Stasis Theory and Female Characterization in Greek Declamation

Heather Waddell Gruber

University of Iowa

Stasis, or "issue," theory is the rhetorical method by which a declaimer identifies what is at issue in the argument he is to make, and provides a framework for arranging his case.  For example, in a murder defense, the speaker might have to decide if he should base his argument on definition (e.g. Does the crime constitute "murder?"), or on circumstance (e.g. Was the murder just?).  Rhetoricians had different ideas as to which issues were more important than others and in what order the issues should be considered. 

One of the most influential handbooks on stasis theory, On Issues, was written by Hermogenes of Tarsus (ca. 160 – 225 C. E.).  According to him, it is valid to make a person's character the main issue of an argument in a case.  Such a rhetorical tactic is particularly useful in a case such as this:  "A hero dies with symptoms of poisoning; he had a stepmother and a captive concubine, who bring reciprocal charges against each other" (Stas. 56.14-20, trans. by Heath 1995).  The speaker would have to decide which character type would be more likely to commit murder:  the evil stepmother or the jealous lover.  His familiarity with literary tropes would guide him through his case.  In this paper I look specifically at declamations in which the defendants are played by stock female roles and analyze how a woman's character affects the argument.


Back to 2006 Meeting Home Page