Roman Eloquence: Rhetoric in Society and Literature

By William J. Dominik | Go to book overview

5

Field and forum: culture and agriculture in Roman rhetoric

Catherine Connors

The techniques of oratory systematically described and practised by the Greeks were viewed by Romans with the mixture of enthusiasm and suspicion that marked Hellenization in general. 1 This essay examines representations of rusticity and agriculture in Roman rhetorical texts in the context of these cultural negotiations. Rhetoricians oppose rusticity to the good orator's urbane sophistication, urbanitas. 2 Excluded from the rhetorical training available to the urban élite, rustics make poor orators; therefore, incompetent or unpolished orators are metaphorically called rustic. At the same time, in addition to contrasting rusticity with oratorical competence, rhetoricians use the cultivation of land as a metaphor for the proper cultivation of oratory. Both of these metaphorical strategies were already available in the Greek tradition, and Plato's Socrates playfully points to the apparent potential for contradiction between them: considering whether good can result when an ignorant orator persuades an ignorant state, Socrates asks, 'What sort of harvest do you think rhetoric is likely to reap thereafter from what it sowed?' 'Not at all good', says Phaedrus. 'Well, ' says Socrates, 'do you think we have reproached rhetoric in a more rustic way (agroikoteron) than we ought?' (Phdr. 260 c-d). 3 Transplanted to Rome, these rustic metaphors flourished. Yet in Rome, the idealized rustic is a powerful icon of upright living and immunity to the corrupting influences that increase as Rome controls more land and imports more culture: being rustic increasingly means not being at all Greekish. Accordingly, representations of rusticity in Roman rhetorical texts are utterances in a discourse that can acknowledge or conceal the potentially suspect foreignness of imported rhetoric.

Ancient accounts of metaphor emphasize its ornamental and persuasive functions (Arist. Rhet. 3.1405a; Rhet. Her. 4.34.45; Cic.

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