Neil Bernstein's Ethics, Identity and Community in Later Roman Declamation

Ethics, Identity, and Community in Later Roman DeclamationEthics, Identity, and Community in Later Roman Declamation by Neil W Bernstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Enjoyable and thorough scholarly treatment of the Major Declamations of Quintilian (or whoever you think it might be who wrote them) with really astute and insightful commentary on the variations we get through time in Rome, late Rome, and the Early Modern period. What makes the book so interesting from the perspective of both rhetoric and criticism is how the author is able to make a very convincing case as to how extant declamatory speeches are pretty good evidence as to the way that Romans felt about their community, laws, society, children, and marriages. There's a lot here for the historian of culture as well as the rhetorician. The postscript on the modern pedagogical value of declamations was really good - I would like to see more of this sort of writing from this author!

The book is divided into types of values or practices that we can inductively get from studying declamations. Most interesting to me was the chapter on creating visual scenes for audiences since Roman courts regularly allowed the display of victim's bodies, bloody clothing, and the like declamations did not permit such evidence (and we think modern crime shows are too graphic). Declaimers had to visually construct the scene for the audience and it took great skill and practice to compete with an audience that quite possibly worked in and around the courts for most of their lives.

Great book, worth reading if you want a glimpse into Roman values and see some pretty incredible evidence as to how they viewed law and friendship, as well as family relations. Fantastic book!

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