Chapter 5. Questiones super librum Rhetoricorum

CHAPTER 5. Questiones super librum Rhetoricorum (date uncertain)


(Repert. pp. 97-98; MacClintock, pp. 126; Schmugge, pp. 135-139)


Inc. (dedic., ed. maior) Viro quem nedum generis (excellens) ingenuitas sed et multiformis intelligentie decor reddit illustrem, domino Hannibaldo de Ceccano, canonico Parisiensi, suus Ioannes de Genduno id quod est. […] (commendatio scientie) Rhetorica est utilis ad multa. Hec propositio habetur ab Aristotile in primo sue Rhetorice et potest sic declarari […]

(text.) Utrum rhetorica sit necessaria hominum […]  Consequenter queritur utrum rhetorica sit assecutiva dialectice …


The commentary has been preserved in two different redactions, the editio maior and the editio minor. The longer redaction is present in three of the manuscripts: Bologna, Univ. 1625 f. 114ra-142vb; Klosterneuburg, Stiftsbibl. CCI 749 f. 1ra-28vb (incomplete); Padova, Univ. 1472 f. 262ra-286rb. The shorter redaction exists in four manuscripts[1]. The commentary has not been printed in the Renaissance. An edition is announced by Iacopo Costa[2]. Partial editions can be found in studies by Grignaschi, Schmugge, Dykmans, and Costa, and one question has been edited by Marmo[3]


The commentary is generally said to consist in 52 questions for Book I and 15 questions for Book II (but Beltran mentions 51 questions for book I, followed by 14 questions for book II and 3 questions for a third book[4]). It is dedicated (in its longer version) to Annibaldo de Ceccano, nephew of Cardinal Iacopo Caetani Stefanesci, who studied at the arts faculty and afterwards at the faculty of theology in Paris[5]. The date of the commentary is a matter of discussion between scholars: it may be estimated as 1317, because the dedication mentions Annibaldo as canon of Paris and the last has been promoted archdeacon of Arras, by Pope John XXIII, in 1318. Beltran has argued that the short redaction probably preceded the longer one and that it may have been written right in the beginning of John’s teaching (which he says to be in 1310), and the longer one between 1317 and 1326 (the end of his teaching career in Paris )[6]. Costa estimates it as probably short before 1326[7]. We will leave this problem open here.

A complete list of the questions can be found in Schmugge (pp. 136-139), who consulted the Klosterneuburg manuscript. In the following I will use the same manuscript.

Concerning the doctrinal contents of John’s commentary on the Rhetoric, recent studies of Beltran and Marmo have underlined that it is not only interesting for his political and moral views (studied before by Grignaschi and Schmugge), but also for the rhetorical concepts[8].  Thus, Marmo has studied the concepts of the ypocrisis and the passiones, typical features of the discipline of rhetoric. Beltran indicates that only about twenty questions, at the beginning and the end, are directly related to rhetoric and that they show the philosophical approach of the author, who is also interested by the esthetical aspects[9]. However, Costa esteems that John used this text to expose his moral and political philosophy, as he probably did not comment on the Nicomachean Ethics or the Politics[10].

Among the numerous sources quoted by the author we find of course – apart from Aristotle – Cicero and Seneca, but also Alfarabi, Boethius, Cassiodorus, and the more recent philosophers Robert Kilwardby and Giles of Rome[11].

Here, as elsewhere, I will just describe the commentary from the point of view of intellectual history. I will first give a transcription of the dedication and shortly mention the prologue, before addressing the character of the questions. The coming edition by Iacopo Costa will provide the whole text.




Viro quem nedum generis ingenuitas sed et multiformis intelligentie decor reddit illustrem, domino Hanibaldo de Ceccano, canonico Parisiensi, suus Ioannes de Genduno id quod est.

Etsi dubiorum super artem rhetoricam vestra per seipsam posset scientia solutiones exponere, quia tamen vestre mentis perspicuitas a liberalibus studiis operam [per] prebet, hoc eo desideratius vobis /subservire excepi, quanto zelum vestrum ad philosophiam novi maiorem; presertim <quia> et licet oratorie facultatis venusta commoditas omni morali doctrine tradat decorem, quia tamen in his temporibus consuetum est nullum librorum Aristotelis palam legere nisi dubitabilium perscrutationibus ipsa lectura magnificetur, forte enim nullius (lege nonnuli) questionibus hic pertractandis prorsus carentes artis doctrinam pretermittere totam coguntur; ex quo profecto philosophie decus et honor non modicum sustineret detrimentum. Eapropter hanc dampnosam carentiam tollere temptans istas studui questiunculas ordinare. Reor autem quod vestra benignitas sterilitatem huius operis eo mitius subportabit quanto in eius editione pauciorum precedentium ante fretus auxilio laboravi. Id autem quod deficit posteriorum diligentiis apponatur[12].


In this verbose and, appropriately, rhetorical dedication John proclaims that public lectures of Aristotle’s works are « in these times » not done unless accompanied by investigation of the doubtful points, and he also affirms that perhaps some, not familiar with the doctrine of the discipline, are forced to omit it all entirely, which would harm the beauty and honour of philosophy. Therefore, in order to correct this deficiency, he has edited the following questions. Thus, he rightly points to the relative lack of interest for Aristotle’s book on rhetoric. Beltran draws attention to the style of the dedication, where John presents himself in an amazingly short way[13] (“suus Ioannes de Genduno id quod est”). We will come back to the style of the work later.

After the dedication and before developing the questions, John gives a prologue in the form of a commendatio scientie, doubtlessly very useful in view of the lack of popularity he just reported.


Rhetorica utilis est ad multa. Hec propositio habetur ab Aristotele in primo sue Rhetorice et potest sic declarari […]

Hoc ergo de commendatione ad presens sufficiat, nunc ad alia transeamus[14].


Let us note that this prologue is quite different from the other ones we saw earlier (on the Physics and the De anima), since it is limited to the recommendation of the discipline treated in this commentary and does not include more general comments on its place in the ensemble of the sciences. A partial transcription can be found in Appendix I.


Style and character of the commentary


The questions themselves seem traditional in form. In the beginning they strictly concern the discipline of rhetoric “If rhetoric is useful for men”, “If rhetoric follows dialectic”, etc.), but afterwards they address more general topics, often close to ethics or politics. For instance, question I, 17 asks if rhetoric is concerned with felicity, qu. I, 18 if felicity can be divided into parts, and I, 19 (in the longer version) if corporal beauty is a sign of goodness of the soul. Further on, some more questions (I, 23-24) also concern happiness, some others are about bonum (I, 26-29), etc.

The character of the commentary has been described by modern scholars. Schmugge points out that quotations of Cicero, in particular the De inventione, are almost as numerous as those of Aristotle[15]. As Grignaschi has shown, the questions sometimes show some similarity to the commentary on the Rhetoric of Giles of Rome[16]. Marmo has argued that John is mainly interested in the moral and practical aspects of the use of passions in rhetoric, and only secondarily describes the force of persuasion as more important in oral discourse than in writing[17]. Beltran argues that questions nine to fifteen form the core of the commentary and describes it as stressing mainly the moralising and civilizing character (“civilisatrice et moralisatrice”) of rhetoric[18]. Costa, in a recent article, argues that (I quote) “the work must be read not only as an exegesis of Aristotle’s treatise, but also as an attempt to criticize and somehow to deconstruct the production of knowledge at the University of Paris at the beginning of the 14th century”, noting that “John often resorts to irony, paradoxes, and provocations in presenting moral and political theories”[19].

Costa describes the style of the work as often ironic, mocking, sometimes insolent, but at the same time an often noble and elaborated style[20]. He qualifies some passages, including the dedication to Annibaldo as “plaisanteries” (jokes). As for the last, the dedication, I do not agree with Costa’s opinion that John wanted to address only a “farce” to this eminent person. Annibaldo certainly belonged to the highest ecclesiastical circles[21] and was provisor of the Collège de Sorbonne from 1320 onwards, but he was still very young at that time, and he was also part, as Thomas Wylton and John himself, of the circle of intellectuals under the patronage of his uncle, cardinal Stefaneschi[22]. So, John probably considered him as a fellow scholar as well as an eminent person. Moreover, qualifying the dedication as facetious, provocative and vulgar seems excessive.

However, in general Costa’s analysis of this commentary is interesting and convincing, in particular the way in which he demonstrates the permeability of the disciplines in this work: John treats various medical, juridical and theological subjects as well as philosophical ones. He seems to consider rhetoric as an epistemological discipline which can touch upon the whole of academic sciences[23]. Costa draws a comparison with the De laudibus Parisius, of which the tone also often seems ironic. For instance, theologians, always disputing on questions of doctrine, are useless, John says here. Costa concludes that this commentary has been written at a moment very close to John’s departure to Germany, in which John is in revolt against the academic community, using the discipline of rhetoric for severely attacking the ‘truths’ of this institution[24].

In order to evaluate this interpretation, we should look at the form and the character of the questions, and compare them to the other commentaries. The forthcoming edition by Iacopo Costa will greatly facilitate this task.

Meanwhile, I will take the question edited by Marmo for example; it concerns the presence of emotions in rhetoric and particularly the use of a joke or spiritual remark as a means of relaxing judge and audience[25].

This question, book I qu. 3, begins with the usual formulation: “Utrum sermones passionales sive passionativi pertineant ad rethoricam”, followed by three arguments for the affirmative answer. For the opposite answer the authority of what Aristotle says in this chapter is invoked (“Oppositum videtur velle Aristotiles in isto capitulo”) and explained (“Et ratio est quia”) in a syllogism. Then, characteristically, John starts his treatment with two notanda, the first to explain the terms of the question (“Ad evidentiam huius questionis notandum est qui dicuntur sermones passionales seu passionativi”), the second providing a distinction necessary for the answer: “Ulterius est notandum quod aliquid dicitur ad considerationem alicuius scientie per se et principaliter pertinere, et aliud per accidens et secundario”). Thus, the determination is clear:


Tunc potest dici ad questionem quod sermones passionales per se et principaliter non pertinent ad rhetoricam, quod multipliciter probat Aristotiles in littera, et accipio solum duas rationes eius.


Among the multiple arguments given by Aristotle for the opinion that passionate sayings do not in itself and principally belong to rhetoric, John retains two arguments and explains them (the first had been beautifully expressed by Aristotle: “et istam rationem pulchre tetigit Aristotiles in littera, ubi dicit […]”). At the end of this explanation John concludes:


Patet igitur ex his rationibus quod sermones passionales non pertinent principaliter ad rethoricam.


He adds that this is also evident from a sign (Hoc etiam patet signo, quia […]). But then he comes to the other part of the distinction, the accidental and secondary use:


Est tamen intelligendum quod ipsi sermons passionales aliqualiter possunt considerari a rethorico, non et eis principaliter et in pluribus utatur, sed ut sciat eos vitare et solvere […]

Expedit etiam aliquando uti sermonibus passionantibus, cum iudex et auditores sint iam fatigati seu fessi […] de sedendo vel stando et quasi contristati et amplius nolunt audire litigantes, tunc enim bonum est interponere aliqua passionalia, utpote aliqua solaciosa et delectabilia vel mirabilia […].


For this use John quotes not Aristotle, but Cicero (“Tullius in sua Nova rhetorica” and “in Veteri rhetorica”, so the Rhetorica ad Herennium and De inventione), who considers that some less heavy and laughable (risible) things can induce a judge to relax and thus listen with more attention[26].

Immediately afterwards John refutes the arguments given in the beginning for the affirmative answer. The refutation of the first two is evident from what has been said, but the third is discussed in more detail (“Ad tertiam, cum dicitur […] verum est si […]”) and this discussion contains, at least in the edition by Marmo, an expression which may suggest that John reacted to an opponent (“Et quando dicit quod […], dico quod hoc non est ex parte rei de qua litigatur, sed […]”)[27].


Thus, the question is treated in John’s usual way of proceeding, a systematic and pedagogic discussion.

As this seems to be the case also of the other questions, I think we may consider that John’s attitude described by Costa as revolt against the institution did not affect the formal structure of the questions and hardly influenced the pedagogic character of this commentary. However, it is possible that John wrote indeed a first version of this commentary early in his career (as Beltran suggests) and that he took it up again later, when his attitude towards the academic world had radically changed. This would explain both the pedagogical and the irreverent approach. The answer to this question has to wait for the forthcoming edition.



[1] Cf. Schmugge, pp. 135-139 for the differences between the redactions ; also Beltran (see n. 6), p. 154.

[2] Cf. J.-B. Brenet et I. Costa, in BPhM 52 (2010) p. 340. They mention 7 manuscripts in all for both redactions, like Schmugge and Beltran. See also I. Costa, « Jean de Jandun : la rhétorique comme révolte », in F. Woerther (ed.), Commenting on Aristotle’s Rhetoric, from Antiquity to the Present, Leiden etc. 2018, pp. 153-173. Here, he mentions eight mss. ; and I. Costa, « Plurality of Redactions and Access to the Original : Editing John of Jandun’s Questions on Aristotle’s Rhetoric », in Sicut dicit. Editing Ancient and Medieval Commentaries on Authoritative Texts, ed. S. Boodts, P. De Leemans (+) & S. Schorn, Turnhout 2019, pp. 25-46.

[3] I. Costa, « La voix humaine dans deux textes du début du XIVe siècle », in Ad placitum. Pour Irène Rosier-Catach, ed. L. Cesalli et al., Aracne Editrice, Canterano 2021, pp. 207-213 (ed. pp. 209-213) ; M. Grignaschi, « Il pensiero politico e religioso di Giovanni di Jandun », in Bullettino dell’Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo e Archivio Muratoriano 70 (1958) pp. 425-496 ; Dykmans, see n. 5. Marmo has edited one of the questions in « Retorica e motto di Spirito. Una Questio inedita di Giovanni di Jandun », in Semiotica : Storia, teoria, interpretazione. Saggi intorno a Umberto Ecco, Milano 1992, pp. 25-41 (ed. 37-41).

[4] E. Beltran, « Les questions sur la Rhétorique de Jean de Jandun », in La Rhétorique d’Aristote. Traditions et commentaires de l’Antiquité au XVIIe s., ed. G. Dahan and I. Rosier, Paris 1998, pp. 153-167 ; he lists most of the questions of Book I, two for book II, and three questions for book III (pp. 155-157). Grignaschi (op. cit., pp. 483-484) gives a list of 50 questions for Book I, 15 for Book II, and 3 for Book III.

[5] M. Dykmans, « Le Cardinal Annibald di Ceccano (vers 1282-1350). Etude biographique et testament du 17 juin 1348 », in Bulletin de l’Institut Historique Belge de Rome 43 (1973) pp. 159-161; W. Duba, « Masters and Bachelors at Paris in 1319. The lectio finalis of Landolfo Caracciolo, OFM », in Schüler und Meister, eds. A. Speer and T. Jeschke, 2016 (Miscellanea Mediaevalia 39) pp. 315-370 (321). See also Schmugge, p. 21.

[6] Cf. Beltran, op. cit. p.  154. Beltran also says that in the short version John quotes ‘only one of his first works’, the commentary on the Physics. This last commentary is considered as dating from ca. 1315. This would mean that the Rhetorica commentary can not been earlier that that date.

[7] The date indicated by Costa (2019, see n. 2, p. 26) is between 1317 and 1326, probably short before 1326.

[8] Beltran, op. cit. (n. 4) ; Marmo, op. cit. (n. 3). See also C. Marmo, « Carattere dell’oratore e recitazione nel commento di Giovanni di Jandun al terzo libro della Retorica », in Filosofia e teologia nel Trecento. Studi in honore di E. Randi, ed. L. Bianchi, Louvain-la-Neuve 1994, pp. 17-31. See also J.B. Korolec, « Jean Buridan et Jean de Jandun et la relation entre la rhétorique et la dialectique » », in  J.P. Beckmann, L. Honnefelder et al., Sprache und Erkenntnis im Mittelalter, 2. Halbband, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/New York 1981, pp. 622-627 (sur la base du ms Bruxelles, Bibl. Royale 868 f. 372ra-401vb).

[9] Beltran, op. cit., p. 157.

[10] Costa 2019 (see n. 2) p. 26.

[11] Cf. ibid., pp. 157-158.

[12] Ms. Klosterneuburg f. 1ra.

[13] Beltran, op. cit., p. 155.

[14] Ms. Klosterneuburg f. 1ra-1va. For a partial transcription of the prologue see Appendix 1.

[15] Cf. Schmugge, p. 139.

[16] Cf. Grignaschi, op. cit., p. 428sqq. (ed. parts of II, 13 and I, 22).

[17] C. Marmo, « Les actes du langage entre logique, rhétorique et théologie au Moyen Age », in B. Cassin, C. Lévy (eds.), Genèses de la parole dans le monde grec, romain et médiéval, Turnhout 2011, pp. 269-291 ; id., « Carattere dell’oratore e recitazioni nel commento di Giovanni di Jandun al terzo libro della Retorica », see n. 8.

[18] See above n. 6.

[19] Costa, 2018 (see n. 2), summary, p. 153. The word ‘deconstructs’ seems exaggerated.

[20] Id., p. 155. In the example he gives, he translates the word turpiter with « obscène », which also seems exaggerated, turpiter meaning in an ugly or shameful way.

[21] See for instance Schmugge, p. 21.

[22] See the Introduction and Chapter 2. About Annibaldo, see the study of Dykmans (op. cit. n. 5).

[23] Costa, op. cit., p. 168. So, there seems to be a contrast between the prologue and the commentary itself.

[24] Ibid., pp. 172-173.

[25] Marmo, op. cit. n. 3, pp. 37-41 ; ms. Klosterneuburg f. 3ra-3va. The excerpts given by Grignasci are not useful in this case, because they do not contain the complete questions.

[26] “It is also useful sometimes to use passionate words, when the judge and the auditors are tired from sitting or standing and somehow saddened and do not want to hear the litigants further, for then it is good to insert some passionate things as solace and delectable or amazing things”. See Marmo in the article quoted, p. 30.

[27] In three of the five manuscripts (including the Klosterneuburg ms used earlier) this expression has been changed into the usual and impersonal « cum dicitur ».


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