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  • The State of Speech: Rhetoric and Political Thought in Ancient Rome
  • Catherine Steel
Joy Connolly . The State of Speech: Rhetoric and Political Thought in Ancient Rome. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. Pp. xii, 304. $45.00. ISBN 978-0-691-12364-6.

Students of the Roman Republic have enthusiastically come to accept that public speaking was an important element in political life and decision-making; but there has been much less attention paid to theories of oratory in the context of Republican politics. Connolly's important, and at times difficult, book addresses this issue directly, interrogating Roman rhetorical works as serious analyses of the role of the citizen and as realistic and practical guides which were designed to encourage their readers towards the constructive integration of rhetoric with public life. This focus naturally leads to Cicero's rhetorical works and Connolly concentrates on these in her discussion of key aspects of the Republican experience, which include the tension between nature and culture in defining membership of the citizen body; the inescapably corporeal and emotional nature of human beings, even viri; and the unavoidable centrality of collective decision-making to the Republic.

Speech is fundamental to the way in which Connolly's republican citizens articulate their identities and ambitions, underscoring the way in which Republican political life is both essentially communicative and communal, and [End Page 343] fueled by individual rivalry and competition: "The virtuous, eloquent man is represented as governing himself, but only under the gaze of the community—a community in which the self itself must ultimately take its place, through the human connection of language, if it is to remain at all human. Yet that connection is fueled by the drama of shared passions, whose power sutures the rifts in the republic but which, Cicero knows from experience, may also rise up to overwhelm it" (263). The emphasis on performance leads Connolly to some familiar areas: the gender anxieties of orators, for example, or the analogies between scaena and contio. But she develops a nuanced reading of rhetoric's formation of masculinity in her chapter on "Republican Theater," bringing out the crucial insight that being a speaking man is inextricably entwined with being a speaking citizen: "The fundamental problem facing ancient men was not to be men as such, but to be citizen-men—a category in which gender certainly plays a basic role but whose very fluidity and changeability present problems and anxieties that trump gender, just as they cannot be considered as prior to gender" (216–17).

The book is full of similarly searching analyses which present a powerful case for the moral and intellectual seriousness of Cicero's intellectual effort in relation to rhetoric. This concern with the picture as a whole can sometimes lead to the specific contexts of the writings under question being underexplored: this is particularly evident in the third chapter, where pre- and post-Civil War texts are handled side by side in the course of an argument which sees rhetoric's dealing with embodiment in dialogue with the nature of political association—surely a subject which looked different in 45 B.C. from ten years earlier.

The major challenge which Connolly poses relates to the identity of the Republican citizen: who counts? How extensively, within the citizen body, can Cicero's doctrines apply—or have been intended to? Connolly challenges the exclusivity of the elite: "Cicero saw decorum as the partner of Roman Republican justice, the vehicle of popular persuasion and communal trust, the bedrock of citizenship and public discourse" (268). But practice may point in a different direction from theory, and Connolly does not handle the speeches. Nor does she really ask how Cicero's Republican readers might have read his aspirations, or whether some of his treatises are perhaps heroic failures which do not manage to articulate, or resolve, the inescapable tensions of Republican speech.

These questions can only arise because Connolly has pushed the debate forward. This is a book which all students of Cicero will need to engage with—and it is a pity that the title does not identify him—as well as those who work on rhetoric; and it is also of...


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pp. 343-344
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