Can You Identify the 3 Branches of Rhetoric?

"The School of Athens" painting by Raphael showing Greek philosophers and luminaries.

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Rhetoric is the art of using language, such as public speaking, for persuasive writing and speech. Rhetoric often breaks down content and form by dispersing what is being said and how it is expressed. Oratory is the ability to convey a successful speech, and it is a means of performing rhetoric.

The three branches of rhetoric include deliberative, judicial, and epideictic. These are defined by Aristotle in his "Rhetoric" (4th century B.C.) and the three branches, or genres, of rhetoric are expanded below.

Classic Rhetoric

In classical rhetoric, men were taught a discipline to eloquently express themselves through ancient writers like Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian. Aristotle wrote the book on ​rhetoric, which focused on the art of persuasion in 1515. The five canons of rhetoric include invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. These were determined in classic Rome by the Roman philosopher Cicero in his "De Inventione." Quintilian was a Roman rhetorician and teacher who excelled in Renaissance writing.

Oratory divided the three branches of genres in classical rhetoric. Deliberative oratory is considered legislative, judicial oratory translates as forensic, and epideictic oratory is deemed as ceremonial or demonstrative.

Deliberative Rhetoric

Deliberative rhetoric is speech or writing that attempts to persuade an audience to take (or not take) some action. Whereas judicial rhetoric is primarily concerned with past events, deliberative discourse, says Aristotle, "always advises about things to come." Political oratory and debate fall under the category of deliberative rhetoric.

Patricia L. Dunmire, "The Rhetoric of Temporality"

Aristotle...lays out various principles and lines of argument for a rhetor to use in making arguments about possible futures. In short, he looks at the past "as a guide to the future and at the future as a natural extension of the present" (Poulakos 1984: 223). Aristotle contends that arguments for particular policies and actions should be grounded in examples from the past "for we judge of future events by divination from past events" (63). Rhetors are further advised to quote "what has actually happened, since in most respects the future will be like what the past has been" (134).

Judicial Rhetoric

Judicial rhetoric is speech or writing that considers the justice or injustice of a certain charge or accusation. In the modern era, judicial (or forensic) discourse is primarily employed by lawyers in trials decided by a judge or jury.

George A. Kennedy, "Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times"

[I]n Greece theories of rhetoric were developed largely for speakers in the lawcourts, whereas elsewhere judicial rhetoric is not a major consideration; and only in Greece, and thus in western Europe, was rhetoric separated from political and ethical philosophy to form a specific discipline that became a feature of formal education.

Lynee Lewis Gaillet and Michelle F. Eble, "Primary Research and Writing"

Outside a courtroom, judicial rhetoric is displayed by anyone justifying past actions or decisions. In many professions and careers, decisions related to hiring and firing must be justified, and other actions must be documented in case of future disputes.

Epideictic Rhetoric

Epideictic rhetoric is speech or writing that praises (encomium) or blames (invective). Also known as ceremonial discourse, epideictic rhetoric includes funeral orations, obituaries, graduation and retirement speeches, letters of recommendation, and nominating speeches at political conventions. Interpreted more broadly, epideictic rhetoric may also include works of literature.

Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, "The Directions of Aristotle's Rhetoric" 

Superficially, at least, epideictic rhetoric is largely ceremonial: it is addressed to a general audience and directed to praising honor and virtue, censuring vice and weakness. Of course, since epideictic rhetoric has an important educative function — since praise and blame motivate as well as indicate virtue — it is also implicitly directed to the future; and its argument sometimes bridges those that are typically used for deliberative rhetoric.


Aristotle. "Rhetoric." Dover Thrift Editions, W. Rhys Roberts, Paperback, Dover Publications, September 29, 2004.

Cicero. "Cicero: On Invention. The Best Kind of Orator. Topics. A. Rhetorical Treatises." Loeb Classical Library Np. 386, H. M. Hubbell, English and Latin Edition, Harvard University Press, January 1, 1949.

Dunmire, Patricia. "The rhetoric of temporality: The future as linguistic construct and rhetorical resource." ResearchGate, January 2008.

Gaillet, Lynee Lewis. "Primary Research and Writing: People, Places, and Spaces." Michelle F. Eble, 1st Edition, Routledge, August 24, 2015.

Kennedy, George A. "Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times." Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged Edition, The University of North Carolina Press, February 22, 1999.

Rorty, Amélie Oksenberg. "The Directions of Aristotle's 'Rhetoric.'" The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 46, No. 1, JSTOR, September 1992.

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Nordquist, Richard. "Can You Identify the 3 Branches of Rhetoric?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Can You Identify the 3 Branches of Rhetoric? Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Can You Identify the 3 Branches of Rhetoric?" ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).