40 pages 1 hour read



Nonfiction | Essay Collection | Adult | BCE

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


Aristotle’s Rhetoric is a comprehensive treatise on the art of persuasive speech. The author developed this work over the course of many decades, spanning his time at Plato’s Academy (367-347 BCE) and his time teaching at the Lyceum (335-322 BCE). Aristotle did not intend this work for wide publication; rather, it was a collection of works that either Aristotle himself or a subsequent editor combined.

The Rhetoric is divided into three books, or sections. Book 1 establishes the general principles, terminologies, and assumptions that will inform the rest of the work. Aristotle defines ‘rhetoric’, then describes the three main methods of persuasion: logos (logical reasoning), ethos (character), and pathos (emotion). He further subdivides logos into example and enthymeme (a form of syllogism). Aristotle then identifies the three styles of oratory: deliberative (political), forensic (legal), and epideictic (ceremonial). With these basic principles established, the author outlines topics that pertain to each of the three styles of oratory, such as the motives of wrong-doing for forensic oratory.

Book 2 is the longest in this work, and it provides a detailed investigation of logos, pathos, and ethos. Beginning with pathos, Aristotle focuses on the emotions that could be useful for public speakers, such as anger. The author contends that a thorough understanding of every emotion will help the speaker to excite the desired emotion in his listeners. Regarding ethos, Aristotle describes how age and fortune (as in luck) can affect the characters of men (the speakers and audience are almost always men in the context of ancient Athens). With this knowledge, a speaker can adjust his rhetorical style to appeal most to his target demographic. Furthermore, this understanding allows the speaker to portray his own character in the appropriate way.

Book 2 concludes with logos, the third of Aristotle’s main methods of persuasion. The author explores proof through example, concluding that relevant historical events are more useful examples than invented examples, such as fables. Aristotle also argues that example works best as an illustration of enthymeme, rather than as proof in its own right. He then moves on to enthymeme, which is a brief rhetorical syllogism usually with only one premise and conclusion. This is Aristotle’s preferred form of proof, since it is logically sound and not dependent on external factors beyond the argument itself. The author lists a large number of topoi, or lines of argument, that can help the speaker to construct an enthymeme; he also lists fallacious enthymemes that lead to faulty conclusions.

The final book in this work deals with lexis (style or delivery) and taxis (arrangement). Regarding style, Aristotle advises the reader to use natural-sounding language and diction that is simple and elegant, and not so overwrought that it sounds poetic. This discussion also involves some aspects of Greek language that do not translate into English. Finally, Aristotle discusses his recommended arrangement for speeches, encompassing a proem (introduction), narrative, argument, and epilogue (conclusion). He explains the best use of the various rhetorical tools within this arrangement, depending on the style of oratory. The work ends abruptly with the conclusion of this discussion.

Common Greek technical terms are provided in italics, with suggested English equivalent; some translations use only the Greek terms.

Quotes, book and chapter numbers, and page numbers in this guide are based on the following translation:Cooper, Lane, translator. The Rhetoric of Aristotle. By Aristotle, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1932.