Rhetorical practice and teaching existed in ancient native cultures in Mexico, mainly in the Aztec and Mayan civilizations (Beristáin & Ramírez Vidal 2005). Western rhetorical tradition was introduced into Mexico with the European conquest and Catholic evangelization: the triumph of the occidental civilization in the “new world” was due to the success of European rhetoric. During the sixteenth century, evangelization was founded on this rhetoric: the use of sermons was necessary to convert the inhabitants of the new world. In 1553 the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico was erected; rhetoric was a mandatory course in the teaching program. The professors and the friars theorized on rhetoric and wrote many works about it (Osorio Romero 1980), such as the Rhetorica Christiana of the Franciscan missionary Fray Diego Valadés, published in Italy in 1579. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there was an increase in teaching, practice, and theory of rhetoric, mainly because the Society of Jesus encouraged rhetorical studies in colonial Mexico. Rhetoric spread to other fields like poetry, as is shown in the work of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Bizzell & Herzberg 2001, 780–787). The rhetorical development during the period of colonial domination has not been investigated comprehensively until now.
After the independence of Mexico (1810), internal wars and political and economic instability during the nineteenth century led to a decline in the teaching of rhetoric, it being restricted to religious colleges, a crisis that carried over into the next century. However, practice of rhetoric continued to be an important aspect of Mexican culture in the second half of the nineteenth century: debates and arguments in Congress and in newspapers were recurrent events. The Mexican revolution originated new rhetorical procedures that became controlled by the governing power. In Mexican universities courses on rhetoric had not been included in the curriculum until now. Isolated lectures and seminars had been given by Mexican and foreign experts (mainly from Spain) to familiarize students with this topic.
In 1941 and 1942, the Mexican essayist Alfonso Reyes dictated two courses about “The critic in the Athenian age” and “The ancient rhetoric” (later published; Reyes 1961), which point out two main trends of rhetorical studies in the second half of the twentieth century: first, the rhetorical analysis of literature, and second, research on the classical rhetorical tradition.
The spread of formalism, structuralism, and poetics, and the rise of attention to literary form, largely due to the works of Heinrich Lausberg and the “Group µ,” stimulated interest in textual analysis in Mexican universities. Rhetoric and poetics were fused into one discipline for the study of literature, focusing mainly on literary figures, and to some measure on construction, characters, time, space, rhythm, verse structure, and so forth. In this field, prominent academics made important contributions, linked closely with linguistics. Rhetoric is regarded as an essential characteristic of language.
On the other hand, Mexican researchers have focused on the classical, medieval, and Renaissance rhetorical tradition. Translations of Greek and Latin rhetorical treatises have been made in recent years: the fragments of Gorgias, the Dialogues of Plato, the Rhetoric of Aristotle, rhetorical works of Cicero, the Dialogue on oratory of Tacitus, the Institutio oratoria of Quintilian, and the Poetria Nova of Geoffrey of Vinsauf.
Scholars have studied and published about different rhetorical topics, periods, theorists, and authors: the Sophistic movement, the Attic orators (particularly Antiphon, Lysias, and Isocrates), Aristotle, the ancient Greek novel, Cicero, Quintilian, etc. Furthermore, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance have been the object of rhetorical studies. Mexican and foreign scholars have focused particular attention on rhetoric in colonial Mexico: history, preaching, teaching, and theory (Abbott 1996; Beuchot Puente 1996). Scholars in the US, Italy, Spain, and Mexico have largely studied the Rhetorica Christiana of Diego Valadés (1579).
Rhetoric is now being studied from different orientations, as seen in the recent organization in Mexico (by Helena Beristáin of the Institute of Philological Researches, UNAM) of two international congresses on rhetoric (1998 and 2004), the publication of the collection “Log of rhetoric” (“Bitácora de retorica”), and courses and seminars about rhetorical topics.
New trends of philosophical thinking from Europe and the US are opening new fields for the study of rhetoric in Mexico, particularly semiotics and pragmatics, which have provided new instruments and theories. Deconstructionism and hermeneutics are promising domains for expansion of rhetorical studies. Furthermore, the modern disciplines on discourse could be described as rhetorical, and some scholars consider argumentation as the main part of this discipline. Nevertheless, few researchers in Mexico are aware they are using rhetoric; this discipline is studied usually without being named as such.
Consequently, the future of rhetoric in Mexico depends on linking it more closely with the philosophical and textual disciplines, and on finding a particular development in the history of rhetoric.
- Abbott, D. P. (1996). Rhetoric in the new world: Rhetorical theory and practice in colonial Spanish America. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina.
- Beuchot Puente, M. (1998). Rhetoricos de la Nueva España. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
- Beristáin, H. (1997). Diccionario de retórica y poética. México: Porrúa.
- Beristáin, H., & Ramírez Vidal, G. (2004). La palabra florida: la tradición retórica indígena y novohispana. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
- Bizzell, P., & Herzberg, B. (eds.) (2001). The rhetorical tradition, 2nd edn. New York: Bedford/St Martin’s.
- Osorio Romero, I. (1980). Floresta de gramática, poética y retórica en la Nueva España (1521–1767). México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México Ciudad Universitaria.
- Reyes, A. (1961). Obras completas XIII: “La crítica en la Edad Ateniense” y “La antigua retórica.” México: Fondo de Cultura Económica.