Scholia Reviews ns 19 (2010) 6.

William Dominik and Jon Hall (eds.), A Companion to Roman Rhetoric. Malden – Oxford – Carlton: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007. Pp. xix + 523, incl. glossary and indices. ISBN-10: 1-4051-2091-6. Paperback £29.99 / €34.50. Hardcover £85.00 / €97.80.

Koen De Temmerman
Ghent University, Belgium[[1]]

People approaching the subject of ancient rhetoric can turn to an ever increasing number of introductions and reference tools. Companions in particular have become increasingly popular with different publishing houses. Over the last few years, we have seen the publication of Companions to ancient rhetoric, rhetoric and rhetorical criticism, and Cicero’s oratory and rhetoric.[[2]] Dominik and Hall, for their part, identify (p. xiii) their Companion to Roman Rhetoric as a complement to Worthington’s Companion to Greek Rhetoric (Malden 2007).

As part the Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World series, this volume is primarily intended for advanced students approaching this particular field for the first time and scholars in adjacent disciplines. At the same time, the editors express the hope that scholars specifically working in the field of Roman rhetoric will also find the volume useful because of the wide-ranging treatment of the discipline and the new questions that ‘some of the contributions’ are said to raise (p. xii). In fact, the originality of the contributions varies considerably. Whereas some authors do little more than to outline broadly well-known aspects of a certain topic, others do indeed offer original and innovative contributions. Another, equally understandable, result of the book’s introductory purpose is the tendency to make broad claims drawn from a relatively small amount of evidence –- a danger explicitly acknowledged by Barsby (p. 51) and Sciarrino (p. 57) but nevertheless frequently attested throughout the volume. Barsby’s discussion of Terence’s ‘other speeches’, for example, deals with only one such speech (pp. 48-51) and Culpepper Stroup’s treatment of Roman ‘acculturation’ of Greek rhetoric in fact deals with an overview of Cicero’s rhetorical and literary project ‘as it is embodied in the first of his rhetorical dialogues: the De Oratore’ (p. 33). On the whole, however, there can be no doubt that this volume is a success; it does what it claims to do, which is to offer an accessible introduction to the intertwinement of Roman rhetoric with technical, cultural, practical, sociological, educational and literary issues.

The thirty-two contributions in this massive book are distributed over five parts. Part I (‘Approaching Rhetoric’, pp. 1-66) offers an introductory survey of the contributions in the volume (Dominik & Hall), an overview of influential recent trends in scholarship on Roman rhetoric (Dugan) and a discussion of Roman appropriation of Greek rhetorical culture (Culpepper Stroup). In addition, this part also focuses on early attestations of Roman rhetoric (for example, Barsby’s essay on Plautus and Terence and Sciarrino’s discussion of pre-Ciceronian orators such as the elder Cato and Gaius Gracchus). Part II (‘Rhetoric and its social context’, pp. 67-160) again combines two main strands. Firstly, it explores a wide range of sociological aspects of Roman rhetoric, such as the (essentially conformist) role of rhetoric in education and the construction and preservation of social power (Corbeill), and interconnections between rhetorical efficiency, ornament and the display of masculinity (Connolly), and between rhetoric, oratory and politics (Alexander and Rutledge). Secondly, it discusses distinctive rhetorical forms such as senatorial oratory (Ramsey), speeches at public assemblies (Alexander and, to a lesser extent, Connolly and Ramsey), panegyric (Rees) and invective (Arena). Part III (‘Systematizing rhetoric’, pp. 161-234) explores four of the five officia oratoris (inventio, elocutio, memoria and actio; by Gaines, Kirchner, Penny Small, and Hall respectively -- dispositio is awkwardly left out) -- along with a discussion of wit and humour in Roman rhetoric (Rabbie). Part IV (‘Rhetoricians and Orators’, pp. 235-366) is the most extensive part of the volume (nine contributions). It deals with famous orators, rhetoricians and grammarians in the Republic and the imperial period (Steel and McNelis), with special attention being paid to Cicero (May and Craig), Quintilian (Bloomer and Fernández López), Tacitus (Dominik), Pliny (Dominik) and the elder Seneca (Bloomer). Part V (‘Rhetoric and Roman literature’, pp. 367-450), finally, focuses on the influence of rhetoric on Latin literature. After a general discussion of the pervasiveness of rhetoric in ancient literature (Fox), attention is drawn to epic (Narducci), satire (Hooley) and historiography (Damon) as well as to individual authors, such as Ovid (Auhagen) and the younger Seneca (Wilson).

Of course, there is always room for disagreement about the general disposition of the volume. Anderson (Chapter 25) and Ward (Chapter 26), for example, deal with the Second Sophistic and the afterlife of Roman rhetoric respectively and their essays would therefore have been more appropriate in Part V than in IV. In general, however, the structure of the volume is clear and consistent. Its accessibility is further enhanced by the presence of what I would call ‘twin-chapters’, which are best read in sequence. Examples are Chapter 8 (Alexander) and Chapter 9 (Rutledge), which deal with oratory and politics in the Republic and the Empire respectively, and Chapters 19 (May) and Chapter 20 (Craig) on Cicero as a rhetorician and an orator respectively.

The insight that rhetoric is an open, fluid and non-delineable concept is presented by Dugan (Chapter 2) as one of the hallmarks of modern scholarship and is, indeed, endorsed by most authors in this volume. Occasionally, however, authors seem to adopt a systematic rigidity reminiscent of analytic discussions such as Lausberg’s Handbook of Literary Rhetoric: A Foundation for Literary Study (Leiden 1998; orig. in German, 1973[2]), which is adduced by Dugan himself as an example of pre-modern scholarship approaching rhetoric as a ‘coherent, finite phenomenon’. Kirchner’s treatment of elocutio is a case in point. Comparably, Narducci’s discussion of rhetoric in Vergil and Lucan primarily focuses on the presence of declamatory material, thereby downplaying the wider, and ‘modern’, insight that rhetorical strategies of various types are intrinsic to the art of narrative in general and narratorial self-positioning in particular.

Throughout the volume as a whole, a number of broad strands seem to emerge. Some of these are well-known to specialists and important particularly to newcomers in the field. The overwhelming importance of Cicero for our knowledge and understanding of different aspects of rhetoric and its social and literary functions, for example, is repeatedly highlighted by various contributors. Another recurrently emphasized point concerns the important place of Greek rhetorical theory and practice in Roman rhetoric. Most notably, Culpepper Stroup (Chapter 3) discusses three broad movements to capture the dynamics underlying Roman appropriation of Greek rhetorical culture (‘expansion, resistance and acculturation’). Moreover, Greek rhetoric also features prominently in discussions of pre-Ciceronian Roman oratory (Sciarrino), Roman rhetorical handbooks (Gaines) and Cicero’s orations (Craig) as well as his discussions of humour (Rabbie).

In addition, various contributions highlight general strands that are relevant to specialists in the field. Let me again adduce two examples. Firstly, interconnections between rhetoric and fiction are repeatedly addressed. They are dealt with not only in discussions of declamations, where restricted sets of fictional scenarios provide an obvious connection (see, for example, Bloomer on Roman declamation and Corbeill on declamation as an educational tool, esp. pp. 74-81),[[3]] but also in Anderson’s brief account on the ancient novel (pp. 347-49) and Damon’s discussion of rhetoric and historiography. D. Cohn’s study on The Distinction of Fiction (Baltimore 1999) could have been of interest here. My second example concerns the conveyance of the idea that, throughout the history of Roman rhetoric, differences in rhetorical presences and functions are more a matter of quantity than of quality. Plautus and Terence, for example, are shown to adopt ‘a very similar range of rhetorical devices’, but Terence ‘is much more restrained in their use’ (Barsby, p. 51). Similarly, the functions and use of rhetoric in the Republic and the Empire are depicted not only in terms of differences but also, and perhaps more prominently, in terms of continuity (see, for example, Steel on the importance of rhetorical skill in the imperial period, despite the change of government organization [p. 246] and Rutledge [pp. 109-11, 114-20] and Bloomer on continuity in rhetorical practice [pp. 297-9]).

Occasionally, the notion of ‘influence’ seems to be dealt with in a hermeneutically reductive way. Let me again give two examples. First, Barsby traces a number of stylistic features in Terence’s prologues (for example, antithesis and paronomasia) back to rhetorical handbooks such as the Rhetorica ad Herennium (‘We might well assume that all this comes out of the rhetorical handbooks’, p. 43). He goes on to observe that chiasmus, alliteration, and variation, which are equally constant in Terence’s prologues, are not recommended in these handbooks as stylistic adornments, which leads him to argue that these three features ‘do not come from Greek rhetorical handbooks, insofar as we can reconstruct the latter from our Latin sources’ (p. 43). I doubt whether relations between rhetorical practice in literary texts and rhetorical handbooks can be adequately addressed in such direct terms. Arguably, such features are already widely present in literature predating rhetorical theory (the embassy to Achilles in the ninth book of the Iliad is, of course, a classical example of stylistic devices and techniques used in such ‘pre-rhetorical’ oratory). Indeed, rhetorical handbooks first described such rhetorical phenomena as they appeared in literature and/or daily life and only at a later stage became prescriptive. My second example is the unidirectional way in which Part V addresses the influence of rhetoric on Latin literature.[[4]] The pervasiveness of rhetoric in literature is abundantly addressed (for example by Fox, Narducci and Hooley) and although Barsby draws attention to more complex ways of interaction (p. 39), most contributions are primarily concerned with straightforwardly exploring rhetorical presences in literary texts (exceptions being Hooley’s more dynamic concept of rhetorical activity in satire and Wilson’s discussion of rhetoric across genres in Seneca).

As this review indicates, Dominik and Hall have produced a solid, well-structured and accessible piece of work, which not only provides an excellent starting point to newcomers, but also contains a number of original contributions that will be of interest to more advanced scholars.


[[1]] The reviewer is a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders (Belgium) (F.W.O.-Vlaanderen).

[[2]] These are E. Gunderson (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Rhetoric (Cambridge 2009), W. Jost & W. Olmsted (eds.), A Companion to Rhetoric and Rhetorical Criticism (Malden, Oxford, Carlton 2004) and J. May (ed.), Brill's Companion to Cicero: Oratory and Rhetoric (Leiden 2004).

[[3]] On fiction and declamation, see now also D. van Mal-Maeder, La fiction des déclamations. Mnemosyne Supplementa, 290 (Leiden 2007).

[[4]] See also C.S. van den Berg’s review of this book (BMCR 2008.09.33).