The Art of Rhetoric in the Metamorphoses

The Art of Rhetoric in the Metamorphoses Among the numerous passages covered in The Metamorphoses of Ovid, there are many stories regarding the origins of the Earth, the activities of the Roman gods, and some of Rome’s significant rulers and founders. Within each of these stories, Ovid injects an overall idea that can be taken away from the text. Many of these overall ideas are themes and lessons, but also there are arts that are illustrated to the reader such as poetry, singing, or weaving. One idea in particular that Ovid portrays is the art of Rhetoric in Greco-Roman culture.
Rhetoric was used in Greco-Roman culture often as a means of putting together words in a certain order to persuade or inform your audience of a specific idea. The two stories regarding the discussion between Ajax and Ulysses over Achilles armor exemplifies the idea of rhetoric. Ovid uses the episodes of Ajax and Ulysses in book thirteen f the Metamorphoses to illustrate to the readers the art of rhetoric. Ovid draws upon previous texts covered in class such as Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid to form some of his stories in the Metamorphoses. However, Ovid’s style of writing is much different than that of Homer and Virgil.
Homer and Virgil both write about post Trojan War events, but from two different perspectives, the Greeks and the Trojans respectively. Despite their difference in perspective, their style is the same in that they both focus on the glorification of war. They both portray violent events vividly and give praise to war heroes. Ovid, on the other hand, talks about certain parts in the Odyssey and the Aeneid that Homer and Virgil did not discuss such as the rescue of Achaemenides, the crewman Ulysses left behind on the island of Polyphemus, in book fourteen.

Ovid seems to dismiss the glorification of war and briefly pass over violent scenes or portray them in a different, more comical, manner. Rather Ovid focuses on the arts of Greco-Roman culture. Ovid focuses on stories of Mythology concerning poetry, singing, crafting, and even the art of rhetoric. Rhetoric is “the study and practice of effective communication,” (Nordquist). There are three types of rhetoric employed: epideictic, judicial, and deliberative. These three branches of rhetoric can be used in various ways to communicate to your audience.
Epideictic rhetoric is the commemoration or blame of an individual. Epideictic rhetoric is often used in “funeral orations, obituaries, graduation and retirement speeches, letters of recommendation, and nominating speeches at political conventions,” (Nordquist). Judicial rhetoric is “primarily employed by lawyers in trials decided by a judge or jury,” (Nordquist). Deliberative rhetoric is the use of communication to persuade or dissuade an individual or audience of a statement or action.
Ovid does not only use the three branches of rhetoric however, he also shows the use of a technique called amplification and minimization through Ajax and Ulysses which is essentially amplifying good qualities and minimizing bad qualities. The technique of amplification and minimization goes hand in hand with deliberative and epideictic rhetoric. Ovid employs all three branches of rhetoric in his stories of Ajax and Ulysses to demonstrate their arguments and to illustrate the art of rhetoric itself. The bulk of Ovid’s illustration of rhetoric is contained within the stories of Ajax and Ulysses in book thirteen.
After the Trojan War is over, the Greeks set aside Achilles’ armor and decide, through a debate, who the receiver of the armor will be. The two in debate over the armor are Ajax and Ulysses. Both employ deliberative rhetoric as their means of persuading the audience to decide who will keep the armor, but they also use the other branches as well to strengthen their argument. The discussion between the two as a whole is a deliberative and judicial rhetoric battle, but both make use of epideictic rhetoric to strengthen their positions.
Ajax is the first to present his argument. Immediately Ajax makes use of epideictic rhetoric by slandering Ulysses’ actions, “he was one who did not hesitate to beat retreat when he was forced to face the torches Hector threw, while I withstood those deadly flames: the fleet was only rescued because of me,” (Ovid 427). Ajax gives evidence that Ulysses was a coward by exposing his retreat in the face of Hector. He also uses amplification and minimization to show how detrimental it was that Ulysses fled, and how great it was that Ajax held his position.
Ajax then uses another epideictic statement when he brings in his heritage: And even if you were to doubt my courage, it’s I who claim the nobler lineage. I am the son of Telamon, the friend who helped the sturdy Hercules destroy the walls of Troy and, then, in Jason’s ship, sailed off and reached the distant coast of Colchis. And Telamon was born of Aeacus, who is a judge whitin the silent world—precisely in the place where Sisyphus, the son of Aeolus, must struggle with the weight of his great stone; and Aeacus was born of Jove—as Jove himself admits. (Ovid 427-428) Once again Ajax draws upon a feature that will increase his deservingness.
Throughout the rest of his presentation, Ajax continually employs epideictic rhetoric to commemorate his actions and defame those of Ulysses. The use of only one dimension of the three branches of rhetoric by Ajax shows that the body of his presentation is insulting Ulysses. This weakens Ajax’s argument, “Many amateur rhetors think of debate as an ‘us-versus-them’ sort of affair, and that the readers who disagree are the enemy whose inferior arguments must be ground into the dirt. Accordingly, they mistakenly believe that ridiculing or attacking these mistaken beliefs is the most effective way to ‘win’ the argument,” (Wheeler).
The constant insults diminish in value in their numerous quantities. Ulysses is fortunate to present after Ajax. Ajax is at a disadvantage because of his eagerness to present first. This gives Ulysses a chance to gather his argument and also turn what Ajax says against him. Ulysses begins in a different manner. Ulysses sets the tone of somberness by recalling Achilles, “If things had gone as you and I had wished, o Greeks, we would hat ask who should succeed to this extraordinary weaponry; Achilles, you’d still have your arms, and we would still have you,” (Ovid 432).
Ulysses uses epideictic rhetoric not to depreciate Ajax’s deeds, but to honor Achilles as one does at a funeral. Soon after Ulysses honors Achilles, he begins to strengthen his image through more epideictic rhetoric just as Ajax did. Ulysses draws upon his own lineage on page 433 claiming to be descendent of not only Jove but Mercury as well. He also minimizes Ajax’s lineage by claiming that one of Ajax’s ancestors was an exiled criminal. Ulysses then moves on to say, “Just judge by deeds—and deeds alone . . . it’s only one’s worth that weighs,” (Ovid 433).
Ulysses defeats Ajax’s argument about his kinship to Achilles, but then claims that the victor should be determined by his actions not his external goods. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, talks about the importance of external goods, but he says that the goods of the mind (deeds and actions) are more important. So Ulysses goes on to give a myriad of good deeds he has performed such as convincing Achilles to return to battle, going as an ambassador into Troy to try to negotiate the return of Helen, the plan for the Trojan horse, and inciting the warriors and Ajax with courage when they ere on the brink of retreat.
As an entirety, Ajax is only able to spill insults and talk down about Ulysses, but Ulysses is able to combat all of Ajax’s insults and turn them against him. Also going second plays into Ulysses’ favor because Ajax has no opportunity for rebuttal whereas Ulysses does. Therefore Ulysses is declared the victor of the argument and wins on the basis of his rhetorical skills. Ovid pays more respect to the battle between two rhetors than he does to two warriors clearly through the great detail he goes into in the discussion between Ulysses and Ajax.
Instead of depicting great violent battle scenes, he depicts a great rhetoric argument between two individuals. Ovid briefly touches on the Trojan War itself, but takes great measure in illustrating the use of rhetoric in the discussion after the War.
Bibliography Ovid, Metamorphoses Nordquist, Richard. About. com, “Rhetoric. ” Accessed November 28, 2011. http://grammar. about. com/od/rs/g/rhetoricterm. htm. Wheeler, Dr. L. Kip. “Rhetoric. ” Last modified September 26,2011. Accessed November 28, 2011. http://web. cn. edu/kwheeler/resource_rhet. html.

Order your essay today and save 20% with the discount code: RESEARCH