Sunday, January 17, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Elvira Migliario, Retorica e storia: una lettura delle Suasoriae di Seneca Padre. Quaderni di Invigilata lucernis 32. Bari: Edipuglia, 2007. Pp. 190. ISBN 9788872284651. €25.00 (pb).
Reviewed by John Henderson, King's College, Cambridge

Best known, I think, for her work on Italian territory from the Alps to the Appennines, Migliario here beefs up a previously interrupted study of the badly mauled Suasoriae collection to celebrate the eightieth birthday of her teacher (and padre-figure), Emilio Gabba.1 After a brief introduction proposing to test declamatory entertainment for ideological pertinence, the first chapter presents a thorough account of the rhetorical scene at Rome encountered by Seneca on his transfer from Spain, with detailed prosopographical assessment of each of the players mentioned in the Suasoriae, stressing the immersion of one swathe of them in the ructions of the Late Republic as against the emergence of their successors in the Early Principate after the Actium watershed. What did the Spanish brigade, Latro and his pandilla, amount to? Can we say anything about the nature, function, involvement of regular audiences and occasional visitors? It appears (p.31) that amateur participation in convoked declamation sessions only got going in the second half of Augustus' reign.

Chapter 2 briskly explores the emergence of the pairing within deliberative rhetoric of thesis with suasoria (roughly split as issue vs case). If Seneca gave an account, it is lost, along with much else in this woefully shredded and acephalous text of already deliberately shredded mots and excerpts. Migliario presents us with the presumption of political relevance in the deliberative mindset addressed and fanned by Ad Herennium (Hannibalic, Gracchan, Alexander topics), and highlights precious glimpses of blended ethical-philosophical with moral-political realization of the instructions set out in De Partitione and Orator within Cicero's circle engulfed in crisis: esp. Ad Att. 9.4.2 and Tusc. Disp. 1.47 show them dealing with present chaos and oblivion by fictionally screening Caesar's coup d'état, at the top of their voices.

Since, with others, Migliario is even prepared to contemplate more books of Suasoriae, perhaps intricated with the ten books of Controversiae (p.45), it's not surprising that she submerges any strong sense of compositional design or trajectory beneath exclusively thematic attention to S.1 + 4 on Alexander, then 2, 3, 5 on Greek themes from history and drama, before closing with 6 + 7 on Cicero. The key editorial at S.6.27 convinces the rest of us that this was only ever a single book (aptly bossed by Arellius Fuscus), and one posed as sublative conclusion to the whole edifice of paternal instruction in the exercise of cultural memory, and even tells a story (for myself, the tale of how the ham grim old stager fastens on the (over)enthusiasm of Roman sons for rhetorical showmanship before remanding them on to the less immature intellectual pastures of historiography (featuring Seneca) ). In the outcome, intent survey of the contributions preserved from fifty-odd speakers shows precious little differentiation through the period between Cicero and Tiberius (p.50).

Focus on Alexander, where speakers get to explore (1) how far you can go and (2) how far to go in following and in verbalizing the Macedonian superman all the way to the tipping point of hyperbolic-hybristic topology, first shows Seneca's people developing the notion of Ocean hand-in-hand with historians and geocosmographers (esp. Arrian, Anab. 5,13-14, Curtius 9.2-4) to figure Caesars through to Germanicus in S.1; then S.4 probes the dangers and dynamics of claims to privileged knowledge in the vicinity of lords of the earth, Roman or otherwise, modelled through the instances of horoscope and omen at the gates of Babylon (à la Diod. 17.112): heated interventions around the Ides of March (Nigidius Figulus, Varro, etc.) gave way, so Migliario argues, to Augustan policing and stigma.

Greek history as refracted in anecdotage provided a heterogeneous reservoir of familiar topoi, with poetry seeping and rhetoric bleeding over and across formal boundaries: Leonidas' Thermopylae provides Roman culture vultures with piquant themes saluting philistine Sparta (S.2) -- but of course they still sound off like Athenians as per normal; imagining a post-Salamis threat from Xerxes to re-invade Athens unless the Persian War trophies are dismantled immediately gets the patriotic parlour-orators on their feet to protest the patrimony of history, or else get real ... (S.5): but we know perfectly well that Plataea awaits, and this contrivance actually declares open season for Orientalist abuse of all Shahs, especially those at home. Migliario has no trouble in finding in the first case irony in declamatory posturing as if on behalf of the tough guy politeia of old Rome, and in the second, ready-made transference to the likes of Antony, to Antony himself, and then on to Parthia -- though Roman parallels for literal agitation over trophies are to seek (but not find, pp.100-01: naturally we should look instead to memorial culture mythology more figuratively -- in the rhetoric wrapped round book-burning and the like).

Migliario folds Iphigenia at Aulis (S.3) in with the other Greek themes, though pointing out that it is explicitly motivated as a tribute to Fuscus' virtuosity (at 2.23, with its back reference to 10: strictly for the birds, suasoria for suasores) and is marked as an excursus by the resumption formula at its close (3.7: p.106). Here is how to play, courtesy of prosopopoea this time, at being the lord trying to do right when stuck between a rock and a hard place: use the wealth of hand-me-down classic theatre culture, all the way from Euripides and other post-scripts to handbooks to pantomime and the panoply of spin-offs constituting so large a slice of Roman paideia.

On Cicero's death, Migliario's take hits home. She can't find the three Greek performers plugging any distinctive line here (no surprise: pp.130-1), but her eye for personnel points up where declaimers came all too close to the proscriptions (pp. 122-4: was it Haterius' father that was a victim?) before she presses home the necessary changes in their relations to this most stable of themes as the decades passed, when martyrdom to Antony the butcher of libertas adapted to the installation of Augustus as its restorer (p.130), leaving dominant pro- and anti-Cicero lines to arrange themselves and settle, respectively, around history in Pollio's wake and around ... declamation (p.149). This time, practitioners could indulge directly in intertextual play, with the Philippics, above all, but also with other Tullianae (esp. pp.127ff.). And this time, intertwining with other prestige genres is trumpeted by Seneca's famous closing gazetteer of excerpts from the historians, even as he finally crescendoes into suitably declamatory denunciation -- of declamation.

All told, Migliario's slender libellus (just 120 pages of text, interspersed with Seneca's Latin taken from Häkanson's Teubner after the relevant chapters of discussion, and featuring bulky footnoting and end papers) sets out fair and square the case for regarding the Suasoriae as a vigorous, arguably prime, public theatre for figured critique of power at Rome, where tact packages incisiveness, as explained through Cestius' tour de force at S.1.5-7 (p.59). Her bid to track changing commentary on Caesardom through revolution and counter-revolution may largely run into the sand, and this reader at least finds himself surer that separate study of Suasoriae costs more than it earns, but Retorica e Storia makes a worthwhile addition to scholarship on these mutilated texts in their tradition and institutional practice, together with their many links to other genres and unrivalled assortment of precious excerpts.2

5-10 Introduction
11-31 Seneca and the rhetoric schools in Rome
33-50 Deliberative declamations from the Late Republic to the Early Principate
51-77 Suasoriae on Alexander themes
85-111 Suasoriae on themes from Greek history and tragedy
121-49 Declamations on the death of Cicero
161-74 Bibliography
175-81 Index of inscriptions and loci
183-8 Index of names and notabilia
189-90 General index


1.   No, I have not been sitting on this review for two years. References passim to esp. Gabba 1957 on Pollio (and to Gabba 1956, unfortunately missing from the bibliography: Appiano e la Storia delle guerre civili, Florence) show this dedication makes a true fit.
2.   The bibliography accesses plenty of juicy Italian references new to me, but -- bare of Ahl, Bartsch, etc. etc., and esp. of the essential shots at dismembering Cicero by Shane Butler (2002. The Hand of Cicero, London) and Amy Richlin (1999. 'Cicero's head', in Jim Porter ed. 1999. Constructions of the Classical Body, Ann Arbor: 190-211) -- it's bound to be off the pace. Copy is in pretty good order, in this pleasantly practical paperback collana, with just the odd slip in the notes: p.25 n.71, Nicocrates/Nikocrates; p.39 n.30 and p.49 n.79, Philoctetate; p.48 n.70, pro libri; p.53 n.10, Allievo di di; p.100 n.76, teoria emagoria; p.141, mancipius veteranus; p.146, tedium (Lat.); p.152, two letters thorn enclose cum tertio. But Greek breathings, accents, etc. regularly crash: p.63 n.60, meta de; p.80 (both passages), oude, eiketo, auto and nessos; p.102 n.85, pheugeto, Plataisi; p.158, EMEIS OUN PATERON (in Roman script, caps) may suggest how this came about. The bibliography may not be so well cured: it somehow came to my notice that (Henderson) 1997 was 1996 at p.138 n.86, and 1989 at p.146 n.120 has no separate entry: (Beard) Mithos, (Chaplin) Exemplar History, Galinski, (Lana) roburis, jump from the page.

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