Roman Eloquence: Rhetoric in Society and Literature

By William J. Dominik | Go to book overview

11

Inter tribunal et scaenam: comedy and rhetoric in Rome

Joseph J. Hughes

In 160 BCE, the veteran actor and producer Ambivius Turpio presented himself as an orator seeking a fair hearing for Terence's Hecyra. It was not the first time Ambivius had played in propria persona the role of Terence's advocate. To be sure, protatic characters of various descriptions had been pleading for audiences' good will since the invention of drama, but Terence's choice of an orator represents much more than an attempt at literary novelty. If we are to believe the prologues, the Hecyra had already flopped twice before churlish audiences more interested in pugilists and ropewalkers than in the restrained Menandrean pleasures Terence brought them. Ambivius' appearance is a characteristic Terentian conflation of Greek and Roman: the pleader speaking words written out beforehand by a logographos and the venerable, well-connected patronus pleading for a client of lesser status. It also illustrates the topic of this chapter: the interaction between comedy and rhetoric in the late Roman republic.

Few would disagree that Terence here and elsewhere persuaded his audience to be entertained by his comedies, just as Roman orators entertained their listeners in order to persuade them. The nature of the evidence, however, complicates this formulation. There is no shortage of testimonia. The second-century BCE comic poet Afranius borrowed freely from Menander (Macrob. Sat. 6.1.4) and modelled his style on that of the orator/tragedian Titius (Brut. 167). Roscius, the great comic actor of the first century BCE, not only gave lessons in voice and gesture to orators such as the youthful Cicero, but also attended the speeches of the florid Asianist orator Hortensius to cull tricks he might employ on the stage (Val. Max. 8.10.2). According to Macrobius (Sat. 3.14.16), Roscius also competed with Cicero occasionally in expository technique, the actor 'expressing' a maxim in

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