Presenter: John Hajek (Thesis review seminar)

Declamation, in Early Imperial Rome, 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. It was practiced not only by students in the higher tiers of rhetorical education, but also by gatherings of educated adults for entertainment and as a social activity. Recent trends in scholarship have established that declamation served a further purpose, as a medium through which elite participants could express consensus, define or redefine their shared identity, and negotiate their attitudes towards tensions or challenges to their conceptions of order, morality, and social and political hierarchy. The characterisation of the tyrant, an archetype which appears frequently in declamation themes, provides valuable insights into the Roman elite’s pre-occupations and concerns about the exercise of power and authority over the state. However, while discourses on the negative aspects of power are readily revealed through the archetype of the tyrant, it is more difficult to find stock characters or scenarios that provide a positive or idealised portrayal. In this seminar, I will examine the declamation themes dealing with the removal of a tyrant from power, and consider how the character of the tyrannicide is depicted as an exemplum embodying traits opposite to those of the tyrant.