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Declamation, Paternity, and Roman Identity: Authority and the Rhetorical Self, by Erik Gunderson (Cambridge University Press, 2003)


A formal speech, one of the traditional rhetorical exercises practiced in the schools of ancient Greece and Rome. Adjective: declamatory.

In Roman schools, two kinds of declamation were taught: the suasoria (an exercise in legislative address) and the controversia (a simulation of judicial oratory).

In the present day, declamation is often used as a pejorative term for a loud, ornate, and highly impassioned oration.

See also:


From the Latin, "cry out"


  • "[T]he association of declamation with Rome is really merely an accident of the preservation of our sources. These exercises became prominent in Greek rhetorical education in the third century BCE, although earlier works such as Antiphon's Tetralogies and even Plato's dialogues reveal that fictions of rhetoric are more or less as old as systematic thought about rhetoric itself. . . . As far as the later history of declamation goes, Libanius himself wrote an Apology of Socrates, and he was still producing declamations in the fourth century CE. Libanius was by no means alone in his efforts. In fact declamation persisted in both the Greek East and the Latin West into and beyond the Middle Ages. Declamation was hardly an aberrant fad. Declamation was a durable player on the rhetorical scene. . . .

    "Those who would slight the genre stress that it was a school-boy exercise--which it was--while failing to note that it was not merely a school-boy exercise. A contemporary analogue might be to confuse the Hardy Boys series with detective fiction as a whole. Certainly there are many mysteries with a young audience in mind, but not all are intended for an immature audience. Similarly, like declamation, detective fiction is not usually seen as a high-brow form, but nevertheless numerous works are viewed as serious fare by the mature reader. . . .

    "Moreover, declamatory training was offered to youths roughly as old as contemporary undergraduates: these are not elementary school 'Dick and Jane' exercises."
    (Erik Gunderson, Declamation, Paternity, and Roman Identity: Authority and the Rhetorical Self. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003)

  • "[T]he primary focus of declamation is on two major prongs of civic life: the assembly (suasoria) and the law courts (controversia). In other words, both aspects of declamation trained the citizen for major involvement in essential areas of ancient city life."
    (Todd Penner, "Civilizing Discourse: Acts, Declamation, and the Rhetoric of the Polis." Contextualizing Acts: Lukan Narrative and Greco-Roman Discourse, ed. by Todd C. Penner and Caroline Vander Stichele. Society of Biblical Literature, 2003)

  • "Thanks to critics ancient and modern, declamation has been seen as impractical, fantastic, and overblown in style; its verbal pyrotechnics have long impressed or distressed readers. In fact, fantasy and an experimental categorization did mark this preparation for imperial life . . .. Nevertheless, extant declamations provide a full course in the figures of ancient rhetoric. Imagined dialogue, anticipation of one's opponent's arguments, syllogistic arguments often a fortiori, commonplaces, maxims, descriptions, apostrophe, and prosopopoeia abound."
    (W. Martin Bloomer, "Declamation." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, ed. by Thomas O. Sloane. Oxford Univ. Press, 2001)

  • "To judge from the account of the elder Seneca, Roman declamation was apparently a show performance--akin to the public recitation of literature that would provoke the ire of Juvenal, among others--and the common school training of the elite. . . .

    "But beyond these aspects of display and evaluation that animated an expert community, declamation continued another, arguably more important function of the older oratory. Themes of good and bad government were essayed, with a particular familial cast: the father figures more prominently than the tyrant. . . .

    "Declamation offered its practitioners a preliminary version of public speaking where the rules for invention of arguments and even evaluation were clearer and simpler."
    (W. Martin Bloomer, "Roman Declamation: The Elder Seneca and Quintilian." A Companion to Roman Rhetoric, ed. by William Dominik and Jon Hall. Blackwell, 2010)
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