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The Politics of the Controversia: Declamation and Mediated Speech in Early Imperial Rome

Thursday, October 20, 2016, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

The Controversiae and Suasoriae of the elder Seneca are selections from upper school rhetorical exercises performed by adults during the reigns of the emperors Augustus and Tiberius. The Controversiae present more or less fantastic judicial conflicts in an unnamed state that bears some resemblance to Rome and some to a smaller Greek polis and which operates a legal system that draws on both Greek and Roman law without finally conforming to either. The paper will examine how speeches given by participants in these exercises, particularly through employment of the universalizing statement known as the sententia, can smuggle in observations that are of striking relevance to the authoritarian political system emerging at Rome. The 'figured declamation' is thus an important mode of political expression at a time when simply to speak one's mind is an increasingly dangerous matter.

Prof. Matthew Leigh teaches Greek and Latin languages and literature at St Anne's College, Oxford University. He has published three monographs - Lucan: Spectacle and Engagement (Oxford, 1997); Comedy and the Rise of Rome (Oxford, 2004); From Polypragmon to Curiosus: Ancient Concepts of Curious and Meddlesome Behaviour (Oxford, 2013) - as well as numerous articles on Roman epic, drama, rhetoric, and historiography. His greatest ambition is to play chess in a Budapest hot bath.