Oratory at the Classical Association Conference 2016

In addition to the panel organised by the Network for Oratory and Politics (see separate blog entry) for the Classical Association conference 2016, the annual meeting of Classicists in the UK, the meeting featured several other panels on ancient oratory and their important practitioners, although politics was less prominent in some of them. Still, these further sessions revealed a lot about key ancient orators, such as Demosthenes and Cicero, and thus provided helpful background for analysing their political oratory.

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A particularly interesting panel was entitled ‘Ciceronian Masks’ and chaired by Kathryn Tempest (University of Roehampton). Although it was scheduled early in the morning on the final day of the conference, after the conference dinner the night before, it was well attended by both senior scholars and graduate students and provoked lively debate.

The first paper in this panel was a discussion of ‘Cicero the homeowner: identity, status and the Palatine domus in light of exile’, by Paula Rondon-Burgos, a PhD student at Durham University. She demonstrated the significant relation between the house and the man, almost leading to an identity crisis: Cicero’s house in Rome was so important to him that, upon his return from exile, he only felt fully restored once his house (damaged during his absence) was rebuilt. Cicero’s attitude to his house becomes apparent in some of his letters and, prominently, in the speeches delivered upon his return from exile. The house was an eminently political issue.

Lauren Emslie, a PhD student at Newcastle University, then talked about ‘Cicero the Believer? Theological Discussions of an Academic Sceptic’. In an analysis of Cicero’s philosophical treatise De natura deorum she showed that Cicero makes good use of the dialogue form and does not take a stand as a character in the text; in the end a judgement is made on the quality of the argumentation, not the arguments themselves, which confirms Cicero as an academic Sceptic, i.e. as a follower of a philosophical school questioning whether anything can be determined for sure. Such an attitude of Cicero’s has to be borne in mind also when looking at the speeches.

Next the Network’s own Henriette van der Blom (University of Glasgow) addressed ‘Cicero’s oratorical canonisation from his death to Quintilian’. She demonstrated that, not least thanks to Cicero’s own efforts, he was recognised as a great orator and a model for teaching from early on, but that the reception only becomes more systematic and detailed with Quintilian, Rome’s first professor of rhetoric, at the end of the first century CE. These early receptions to Cicero are the basis for many modern views of the orator.

The panel concluded with a presentation on ‘The ‘Secret History’ and Cicero’s death as an author’ by John Dugan (University at Buffalo). Looking at comments on the ‘Secret History’, a piece of writing that Cicero long contemplated, but never finished and never intended to be published, he presented it as a test case for reading and analysing Cicero. He concluded that there is likely not to be a fully integrated image of Cicero and no lost and fully recoverable Cicero.

The discussions after each paper showed that they had all provided food for thought for the audience and will inform the way in which people read the speeches in future.

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