Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Pascale Derron, Michael Edwards, Pierre Ducrey (ed.), La rhétorique du pouvoir: une exploration de l'art oratoire délibératif Grec. Neuf exposés suivis de discussions. Entretiens sur l'Antiquité classique, 62. Vandœuvres: Fondation Hardt pour l'étude de l'Antiquité classique, 2016. Pp. ix, 412. ISBN 9782600007627. CHF 75.00.

Reviewed by Francesco Berardi, Università di Chieti-Pescara (

Version at BMCR home site

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[Authors and titles are listed below.]

A public speech of political relevance, given before an assembly of citizens, is of great anthropological significance. It is a defining element of the cultural code of classical antiquity and has left a legacy in western thought. This volume, containing the records of a workshop organised by Mike Edwards at the Fondation Hardt in Geneva in 2015, explores the rhetorical strategies of deliberative oratory. It analyses the styles and methods used in a variety of historical backgrounds and political climates in ancient Greece, ranging from the birth of the λόγος συμβουλευτικός in the Athenian democracy of the fifth century B.C. to the new forms which had evolved by the time of the cities of the later Empire. Both the elements of continuity and the changes in persuasive techniques are effectively described in relation to the needs and requirements of the various social, cultural, and political structures. Speeches to an assembly are examined in numerous forms of expression—from lively political debates to embassy presentations before an assembled community or the imperial court itself, and from fictitious orations to religious homilies.

By skimming through the contributions of each scholar and the discussions that followed their talks, it is possible to reconstruct the evolution of the deliberative genre in the ancient Greek world. The chronological approach provides useful clarity and coherence to the book, which is structured around three historical, thematic nuclei—the classical age, the Hellenistic period, and the imperial age.

The first three contributions provide insight into the origins and achievements of the assembly speech in the context of the Greek social and cultural systems in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. Mike Edwards makes use of the renowned "Canon of the ten orators" to investigate the structures and persuasive techniques that are characteristic of Athenian political oratory. The scarcity of deliberative speeches transmitted by tradition is a striking consequence of a communicative practice centred on improvisation. In this restricted patrimony of orations, the Demosthenic corpus is an exception, which Christos Kremmydas analyses in order to better appreciate the persuasive effects achieved by the orator through an artificial portrayal of himself and his character. Kremmydas retraces Demosthenes' output to outline the development of this famous Athenian orator and politician's self-descriptions as a man of action who was ever more convinced of his authority and energetically opposed a weak, corrupt ruling class. Lene Rubinstein extends the debate to a particular kind of assembly oration, the embassy speech. Through the analysis of embassy reports transmitted by historiographers, and Xenophon in particular, and by drawing nearer to Kremmydas' point of view, the scholar considers the various strategies the emissaries used to gain the trust of their interlocutors, especially by means of portraying themselves as moderate and benevolent.

The second thematic nucleus concerns the Hellenistic age and is also largely centred on the reports of embassy speeches transmitted by historiographical and epigraphic sources. Angelos Chaniotis analyses one of the topics on which the persuasive strategy of these orations is based: the use of history as an argument. An ambassador tells mythical and historical facts to underline the close relationship between two communities. Chaniotis takes in account the decrees concerning, for example, the re-organisation of the festivals (SEG XXI, 469c) or the inviolability of the cities (I.Magnesia 61); he shows how the orators used history in order to request assistance in return for an earlier favour and how in these circumstances the audience was struck by the emotionally moving recounting of events Jean-Louis Ferrary considers the particular context of the Roman senate, illustrating the strategies of ambassadors seeking protection or mercy. The speeches are organised around certain major themes, including loyalty to Rome itself or favours offered by other cities to the Roman cause, such as providing military or political support. These speeches are preserved in remarkable papyri (second century B.C. to third century A.D.), which contain reports of embassies and the histories of illustrious champions of local independence, and are particularly noteworthy given the scarcity of direct testimonies. These histories, called Acta (see, for example, the Acta Claudiani: Corpus Papyrorum Judaicorum II 156 a-d; or the Acta Appiani: CPJ 159), recount the deaths of freedom heroes and report speeches in their defence; the protagonists are members of the Greek Alexandrian aristocracy and a Roman Emperor. These texts permit reconstruction of the diplomatic connections between Rome and its provinces in the imperial age. Daniela Colomo examines these missions in detail through an analysis of the topics used by the orators of each of the two Alexandrian communities, Greek and Jewish, requesting political support from Rome so that each might prevail over the other.

The final contributions underline the fate of assembly speeches in the Imperial age and illustrate the new features that this genre took on in response to the changing political and historical context. Laurent Pernot's clear analysis of the deliberative oratory of Dio of Prusa is emblematic. The orator assumes the role of a counsellor who mixes philosophical topics and rhetorical methods to reveal the correct political action for the monarch. Manfred Kraus also highlights the new forms of political oratory which appeared in the late imperial age, the so-called Third Sophistic, when few opportunities for direct intervention arose, rhetorical schools were established, and the civic body developed new religious and social structures. The substantial collection of declamations by Libanius and the manual of preparatory exercises (progymnasmata) ascribed to Aphthonius demonstrate the continued, marked attention to themes and models of deliberative oratory, such as the condemnation of tyrannicides. This rhetoric displays attempts to define political life through training the ruling class. Life in Antioch, a city of illustrious pagan traditions and a lively centre of eastern Christianity, gives Maria Silvana Celentano the opportunity to outline the peculiar re-utilization of the strategies of classic deliberative oratory in Christian homiletics. The second homily On Statues by John Chrysostom may be interpreted as a political sermon in which the priest assumes the role of a new leader who is able to reconcile the rebellious local community with the emperor Theodosius I.

The volume thus deals with several aspects of assembly speech in the Greek world and ends with a focus on Antioch symbolising the reconciliation of classical cultural legacy and the new requirements of Christian culture. The deliberative genre is examined with regard to its various social and political implications, technical elements and communicative dynamics. These are related to the various ages of Greek history, from its origins to the end of the ancient period. Among the undeniable merits of the volume, the abundance of sources used in reconstructing the history of political oratory stands out. Some contributions shed light on texts that are seldom considered in this kind of study, such as pre-Demosthenic orations (Edwards), epigraphic and papyrus evidence containing embassy accounts (Chaniotis, Colomo), manuals of the later empire (Kraus), and Christian homiletics (Celentano). The attention given to embassy speeches sometimes leads these scholars to reconsider previously examined testimonies, such in the cases of Xenophon Hell. 6.535–36 (pp. 110–2, 168–9) and Polybius 9,28–39 (pp. 73, 144). However, there is no risk of redundant repetition because the analyses always consider a variety of interests and perspectives. As far as the testimonies are concerned, the volume provides us with starting points for some important considerations in the field of research methodology – most notably, the recommendation that historiographical sources should be used to retrace the evolution of Greek political oratory. Several articles in this volume take sides on the issue of the reliability of historiographic works in tracing developments in oratory. They share the idea, well summarised by Colomo (pp. 220–2), that historiography represents rhetorical performances with plausibility, even if it may report fictitious versions of political speeches for the purposes of propaganda, or to demonstrate stylistic qualities.

Equally interesting are the book's contributions to the definition of technical elements and other fundamental aspects of Greek political oratory. The following are recurring themes:

a. The remarkable role that the portrayal of character has in deliberative oratory, as a key element in the creation of consensus in the various contexts of political communication (Demosthenes in the Athenian assembly, Kremmydas, pp. 41–49; embassy speeches, Rubinstein, pp. 82–88; Dio of Prusa's orations, Pernot, pp. 280–281).
b. The inadequacy of the rigid distinction among rhetorical genres in Aristotle's Rhetoric; indeed, there are several occasions in which the assembly speech takes on the typical form and procedures of the forensic (Ferrary, pp. 186–90) or the epideictic genre (Pernot, pp. 262–3; 286).
c. The autonomy of the embassy speech which, when compared to the deliberative genre, displays its own particular expressive forms, contents, and purposes, and is often not very different from those of the forensic speech; for this reason the contributors might have given greater consideration to the reflections suggested by the rhetorician Menander and to the imperial documents related to λόγος πρεσβευτικός (hints are found only in Ferrary, pp. 186–7).
d. The remarkable significance and the various functions that historical-mythical themes had in the structure of assembly speeches seeking to gain the support of their audiences through recalling the speaker's own merits, recording previous favourable events, or striking a chord with the audience's sensitivities (see Chaniotis, pp. 137–8).
e. The need to vary rhetorical strategies in accordance with the context of the assembly and the political positions assumed by the orator in the debate (see Kremmydas, pp. 68–69).

The volume contributes significantly to the reconstruction of the history of political oratory in the Greek world thanks to its abundance of perspectives and the numerous starting points it provides. The topics and the persuasive strategies that typify the deliberative genre are examined in connection with a wide range of heterogeneous texts; the analysis is accurate in understanding the continuity of and alteration in the speech forms in various historical and cultural contexts. This leads to a telling summary of Greek political oratory, which usefully permits detailed description of the particular methods of the genre and enables their development from its origins to the ending of classical civilisation to be retraced.

Authors and Titles

Pierre Ducrey, Preface
Michael Edwards, Introduction.
1. Michael Edwards, Greek political Oratory and the Canon of Ten Attic Orators
2. Christos Kremmydas, Demosthenes' Philippics and the Art of Characterisation for the Assembly.
3. Lene Rubinstein, Envoys and ethos: Team Speaking by Envoys in Classical Greece.
4. Angelos Chaniotis, History as an Argument in Hellenistic Oratory: The Evidence of Hellenistic Decrees.
5. Jean-Louis Ferrary, Les Grecs devant le Sénat romain.
6. Daniela Colomo, Interstate Relations: The Papyrological Evidence.
7. Laurent Pernot, La rhétorique délibérative de Dion de Pruse.
8. Manfred Kraus, Rhetorik und Macht: Theorie und Praxis der deliberativen Rede in der dritten Sophistik – Libanios und Aphthonios.
9. Maria Silvana Celentano, Giovanni Crisostomo, Sulle Statue 2: omelia e/o orazione politica?

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