Skip to main content

Rhetorica nova

This work, written in Catalan in 1301, but preserved only in a Latin version dating from 1303, gives advices and rules for the written language.  Llull re-works the tradition according to his needs and considers that rhetoric, one of the compulsory disciplines of the medieval scholastic curriculum, has four parts: order, beauty, knowledge, and charity (or love). These headings do not correspond to those of the general Latin tradition (‘inventio’, ‘dispositio’, ‘elocutio’, ‘ornatus’, ‘actio’), but they contain many well-known precepts, alongside innovative proposals, such as that found in the section on knowledge, which consists of advising the user of rhetoric to learn Ramon’s Art, since it is the basis of all knowledge.

The most interesting part of the Rhetorica nova is the section bearing the title ‘Beauty’, because it is here that Llull explains his conception of what today we would call literature. According to Ramon, it is fitting, first, that words should be beautiful in themselves, that is to say, on account of their meaning and not on account of the way they sound (‘truth’ and ‘generation’ are beautiful words and ‘falsity’ and ‘corruption’ are ugly). Second, the concepts under discussion, the principles being defended within the discourse, should be beautiful, such as when one speaks of the divine dignities or of moral virtues. Ramon follows this by stressing the importance of comparisons and fine ‘exempla’, the notion of the adequation of ornamentation to the contents and of the correct utterance of a speech and, finally, he advises the preacher to place well-chosen proverbs at the beginning of each sermon. Ramon Llull includes certain narrative examples as a demonstration of his theory.

As can be seen from the section on charity in particular, the goodness and beauty of rhetoric essentially depended upon the moral attitude of the user and upon the purpose he wished to ascribe to his discourse. Llull, who had repudiated the worldly and perverted poetry of the troubadours, knew very well that rhetoric was a powerful instrument of persuasion: whoever made use of it should do so in the service of truth, good and God’s honour. In such a case, rhetorical discourses would be beautiful discourses. Llull’s Art proved additionally, that they would be objectively beautiful discourses.

See: Ramon Llull, Retòrica nova, Josep Batalla, Lluís Cabré i Marcel Ortín, eds.; pres. Anthony Bonner; pr. Robert D.F. Pring-Mill, "Traducció de l'obra llatina de Ramon Llull" 1 (Turnhout: Brepols - Santa Coloma de Queralt: Edèndum, 2006).