Presenter: John Hajek (Mid-candidature review)

Declamation was a form of practice rhetoric in which a speaker argued on either side of a set theme about a historical dilemma or quasi-legal conflict. In addition to its central role in the higher tiers of rhetorical education, declamation was widely enjoyed by gatherings of educated adults as a form of entertainment and social gathering. Recent trends in scholarship have established that declamation served a further purpose, as a medium through which elite participants could express consensus, access and define a shared culture and identity, and engage in active negotiation, and constant re-negotiation, of anxieties and challenges that ordinary social discourses were ill-equipped to handle. In this seminar, I will examine some of the discourses on power and authority in Roman declamation, particularly those surrounding the topos of the tyrant. Themes involving the praemium – an open-ended reward, or ‘wish’, granted to tyrannicides and war heroes in declamatory law – allow for a more nuanced analysis of these discourses, as they involve the juxtaposition of conventionally idealised character archetypes with an individual’s acquisition of unfettered power, although only for a single act. This discussion contributes to a greater understanding of how the Roman elite related to the concept of tyranny and, more broadly, how they justified the use of power, and what moral limits they placed on its use.


Forgan Smith Building (1),
St Lucia campus