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Ancient Imitatio in the College English Class Imitatio, also known as imitation or mimesis, was a classical learning tool that involved the artful copying.

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Presentation on theme: "Ancient Imitatio in the College English Class Imitatio, also known as imitation or mimesis, was a classical learning tool that involved the artful copying."— Presentation transcript:

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2 Ancient Imitatio in the College English Class Imitatio, also known as imitation or mimesis, was a classical learning tool that involved the artful copying (imitating) of the rhetoric of an excellent source. This practice was born out of the basic language development of children, and allowed the student to increase his knowledge and manipulation of arguments, styles and delivery.

3 Imitatio’s Foundations Natural talent was considered very important to producing great oratory, but ancient teachers also recognized the role of study and practice in developing the art of rhetoric. Originality, singularity and self-expression were not the focus of the classical academies. They believed that “the real skill lay in being able to imitate or to improve on something written by others” (C&H 355). Cicero wrote extensively around 55 BCE of the role of imitatio in developing rhetorical muscles, as did the anonymous author of ad Herennium.

4 Cicero on Imitatio “Let this then be my first counsel, that we show the student whom to copy, and to copy in such a way as to strive with all possible care to attain the most excellent qualities of his model. Next let practice be added, whereby in copying he may reproduce the pattern of his choice... But he who is to proceed aright must first be watchful in making his choice, and afterwards extremely careful in striving to attain the most excellent qualities of the model he has approved” (B&H 232).

5 Issues of Imitatio Whom do I imitate? One source, or many? Should the teacher produce his own examples? Can examples be used to show what NOT to do? Does imitatio apply only to product, or can it be used to improve the writing process?

6 The practice of Imitatio was continued through the Renaissance, and applied to all arts, including music, drama, painting and sculpture. Often artists were apprenticed to a particular artist or school to learn from the masters. (This continues today.) Thomas a Kempis took the concept one step further and applied it to Christian devotion in his book, The Imitation of Christ, written in 1418 CE.

7 Contemporary Applications Imitation can be used to improve students’ final products. Imitation can be used to improve the students’ writing process.

8 Sample Assignment Read Malcolm X essay, “A Homemade Education” Have students use dictionaries (can be on-line) as Malcolm X did—select 3-4 words unfamiliar to them and copy the word and definition. Follow up with a paragraph that traces the steps students have taken to learn a particular skill or accomplish a specific goal. Be sure to include the before and after aspects of the process, as well as details of the process. Do the assignment with your students, and be aware of your own process. Articulate what is going well and what is difficult, and ask for their comments.

9 Cautions and Risks Plagiarism—you know the dangers. Aristotle’s students did have to worry about this, but documentation is more important than ever. Warn students of the consequences. Patchwriting—this is a term I learned last semester reading “Good and Original: Plagiarism and Patchwriting in Academic Second-Language Writing,” by D. Pecorari (published in Journal of Second Language Writing, Dec. 2003).

10 Conclusion Originality, singularity and innovation are not necessarily compromised through imitatio. Study and practice are still effective tools for every writer. Imitatio can be effective for improving students’ products and processes.

11 References “Aristotle, Poetics.” _examples.htm.http://faculty.goucher.edu/eng211/aristotle_poetics _examples Arthos, John. “Where There Are No Rules or Systems to Guide Us: Argument from Example in Hermeneutic Rhetoric.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 89:4 (Nov 2003): Attridge, Derek. The Singularity of Literature. London: Routledge, Bizzell, Patricia and Bruce Herzberg, eds. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Boston: St. Martin’s Press, Crowley, Sharon and Debra Hawhee. Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students. New York: Pearson, Kuypers, Jim A. The Art of Rhetorical Criticism. Boston: Pearson, Pecorari, Diane. “Good and original: Plagiarism and patchwriting in academic second-language writing.” Journal of Second Language Writing 12 (2003):


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