Pathos and Pastoralism: Aristotle’s Rhetoric in Medieval England
What did Aristotle’s Rhetoric, with its distinctive treatment of the emotions, mean to clerical readers in medieval England, and what impact might it have had on pastoral poetry in the tradition of PPl? It has long been recognized that Aristotle’s rhetorical treatment of emotion stands out among classical and later sources for its non-normative approach: it treats the emotions in terms of their social causes and effects, giving a pragmatic and dynamic audience psychology that has no parallel even in Aristotle’s other work (e.g. the Ethics). This article traces the reception of book 2 of the Rhetoric in its European (Continental) philosophical context before turning to its presence in medieval England and the evidence for its application to another field, preaching. This application is embodied in a fascinating manuscript, Cambridge, Peterhouse 57, containing the Rhetoric and other texts of Aristotle’s moral philosophy. This manuscript was at Peterhouse by the early fourteenth century, so that we can track the layers of reception of the Rhetoric. As the glosses in this manuscript show, Aristotle’s rhetorical teaching on the emotions would have given clerical readers a surprisingly different perspective from those offered in traditional theories of passions. Aristotle’s Rhetoric provided a new way of articulating pastoral knowledge about the emotions. Copeland focusses on a remarkable vernacular gloss on book 2 of the Rhetoric that takes the form of a short poem about ‘Piers the Plowman’. Aristotle’s Rhetoric sparked a connection between poetry and preaching, tapping their common potential as repositories of knowledge about audience emotion. Thus the article argues the importance of Aristotle’s Rhetoric in histories of emotion in the later Middle Ages.