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Fabrique de la déclamation antique

Catherine Schneider
Rémy Poignault

Un Ludus entre instruction et distraction des élites

Philostratus, Aristides and the geography of declamation

Michael Trapp


Cette étude examine la géographie déclamatoire selon deux plans, celui du lieu et de l’espace de la performance donnée, et celui des lieu(x) et espace(s) évoqués dans les sujets déclamatoires historiques et mythologiques. Ces lieu(x) et espace(s) sont examinés sous deux angles complémentaires : celui du chroniqueur (ou de l’observateur ponctuel passif), et celui de l’interprète actif. La première perspective est explorée au travers des Vies de sophistes de Philostrate et des Discours sacrés d’Ælius Aristide. La seconde au travers d’un ensemble de travaux centrés sur le cas particulier de la ville de Troie, incluant le Discours troyen de Dion Chrysostome et les déclamations troyennes d’Aristide, de Libanius et de Choricius.

Texte intégral


1This topic and title of this symposium is Présence de la déclamation antique. “Presence” (a relational term) is always presence at some place. So “place” seems as good a starting-point to choose as any. Not “place” in the sense of commonplace – the locus or topos of rhetorical invention – but spatial location. How and why did place in this sense of spatial location matter to declaimers and declamation, how and why might it matter to us as we read them? I will begin with some examples, and end with some questions about where this line of analysis may take us.

  • 1 I have explored some of these issues, as they relate to the city locations of Dio Chrysostom’s Orat (...)

2Spatial location can of course be thought about on several different levels, from immediate, concrete surroundings on the one hand, on up to geographical position, in terms of city, region or country. That is to say, if we are thinking of orators and oratory quite in general, an interesting answer to the question “where is this speech being delivered?” could equally well be “somewhere surrounded by works of art”, or “somewhere close to a gymnasium”, or “in a theatre”; or again “in Carthage”, “in Smyrna”; or “in Gaul”. Any of these answers may point to a feature of the rhetorical moment that will repay further enquiry, and may yield insights into the nature of a speech and its author’s artistry1.

  • 2 Russell 1983, p. 21‑39.

3But the situation ought to be even better if we are thinking – as we are – not of oratory in general, but of specifically declamatory oratory – suasoria and controversia, and their Greek equivalents in the two forms of meletê. For in this case we should get a double value out of this line of questioning. Declamatory oratory deals in dramatic situations, whether these are the situations debated in the courtrooms of the declaimers’ community Donald Russell has dubbed Sophistopolis2, or great moments re-lived from the history of the fifth and fourth centuries BC. And dramatic situations have settings, which themselves may be significant. “The world of the declaimer”, that is to say, is a fruitfully ambiguous phrase, as it may refer equally well to the world in which the declaimer himself performs, and the world or worlds which he conjures up in his performances. Significance may be found at either level separately, or in an interplay between them. It is this state of affairs that I propose briefly to explore and to question, concentrating on my own core territory – Greek declamation of the first to fourth centuries AD.

Philostratean narratives

  • 3 On Alexander (PIR2 A503), see Bowersock 1969, p. 18, 46 and 53‑54.

4I begin with a specific example, which I hope will clarify something of what might be at stake. Chapter 5 of Book II of Philostratus’s Lives of the Sophists is devoted to the sophist Alexander of Seleucia in Cilicia, nicknamed “Peloplaton”, the Clay-Plato3. In the course of the chapter, Philostratus describes a particularly well remembered and successful visit that Alexander paid to Athens, and the encounter with the great Herodes Atticus that he had there, in around the year 177 AD.

  • 4 Philostr., Vit. soph. II, 5, 572‑574; I cite the Loeb translation of Wright 1922.

The Athenians thought his appearance and costume so exquisite that before he spoke a word a low buzz of approval went round as a tribute to his perfect elegance. Now the theme that they chose was this: “The speaker endeavours to recall the Scythians to their earlier nomadic life, since they are losing their health by dwelling in cities.” After pausing for a brief space he sprang from his seat with a look of gladness on his face, like one who brings good news to those who shall listen to what he has to tell them. While his speech was proceeding, Herodes made his appearance, wearing a shady Arcadian hat as was the fashion in the summer season at Athens, but perhaps also to show Alexander that he had just arrived from a journey. Thereupon Alexander adapted his speech so as to take note of the famous man’s presence in impressive and sonorous language; and he put it to him whether he would prefer to listen to the argument that was already being discussed or to propose another himself. Herodes glanced towards the audience, saying that he would do whatever they decided, and they unanimously agreed that they would hear The Scythians; for indeed Alexander was making out his case with brilliant success, as the anecdote shows. But he made a further wonderful display of his marvellous powers in what now took place. For the sentiments that he had so brilliantly expressed before Herodes came he now recast in his presence, but with such different words and different rhythms, that those who were hearing them for the second time could not feel that he was repeating himself. For example, before Herodes appeared, the epigram that won the greatest applause was this: “When it is stagnant, even water goes bad.” But after his arrival he gave it a different force, by saying: “Even those waters are sweeter that keep on the move.” Here are some more quotations from The Scythians of Alexander. “When the Danube froze I would travel South, but when it thawed I would go North, always in perfect health, not as I am now, an invalid. For what harm can come to a man who follows the seasons in their course?” In the last part of his speech he denounced the city as a cramped and suffocating dwelling, and for the closing sentence he cried out very loud: “Come fling open the gates, I must breathe the air!” Then he hastened up to Herodes, embraced him and said: “Pray regale me in return.” “Why not indeed, said Herodes, when you have regaled me so splendidly?” When the declamation was over, Herodes called together the more advanced of his own pupils and asked them what was their opinion of the sophist; and when Sceptus of Corinth said that he had found the clay but had still to find the Plato, Herodes cut him short, and said: “Do not talk like that to anyone else, for, said he, you will incriminate yourself as an illiterate critic. Nay rather follow me in thinking him a more sober Scopelian.” Herodes thus characterized him because he had observed that the sophist knew how to combine a sober and tempered eloquence with a bold use of sophistic modes of thought; and when he himself declaimed before Alexander he raised his eloquence to a higher pitch, because he knew that Alexander took the keenest pleasure in intensity and force; and he introduced into his speech rhythms more varied than those of the flute and the lyre, because he considered that Alexander was especially skilful in elaborate variations. The theme elected by his audience was, “The wounded in Sicily implore the Athenians who are retreating thence to put them to death with their own hands”. In the course of this argument, with tears in his eyes, he uttered that famous and often quoted supplication: “Ah, Nicias! Ah, my father! As you hope to see Athens once more!” Whereupon they say that Alexander exclaimed: “O Herodes, we sophists are all of us merely small slices of yourself!” And that Herodes was delighted beyond measure by this eulogy, and yielding to his innate generosity presented him with ten pack-animals, ten horses, ten cup-bearers, ten shorthand writers, twenty talents of gold, a great quantity of silver, and two lisping children from the deme Collytus, since he was told that Alexander liked to hear childish voices. This, then, is what happened to Alexander at Athens4.

  • 5 Bowersock 1969, p. 50‑54 n. 3; Weaver 1972, p. 255‑257; Bowie 1982, p. 39‑43 and 57‑59.
  • 6 Geographical references in fact continue to be important for almost the whole of the remainder of P (...)

5Philostratus’s account of this episode is framed and initiated with geographical co-ordinates. Alexander’s normal sphere of operations, where he plied his trade for the majority of his life, we are told, was Antioch, Tarsus and Rome – although he did also travel to Egypt, and indeed to its southernmost reaches (identified by Philostratus as the haunts of the Gymnosophists). His visits to Athens were few, but memorable. On this particular occasion, he had been summoned, as ab epistulis Graecis5, from his eastern homeland to join the Emperor Marcus Aurelius on campaign in Pannonia, and he had chosen to break his journey in Athens, as a convenient half-way point on the way6.

  • 7 As commentators regularly note (Russell 1983, p. 84 n. 2), this use of the term “Hellene” underline (...)
  • 8 On the history of this building, see Camp 1986, p. 184‑185 and 194‑195 and, for plans and reconstru (...)
  • 9 Alexander in this episode thus follows a standard pattern for a sophistic performance of the period (...)

6A sophist does not visit Athens without speaking, if he can help it. Alexander announces a recital, and on learning that Herodes is in residence at Marathon, holding court to the eager young, writes to ask him for the loan of his “Hellenes” (that is, his inner circle of pupils)7; Herodes generously replies that he will come too in person. On the appointed day, the audience gathers in the Theatre of Agrippa – the odeion – in the Agora8, and are already murmuring their approval of the orator’s exquisite appearance even before he speaks. Herodes and his pupils are late, so Alexander has not only delivered his prolalia – a mini Panathenaic oration, apologizing for not having visited sooner – but also started in on his meletê before they arrive9. In this declamation, Alexander’s audience, in proposing him his theme, has challenged him to impersonate a Scythian, urging his fellow-countrymen to abandon city life and return to their traditional nomadic existence. Some way in to this discourse, Herodes and his pupils finally arrives, he resplendent in an Arcadian sun-hat (both to be fashionable, and to underline that he had come directly to the theatre, without pausing to change after the journey). Alexander pauses, and asks whether he should carry on with the same theme, or start again with a new one. It being decided that he should stay with the Scythians, he begins again, repeating what he had already said before Herodes’s arrival, but in different words, so as to demonstrate his rhetorical copia.

7Philostratus quotes us some choice samples from the declamation. Alexander in his Scythian persona focuses on Scythian wandering, south and north as the River Danube freezes and unfreezes, which he praises as manifesting the same healthy naturalness as flowing water; and in his final flourish – “fling wide the gates” – he histrionically demands to be let out of the stifling city onto the free plains.

8It is then Herodes’s turn to perform. For the dialexis, he adopts a sonorous intensity of style that he knows will appeal to Alexander’s tastes. For the declamation proper, the meletê, the audience assigns him another classic theme – the Athenian wounded in Sicily entreating their comrades to put them to death rather than abandon them in their retreat. We are given just the one quotation, but it comes endorsed as a classic that is on everyone’s lips (τὸ θρυλούμενον ἐκεῖνο): ναὶ Νικία, ναὶ πάτερ, οὕτως Ἀθήνας ἴδοις, – “Αh! Nikias! Ah, my father! As you hope to see Athens” (as the Loeb translation has it) – or should that be “By the safe homecoming I wish for your” (as sure as I wish you safely home)?

  • 10 Sophists as mere slices of Herodes: compare the famous remark attributed to Aeschylus in Athen., De (...)
  • 11 Plato: Diog. Laert., Vit. III, 3; Hyperides: [Plut.], Vit. X Orat. IX, 848d.

9The whole encounter passes off with reciprocal generosity and admiration between the two giant figures of contemporary declamation. In the immediate sequel, Herodes praises Alexander and sharply reproves one of his pupils when he tries to disparage him; Alexander for his part exclaims, in an Aeschylean echo, that all other sophists, himself included, are mere slices of Herodes (τεμάχια)10; Herodes in delight at the compliment presents Alexander with money, horses, slaves – and two sweetly lisping children from the home deme of Plato and Hyperides (Collytus)11.

  • 12 For Philagrus and his feud with the pupils of Herodes, see Philostr., Vit. soph. II, 8, 578‑580.

10This is a marvellous episode for the insight it gives us quite in general into the manners and atmosphere of one particular phase in the history of ancient declamation – I think it is rivalled in The Lives of the Sophists only by the story of Philagrus’s feud with Herodes’s pupils which follows soon after in Book II12. But for present purposes what is striking is how much weight is carried in this episode by references to significant place. There is of course the complication that what we are confronted with is not an unmediated view of two sophistic declaimers in action; it is all shaped and pointed by the narrator, Philostratus, who thus stands between us and the main actors. But since he is himself also part of the phenomenon of declamation, and part of our understanding of it, that is not a serious disadvantage.

11The layers of reference to and play with significant locations and their accumulated associations are multiple. The encounter of Herodes and Alexander takes place in a deeply charged venue, in Athens, in the centre of the Agora, in one of its classiest modern buildings, recently refurbished. The protagonists come from different points of origin, and travel on different axes of movement: one is an easterner on his way north and west, heading towards the centre of Roman power (which for the moment at least happens not to be located in Rome, but has displaced to the northern frontiers); the other protagonist is a local, with only a short way to travel, and hails from another location of equal cultural resonance, Marathon. The themes of the two declamations, both of them equally vividly rooted in significant, charged space, not only contrast with each other in dramatic setting, but at the same time differently refract the shared circumstances of their performance.

12Each declamation calls its audience away to an other place – other relative both to the actual place of performance, and to the central location in the past they evoke (the city of Athens). But they do not call their hearers’ imaginations away in the same direction: one of them (Alexander’s Scythian speech) moves away from Greek to barbarian space on the edges of the world, whereas the other, Herodes’s Sicilian speech, while indeed presenting citizen-soldiers of Athens as catastrophically out of place, stays (just) within the Greek-speaking ambit. Both speeches deal, but differently, with themes of removal and the hope of return: a return that is joyfully close for the Scythian speaker, on the point of returning to the wide-open spaces, heart-breakingly despaired of by the Athenian, for whom home is a lost blessing he can only invoke for another. Herodes’s Athenian dreams of the lost prospect of a return to the protection of the city and its walls, while Alexander’s Scythian wants liberation from their stifling embrace.

13At the same time, each declamation partly fits and partly contrasts with the spatial circumstances of the speaker who delivers it. Herodes, the man of Athens, who has himself one foot in Marathon and the other in the city, impersonates the despairingly nostalgic, unshakeably patriotic Athenian; but that Athenian, unlike him, is irreparably removed from an Athens he can now only dream of. The traveller Alexander, who is himself en route out of the settled civility of Asia and Greece towards the north, with its military camps and nomadic Emperor, gets to play the Scythian; but the Scythian he impersonates, unlike him, is envisaged as heading home, and with thoughts of peace and freedom, not thoughts of war, uppermost in his mind. The sense of comparison and contrast between the declaimers and the characters in their declamations is further pointed up by the juxtaposition of the Arcadian sun-hat in which Herodes arrives in the performance space, and the Scythian from the sunless north whom Alexander is impersonating as he does so.

  • 13 In terms of classic precedents and canonical accounts, the Scythians belong” to Herodotus on the s (...)
  • 14 As Philostratus phrases it, Herodes’s choice of children from Collytus is meant to take account of (...)

14In tune with the location of the performance, and the audience of “Hellenes”, the places and movements envisaged are without exception those sanctioned by Hellenic tradition, embedded in the core literature of Greek paideia. Alexander’s declamation moves in Herodotean space, Herodes’s in Thucydidean13. It is only appropriate that the whole episode should then end in gift-giving on a self-consciously Homeric scale, with the pure Attic of uncorrupted young voices from a heartland deme as its final flourish14.

  • 15 Philostr., Vit. soph. I, 8, 489‑491.
  • 16 Philostr., Vit. soph. I, 21, 516 and 518.
  • 17 Philostr., Vit. soph. II, 10, 587.

15The degree of concentration of geographical and situational reference that we see in this chapter of Philostratus’s Lives may be unusually high, but it is not at all atypical in kind. Philostratus is at all times keen to stress wherever he can the geographical range of his sophists’ professional travels, and the special glamour of performance at the great venues – Rome, Athens, Smyrna. This keenness undoubtedly reflects the values and sensitivities of the sophists themselves, and their contemporary audiences: geography mattered in the constant competition for rank vis-à-vis professional rivals, and for a name with posterity. It mattered, for instance, that Favorinus was both a Gaul and a Hellene, that he had a statue in Athens, a house in Rome, an Indian servant, and a fan-base in Ionia15. It mattered that Scopelian, whose pulling power attracted students not only from the immediate environs of his base in Smyrna, but also from mainland Greece, Cappadocia, Syria and Phoenicia, should have declined to declaim in his home town of Clazomenae on the grounds that it was a cage in which a nightingale like him could not be expected to sing (unlike the grove that was Smyrna)16. Nor is pointed geographical reference missing in the sophistic one-liners that Philostratus quotes. Just think of Hadrian (Adrianus) of Tyre, stepping forward to claim the Chair of Rhetoric at Athens with the words, πάλιν ἐκ Φοιν́ικης γράμματα – “Once more you have Phoenicia to thank for the gift of letters”17.

First-person presentation: Aelius Aristides

  • 18 Philostr., Vit. soph. II, 9, 582.

16It is now time to attempt to carry this sense of play with place beyond the third-person biographical narratives of Philostratus. Among the other sophists on whose movements and geographical connections he comments, a distinguished place is held by Publius Aelius Aristides. At first sight, through Philostratus’s lens, he might not seem a very promising candidate for further investigation, as Philostratus is forced to confess that his travels, though stretching as far as Italy, Greece and Egypt were not nearly as extensive or as consistent as those of many of his contemporaries18. The apologetic note struck by Philostratus echoes, though in a tactfully muted way, Aristides’s own embarrassment, in his first-person account of himself in the Sacred Tales.

  • 19 In Tales II, 5 Aristides speaks of the many and varied (παντοῖα) physical pains he endured thanks (...)

17The central crisis of Aristides’s life, that threatened his professional career and his self-esteem alike, involved a journey: the abortive trip to Rome in 143‑144 that was meant to cement his membership of the first rank of declaimers and instead precipitated his physical collapse. The painful details – the slow, stricken return via Thrace and Macedonia – are spelled out in Book II of the Tales (chapters 5 and 60‑70). Aristides does what he can, presenting the return journey as a kind of Odyssey, with himself as the Odysseus19, but a more substantial compensation and recuperation are needed. Much of the rest of the Tales can indeed be read as an exercise in doing just this, reclaiming status both as the favourite of a god and as, in spite of all, a successful orator. And significant place is again an active part of this process.

18Some of the recovery is done, characteristically, by means of dreams. In Book V, chapters 56‑66, having worried about the effects that not travelling and performing in multiple locations might have on his long-term reputation, Aristides dreams of a trip to Athens, where he is insistently compared to Plato and haunts the Acropolis and the Lyceum like a native:

  • 20 Aristid., Or. 51, 57‑62 éd. Keil 1898 (Tales 5); translations from the Tales are my own.

I dreamed that I was in Athens, had just made a sacrifice, and was living behind the Acropolis in the house of the doctor Theodorus, which was the first one to the east. The house was along way below the Acropolis, and the opisthodomus of the temple of Athena could be seen from it. It so happened that a procession in honour of Eros was taking place outside the gates and Theodorus and some others to whom the responsibility had been assigned were busy with it, while I in the meantime stayed inside. As chance would have it, Lucius was there from among my friends along with some others with oratorical interests, and Lucius in his usual way urged me not to interrupt my oratorical studies, and to let the young in to hear them. A child said various complimentary things about me to him, and in among them the following words of praise: “This man is Plato and Thucydides, and Plato and So-and-So”, listing a large number and always pairing Plato with another, implying that I possessed the abilities of all these authors. [...] After this, we went to where the Lyceum stands, and were received into a very large and fine-looking temple, not less than a hundred feet long. [...] And when I entered the pronaos I saw that the temple belonged to Plato the philosopher and that the large and fine-looking statue that stood there was of him, with someone or other else standing to the right of him. On the path sat a very good-looking woman, discoursing on Plato and the temple site20.

19The instances that turn most closely on declamation proper belong to the waking world, however. In Book IV, chapters 14 to 29, Aristides tells how he returned to oratorical activity during his stay in the Pergamum Asclepieum in the years 144‑146. The underlying incentive was god-given, mediated once more through a series of dreams, but the crucial first practical opportunity was provided by a challenge issued by a fellow inmate: to declaim in the person of Demosthenes, urging the Athenians to action while Alexander was absent in India:

  • 21 I. e. Aristides initially proposed a kind of shadow-play version of a declamatory performance, in w (...)
  • 22 Aristid., Or. 50, 17‑18 (Tales 4).

I explained that I did not know what to do, since ordering me to perform a meletê, with my respiratory problems, was like ordering me to fly [...] He listened to me and asked, “What are you going to do, then, and what sort of state are you in?” “I have no choice”, I replied. “I shall do what physically can be done. I shall wrap myself in my mantle and take up my position like this, then assign myself a topic, make some kind of small oratorical offering to the god, and then be off21. That will count as discharging my sacred obligation.” “Absolutely not, said he, don’t do it like that! You have me here as your audience, and you must put everything into your performance; the god will take care of your physical strength. How do you know that he won’t make the dream come true?” [...] We decided that this was what we would do, and as we were talking and making our plans, up came Byblus to join the two of us. He was a long-term habitué of the sanctuary and something of a fan of oratory; and it was he who proposed the theme. It was this (I remember, because I was actually the first person to have it proposed to him): “While Alexander, he said, is in India, Demosthenes advises seizing the initiative.” I immediately accepted the good omen of Demosthenes speaking again and his speech being about the leadership of Greece. After a short pause, I gave my oration; as far as my physical strength was concerned, it was as if the god had furnished it to me, and the year’s wait took on the appearance not of a period of silence but of a period of rehearsal22.

20This was an odd performance, delivered in an unusual place and to an audience of just two, when almost the whole of the rest of the citizen body was away at a local festival. But place is crucial to it, on both levels, internal and external. In declaiming in the Asclepieum, Aristides presses his claim to be seen as a special kind of performer, divinely favoured, and meant only for a select audience; in declaiming in the persona of Demosthenes in Athens, he urges that he must be seen none the less as competing, and winning, in the same arena as all other sophists – all the more so as the theme he is given, besides being well-omened, is also unique. And in the detail that this Demosthenes is seen orating while Alexander is far away, it is tempting to see a kind of loose, indirect echo of the circumstances of the performance itself: Aristides away from the normal sophistic circuit, the people of Pergamum away at their festival.

  • 23 Against those who burlesque the mysteries.

21A second, equally self-aggrandizing episode comes in chapters 29‑41 of Book V, which deal with a series of performances as Aristides shuttles between the prime sophistic venues of Smyrna and Ephesus. In Smyrna, to start off with, he declaims at very short notice (once more prompted by a dream), and still manages utterly to eclipse a rival sophist also in town who has advertised much longer in advance: Aristides’s audience fills the Council Chamber to bursting, “so full that all you could see was people’s heads, and you could not have got a hand in between the bodies anywhere”; his adversary – the “miserable little Egyptian” – can only manage a paltry seventeen in the odeion. Then, following an excursion to Ephesus, Aristides returns to Smyrna and its Council Chamber. This time he delivers what we now know as Oration 34 (which is epideictic but not declamatory)23; but as a follow-up he also gives a triumphant declamatory display, at the insistence of an audience that will not let him go until he does, and cheers him to the echo (a “command performance”):

  • 24 Aristid., Or. 51, 38‑41 (Tales 5).

What was amazing was the continuous nature of the god’s blessings to me, as for example in the great and famous display I subsequently gave in Smyrna. He commanded me to make an appearance in the Council Chamber, and to eat before I did so, so that is what I did. [...] Then I entered, and on entering delivered my oration denouncing the sophists. This was the pleasantest day I have ever spent on speaking; I myself, as if I had got hold of a roomful of pupils made happy use of it, and the audience (θέατρον) vied with itself to keep up with what was being said. [...] When I had come to an end, I stood up as if to depart, thinking that what I had already done went beyond the demands of any performance, but they would not stand for it, and as if with one voice urged me to stay and have themes proposed to me and at all costs give a second display. For a while I resisted, above all because it was now late in the day, but as their exhortations became more forceful, I remembered my dream, and realized that this was why the god had told me in advance not to go into the chamber without having eaten, so that I would have the strength to last. So I undertook the second performance, and as it proceeded I could not contain myself, and confessed to the god’s prediction, and that I had come prepared. This all astounded my audience. When I had performed to the limits of my strength I at last took my leave, only shortly before sunset24.

22Both significant performance-space – the council chamber as contrasted (in both size and civic importance) with the odeion – and significant geographical place – two great centres of performance, both of which Aristides has mastered and can inhabit in quick succession – are in play in this second episode. When it is put together with the story of the declamation in the Asclepieium, it becomes clear how very effectively Aristides can use both place of declamatory performance and dramatic setting within a declamation as tools to realize the overall purpose of the Tales, of aggrandizing his patron deity through insisting on the stupendous merits of that deity’s client.

23This has been a very rapid and selective review of Philostratus and the Aristides of the Sacred Tales. What I take it to have shown is first how, alike in a third-person chronicle of declaimers and a declaimer’s own first-person self-construction, both place of performance and place summoned up in the contents of the performance can signify important things; and secondly, how symmetries and contrasts between performance-place and dramatic setting can be set up and exploited – as much in Aristides’s Athenian Demosthenes in a Pergamene sanctuary as in Philostratus’s Cilician Scythian in Athens.

24These are first results only; but they are surely enough to prompt what ought to sound like some promising further questions. In particular, first, how successfully can this kind of reading, centring on significant location(s), be extended from narratives of declamation to first-order declamatory texts, actual substantial declamations? And secondly, what might the results of doing so lead us to wonder about the category of declamation itself? I propose that the extension is indeed a fruitful one, but may only really work well – in the current state of our material, and on the Greek side of things at least – if we abandon too close a focus on declamation stricto sensu in favour of a larger category of epideictic.

Place in surviving first-order declamation

25Thinking first of geographical location in full declamatory texts, there is no difficulty in assembling clusters of surviving declamations that take this or that significant city as their dramatic location. But it seems to me that it is hard in most cases to see anything very much being made of these dramatic settings, at least as long as the focus is kept narrowly and austerely on the meletê.

  • 25 Aristid., Or. 16; Liban., Decl. 3‑4; Chor., Decl. 10, 12, 38.
  • 26 See n. 1 above.

26My cautionary example is provided by declamations set in and around the Trojan War. Among major declamatory composers, Aristides, Libanius and Choricius are all represented by declamations imagined as delivered in or outside the city of Troy: Aristides’s Reply of Achilles to the Embassy; Libanius’s Speeches of Menelaus and Ulysses in Troy; Choricius’s Speeches of Polydamas and Priam on Achilles’s suit for Polyxena, and Appeal of Patroclus to Achilles25. All of these dutifully evoke the physical setting of Troy and the Greek camp at war, and the surrounding territory of Trojan allies, either still in action, or long since disposed of by the campaigns of Achilles. So, for instance, Aristides in his Embassy has his (anonymous) orator evoke the immediate surroundings in references to Sigeum (5), the allied cities sacked by Achilles in the opening years of the war (27‑28), and the Trojan plain running with Greek blood (39); and he measures the distance between this immediate setting and the locations of the past that Achilles might in theory, but of course cannot, return to (Chiron and Peleus, 40‑42; Scyros, 34; and the Nereids hypothetically escorting Achilles’s departing fleet, 32). Libanius’s Menelaus (Decl. 3) evokes both the present Trojan city setting (2‑3) and a memory of his previous encounter with Paris, as host, back in Sparta (8‑12), while also threatening his audience with a vision of the plain beyond the walls overrun with Greek soldiers (29). But none of this shows any spark or special twist; it is all straight out of Homer, demonstrating an easy familiarity with the classic text out of which the declamations are written, but without any very clear extra edge or value. If one wants to find a Trojan location being played with in a more creative, manipulative way, one has to go to Dio Chrysostom’s Trojan Oration (Or. 11) – which, although it is an epideictic performance that is manifestly based, like the melete, on a progymnasma, does not formally count as a declamation26.

  • 27 Luc., Herod. (libellus 62), Harm. (66), Scyth. (68), Dipsad. (60), Electr. (6), Zeux. (63), Herc. ( (...)

27Or again, from a different angle, think of Lucian. His eight surviving introductory addresses – prolaliai or dialexeis – are rich in significant geographical reference: Olympia, Thebes, Athens, the River Po, Gaul, India27. All of which glamorizes the speaker as a man of international range, in travel as well as reference, and brings its audiences the exotic colour they counted on star speakers to provide. But we do not know what any of these preludes was a prelude to – it need not for any of them have been a melete, as opposed to some other kind of epideictic performance. And moreover, a prolalia, because only a prelude, and taking neither controversia nor suasoria form, again falls outside the central reference of the term “declamation”.

  • 28 See n. 1 above.
  • 29 In his translation of the Florida, Hilton 2001, p. 142 n. 23, comments that reference to the venue (...)

28It is a similar story, I think, if we shift the focus from place in the sense of geographical position to place in the sense of the immediate circumstances of performance. The forensic declamations of Sophistopolis regularly acknowledge their own court-room settings, but they do so perfunctorily, with no very vivid sense of the specifics of the location, or any very pointed play on them. Strongly developed sense of surroundings is similarly lacking from the surviving historical impersonations – there is nothing very strikingly local about Polemo’s Father of Callimachus and Father of Cynegirus, for example. In this respect too, really interesting cases only turn up when one looks to other specimens of epideictic: Lucian’s De domo, Dio Chrysostom playing with the theatre-setting of his Alexandrian Oration28, Apuleius apparently doing something similar in Florida 5 and 18, the latter explicitly localized in Carthage29.

29These may seem relatively disappointing first results. In combination with the indications I have also given of more interesting exploitation of place and setting outside the strict confines of declamation proper, they might well seem to prompt a question, one which I hope other scholars better versed in the field – especially the field of Latin declamation – than me, and in particular the other contributors to this volume, may be able to help answer. I hope that it will at least constitute a helpful provocation, even if it does not seriously challenge the terms of reference on which the volume as a whole is conceived. With that proviso, the question is this.

30I have been suggesting that in the exploitation of the expressive possibilities of place and setting – reference to the locations in which an orator or his imagined characters are present – declamation draws only limited effects compared to those achieved in other kinds of epideictic oratory. Should reflection on this, then, prompt us to ask more generally up to what point – or, for what purposes – it is illuminating to concentrate on declamation as a separate phenomenon, distinct from other kinds of epideictic performance and composition? Are there really substantial gains to be had from putting suasoria and controversia and their Greek counterparts, in their own little box (with or without the company of dialexis-prolalia), or is it – sometimes, at any rate – as illuminating, or more illuminating, to bracket them together with other epideictic forms, particularly of the branch of epideictic that is committed to entertaining without being tied to particular civic events? And if, as is likely, the answer to that question ought to be “yes and no”, what is the balance between the “yes” and the “no”, where does the dividing line come?

31It may well also be that the answer to this question is different depending on what period and context of declamation one is focusing on. I have been looking essentially at the context and procedures of the so-called Second Sophistic. But as the contents of this volume so eloquently testify, the Second Sophistic is just one section of a larger landscape that may call for a considerable variety of approaches. So, one might also want to ask, is the way that it makes sense to look at this Greek material also suitable for Roman declamation? And if the answer to that is “not always”, then may there be follow-up questions to be asked about how closely together the Greek and the Roman versions belong together? If, on the one hand, some forms of declamation may threaten to merge into the surrounding landscape of epideictic, may it also be others resist this tendency because declamation itself is not a homogeneous phenomenon?


Bowersock G. 1969, Greek Sophists in the Roman Empire, Oxford.

Bowie E. 1982, « The Importance of Sophists », YCS 27, p. 29‑60.

Camp J. M. 1986, The Athenian Agora, Londres.

Groag E., Stein A. (éd.) 1933, Prosopographia Imperii Romani Saec. I, II, III, Pars I [A-B], 2e éd., Berlin.

Hilton J. (trad., comm.) 2001, « Florida. Introduction. Translation », in S. J. Harisson, J. L. Hilton, V. Hunink (trad., comm.), Apuleius. Rhetorical Works, Oxford, p. 123‑176.

Keil B. (éd.) 1898, Aelii Aristidis Smyrnaei quae supersunt omnia, vol. II (Orationes XVII-LIII continens), Berlin.

Kindstrand J. 1979‑1980, « Sostratus – Heracles – Agathion : the Rise of a Legend », Annales Societatis Litterarum Humaniorum Regiae Upsaliensis, p. 50‑79.

Nesselrath H. G. 1990, « Lucian’s Introductions », in D. A. Russell (éd.), Antonine Literature, Oxford, p. 111‑140.

Russell D. A. 1983, Greek Declamation, Cambridge-New York.

Trapp M. 1995, « Sense of Place in the Orations of Dio Chrysostom », in D. Innes, H. Hine, C. Pelling (éd.), Ethics and Rhetoric. Classical Essays for Donald Russell on his Seventy-fifth Birthday, Oxford, p. 163‑176.

Weaver P. R. C. 1972, Familia Caesaris. A Social Study of the Emperor’s Freedmen and Slaves, Cambridge.

Wright W. C. (éd., trad.) 1922, Philostratus and Eunapius. The Lives of the Sophists, Londres-New York.


1 I have explored some of these issues, as they relate to the city locations of Dio Chrysostom’s Orations 30 and 36, the Alexandrian and Borysthenitic Orations, in Trapp 1995. In Dio’s œuvre, another clear example of knowing play with city location is the Trojan Oration (Or. 11), where it surely matters centrally that Dio’s demonstration that the old city of Troy was not captured by the Greeks was delivered on the site of the first-century city (and that readers of the written version of the speech, wherever they were, would have had this fact in mind). When it comes to location in terms of more immediate setting, Lucian’s De domo is an obvious example, together perhaps with the play made with different kinds of performance space (stadium, gymnasium, theatre) in Maximus of Tyre’s Oration 1 (developing the argument that philosophical discourse can be performed” anywhere and everywhere, and is more worth attending to than any rival kind of performance).

2 Russell 1983, p. 21‑39.

3 On Alexander (PIR2 A503), see Bowersock 1969, p. 18, 46 and 53‑54.

4 Philostr., Vit. soph. II, 5, 572‑574; I cite the Loeb translation of Wright 1922.

5 Bowersock 1969, p. 50‑54 n. 3; Weaver 1972, p. 255‑257; Bowie 1982, p. 39‑43 and 57‑59.

6 Geographical references in fact continue to be important for almost the whole of the remainder of Philostratus’s chapter in Alexander, as his declamatory prowess is further illustrated with extracts and titles that take us from Arabia to Ionia, and thence (via the mainland Greece of the Peloponnesian War) to Scythia again and the court of the King of Persia.

7 As commentators regularly note (Russell 1983, p. 84 n. 2), this use of the term “Hellene” underlines the close association between learning, tradition, and social status that was so important both to the self-image of the educated elite of the period, and to the symbolic justification of their position. In the context of Philostratus’s account of the meeting of Alexander and Herodes, it helps to reinforce the sense of an event steeped in classicizing reference.

8 On the history of this building, see Camp 1986, p. 184‑185 and 194‑195 and, for plans and reconstructions of its original form, and The original ceiling had collapsed some decades before Alexander’s visit, and the whole complex rebuilt with a smaller, but still very substantial seating-capacity (around 500, as opposed to the original capacity of over 1,000). It is not clear why Philostratus wrongly places it in the Cerameicus; a speculative guess might be that he was subconsciously connecting Alexander the “Clay Plato” with the “Pottery Quarter” of Athens.

9 Alexander in this episode thus follows a standard pattern for a sophistic performance of the period, beginning with the preliminary, colourful dialexis or prolalia, and proceeding from there to the proposal of a theme by his audience, and the declamation proper, the meletê. See Russell 1983, p. 74‑86 n. 2 (with discussion of this very episode on p. 84‑86).

10 Sophists as mere slices of Herodes: compare the famous remark attributed to Aeschylus in Athen., Deipn. VIII, 347e.

11 Plato: Diog. Laert., Vit. III, 3; Hyperides: [Plut.], Vit. X Orat. IX, 848d.

12 For Philagrus and his feud with the pupils of Herodes, see Philostr., Vit. soph. II, 8, 578‑580.

13 In terms of classic precedents and canonical accounts, the Scythians belong” to Herodotus on the strength of Histories IV, just as the Athenian defeat in Sicily and the fate of its victims belongs” to Thucydides on the strength of Histories VII.

14 As Philostratus phrases it, Herodes’s choice of children from Collytus is meant to take account of Alexander’s taste for juvenile voices; but it surely also reflects Herodes’s own keenness on pure, uncorrupted Attic diction – of the kind he prized in his Attic wild-man, Agathion (or Sostratus), for whom see Philostr., Vit. soph. II, 1, 52‑53 and Luc., Dem. 1, with discussion by Kindstrand 1979‑1980.

15 Philostr., Vit. soph. I, 8, 489‑491.

16 Philostr., Vit. soph. I, 21, 516 and 518.

17 Philostr., Vit. soph. II, 10, 587.

18 Philostr., Vit. soph. II, 9, 582.

19 In Tales II, 5 Aristides speaks of the many and varied (παντοῖα) physical pains he endured thanks to his constant κάματοι (ambiguous between illnesses” and toils”) and the constant storms, echoing the Homeric stress in Odyssey I, 1‑9 on the extent and variety of Odysseus’s labours and travels. In 60‑70 he gives a more extended account of the voyage, explicitly compared to Odysseus’s to Alcinous (60) and the Odyssey as a whole (64), full of storms, an incompetent and disobedient crew, and careful recording of the time consumed.

20 Aristid., Or. 51, 57‑62 éd. Keil 1898 (Tales 5); translations from the Tales are my own.

21 I. e. Aristides initially proposed a kind of shadow-play version of a declamatory performance, in which the speaker fills in for the audience as well, half-heartedly mimes the body-language of a proper performance, and only a delivers the sketch of a full declamation.

22 Aristid., Or. 50, 17‑18 (Tales 4).

23 Against those who burlesque the mysteries.

24 Aristid., Or. 51, 38‑41 (Tales 5).

25 Aristid., Or. 16; Liban., Decl. 3‑4; Chor., Decl. 10, 12, 38.

26 See n. 1 above.

27 Luc., Herod. (libellus 62), Harm. (66), Scyth. (68), Dipsad. (60), Electr. (6), Zeux. (63), Herc. (5), Bacch. (4). For general discussion and analysis, see Nesselrath 1990.

28 See n. 1 above.

29 In his translation of the Florida, Hilton 2001, p. 142 n. 23, comments that reference to the venue of a speech seems to have been a commonplace in ancient rhetoric”. This is true enough, but too dismissive: stock device it may be, but the whole argument of this paper is that it is capable of some very subtle and engaging uses.


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