ABSTRACT

This essay argues that enargeia, the “vivid” quality of language that encourages listeners or readers to develop mental images, was an integral element of rhetorical strategy in the courts of Classical Athens. It relies on ancient evidence and modern comparanda. Ancient rhetorical theorists demonstrate how enargeia would have contributed to a sense of presence and simulated in Athenian jurors an experience similar to that of actual eyewitnesses. Modern lawyers and authors of trial handbooks advise litigators to appeal to their jurors’ imaginations with language that recalls ancient descriptions of enargeia and the related concept phantasia, “imagination.” The results of modern psychology research into the “vividness effect,” especially the distinction between figural and ground vividness, show how enargeia may have increased the likelihood of Athenian jurors accepting an argument. Lysias deploys ground vividness in On the Death of Eratosthenes (1) to draw his jurors’ attention away from the question of entrapment and figural vividness in Against Eratosthenes (12) to focus their attention on the crimes of the Thirty Tyrants. Finally, Aeschines’ description of the Thebans’ sufferings in Against Ctesiphon (3) may have harmed his case by emphasizing a weak point through misplaced figural vividness.

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