Introduction to Classical Legal Rhetoric: A Lost Heritage

26 Pages Posted: 8 May 2016

Date Written: May 7, 1999


Beginning as early as 450 B.C., if an ordinary Greek or Roman citizen of the educated class had a legal dispute, he could, based on his extensive training in the art of rhetoric, argue his own case before an assembly of citizens (or a judge) with lawyer-like thoroughness. For nearly 1,000 years, the study of legal, legislative and ceremonial rhetoric was at the core of both Greek and Roman education and, in one form or another, has been part of formal education in the Western world since that time.

The rhetorical principles developed by Greco-Roman philosophers (Aristotle), legislators/politicians (Cicero) and advocate/teachers (Quintilian) were modified and applied in the Middle Ages to canon law and sermon writing, in the Renaissance to analysis and teaching of literature, in 17th and 18th century England to the training of clergymen. In 19th century America the art of rhetoric became part of the curriculum at Harvard College and was taught by John Quincy Adams, the first Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory. From that time to the present, the art of rhetoric, modernized and adapted for the 20th and 21st centuries, is featured prominently in undergraduate and post-graduate courses such as Speech, Communications, Rhetoric, English and Law.

As its 2,500-year history reveals, the art of Greco-Roman rhetoric is the most comprehensive, adaptable, coherent and practice-based analysis of legal reasoning, legal methodology, and legal argument ever devised. Most of its principles are as applicable to modern legal discourse as they were to ancient rhetoricians.

Suggested Citation

Frost, Michael, Introduction to Classical Legal Rhetoric: A Lost Heritage (May 7, 1999). Available at SSRN: or

Michael Frost (Contact Author)

Southwestern Law School ( email )

3050 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
United States

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