Beyond the speaker: the audience in Seneca the Elder




Barney, Neil

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Seneca the Elder’s Controversiae and Suasoriae (c. 39 CE) provide a window onto declamation (fictional forensic or deliberative oratory) during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus (27 BCE–CE 14). Although widely practiced as a form of elite education and entertainment, declamation was maligned by contemporaries as detrimental to rhetorical development. Modern scholars, such as Bloomer, Gunderson and Imber, have demonstrated how declamation acted as a medium for learning and asserting elite cultural identity. Previous scholarship, however, has focused on only the speaker in declamation. In this thesis I examine the secondary voices present during declamation: other speakers and the audience. In Chapter 1, I place Seneca the Elder and his work in context and examine how the format of his work allowed for the inclusion of voices beyond the speaker’s. In Chapter 2, I examine how declamation allowed its participants to assert a claim on Roman identity and lay out Seneca’s critical model, through which he validated or denied the identity-claims of the men in his work. In Chapter 3, I look at declamation as a multi-participant activity, examining speaker-to-speaker interactions in Seneca’s text and the way he constructs a community of shared speech, one which is tied to successful performance rather than a particular time or place, to support these interactions. In Chapter 4, I argue that Seneca uses the voice of the audience to assert and maintain the boundaries of the community and that he applies the label of scholastici (men who viewed declamation exclusively as entertainment) to audience members who fail to maintain the boundaries and, thus, rebuts the main complaint against declamation by relegating its unsuccessful participants to another genre of speech.



Roman, Declamation, Seneca the Elder, Controversiae, Suasoriae, Audience, Rhetoric