Monday, September 27, 2010


Imitatio Assignment Reflection

As a Professional Writing and Rhetoric major, I am not limited in my exposure to ancient Greek rhetoric. From Sophistic essays to Platonic dialogues, professors have continually emphasized the significance that these lectures have in our modern communications. To persuade an audience, the writer must have appeals of logos, pathos, or ethos. And almost all assigned essays involve the rhetorical analysis of such themes. I now know this to be a rather narrow examination of rhetoric, however. Despite working with ancient Greek works previously, I have never been challenged with such an assignment. I had to not only fully understand the text, but also be able to imitate the dialogue and modernize the content. There was more than just an analysis of appeals as I am used to; I had to have a complete knowledge of how the rhetorical appeals were presented and why, the style and voice used, as well as know all the complexities and nuances within the text. In creating and presenting an imitatio of Plato’s “The Apology,” I not only faced a great challenge in regard to the material itself, but also learned a great deal about the relationship between ancient and modern rhetoric during the process.

When given the task of selecting an ancient Greek text to imitate, I was absolutely overwhelmed. The choices, it seemed, were endless. Plato, Aristotle, Gorgias, and Socrates immediately came to mind, which helped to narrow down the choices a bit. Unfortunately for me, these superstar rhetoricians are not low on materials to examine. After reading text upon text, I was finally enthralled with Plato’s interpretation of the trial of Socrates, called “The Apology.” Along with my interest in the content of the piece, I was equally frustrated with the length. We were assigned a four-minute, two-page speech. Condensing the thirty-page “Apology” to this limit was absolutely impossible. My greatest challenge during this experience was selecting a portion of the text that I most wanted to recreate because I found much of “The Apology” to be quite captivating with the potential for great imitation. But because each section was so unique from the others, I could only afford to focus on one.

Eventually I decided to modernize the material with a reference to popular culture: the recent trial of Lindsey Lohan. This allowed me to better focus on the goal I wanted to accomplish with my imitatio. I quickly realized that the best part of “The Apology” to accommodate my newly decided content was the fifteen-page introduction, “Defense of Socrates.” So from there, I begrudgingly had to eliminate even more text. The process of deciding which material to keep or cut was incredibly difficult; I could see opportunity for strong imitation and argument in all of “Defense of Socrates.” Eventually, I overcame this challenge by keeping sections of text from the introduction, body, and conclusion as opposed to one large part from just one of these parts. In this way, my own piece had a fluid and complete argument; I wanted it to be able to standalone and believe that I successfully accomplished this goal.

In addition to learning better editing techniques, in terms of text choices, the imitatio assignment also allowed me to explore the ways in which ancient rhetoric influences modern rhetoric. Closely working with Plato’s “The Apology” helped to define for me the extent to which ancient rhetors’ ways translate to today. It seems that most contemporary publications rely on pathos as a means of persuading their audience. This is especially true with entertainment news that defends or accuses celebrities of indecent behavior. In examining any recent celebrity scandal, for example Lindsey Lohan’s pleas for understanding for her drug and alcohol addiction, one can always find a slew of pathetic appeals to the public. In analyzing “The Apology,” I learned this also to be the case with ancient texts. Socrates continually defends his character through emotional appeals to the jurors. He wants them to believe in the “injustice” of his trial because he is truly a “good” man. Today, just as in 350 B.C., the rhetor wants to earn the audience’s sympathy for the sole intention of gaining their support.

Another common thread shared by ancient and modern rhetoric is the appeal of logos. To be more specific, they share a kind of attack on ethical appeals through logical argumentation. While I had frequently seen this technique in contemporary rhetoric, I had never observed it to be the case in Greek works. In fact, it was one of the most interesting and unexpected commonalities I found during my deconstruction of “The Apology.” In order to defend themselves, ancient rhetors such as Plato would attack the credibility of their accusers. “The Apology,” for example, begins with Socrates’s claims that those who slander his name have ulterior motives and cannot actually support any of their accusations with provable evidence. He uses logical proofs to substantiate his personal claims and refute others. Today, this method remains constant. Rather than just prove their argument with logic, people also discredit their opposition. Such is the case with Lohan, who blames a substantial amount of her troubles on exaggeration from the media. In effect, this technique works to shift blame from the accused to the accusers. She cites numerous publications that mislead the public with unsupported evidence, thereby proving her accusations against them. Previously, I believed that unwarranted criticism toward others was a cultural and contemporary behavior, though now I realize that it is a centuries-old rhetorical tradition. No single proof is enough until the accusers are proven wrong as well.

Without question, my greatest struggle throughout the imitatio assignment involved decisions about material. Many times, it felt as though I had too many great texts to choose from. It was a challenge to eliminate entire essays at first and, later, individual parts of “The Apology” because I saw incredible potential in all of them as sources of imitation. But through the process of hyper-analyzing all of the materials for an editing requirement, I was able to establish a deeper understanding of the content. In selecting such a rich and lengthy piece, I forced myself to look beyond surface approaches of purely logos, ethos, and pathos. Never before had I been so able to make educated comparisons between ancient and modern rhetoric. In truth, I learned that there are far more similarities than differences; perhaps, we are not as rhetorically evolved as we might like to think. I thoroughly enjoyed this element of the imitatio assignment as it challenged me to deeply engage with a subject that, at times, can become somewhat monotonous.

Imitatio of Plato’s The Apology

(Inspired by the recent trial of Lindsey Lohan.)

Citizens of America, what are your thoughts after hearing the outlandish accusations of the media? Day after day, I am forced to confront tabloid rumors. It is difficult, even for me, not to be persuaded by their elaborate web of lies. At times, I nearly forget who I really am. But ladies and gentlemen, I must inform you that almost none of what they speak is truthful. I plead with you to listen to what I have to say. I will argue honestly and justly against the falsehoods that have cast a shadow over my name. Before you judge me and end my career, I know it only to be fair that you acknowledge my request.

I have had more accusers than I can name over the years. From bloggers and magazine writers to my own father, I have been labeled an evildoer. But I have come to fear most those that perpetuate rumors via circulation of their dishonest publications. For years, writers have neglected the truth for the purpose of a better story. Many of these slanderers I have never even spoken to, yet they continually disgrace and defame my character. And for an impressionable public, these lies are easily accepted. Everyone always expects the worst of me due to the lies they’ve been taught to believe. So as I defend myself, I beg of you to challenge the assumption that everything you read is truth because I promise, with complete honesty, that this is not the case.

According to entertainment news writers, I am a drug addicted, has-been actress who corrupts our nation’s youth. I have never pretended not to have my share of struggles. I mean, one has to look no further than my several drug convictions and stints in rehab. But let us for one minute examine the rest of the nation; I bet that each of us knows an addict in our own lives. I am not alone in my disease. Perhaps, I should be commended for my continual and persistent efforts to get clean. Instead, the media makes a public mockery of my very private battles. Not once have I pretended to know all the answers or reveled in my “role model status.” Accusers have claimed that I behave irresponsibly for the rewards of publicity, but there is no evidence to support this. I am just as foolish as the next man and am conscious of my limitations. But for some reason, I have the unique disadvantage that my faults will be broadcast to the world.

In defense of the accusations that I corrupt the lives of the youth, I challenge you to find someone who believes that I have, single-handedly, ruined their lives. Or even a mother, father, or sibling who believes that my actions have definitively caused their relative pain. If these persons can be found, I justly deserve your punishment. But I know this not to be the case. No matter how impressionable the public, no single person has the power to define another person’s life. My accusers were sorely mistaken in these claims and I am appalled by their ignorance.

So why, you ask, should my testimony be accepted as truth? For the purpose of justice, I remind you. My accusers have ulterior motives: the nastier the story, the higher the profit. Their statements are not guided by truth. Their bottom-line is the cause of my suffering. Do not let their exaggerated tales cloud your judgment. Please do not let my promising career just fall to the wayside. Friends, I am only human. I am not immune to errors. But I must be given the opportunity to learn and grow from my mistakes, not be defined by them.

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