Performing Oratory In Early Imperial Rome: Courtroom, Schoolroom, Stage
This dissertation analyzes Roman oratory of the early empire (c. 31 B.C.E. - c. 100 C.E.) in its dual status as a literal performance and a public expression of elite identity. Drawing on the orator/actor dichotomy employed by Roman rhetorical theory, I argue that notions of performance were as problematic for the orator's self-definition as they were fundamental. Usually invoked as a negative example, the figure of the actor was also a crucial reference point for both the orator's physical delivery and his professional identity. Ideas of performance even shaped his selfhood, because early imperial concepts of individual identity equated people with personae and public role play. Against this largely conceptual background, I investigate how orators responded to the specific governmental and cultural changes that occurred c. 31 B.C.E - 100 C.E. I contend that many of the developments in this era challenged the basic tenets of the orator's self-definition. At the level of literal performance, theatre's newfound interest in staging real acts instead of simulated ones upset advocates' self-declared status as "performers of real life" (actores veritatis, Cic. De Or. 3.214), while the recently introduced genre of pantomime dance encroached upon the orator's territory of 'gestural eloquence'. At the more figurative level of performed identity, Rome's change to autocratic rule curtailed orators' traditional means of self-display. Since public presentation was a crucial criterion of elite Roman selfhood, orators of the early empire resorted to declamation and recitation when they no longer had sufficient opportunity to perform their roles in an actual court. Under such circumstances, oratory's pre-existing links to drama grew even more pronounced, and declamation's quasi-theatrical material became a source of theatre proper in the form of Seneca's highly rhetorical tragedies. For methodology, my study uses the persona theory of performed identity, which originated in Stoic philosophy and had permeated Roman culture more generally by the first century C.E. This theory is directly relevant to my topic for two reasons: first, it equates life with drama; second, it was popularized in the time period under discussion.
Roman oratory; declamation; imperial Roman drama
Ahl, Frederick M
Rusten, Jeffrey S; Brittain, Charles Francis; Fontaine, Michael Scott
Ph. D., Classics
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis