Power to Persuade: A Rhetoric and Reader for Argumentative Writing. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.,
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E-mail Dr. Bob Marrs with any questions, comments or suggestions.