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Alex C. Parrish

Abstract

Banal classicism describes a wide variety of behaviors – from sophisticated conversations among artists who reinterpret classical forms to actions as mundane as employing cartoon illustrations of Roman dictators to make one’s pizza franchise seem more genuinely Italian. What unites these varied behaviors is the attempt to borrow ethos – either directly from the classical world or from previous borrowers. The desire to benefit from the reputation or status of another is not confined to our classical past, and indeed is not even a uniquely human behavior; many examples of borrowing ethos exist in kingdom Animalia. In biological terms, banal classicism could be defined as deceptive mimicry meant to persuade receivers by adopting the ethos of another individual or group. Among primates this behavior is ubiquitous. Juvenile baboons borrow ethos to undermine the rigid hierarchies of their groups. They employ deceptive fear calls to make a parent think they are being injured, but only when the juveniles are competing for resources with an individual who is more highly ranked than them but ranked lower than the parent to whom they are calling. In these cases, the rival is quickly displaced; the parent’s status within the group persuades them to leave. These baboons present but one example of homologous animal rhetorics that can help us better understand the cognitive underpinnings of rhetorical behavior. By analyzing examples from nonhuman behavior as well as human popular literature and film (the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Dragonslayer), this chapter will demonstrate that there is a wide range of behavior among human and nonhuman animals that demonstrate borrowed ethos, the basis of banal classicism.