Epic Persuasion: Religion and Rhetoric in the Iliad and Valmiki

Author: 
Alles, Gregory D.
Year: 
1986

     In this study, "I take up two texts, the Iliad and the Valmiki-Ramayana (hereafter simply the Ramayana), and ask a single, limited question about rhetoric: Why do speakers in the two poems attempt to persuade differently? Within the poetic universe that each epic portrays, I suggest, speeches are 'nonreligious' events in which religion occurs. They are a peculiar variety of applied religious praxis, for they attempt to actualize for persuasive purposes the sorts of power that stand at the heart of religious practices of both poems." The study's "aim . . . is to demonstrate that persuasional speeches in each epic attempt to actualize forms of power whose religious character can be clearly seen."
     The main portion of the dissertation focuses on "persuasional speeches in each epic": Odysseus' speech to Achilles in Iliad 9.259-99, and Laksmana's speech to Rama in Ramayana 3.61-4.16. It considers the place of rhetoric in formulaic poetry before devoting a chapter to the persuasion of Achilles, and another to the persuasion of Rama. The concluding chapter is a comparison of "epic persuasion in Greece and India." It argues that the two epics "exhibit two different rhetorical praxeis that implement two different persuasive powers. In the Iliad power is social, systemic, relational, and economical. Persuasion is centered on arguments, using various adjuncts to meaning to strengthen the argument by means of systemic and economical relations. In the Ramayana power is natural, individual, generative/destructive, and repetitive. Persuasion employs every dimension of the individual speech act to intervene between kartr and karman with repeated or added verbal spurts. . . . In both epics power and persuasion are firmly grounded in the religious.

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