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branches of oratory 
judicial  |  deliberative  |  epideictic

In classical rhetoric, oratory was divided into three branches:

  1. judicial oratory (or "forensic");
  2. deliberative oratory (or "legislative") and
  3. epideictic oratory ("ceremonial" or "demonstrative").
For both the analysis of speeches and for composing them, students were trained in recognizing the appropriate kind of oratory. Aristotle associated with each type of oratory an aspect of time (past, present, future), set purposes, and appropriate ("special") topics of invention:
branch of oratory time purposes special topics
of invention
judicial past  accuse or defend  justice / injustice 
deliberative future exhort or dissuade good / unworthy
advantageous / disadvantageous 
epideictic present praise or blame virtue / vice

There is little doubt that these categories do not exhaust the kinds of discourse (or even oratory) possible. Yet they still prove useful in rhetorical analysis, partly because they focus on common social situations where persuasion is important, and on broad categories of intention (the purposes listed above).

 The branches of oratory are closely tied to the process of establishing the issue at question, or stasis.

Sample rhetorical analysis using the BRANCHES OF ORATORY:

In the third act of Shakespeare's Timon of Athens Alcibiades attempts to sway the Athenian senators from condemning a friend of his who killed someone in a bar fight. He thus employs judicial oratory, attempting to defend his friend. This is also apparent in his use of those special topics of invention Aristotle identified as appropriate for forensic oratory, "justice and injustice." In this case, Alcibiades tries to show that killing, while usually unjust, sometimes isn't wrong. In terms of stasis he does not dispute whether the killing took place (an sit?), or that it was a killing (quid sit?); rather, he argues on the basis of the nature of that act and its justification (quale sit?).

Alcibiades combines judicial and epideictic oratory when he adds praises regarding his friend (an encomium), hoping that his long service record will get him off the hook. The senators see through these ploys, however, and Alcibiades is banished.

Sources: Cic. Top. 23.91
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© 1996-2000, Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University. Please cite "Silva Rhetoricae" (