Rhetorica ad Herennium

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The Rhetorica ad Herennium ("Rhetoric: For Herennius"), formerly attributed to Cicero but of unknown authorship, is the oldest surviving Latin book on rhetoric, dating from the 90s BC, and is still used today as a textbook on the structure and uses of rhetoric and persuasion.


The Rhetorica ad Herennium was addressed to Marcus Herennius (consul 93 BC). The Rhetorica remained the most popular book on rhetoric during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It was commonly used, along with Cicero's De Inventione, to teach rhetoric, and over one hundred manuscripts are extant. It was also translated extensively into European vernacular languages and continued to serve as the standard schoolbook text on rhetoric during the Renaissance. The work focuses on the practical applications and examples of rhetoric. It is also the first book to teach rhetoric in a very highly structured and disciplined form.

Its discussion of elocutio (style) is the oldest surviving systematic treatment of Latin style, and many of the examples are of contemporary Roman events. This new style, which flowered in the century following this work's writing, promoted revolutionary advances in Roman literature and oratory. However, according to some analysts, teaching oratory in Latin was inherently controversial because oratory was seen as a political tool, which had to be kept in the hands of the Greek-speaking upper class.[1] The Rhetorica ad Herennium can be seen as part of a liberal populist movement, carried forward by those, like L. Plotius Gallus, who was the first to open a school of rhetoric at Rome conducted entirely in Latin. He opened the school in 93 BC.[2] The work contains the first known description of the method of loci, a mnemonic technique. Ad Herennium also provides the first complete treatment of memoria (memorization of speeches).[3]

According to the work, there are three types of causes that a speaker would address:

  • Demonstrativum, where there is praise or condemnation of a particular person
  • Deliberativum, where policy is discussed
  • Iudiciale, where legal controversies are addressed

The Rhetorica ad Herennium suggests that in a standard format for argument (widely followed today in any five part essay) there were six steps.

  • Exordium, in which the writer uses relevant generalities, anecdotes, quotes, or analogies to capture attention and then connects them to the specific topic.
  • Narratio, in which the author succinctly states what will be the argument, thesis or point that is to be proven
  • Divisio, in which the author outlines the main points, or reviews the debate to clarify what needs to be discussed further
  • Confirmatio,which sets out the arguments (often three) for the thesis that the author supports as well as evidence supporting them
  • Refutatio, which sets out and refutes the opposing arguments
  • Conclusio, which is a summary of the argument, describing the urgency of the viewpoint and actions that could be taken

See also[edit]



  • Rhetorica ad Herennium (Friedrich Marx, ed. Prolegomena in editio maior .), Tuebner, Leipzig, 1923.
  • Golla, Georg. Sprachliche Beobachtungen zum auctor ad Herennium, Breslau, 1935.
  • Kroll, Wilhelm. Die Entwicklung der lateinischen Sprache, Glotta 22 (1934). 24-27.
  • Kroll, Wilhelm. Der Text des Cornificius, Philologus 89 (1934). 63-84
  • Tolkiehn, Johannes. Jahresbuch des philologischen Vereins zu Berlin 45 (1919)

External links[edit]

  • Rhetorica ad Herennium (Latin text with English translation by Harry Caplan). Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 1954.