My aim is to examine the context in which the rhetorical aspect of Roman epic is discussed and to suggest that a widening of that context is in order. The title expresses a particular view of the matter: not 'rhetoric in epic', that is, elements of an alien discursive system that have somehow made their way into the epic genre, but rather 'the rhetoric of epic', something intrinsic to the genre that is nevertheless cognate with the 'communications protocols' that operate in other genres as well. This approach is intended to advance a growing reaction against the still not uncommon belief that most Roman epic has indeed been adversely influenced by external elements and as a result is 'too rhetorical' and so 'unpoetic'. I will begin by examining some of the factors commonly used to articulate the histories of epic and of rhetoric, respectively, then move on to consider the methods by which influential scholars have framed the relationship between epic and rhetoric, and conclude by calling for a somewhat different approach. The direction of this approach is suggested in part by my treatment in the title of the word 'Roman', by which I mean to cast doubt on whether the rhetoric of epic can be neatly divided into familiar national or linguistic categories. It is with this point that I begin.
The distinction between Greek and Roman seems like a natural one, but in practice it is very difficult to draw clearly. This is especially true in the realm of literature-where, however, the obvious and