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Premodern Colloquium: Rhetoric and Anthropology in Early Modern Europe

Sunday, March 15, 2015
4:00 AM
1100 Berkshire Rd, Ann Arbor

“Discourse is the Character of the Mind,” the rhetorician Bernard Lamy writes in 1675, “our Humor describes itself in our words, and every man incogitantly follows the style to which his disposition naturally carries him.”  From style, we know both character and country.  Lamy then divides the world: “Asiaticks” have warm imaginations, and thus “speak nothing but by Allegories, Similitudes, and Metaphors ...”  Their style is “obscure” to those who lack agile imaginations.  In contrast, “Northern people have not that heat, and therefore speak more plain and intelligibly.”   “Every Clymat hath its style,” and “every Age has its peculiar Mode.  Lamy’s distinctions draw on ancient thought, which moored style to region: the luxurious Asiatic, the modest Attic, the Rhodian middle way, the genus rhodium.  As if style has its own terroir, Lamy’s taxonomy retails the intimacy of place, inclination, and expression. 

Taking Lamy’s lead, this paper explores the relationships between rhetoric and anthropology, with a focus on the ways in which place affects somatic disposition (diathesis), and disposition conditions oratorical facility.  I range between ancient and early modern thought in order to argue that place is the wellspring of variegated eloquence: discourse, its requisite wit, depends on climate, broadly conceived, and on the ways in which land and air determine constitution.  This is not ‘writing the land,’ but the land writing.