Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Rémy Poignault, Catherine Schneider (ed.), Présence de la déclamation antique (controverses et suasoires). Caesarodunum, 46-47 bis. Clermont-Ferrand: Centre de Recherches A. Piganiol – Présence de l'Antiquité, 2015. Pp. 495. ISBN 9782900479209. €65.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Manfred Kraus, Philologisches Seminar, Universität Tübingen (manfred.kraus@uni-tuebingen.de)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The present volume is one half of a twin publication (for the corresponding volume see BMCR 2017.03.37) that collects the proceedings from two conferences on declamation held in Clermont-Ferrand in September 2011 and in Strasbourg in June 2012 respectively. Like its counterpart, the volume contains selected papers from both conferences along with a small number of original contributions. While the corresponding volume is dedicated to questions of the forms, structures and literary contexts of ancient declamation from the Elder Seneca to Late Antiquity, the present one focuses on its place and setting in society, its relationship to other literary genres and its aftermath from medieval times to the present day, which appropriately places it in the Présence de l'Antiquité series within the collection Caesarodunum.

The volume presents 23 contributions, mostly in French (4 papers are in Italian, 2 in German, and one in English—by a German author), preceded by an Avant-propos by the two editors (pp. 7-16), which, combined with the bilingual abstracts placed at the end of the book (pp. 485-495), gives the hasty reader a convenient survey of the contents of the book.

The individual chapters are arranged in three main sections, the first of which is dedicated to polemics about and within declamation. Within this section, the first three contributions deal with the presence of declamation in situations outside the classroom. Johann Goeken reminds us of the fact that while declamation was a frequent topic of conversation in the relaxed atmosphere of banquets, declaiming at such occasions was regarded as rather out of place, as is demonstrated for instance by the conversation between Trimalchio and the rhetor Agamemnon in Petronius' Satyricon (pp. 19-37). The same scene is analyzed by Jean-Pierre De Giorgio as an example of a breach of the 'fictional contract' in declamation on the part of the audience, alongside two other cases in point: the whistling of Maecenas at an awkward passage in a declamation delivered by Porcius Latro, and the stupid reply of Javolenus Priscus to an apostrophe in an elegiac poem, as reported by Seneca the Elder and Pliny the Younger respectively (pp. 39-56). Valérie Pageau's contribution concerns the critical view on emperors declaiming in office as exhibited in the fourth-century Historia Augusta, which, although referring to emperors of the second and third century (such as Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Alexander Severus, Aurelianus, Numerianus, and above all Elagabalus and his 'musical' declamations), in her view in reality addresses the situation in the late fourth century (pp. 57-73).

Another group of studies concerns contemporary political or religious controversies as reflected in declamations. Florence Klein argues that intertextual reflections of popular declamatory themes on Alexander's excessive greed for power and Cicero's proscription and death in the passages in Ovid's Metamorphoses and Tristia on the survival of his poems give to these passages a marked political meaning with respect to emperors' and poets' apotheoses (pp. 75-88). Étienne Wolff (pp. 89- 100) and Annick Stoehr-Monjou (pp. 101-126) both analyze declamations in verse from the Anthologia Latina and from Dracontius that deal with problems of poverty and pagan religion, thus pointing to the persistence of the declamatory tradition as late as the fifth-century North African Vandal Kingdom.

'Cross-genre' problems are the topic of the second main section. Ovid gets the lion's share in its first subsection on metamorphoses and avatars of the genre. While Hélène Vial gives a comprehensive and instructive survey of repercussions of declamation throughout Ovid's oeuvre from Amores to Tristia, observing that in such passages Ovid never uses suadeo in the first person and that many of these attempts at persuasion actually fail (pp. 147-176), Alessandra Romeo focuses on innovative influences of declamatory form and diction on the epic style of central passages of the Metamorphoses, finding a productive antagonistic tension between sententious declamatory style and the emulation of Virgil (pp. 129-146). Béatrice Larosa, on the other hand, identifies a strong revival of declamatory elements of persuasion and self-defence in the exiled Ovid's Letters from Pontus (pp. 177-192). This bulk of Ovidian studies is counterbalanced by one single contribution, by Pascale Paré-Rey, on the presence of declamation and its dramaturgic, dramatic, and aesthetic effects in the Younger Seneca's tragedies. Paré-Rey finds elements of deliberative suasoriae to be more frequent and placed rather in the beginnings or the middle of the plays, thus retarding the play's action, but the less frequent judicial controversiae rather towards the end, leading to a final acceleration of the action, and the antithetical, sententious style of declamation to be a perfect means for highlighting the pointed issues of Stoic ethics (pp. 193-213).

Seneca is again picked up by Alfredo Casamento in his contribution to a subsection on stock characters from declamation. Casamento analyzes the stereotype of Roman fathers and the facets of father-son relationships as reflected in the Elder Seneca's excerpts from declamations and the Younger Seneca's tragedies respectively, as well as the former's potential influence on the latter (pp. 215-237). One of the highlights of the entire collection is Nicola Hömke's analysis of Lucan's depiction of the character of the Younger Cato in his Bellum civile. Hömke convincingly argues that Lucan intentionally deconstructs Cato's life and death, which in contemporary declamatory tradition had become a Stoic exemplum virtutis and exemplum moriendi. Cato's pointless march through the African desert and his mock-heroic death (which Hömke presumes Lucan had intended to describe in the unfinished final books) thus turn into symbols for absurdity and anti-heroism (pp. 239-256). Finally, based on Danielle Van Mal-Maeder's groundbreaking research on the fictional character of declamation, 1 Anne-Marie Favreau-Linder embarks on a comparative study of the mutual influence of declamation and the ancient novel, using as an example the character of the pirate, popular as a background figure in both genres (pp. 257-284).

The book's third main section is dedicated to ancient declamation's aftermath proper. Mickael Ribreau's and Dafne Maggiorini's contributions deal with the adaptation of declamation to Christian literature. Ribreau describes how Augustine's early rhetorical training has left traces in form and content of his Soliloquies and the City of God as well as in his sermons (pp. 287-311), whereas Maggiorini investigates how in Byzantine declamation ancient influences of the Aphthonian and Hermogenian tradition were adapted to Christian topics, as demonstrated especially in examples by George Pachymeres (13th century) and Manuel II Palaiologos (14th/15th century) as well as in the progymnasmata by Nikephoros Basilakes (12th century) (pp. 313-327).

The next subsection takes the reader to the medieval and early modern periods. Gernot Krapinger gives a survey of the discontinuous history of declamation from latest antiquity (Ennodius, Dracontius etc.) via the Englishman Walter Map's misogynic suasoria against marriage (12th century) to Juan Luis Vives' Sullan declamations and Erasmus' Encomium matrimonii in the 16th century (pp. 329-354), whereas Jean-Luc Vix describes how, on the one hand, the rediscovered ancient Greek declamations (μελέται) were enthusiastically embraced for educational purposes and diligently printed by humanists (such as Joachim Camerarius), but how on the other hand there was some confusion about the distinction between (infinite) thesis and (finite) hypothesis, which both went under the name of declamatio, a misunderstanding that, alongside the failure to acknowledge the fictional character of these pieces (which made for an indistinct application of the term to fictional as well as real speeches), was also at the base of the theological controversy about Erasmus' Encomium matrimonii (pp. 355-375). A similar problem of genre is posed by the Discours de la servitude volontaire (1576) by Montaigne's friend Étienne de La Boétie, disdainfully called a "déclamation" by Sainte-Beuve. Michael Boulet undertakes to analyze the relationship La Boétie's piece has with ancient declamations, only to find that it is better explained with reference to the contemporary humanist understanding of declamatio and as an experimental work at the crossroads of many genres that raises questions and stimulates the reader's curiosity by means of a deliberate employment of the rhetorical strategies of declamation (pp. 377-396).

In the final section, dedicated to modern repercussions of Seneca the Elder and Pseudo-Quintilian, Jean-Louis Charlet deals with the citations from the pseudo-Quintilianean Major Declamations that Niccolò Perotti in his Cornu copiae borrowed from Lorenzo Valla's Elegantie. Since (like Valla) he took them to be genuinely by Quintilian and hence documents of the best of Latin styles, he exploited them from an exclusively grammatical point of view. The meticulous table Charlet draws up of all citations and their grammatical content will prove a helpful basis for future research (pp. 397-415). By way of an analysis of the extracts from the Elder Seneca's collection of suasoriae in the Campi eloquentiae of the Spanish humanist Juan Lorenzo Palmireno (1574), Stefan Feddern sets out to demonstrate not only that and in what way the ancient tradition of declamation was revived in sixteenth-century humanist schools, but also that Palmireno is depending on the exercises in Erasmus' De ratione studii (pp. 417-434).

The Venetian scholar Lorenzo Patarol (1674-1727), who wrote responses to all of the unpaired pieces of the pseudo- Quintilianean Major Declamations, is the subject of Lucrezia Martella's contribution. By way of an analysis of Patarol's response to declamation 8, especially its exordium and peroratio, Martella aptly demonstrates how the Venetian scholar imitates the style and diction of Pseudo-Quintilian's accusation speech and at the same time reverses its arguments, further seasoning his speech in erudite manner with plenty of citations from various classical authors (pp. 435-449). With a contribution on a piece of present-day literature editor Rémy Poignault rounds off the collection. Based on Seneca the Elder, but also freely inventing not only biographical details, but also flourishes and sentences of declamatory style, in La Raison (1990) the French author Pascal Quignard retells the life of the rhetor and declaimer M. Porcius Latro, making of Latro a defender of sentiment and emotion against Greek rationalism, and thus at the same time paying an affectionate tribute to ancient Roman declamation and providing it with a congenial modern continuation (pp. 451-472).

In lieu of a summary or epilogue, Luigi Spina concludes the volume with a brief tour de force of the manifold contemporary reincarnations of ancient declamation: 'impossible' interviews or conversations with characters from antiquity or other historical periods, imaginary dialogues, virtual trials, counterfactual narratives or any other kinds of products of fiction that enhance our understanding of the world we live in (pp. 473-482).

All chapters collected in this volume are of high scholarly quality and are exciting and thought-provoking reading. There are certainly some overlaps, but also gaps, as is however almost inevitable in a volume of conference proceedings. There is a certain predominance of focus on Roman declamation rather than Greek that one may find regrettable. One might for instance wish to read more about the Second Sophistic, and a pivotal Greek author such as Libanius is only mentioned occasionally and in passing.

All chapters are equipped with rich annotations and ample bibliographies. All Greek and Latin citations are translated into the respective vernacular. The volume has also been very professionally edited, and proof-reading is almost perfect. In combination with its twin brother, this volume will prove an indispensable tool and pool of material for further research on ancient declamation and its afterlife in all periods to the present day.


1.   Danielle Van Mal-Maeder, La fiction des déclamations, Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2007.

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