University of Texas
Department of Rhetoric & Writing
1 University Station, B5500
Austin, Texas 78712
Michael Psellos: Synopsis of Rhetoric
A translation based on the text of L.G. Westerink, Michaelis Pselli Poemata (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1992), Poema 7. This translation replaces the
much rougher version published in Rhetoric Society Quarterly 31.1 (2001).
Psellos’ synopsis of rhetoric was originally composed, probably, circa 1060-1067 for the young emperor-to-be Michael VII Doukas. It is an
overview of the Hermogenic corpus (excluding the Hermogenic Progymnasmata) — On Stases, On Invention (four books), On Types of Style
(two books), and On the Method of Forcefulness — which had been the basis for rhetorical training in the schools of Constantinople since late
antiquity. The poem is composed in “political verse” (politikoi stichoi), a non-classical form of verse based on popular/vernacular poetry, which
was increasingly used for addresses to the imperial family from the eleventh century on. “Political verse” (or, perhaps, “public verse”) consists of
15 syllables per line, with a caesura after the 8th syllable; stress-accent is mostly free, but with a major stress-accent on the penultimate syllable of
each line; there is no rhyme. The line-numbers correspond to those of Westerink’s text; the title of the Hermogenic books under discussion appear
in the right-hand margin, at the point where they are taken up. All citations of the Hermogenic texts (in notes) refer to the edition of Rabe 1913.
Michael Psellos presents a poem to Michael Doukas:
from an illuminated manuscript at thePantokrator Monastery, Mount Athos, 12th-13th century [Pantokrator 234, f. 254r.]
This is the only known portrait of Michael Psellos.
If you learn the art of rhetoric,1 crownbearer,2
you'll be an able speaker,3 and you’ll have a graceful tongue,
and you’ll have the most persuasive epicheiremes.4
The art surveys political questions,5