The State of Speech: Rhetoric and Political Thought in Ancient Rome

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Overview

Rhetorical theory, the core of Roman education, taught rules of public speaking that are still influential today. But Roman rhetoric has long been regarded as having little important to say about political ideas. The State of Speech presents a forceful challenge to this view. The first book to read Roman rhetorical writing as a mode of political thought, it focuses on Rome's greatest practitioner and theorist of public speech, Cicero. Through new readings of his dialogues and treatises, Joy Connolly shows how ...

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The State of Speech: Rhetoric and Political Thought in Ancient Rome

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Overview

Rhetorical theory, the core of Roman education, taught rules of public speaking that are still influential today. But Roman rhetoric has long been regarded as having little important to say about political ideas. The State of Speech presents a forceful challenge to this view. The first book to read Roman rhetorical writing as a mode of political thought, it focuses on Rome's greatest practitioner and theorist of public speech, Cicero. Through new readings of his dialogues and treatises, Joy Connolly shows how Cicero's treatment of the Greek rhetorical tradition's central questions is shaped by his ideal of the republic and the citizen. Rhetoric, Connolly argues, sheds new light on Cicero's deepest political preoccupations: the formation of individual and communal identity, the communicative role of the body, and the "unmanly" aspects of politics, especially civility and compromise.

Transcending traditional lines between rhetorical and political theory, The State of Speech is a major contribution to the current debate over the role of public speech in Roman politics. Instead of a conventional, top-down model of power, it sketches a dynamic model of authority and consent enacted through oratorical performance and examines how oratory modeled an ethics of citizenship for the masses as well as the elite. It explains how imperial Roman rhetoricians reshaped Cicero's ideal republican citizen to meet the new political conditions of autocracy, and defends Ciceronian thought as a resource for contemporary democracy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Connolly has applied her impressive theoretical and methodological strengths to this exciting examination of Roman rhetoric and political theory. Delving deeply into Cicero's works, Connolly considers the relationship between Cicero's vision of the Republic and of the Republican citizen. She proposes that rhetoric provides a crucial lens through which to understand Cicero and Roman politics. Connolly commands a wide range of resources to undergird her argument, including the traditions of Greek rhetoric as well as post-classical authors such as Gramsci, Foucault, and Habermas. In keeping with her scholarship to date, Connolly incorporates into this book analyses of education, class distinctions, and gender politics as they relate to the role of rhetoric in Rome."—J. de Luce, Miami University, for Choice

"I have learned much from this book, and it is certain to continue to stimulate my thinking throughout this important election year in the United States. . . . The need for a political community that depends upon mutual trust between leaders and led has received here an eloquent expression."—Anthony Corbeill, Rhetorical Review

"This is, in the best sense, a very American book—thoughtful, historically aware, yet infused with optimism and vigor and deep republican ideals. . . . Against the current American political scene, its conclusions read as nothing short of prescient."—Catherine Conybeare, Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews

"With a comprehensive grasp of political theory and literary criticism, Connolly creates a compelling case for using classical rhetorical texts as a lens for viewing political thought."—Laurie Wilson, Journal of Roman Studies

Rhetorical Review
I have learned much from this book, and it is certain to continue to stimulate my thinking throughout this important election year in the United States. . . . The need for a political community that depends upon mutual trust between leaders and led has received here an eloquent expression.
— Anthony Corbeill
Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews
This is, in the best sense, a very American book—thoughtful, historically aware, yet infused with optimism and vigor and deep republican ideals. . . . Against the current American political scene, its conclusions read as nothing short of prescient.
— Catherine Conybeare
Choice
Connolly has applied her impressive theoretical and methodological strengths to this exciting examination of Roman rhetoric and political theory. Delving deeply into Cicero's works, Connolly considers the relationship between Cicero's vision of the Republic and of the Republican citizen. She proposes that rhetoric provides a crucial lens through which to understand Cicero and Roman politics. Connolly commands a wide range of resources to undergird her argument, including the traditions of Greek rhetoric as well as post-classical authors such as Gramsci, Foucault, and Habermas. In keeping with her scholarship to date, Connolly incorporates into this book analyses of education, class distinctions, and gender politics as they relate to the role of rhetoric in Rome.
Journal of Roman Studies
With a comprehensive grasp of political theory and literary criticism, Connolly creates a compelling case for using classical rhetorical texts as a lens for viewing political thought.
— Laurie Wilson
Bryn Mawr Classical Review

This is, in the best sense, a very American book--thoughtful, historically aware, yet infused with optimism and vigor and deep republican ideals. . . . Against the current American political scene, its conclusions read as nothing short of prescient.
— Catherine Conybeare
Rhetorical Review - Anthony Corbeill
I have learned much from this book, and it is certain to continue to stimulate my thinking throughout this important election year in the United States. . . . The need for a political community that depends upon mutual trust between leaders and led has received here an eloquent expression.
Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews - Catherine Conybeare
This is, in the best sense, a very American book—thoughtful, historically aware, yet infused with optimism and vigor and deep republican ideals. . . . Against the current American political scene, its conclusions read as nothing short of prescient.
Journal of Roman Studies - Laurie Wilson
With a comprehensive grasp of political theory and literary criticism, Connolly creates a compelling case for using classical rhetorical texts as a lens for viewing political thought.
de Luce

Connolly has applied her impressive theoretical and methodological strengths to this exciting examination of Roman rhetoric and political theory. Delving deeply into Cicero's works, Connolly considers the relationship between Cicero's vision of the Republic and of the Republican citizen. She proposes that rhetoric provides a crucial lens through which to understand Cicero and Roman politics. Connolly commands a wide range of resources to undergird her argument, including the traditions of Greek rhetoric as well as post-classical authors such as Gramsci, Foucault, and Habermas. In keeping with her scholarship to date, Connolly incorporates into this book analyses of education, class distinctions, and gender politics as they relate to the role of rhetoric in Rome.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691162256
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Joy Connolly is assistant professor of classics at New York University. She is the author of "Talk about Virtue" (forthcoming, Duckworth), a book about Roman political theory.

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Read an Excerpt

The State of Speech Rhetoric and Political Thought in Ancient Rome
By Joy Connolly Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2007
Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-12364-6


Introduction RHETORIC AND POLITICAL THOUGHT

Just as Rome's legions left their mark on the map of Europe, Roman ideas about citizenship and constitutions helped frame Western political thought. The concept of individual liberty guaranteed by law, the beliefs that the end of political rule is the common good and that the community stands and falls on the civic virtue of its citizens, a strong notion of collective identity expressed in terms of cultural solidarity and common love for the fatherland-these compose the core of republican political ideas that, through the texts of Sallust, Cicero, Vergil, and Livy, were revived starting in the twelfth century by European thinkers seeking to develop alternatives to feudal government, and that remain matters of concern to political theorists today. In this book I pursue a new approach to republican political thought in Rome, one that explores notions of civic virtue and collective identity in texts that seek to guide and govern public speech-in writings belonging to the discipline known since Plato's time as rhetoric. I treat rhetoric, especially the work of Cicero, as an extended engagement with the ideals and demands of republican citizenship. Above all, I concentrate on rhetoric's representation of the ideal orator, which I read as an exploration of theethos of the ideal citizen. Just like the persuasive speech he utters, this citizen is a complex, paradoxical construction, at once imperious and responsive, masterly and fragile, artifical and authentic, who seeks civil concord through the exercise of seductive authority.

Active, reactive, and rich with resources for self-reflection, rhetoric in Rome always meant much more than learning to deliver a speech, which is why it has lived for so many centuries not in dusty library corners or the memories of curious antiquarians but at the center of European culture, in monasteries, rural schools, and royal courts. One of the three members of the trivium of the liberal arts, along with grammar and dialectic, rhetoric constituted the core of study for educated Romans by (at the latest) the first century bce. With the emergence of a cosmopolitan Greek-and Latin-speaking elite in urban centers across the empire, rhetoric formed the pedagogical and political bedrock of a common imperial culture stretching from Spain to Syria and from southern Britain to north Africa, creating a literal language of imperium that was preserved by Rome's European and Byzantine descendants and their global colonies. Transmitted in the form of technical handbooks of logic and composition, the study of classical rhetoric spurred early modern practices of politics and political communication, and survives today in literary criticism, writing manuals, and even self-help books on fashion and public speaking.

Rhetoric arises from the practice of oratory, acts of formal speaking before citizens gathered together-political orations, sermons, law court arguments-and also bears the influence of artistic performances and casual exchanges of conversation. All these practices, in different ways, influence the formation of civic identity and relate directly to the exercise of popular sovereignty and the achievement of social justice. Not only will we better understand classical Rome and the political work done by the spoken word in senate and Forum, we will also enrich our own political culture, I propose, if we examine Roman rhetoric's contribution to ideals of civic identity-if we explore the meaning, in rhetorical discourse, of dialogue, civility, and compromise, of the expression and the critique of traditional authority, the limits of reason, and love of country.

However remotely we sense the connection, each of us is a member of a political community. At the same time, we are all individual subjects, isolated bundles of sensation, imagination, memory, and desire. What shapes us as subjects from without, and enables us to reach out to other citizens from within, is language, the spoken word. "There is no way we could be inducted into personhood except by being initiated into a language," Charles Taylor asserts, citing George Herbert Mead's contention that we emerge as selves out of our common embedding in "webs of interlocution." Concerned as they are with interlocution, rhetorical texts shed light on the process by which language connects human beings within the community and effects change in the world. Eloquence is power: the power to convey ideas and information, to persuade, and to bring pleasure: docere movere delectare. "It is easily understood how much we owe to language," Thomas Hobbes wrote in Man and Citizen, echoing Isocrates and Cicero,

by which we, having been drawn together and agreeing to covenants, live securely, happily, and elegantly: we can so live, I insist, if we so will. But language also hath its disadvantages; namely because man, alone among the animals, on account of the universal signification of names, can create general rules for himself in the art of living just as in the other arts; and so he alone can devise errors and pass them on for the use of others.... Therefore by speech man is not made better, but only given greater possibilities. (1.3)

No practice is more central to politics than communication, and to the Roman writers that I discuss in this book, as to Hobbes, no act of communication exists in isolation from moral judgment. If philosophy may be "divided into three branches, natural philosophy, dialectic, and ethics," Cicero declares in his dialogue de Oratore (On the Orator), "let us relinquish the first two," but, he continues, rhetoric must lay claim to ethics, "which has always been the property of the orator; ... this area, concerning human life and customs, he must master" (1.68). It is crucial to understand from the start that Cicero is not principally concerned in his rhetorical writings with the ethical formation of the private individual but with a civic ideal whose dynamic constitution reflects the constitution of the republic, what I call the state of speech. This is a key difference between my work and that of previous studies of self-fashioning in classical rhetoric that have concentrated on the formation of the internal self, its construction through self-contemplation, and its grasp of its relation to the external world.

The resources rhetoric offers the republic are rich. Classical rhetoric nowhere offers a robust theory of knowledge that can compete with the epistemologies of Plato and other philosophers, but it seeks, in the competition it cultivates with philosophy, to understand and refine the processes by which citizens make decisions and consensus is forged-in short, the ways in which public knowledge, if not philosophical knowledge, is determined. Roman rhetorical writings are also, of course, the textual articulations of a particular political form: they constitute a theoretical and practical discourse of power in the republic (res publica). The demanding blend of bodily and mental skills involved in rhetorical training, which combined and mingled rival discourses of traditional senatorial authority, logical reasoning, literary knowledge, deportment, theatrical strategies of popular appeal, and sheer pleasure in the grain of the voice, prescribed normative practices of identity formation designed to reflect the values of the Roman governing class and reinforce its traditional dominance.

It is not surprising that Roman rhetoric has played a historically significant role in welding what would come to be the Western ideal of civic identity, the vir civilis, to properties like glory-seeking and autonomy that are associated with masculinity-with important consequences for the cultures of modern democratic republics and the experiences of nonviri in them. Not every homo is a vir: all women stand outside the circle, in the company of the poor, immigrants, and other classes legally or culturally determined to lack the authority necessary to act in the political arena. What is surprising, and what I seek to show, is how in its exposure of persuasive language's power to sway, mislead, theatricalize, distract, and delight, rhetorical discourse reveals unexpected (if often explicitly disavowed) points of resemblance between the reason and honorable authority of free citizen men and the confusion and abjection that is supposed to be everyone else's lot.

Rhetoric's peculiar power to absorb the other renders it a useful lens through which to observe and understand the workings of republican politics. Though it certainly seeks to discipline language and behavior according to standards imagined to embody elite norms, its appropriation of purportedly alien elements means that its prescriptions construct political power in terms of communication-as fundamentally dialogic in nature-thus illuminating how authority, resistance, and consent achieve expression and interact with one another in the world. Rhetoric sets limits on the arbitrary exercise of authority (itself an object of republican law, which protects citizens from arbitrary interference) by figuring it as a practice constrained in part by "natural law," in part by the consensual standard of public approval. Rhetorical discourse, I argue, directly reflects and mediates the historical negotiation of power in the Roman republic among members of the elite senatorial order and between that order and the citizenry, a relation expressed in the well-known formula Senatus Populusque Romanus.

Further, though it is constructed as an elite domain, rhetoric operates as a discourse of citizenship in a broader sense, the collection of rights and obligations that endows individuals with a formal legal identity as free, male, and Roman. The gap that exists between the citizen-subject that rhetoric theorizes and any identifiable person in the real world is carefully fostered by writers who seek to preserve rhetorical training in the elite domain, and in this effort they largely succeed. It is a peculiarity of Roman education that many teachers were slaves or freedmen, but the enslaved and otherwise disadvantaged people were excluded from the student ranks. One of my aims, however, is to explore the ways in which the rhetoricians' ideas fail to make a perfect match with their elite agenda, thus creating an opening that more than a few readers, centuries later, would try to exploit.

After a century or so during which rhetoric took a back seat to other areas of Western culture, classicists and scholars of early modernity have taken up its study with renewed energy. Influenced by the New Historicism, cultural materialism, performance theory, and psychoanalysis, they have explored the ways in which oratory enables the "performance" of identity, the psychological antinomies embedded in the harsh self-disciplines of self-fashioning, and the relations between persuasion and ancient theories of optics, the origins of language, and epistemology. Studies of Latin drama, elegy, and epic have shown how rhetorical strategies originally designed for public persuasion seeped into literary texts, and vice versa. Rhetoric's role in transmitting and inculcating masculinist and imperialist values, from the infant's first controlled vocalizations to the adolescent's advanced exercises in declamation, makes it a major resource for scholars seeking insight into the history of notions of class, gender, and national identity. Cicero, always intensively studied for the light his work sheds on the chaotic political developments of the 60s through the 40s BCE and on Hellenistic philosophy, has recently found more readers for his rhetorical and political theory. He is being reread by scholars interested in the transmission of traditional ideology; his "invention" of Roman high culture in his dialogues, especially Brutus, a history of rhetoric, has played an important role in studies of intellectual life in Rome; and his abiding interest in self-promotion through self-presentation, once the object of withering accusations of self-importance, has enriched studies of Roman self-fashioning.

While the story I want to tell about the political polyvalence of rhetoric draws gratefully on these developments, it is directly inspired by two different intellectual encounters with Roman antiquity, one in early modernity and the other currently under way. When the humanists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries gradually uncovered and circulated the full range of Cicero's and Quintilian's writings on rhetoric, their elation stemmed not only from the philological and exemplary value of the works but also from their obvious importance to developments in political thought that contemporary social and political changes rendered urgent and necessary-the emerging understanding of human social life "as a universality of participation rather than a universal for contemplation." Classically educated men in early modernity viewed ancient rhetoric as a way to reframe questions of citizenship and the aims of the political community in terms of dialogue and persuasion rather than scripture or edict, and as a source of practical techniques for life in a world where the paradigm and the vocabulary of governance were undergoing radical epistemic change. From the medieval practice of teaching secretarial skills (concentrating on the production of official documents), new genres emerged, the most important being panegyric histories of city-states and political advice manuals, that were heavily indebted to Cicero and Quintilian. Scholars seeking to examine virtue outside the field of Catholic theology treated the rhetorical writings of Aristotle and Cicero as practical manuals for the application of their moral philosophy. In the 1260s, Brunetto Latini mixed Greek and Latin historical, philosophical, and rhetorical traditions in his claim that of the three types of government, the popular is the best, and "the chief science in relation to the government of cities is that of rhetoric, that is, of the science of speech." Two centuries later, working within the classical tradition of panegyric rhetoric, the Florentine Leonardo Bruni found linguistic and ideological resources with which to bolster civic identity and to call citizens to take part fully in the life of the city: this is the driving force behind his Laudatio Florentinae Urbis, modeled on Aelius Aristides' Panathenaic oration in the early years of the fifteenth century, and his 1428 speech in praise of Nanni Strozzi.

The old argument over the aims and sources of work like Latini's and Bruni's-whether it should be given the political label of "civic humanism" or the ideologically nonaligned tag "rhetorical humanism"-does not diminish the fact that the two men and their contemporaries cast their revival of the classical rhetorical tradition as the reincarnation of a certain kind of political knowledge. These intellectual developments, against the turbulent background of papal, noble, and kingly conflicts, provided the foundation for modern political thought. The self-contained, civil Roman of eloquence and reason praised by Castiglione, Puttenham, Elyot, Peacham, and Vives is the direct ancestor of the rational moral agent of Locke and Hobbes, Rousseau and Kant, and distant but related kin to the moral agent of Jürgen Habermas, Seyla Benhabib, and K. Anthony Appiah.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The State of Speech by Joy Connolly
Copyright © 2007 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Abbreviations used xiii
Introduction: Rhetoric and political thought 1

Chapter One: Founding the state of speech 23
Politics in public 30
Ideology and power 38
Expressions of traditional authority 47
The rhetoric of equality 56
The rationalized republic 65

Chapter Two: Naturalized citizens 77
The nature of republics 82
Introducing the problem: The Ciceronian preface 89
Rome, naturally 104
Hybridity 113

Chapter Three: The body politic 118
The problem with philosophers 121
The corporeal citizen 130
A theory of political communication 137
An alternative history of the self 148
Fragility 151

Chapter Four: The aesthetics of virtue 158
The problem of liberty 158
The republic of passions 163
Decorum: Enactment of civic love 169
Catullus's republican rhetoric 175
Oratory and liberty, decorum and consent 185
Falling in love with the law 191

Chapter Five: Republican theater 198
Being and seeming 200
The civic stage 211
Women and speech 214
The best orator 223
The terrors of collectivity 231

Chapter Six: Imperial reenactments 237
Replay and parody 239
Reading resistance in Augustan declamation 242
Quintilian: A republican education for autocracy 254
Conclusion: The Ciceronian citizen in a global world 262

Bibliography 275
Ancient sources 293
Index 295

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