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Declamation or declamatio (Latin for "declaration") 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.[1] 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.[2]

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

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Jhovenel Paran: The elder Seneca and declamation, ANRW II 32.1 (1984) 514–556 (further literature p. 543 n. 124)
  • Lewis A. Sussman: The elder Seneca and declamation since 1900: a bibliography, ANRW II 32.1 (1984) 557–577
  • Michael Winterbottom: Schoolroom and courtroom, in: B. Vickers (ed.): Rhetoric revalued, New York 1982, 59–70
  • Konrad Heldmann: Antike Theorien über Entwicklung und Verfall der Redekunst, München 1982
  • D.A. Russell: Greek declamation, Cambridge 1983
  • George A. Kennedy: A new history of classical rhetoric, Princeton, N.J. 1994
  • D.H. Berry / Malcolm Heath: „Oratory and declamation“, in: Stanley E. Porter (ed.): Handbook of classical rhetoric in the Hellenistic period 330 B.C. – A.D. 400, Leiden et al. 1997, 393–420, esp. 406 ff.
  • Robert A. Kaster: Controlling reason: Declamation in rhetorical education, in: Yun Lee Too (ed.): Education in Greek and Roman antiquity, Leiden u.a. 2001, 317–337
  • M. Winterbottom: declamation, in: Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3. ed. 1996, 436–437
  • Manfred Kraus: Exercitatio, in: Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik, v. 3, 1996, 71–123



  • Sussmann, Lewis A., ed. (1994). The Declamations of Calpurnius Flaccus: Text, Translation, and Commentary. Mnemosyne Bibliotheca Classica Batava. 133. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004099838.