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The relationship between the setting of the Dialogus de oratoribus and its content bears closer scrutiny. The claim that a play by Maternus, entitled Cato, has given offense to "the powerful" (potentes) is reexamined in light of the role that concepts of power play in the ensuing discussion of eloquence and oratory. This analysis suggests that the potentes targeted by Maternus's drama can be identified as the same powerful advocates whose misdeeds justify his decision to exchange a demanding career in oratory for the quiet life of a poet. The implications of this reading for our understanding of the dynamics of free speech and its repression under the Principate are briefly considered.