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Beata Gaj
Opole University

The article aims to present three different Latin texts created in the Old Silesia in the 17th century. All of them reveal the authors’ awareness of rhetorical transformations in this time. The first one, entitled Parallel morum saeculi, describes the changes of the world and the literature, using the idea of a Latin word larva (the mask). The second text (Axiomata concionandi) is the original rhetorical handbook which proposes the rule of a thought-provoking innovation as the most important rhetorical law. Finally, the last one – disputation (Disputatio periucunda, qua Anonymus prpbare nittitur… mulieres homines non esse) is supposed to prove that women are not the human beings. It shows rhetoric as a collection of devices which automatic or malevolent usage can lead to an absurdity or even a tragedy.

„The rules appropriate to art are not irreversible laws sculpted into her, which cannot or should not from time to time prudently disturb” (Nam regulae atrium non sunt leges in iis incisae, quae non possint aut debeant nonnumquam prudenter violari. Scultetus b.d. XVI/XVII cent.) The abovementioned words, which came from the published in Złotoryja in the beginning of XVII century Axiomata concionandi practica is somewhat negating the thesis on the exceptional normativism of the rhetoric as a subject narrowed to only elocution in the XVII (Otwinowska 1984: 49). The absorbing of categories and classification of rhetoric didn’t means the rhetorical activity based on the already established, somewhat dead material, but also often stating new postulates as answers for new situations and needs. Educated people were educated thanks to the rhetoric: the writers, teachers, researchers of sciences being more and more specialized or just the audience – the readers, including the theory and rhetorical practice, had a big knowledge of their own and some other’s literary works. Especially common was this rhetorical and literary awareness on old Silesia, what undoubtedly was connected with the popularity of middle stage education, famous Latin schools (Lateinschule), which existed from the XVI century in almost every Silesian city (Budzyński 2003: 243). The awareness of the changes in the rhetoric and therefore new possibilities of using old, proven rhetorical solutions is present in majority of presented then in Silesia. Having in mind the goal of this publication, I’ve chosen three of them: a dissertation revealing the awareness of changes on the real and literary world, the original handbook on rhetoric and a treaty of shocking title “A discussion where the Anonymous proves that women are not humans” (Disputatio periucunda qua anonymous probare nititur mulieres homines non esse, 1595).

The dissertation by Caspar Dornavius entitled Parallela morum saeculi has brightened the inauguration in Bytom’s Schnaichianum in 1595. The author describes to the young adepts the vastness of the human crimes and disasters and asks a question, if only this time is special or similar disasters are present in every other time, like every epoch is changeable. The summoning of all of the horrible things and human imperfections which provoke the majority of disasters is not only the elaborated machinery of listing, but, above all, it is confronted with the need of seeing his own mistakes and will of improvement. One should stop the never-stopping the dwelling upon the disasters and, at least, try to reverse them thanks to his own lively actions. In the oratorical show by Dornavius one can see the ability to observe things, evaluating the future and the past, sensitive intelligence and humane culture assimilated and adapted to the new needs. According to the author there is time of new thinking, change of masks in the theater of the world. These motives of Platonian origin were very popular in Baroque epoch, when people emphasized their aspect of determinism and pessimism. In Dornavius larva, or the mask, it isn’t only the mask of crime and disaster (larva vitiorum), which should be put away, but it seems to hide some better “me” One of the most interesting conceptions of Dornavius is the seeing of connections of the mistakes made by the Christian world with the language it uses. The excess, prodigality and in general every crossing of temperance have the connection with the used language and the form of speech. The imputing of the essence of thins together with the prowess to trivial effects (lascivire), peculiar “dividing the hair into four” or giving away to not important things (quaestiuncula), and finally the slanders which bring the hostility (debacchari) and harm (iniuriae). The only help is sacrificing one’s own language and style to the Holy Spirit like St. Paul, what allowed him to gain the highest award of the rhetoric: the rhetorical goal in teaching of every nation.

Amongst many seventeenth century Silesian handbooks or compendia of rhetoricy one will find it hard to categorize the „Practical axioms of rhetoricy”, from which I took the quotation that started my article. “The axioms” (Gaj 2007:114 – 116) are not a compendium and not the material or partial rhetoric, it’s not chrestomathies (the Collection of authentic or fictional speeches, letters of sermons) and it is not the ordered by themes or the alphabet copiae rerum et verborum, and on this description we run out of the examples of varietatis in contemporary theory and literary criticism, given by Barbara Otwinowska (Otwinowska 1967: 205). One hundred and six “common assumptions, called the axioms” are described by the author from one side as a statements near dogmatic a theoretical and from the other side she is putting them to some kind of a practical exam. On the practical character of this untypical handbook points also the verb contionari, which means the practical ability of speaking. The main goal of the speaker should be a speech which is clear, worthy and convincing. Perspicuitas, or the clarity of the statement, is the guarantee of the success of persuasion. If one shouldn’t teach the pupil of rhetoric, when he wasn’t in grammar class, one cannot convince anyone of the rightness of his opinions and agitates him before they were clearly presented. Abraham Scultetus asks in the next axioms for the clear, prudent composition and stylistic limitations when they can’t spoil the persuasion:Concionatori dispiciendum sit, non quam artifi ciose, sed quam fructuose doceat. He criticizes also the position of the speakers who are, above all, caring for not breaking the rules of a given genre and use all of its attributed stylistic measures: the rules in art can, and even sometimes should, be broken for having new measures, gaining new goals and challenges together with changing circumstances.

The described attitude guarantees the liveliness and color of every art, including the rhetoric, counteracts the stiffness and numbing. Of course, the rules have to be broken very prudently: prudenter violare. The rule of prudent innovation is present in every advice by Sculteus, even these concerning pronunciation, where probably referred to the famous baroque outbreak in history of music, which appeared as resignation of regular rhythmical course of the composition and gaining rhythmical freedom (Chodkowski pod red. 2001: 80). Scultetus proposes a statement rhythmically diversified: fast and slow according to the changing circumstances (ubi res postulat). The idea of changeability and seeing in the rhetorical heritage a possibility and even a necessity of innovation are the main message of the handbook, compendium, dictionary and critical research in one.

The ex ample of using old rhetorical strategies in new ways can be a dispute (Disputatio periucunda qua anonymus probare nititur…) published in Nysa in the end of XVI century and being very popular in XVII and the following centuries. This dispute seems to be of mostly religious nature, to this day being controversial, but not because of the religion, but the other content – it persuades, that women are not human ) (mulieres homines non esse). It was attributed once, most probably maliciously, to connected with Silesia, Valens Acidalius, philologist, poet and doctor from Brandenburg, befriended with Silesian doctors –poets, Caspar Cunradus and Daniel Bucretius (Gaj 2010: 199 – 202). Acidalius for a few weeks before his Heath became a Catholic again. Maybe his death was connected with the quasi-religious pamphlet, ridiculing the way, how the socynians (they are called anabaptists in the text) deny the divinity of Christ. The most popular was the edition of the dispute from the half of XVII century, from Hague, together with a theologian answer of Simon Gediccus. In answer to the pamphlet some academic teacher, a Lutheran (who actually didn’t understand the idea and irony of the texts), Simon Gediccus, have published his own text, entitles The defense of the women, which was written as a refutation of the alleged line of thinking of Acidalius or the Anonymous . Both of the pamphlets were published very often, constantly with new commentaries, and in 1647, in Lyon, appeared a printed version entitled: Sur le fait que les femmes n’ont point d’ame, et n’appartiennent pas a la race humaine, comme le prouvent maint passages des Saintes Ecritures, or About how the women have no soul and they are not belonging to the human race how it’s being proved in many places by the Word of God. This text aroused much interest in the Church and the Pope Innocent X put it on the Index in a decree of 18 June 1651.

In the mutual edition of both the pamphlets we have to deal with a dialogue of rhetoric show of satiric character (Anonymous) and a theologian sermon, which author (Gediccus) seems not to get the main thread and the main message of the text, which he so fiercely polemizes.

The Anonymous wanted to show with help of rhetoricy that the methods of argumentation of extreme religious movements let to prove even such statements like the women are not human beings. He doesn’t say exactly about the synod from Macon, but he remarks that the Anabaptists deny the women their souls.

Towards such a logical and witty text of the Discussion, the Defense of Gediccus, dedicated i.a. to one of the Silesian princes, seems to be colorless and a bit bland, intertwined with invectives (cave tu asine, blaspheme Diabole, non te bestiam sed bestiam multo deteriorem crederim…), like the very emotionally predisposed theologian forgot about the rhetoricy of the text.

He intended to refutate all of the theses of the “diabolic discussion” (novae istius et plane Diabolicae disputationis refutationem) methodically and in a proper way, but he lacked the finesse of connecting the logical paradoxes with the gains of elocution. His main goal seems to be showing how despicable the author of the pamphlet on women really is, according to Gediccus. This work is still categorized as work of entertainment: vanissimus est nugator, qui in exordio huius anni 1595 ψεκλυόν λόγον contra muliebrem sexum in lucem edidit. The essence of the discussion Gediccus explains with very complicated philological measures: homo derivate form humus, which is close to pulveris, and we’re close to terra, which is of feminine gender, so if ossibus and caro ex carne, the woman has to be a human, “what was to be proven” – one would like to add. Another sophistry from the pamphlet of Anonymous which seems to be using the biblical argument that the Savior calls women not human, but dogs (The conversation with the Cananean), Gediccus explains that men and philosophers were called this way too, Agamemnon was attributed with canine nature and St. Paul was naming pseudo-apostles cavete canes. At least by the end of the anti-pamphlet Gediccus seems to see the line of thought that was used in the pamphlet. Because the fiftieth and the last argument allegedly against the humanity of women were formulated in the following way: ultimum omnium mulierum eff ugium: omne simile gignere sibi simile. If a woman gives birth to humans, it would seem that she is a human too. If that is the truth, the Anabaptists are wrong, saying that the Christ is not a real God. But this problem is also solvable, jokes Anonymous, because the Father gives birth to his alike: Pater enimsi filium genuit, deum genuit sibi similem: pater gignit sibi simile, and the mother is only a tool (instrumentum). On such a distinct joke Gediccus again reacts with invectives, because we all are the nation of God (Dei genus omnes sumus). The enraged defensor-defendant of the proper religious thinking refers to the rhetoric and calls the author of the pamphlet against women a sophist and even places an example of such a sophistry: sophista fallaciam committis ex Elencho: tu non es, quod ego sum, ego sum homo, ergo tu non es homo. Using the sophistry was one of the main goals of the pamphlet, because it showed and ridiculed the way of thinking so some religious reformators, doctors, creating new and new exceptional theories as the only ones needed for salvation.

The clear message that one can prove any thesis, showed as a contradiction of the obviousness of women’s’ humanity, started many controversies and wasn’t understood as it should and could contribute too many personal tragedies (starting form Acidalius). The picaro joke dressed in sophist argumentation which can provoke controversies even now was directed to the audience which was ready to use rhetoricy in a new way. The understanding of ostensibly logical text subdued to rhetorical mockery was a kind of using the theory of rhetoricy as a joke. It showed the rhetoric in one side as a collection of tool which automatically or marked with bad will use can contribute to many absurd or even to many tragedies (and this scenario was proven by life) and on the other side it showed the new face of rhetoric, as an art capable of discovering and showing many absurds of the changeable world. This is worth remembering even now when the authors of some texts are using a “rhetorical mask” (larva rhetorica) and adjust it to their own faces.


Acidalius Valens (1606). Epistolarum Centuria I , cui accesserunt: I. Epsitola Apologetica ad Clarisimum Virum Iacobum Monavium II. Oratio de vera carminis elegiaci natura et constitutione. Edita cura Christiani Acidali Fratris, Hanoviae. Typis Wechelianis, apud Claudium Marnium et haeredes Ioannis Aubrii.

Anonim (1595). Disputatio periucunda qua anonymus probare nititur mulieres homines non esse. Nissae.

Anonim i Simon Gediccus (1641, 1644). Disputatio periucunda, qua Anonymus probare nititur mulieres homines non esse:cui opposite est Simonis Gedicci Sacros. (anctae) Theologiae Doctoris defensio sexus muliebris, qua singula Anonymi argumenta distinctis thesibus proposita viriliter enervantur. Editio secudna. Hagae-comitis excudebat Burchornius. Biblioteka Jagiellońska. Sygn. 195 II i 196 II.

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Chodkowski Andrzej red. (2001). Encyklopedia muzyki. Warszawa II edition with notes,

Dornavius Caspar (1616). Parallela morum saeculi , hoc est, dissertatio, qua probatur: vitiae nostrae tempestatis, prisci item aevi fuisse; habita in illustri Bethaneo Silesiorum ad Oderam ipso inaugurationis suae die XIIX Augusti anno MDCXVI. Gorlicii.

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Kuś Agnieszka (2005), Rzeczpospolita Babińska. Krolestwo na opak?, [in:] Dawne elity. Słowo i gest,. Red. Jerzy Axer, Justyna Olko. Warsaw. 46

Otwinowska Barbara (1967). Modele i style prozy w dyskusjach na przełomie XVI i XVII wieku. (Wokoł toruńskiej rozprawy Fabriciusa z 1619). Wrocław.

Otwinowska Barbara (1984). Wciąż nowa Minerwa. In: Retoryka a literatura. Ed. B. Otwinowska. Wrocław.

Scultetus Abraham (ca. XVI/XVII). Axiomata concionandi practica. Goldbergae.


FAR 2011 No. 2 (25) April-June

Rhetoric and cultural transformations



(Instytut Polonistyki Stosowanej UW)