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Reviewed by:
  • Ethics, Identity, and Community in Later Roman Declamation by Neil W. Bernstein
  • Robert J. Penella
Neil W. Bernstein. Ethics, Identity, and Community in Later Roman Declamation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. x, 229. $74.00. ISBN 978–0-19–996411–6.

In showing how declamation “helped to inculcate the habitus of the elite Roman male” while also “enabl[ing] the conceptual exploration of . . . ethical and social issues” that allowed the unveiling of “tensions and contradictions within the Roman cultural code” (4–6) as it showcased male and female, old and young, and rich and poor, Neil Bernstein aligns himself with scholars of recent decades who have successfully argued that, in this and other ways, declamation was more than a mere rhetorical exercise. Bernstein’s specific contribution to declamation studies is a close reading of sixteen of the nineteen Declamationes Majores of ps.-Quintilian, probably by a number of different authors from the late first to the early third centuries. He has expended great care on his declaimers, and he deftly brings to bear on his argument both other ancient declamations and key Latin texts on the various ethical and social codes and issues raised.

The core of Bernstein’s book (3–146) is organized in four chapters. Chapter 1, titled “Authority,” discusses two ps.-Quintilianic declamations that raise questions about an illegitimate order given by one’s superior, conflict between the rich and the poor, the behavior of the mob, and taliation and the law. In chapter 2 (“Verification”) three of the declamations raise epistemological challenges. Can the specialized knowledge of an astrologer or a physician trump the argumentation of the forensic orator? Can a physician’s knowledge or patria potestas trump the therapeutic instincts of a biological mother? Is information obtained by torture credible? And should the torture of slaves and that of free men be differentiated? The six declamations discussed in chapter 3 show that all is not black and white when it comes to “Reciprocity.” The cases ask whether parents should lose their children’s loyalty through misbehavior towards them and whether the benefactor of young people can earn a filial loyalty from them. They raise the problem of the rival claims of fathers and mothers on their offspring, conflicts between kinship and friendship, and the issue of the reciprocity of the rich and the poor. Finally, chapter 4 brings five declamations together under the title “Visuality.” Dealing with a range of issues (crime within the household, torture and murder, blindness and personhood), they all illustrate how the declaimer often turned listeners into spectators through vivid description (ekphrasis). Bernstein, though, is not interested in ekphrasis merely as a literary or rhetorical device, but rather in how acts of visualization are associated with normative accounts of virtue. “[T]hese declamatory narratives . . . offer broadly applicable claims about the interrelationship between acts of spectatorship, identity, and ethics” (145–46).

Neither my necessarily brief remarks nor, for that matter, Bernstein’s chapter headings justly reveal to the reader the complexities he teases out of these declamations. What we learn from his close reading of them, though, is that declamations did not merely offer young elite males exposure to reigning cultural norms, but also gave them an opportunity to think about these norms and their complexities before inheriting their fathers’ social positions, and to consider how to accommodate multiple perspectives (including those of social inferiors) and how they might behave if one day they found themselves in the plight of some of the denizens of declamation. [End Page 306]

In part two of his book (149–94) Bernstein makes a contribution to the reception of declamation. He examines the response, or antilogia, written by the sixteenth-century Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives, to the ps.-Quintilianic Decl. Maj. 1 and the antilogiai to all the Declamationes Majores by the Venetian scholar Lorenzo Patarol (1674–1727). Patarol tried to improve on Vives in his own antilogia to Decl. Maj. 1, which Bernstein provides in both its Latin text and an English translation. He concludes with a postscript (165–69) in which he raises the question of whether ancient declamation might still play a useful role in contemporary education.



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