The boundaries of ‘literature’ have always been blurred, and oratory has always lurked on the fringe. In ‘literature’ of a narrower definition, Milton’s Satan, ‘like some huge ammiral’, looms large as an imaginative creation. Hitler is the greatest demagogue of recent history. Milton himself was, of course, a great polemicist and rhetorician and, in good seventeenthcentury
fashion, not always a particularly savoury one. Was Blake right in his canonical statement that Milton was of the devil’s party without knowing it? What is rhetoric and what are the techniques which can make its creative use of language a fiendish art? Why are some speeches pernicious, others great? Are there principles underlying malign rhetoric that literature and history can be used to illustrate? In a global, postmodernist world of media power, journalism, communication and information science, older examples may still be instructive.