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declamation


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Was the main means employed by rhetors to train their pupils for public speaking. It was invented by the Greeks, who brought it to Rome and the Roman world generally. Its developed forms were known in Latin as the contrōversia, a speech in character on one side of a fictional law case, and the suasōria, a deliberative speech advising a course of action in a historical, pseudo‐historical, or mythological situation; the first trained for the courts, the second for the political assembly or committee room.

The sophists of the 5th cent. bc regarded it as their principal task to teach rhetoric. Surviving display speeches from this period, apparently intended as models for students, are clear forerunners of the controversia. Antiphon's Tetralogies, arranged in speeches for and against, exemplify techniques of argument. Gorgias' Palamedēs displays a clear articulation that marks off parts of the speech and stages in the argument, and is plainly intended to train the student in systematic exposition. For Philostratus, sketching the so‐called Second Sophistic, it was Aeschines who, after his exile to Rhodes, introduced the use of stock characters, poor man and rich man, hero and tyrant. It must have been in the Hellenistic period that the characteristic form of the controversia evolved. The master would lay down a law, or laws, often imaginary, to govern the case, together with a theme detailing the supposed facts and stating the point at issue (e.g. ‘A girl who has been raped may choose either marriage to her ravisher without a dowry or his death. On a single night a man raped two girls. One demands his death, the other marriage’). The case would be fictional, and names would be given only if it concerned historical circumstances. The speaker, whether pupil or rhetor, would take one side or the other, sometimes playing the part of an advocate, usually that of a character in the case. Thus training was given in all branches of rhetoric. Attention was paid to the articulation of the speech and to the forging of a persuasive argument; style would be inculcated by precept and example; memory was trained too, for speeches were not read out, and delivery (experience of an audience was given by the occasional introduction of parents and friends). Esp. important was the ‘invention’ (finding) of arguments. The stasis system, which owed much to Hermagoras (c.150 bc), enabled a speaker to establish the type of the case (e.g. ‘conjecture’, did X do Y?) and draw on a check‐list of topics appropriate to that type (e.g. in the case of conjecture, motive and opportunity) with their associated arguments. The rhetor would teach the rhetorical system in abstract and exemplify it in his own model speeches.

These practices are presupposed by the earliest Latin rhetorical handbooks, Cicero's On Invention and the anonymous Rhetoric for Herennius, both based on Greek teaching. Seneca the Elder probably gives a distorted picture: he is most interested in epigram and the clever slanting of a case, not in the technicalities of the stasis system or the elaboration of a complex argument. Quintilian, though critical of the unreality of contemporary practice (as were Petronius Arbiter and Tacitus), never questions the basis of declamation, and his book is a handbook for the declaimer as well as for the orator.

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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