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Declamation (from the Latin: declamatio for "declaration") is an artistic form of public speaking. It is a dramatic oration designed to express through articulation, emphasis and gesture the full sense of the text being conveyed.[1]


In Ancient Rome, declamation was a genre of ancient rhetoric and a mainstay of the Roman higher education system. It was separated into two component subgenres, the controversia, speeches of defense or prosecution in fictitious court cases, and the suasoria, in which the speaker advised a historical or legendary figure as to a course of action. Roman declamations survive in four corpora: the compilations of Seneca the Elder and Calpurnius Flaccus, as well as two sets of controversiae, the Major Declamations and Minor Declamations spuriously attributed to Quintilian.

Declamation had its origin in the form of preliminary exercises for Greek students of rhetoric: works from the Greek declamatory tradition survive in works such as the collections of Sopater and Choricius of Gaza. Of the remaining Roman declamations the vast majority are controversiae; only one book of suasoriae survive, that being in Seneca the Elder's collection. The controversia as they currently exist normally consist of several elements: an imaginary law, a theme which introduced a tricky legal situation, and an argument which records a successful or model speech on the topic. It was normal for students to employ illustrative exempla from Roman history and legend (such as were collected in the work of Valerius Maximus) to support their case. Important points were often summed up via pithy epigrammatic statements (sententiae). Common themes include ties of fidelity between fathers and sons, heroes and tyrants in the archaic city, and conflicts between rich and poor men.

As a critical part of rhetorical education, declamation's influence was widespread in Roman elite culture. In addition to its didactic role, it is also attested as a performative genre: public declamations were visited by such figures as Pliny the Elder, Asinius Pollio, Maecenas, and the emperor Augustus.[2] The poet Ovid is recorded by Seneca the Elder as being a star declaimer, and the works of the satirists Martial and Juvenal, as well as the historian Tacitus, reveal a substantial declamatory influence.[3]

Later examples of declamation can be seen in the work of the sixth century AD bishop and author Ennodius.

Classic revival[edit]

In the eighteenth century, a classical revival of the art of public speaking, often referred to as The Elocution Movement occurred in Britain. While elocution focused on the voice—articulation, diction, and pronunciation—declamation focused on delivery. Rather than a narrow focus on rhetoric, or persuasion, practitioners involved in the movement focused on improving speech and gesture[4] to convey the full sentiment of the message.[1] Traditionally, practitioners of declamation served in the clergy, legislature or law, but by the nineteenth century, the practice had extended to theatrical and reformist venues.[1][4] Initially, the aim was to improve the standard of oral communication, as high rates of illiteracy made it imperative for churches, courts and parliaments, to rely on the spoken word.[4] Through modification of inflection and phrasing, along with appropriate gestures, speakers were taught to convey the meaning and persuade the audience, rather than deliver monotonous litanies.[1]

By the mid-nineteenth century, reformers were using the "art of declamation" to publicly address vice and provide moral guidance. In the Americas, missionary-run schools focused on teaching former slaves the art of public speaking to enable them to elevate others of their race as teachers and ministers.[5] Using drama as a tool to teach, reformers hoped to standardize the spoken word, while creating a sense of national pride.[5][6] Studies and presentation of declamation flourished in Latin America and particularly in the African-American and Afro-Caribbean communities through the first third of the twentieth century. Practitioners attempted to interpret their orations to convey the emotions and feeling behind the writer's words to the audience, rather than simply recite them.[7] In the twentieth century, among black practitioners, topical focus often was on the irony of their lives in a post-slavery world, recognizing that they had gained freedom but were limited by racial discrimination. Presentation involved use of African rhythms from dance and music,[8] and local dialect, as a form of social protest.[9]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Bell 1810, p. 109.
  2. ^ Sussmann (1994), p. 4
  3. ^ Sussmann (1994), p. 5
  4. ^ a b c Goring 2014.
  5. ^ a b Miller 2010, p. 7.
  6. ^ Harrington 2010, p. 68.
  7. ^ Kuhnheim 2008, p. 137.
  8. ^ ABC Color 2006.
  9. ^ Kuhnheim 2008, p. 141.


  • Bell, Andrew, ed. (1810). Encyclopaedia Britannica, Or a Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature. 7. Edinburgh, Scotland: Archibald Constable and Company.
  • Goring, Paul (2014). "The Elocutionary Movement in Britain". In MacDonald, Michael J. (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Rhetorical Studies. 1. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199731596.013.043. ISBN 978-0-199-73159-6. Retrieved 24 August 2018.  – via Oxford University Press's Reference Online (subscription required)
  • Harrington, Dana (Winter 2010). "Remembering the Body: Eighteenth-Century Elocution and the Oral Tradition". Rhetorica. Berkeley, California: University of California Press for the International Society for the History of Rhetoric. 28 (1): 67–95. doi:10.1525/rh.2010.28.1.67. ISSN 0734-8584. JSTOR 10.1525/rh.2010.28.1.67.
  • Kuhnheim, Jill S. (2008). "Performing Poetry, Race, and the Caribbean: Eusebia Cosme and Luis Palés Matos". Revista Hispánica Moderna. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press. 61 (2): 135–147. ISSN 0034-9593. Archived from the original on 17 July 2018. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  • Miller, Henry D. (2010). Theorizing Black Theatre: Art Versus Protest in Critical Writings, 1898–1965. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-6014-4.
  • Sussmann, Lewis A., ed. (1994). The Declamations of Calpurnius Flaccus: Text, Translation, and Commentary. Mnemosyne Bibliotheca Classica Batava. 133. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004099838.
  • "La poesía negra" [Black poetry] (in Spanish). Asunción, Paraguay: ABC Color. 2 June 2006. Archived from the original on 4 December 2017. Retrieved 18 July 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Amato, Eugenio, Francesco Citti, and Bart Huelsenbeck, eds. 2015. Law and Ethics in Greek and Roman Declamation. Berlin: DeGruyter.
  • Bernstein, N. 2009. "Adoptees and Exposed Children in Roman Declamation: Commodification, Luxury, and the Threat of Violence." Classical Philology 104.3: 331-353.
  • Bernstein, Neil W. 2013. Ethics, Identity, and Community in Later Roman Declamation. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • Bloomer, W. Martin. 2011. The School of Rome: Latin Studies and the Origins of Liberal Education. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.
  • Braund, Susanna Morton. 1997. "Declamation and Contestation in Satire." In Roman Eloquence: Rhetoric in Society and Literature. Edited by W. J. Dominik, 147–165. New York: Routledge.
  • Dominik, William J., and Jon Hall. 2010. A Companion to Roman Rhetoric. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Frier, Bruce W. 1994. "Why did the Jurists Change Roman Law? Bees and Lawyers Revisited." Index 22: 135–149.
  • Gunderson, Erik. 2003. Declamation, Paternity, and Roman Identity: Authority and the Rhetorical Self. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Imber, Margaret A. 2001. "Practised Speech: Oral and Written Conventions in Roman Declamation." In Speaking Volumes: Morality and Literacy in the Greek and Roman World. Edited by Janet Watson, 199-216. Leiden: Brill.
  • Kaster, Robert A. 2001. "Controlling Reason: Declamation in Rhetorical Education." In Education in Greek and Roman Antiquity. Edited by Yun Lee Too, 317-337. Leiden: Brill.
  • Kennedy, George A. 1994. A New History of Classical Rhetoric. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
  • Porter, Stanley E. 1997. Handbook of Classical Rhetoric In the Hellenistic Period, 330 B.C.- A.D. 400. Leiden: Brill.
  • Russell, D. A. 1983. Greek Declamation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Walker, Jeffrey. 2011. The Genuine Teachers of this Art: Rhetorical Education in Antiquity. Columbia: Univ. of South Carolina Press.
  • Winterbottom, Michael. 1983. "Schoolroom and Courtroom." In Rhetoric Revalued: Papers from the International Society for the History of Rhetoric. Edited by Brian Vickers, 59-70. Binghamton, N.Y.: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies.