Cicero Cannons of Rhetoric

By Dr Art Lynch

Cicero and the Five Arts

The Five Arts: Cannons of Rhetoric

Rhetoric, as an art, has long been divided into five major categories or "canons":

  1. Invention

  2. Arrangement

  3. Style

  4. Memory

  5. Delivery

These categories have served both analytical and generative purposes. That is to say, they provide a template for the criticism of discourse (and orations in particular), and they give a pattern for rhetorical education. Rhetorical treatises through the centuries have been set up in light of these five categories, although memory and delivery consistently have received less attention. Rhetoric shares with another longstanding discipline, dialectic, training in invention and arrangement. When these disciplines competed, rhetoric was sometimes reduced to style alone.

Although the five canons of rhetoric describe areas of attention in rhetorical pedagogy, these should not be taken as the only educational template for the discipline of rhetoric. Treatises on rhetoric also discuss at some length the roots or sources of rhetorical ability, and specific kinds of rhetorical exercises intended to promote linguistic facility.