Classical rhetoric can be traced back to the ancient times beginning with Homer who is thought to be the father of oratory having inspired many in the art. Athens in 510BC consisted of democratic institutions that forced citizens to engage in public service and making oratory skills necessary. This decree gave rise to the formation of an assembly of scholars called Sophists who strove to educate people in the art of speaking and make them better speakers. Protagoras one of the first sophists taught his students the method in making the weaker part of speech or discussion the stronger argument. In 5th century BC, Corax of Syracuse described rhetoric as the art of persuasion. He wrote the first book on rhetoric and is thought to be the actual originator of rhetoric as a science. Pupils of Corax such as Tisias also mastered the art of rhetoric. Others included Gorgias, Thrasymachus and Antiphon who was the first to unify the theoretical and practical aspects of rhetoric. The 4th century great orator Isocrates developed the art of rhetoric into a cultural academic work, a doctrine having practical objectives. He lectured on public speaking as a way of self improvement. He aimed to distance himself from the Sophists whom he viewed as pretending to know more than they did. He accepted oratory as an art to be learned and excelled in, but also that it relied on ones own personal inclinations and interest to progress in the field and this included persistence, practice and following role models. He opined that public speaking was of more value when the speaker talked on noble ideas and posed critical questions that made people think. This had the effect of improving the character of the speaker and audience as well as providing them food for thought. His written speeches were models for his students to emulate. He wrote no handbooks on the subject of oratory but his speeches 'Antidosis' and 'Against the Sophists' are considered to be models of oratory, influencing later orators such as Cicero and Quintilian (Corbett p.496.)
Greek philosopher Plato highlighted a technical approach to rhetoric. His work titled Gorgias debated the Sophistic view that persuasion could be independent from the art of dialectic. Plato emphasised truth over persuasion and noted that audiences will not improve simply by listening to flattering and coercive statements. In Phaedrus, he explained the underlying conventions that comprised the substance of rhetorical art. He indicated the differences between true and false forms of rhetoric. He suggested that dialectic produced true form of rhetoric where logic and rational arguments with persuasive power seemed much more effective and genuine way to get the message across and sway audiences. Plato's coinage of the word 'rhetoric' was his way of criticizing the Sophists assertions about teaching virtue through persuasive oratory.
Plato's student was Aristotle (384-322 BC) whose work on rhetoric continues to be a subject of study. Aristotle described the purpose of rhetoric as being rather than persuasion. It was a process of uncovering all possible means of persuasion. Greater emphasis was placed on a persuasive gathering of truth to win an argument rather than swaying audiences by rousing their emotions. Aristotle considered rhetoric as the opposite of logic or as he describes it, the antistrophe of dialectic.