Roman Eloquence: Rhetoric in Society and Literature

By William J. Dominik | Go to book overview

6

Gender and rhetoric: producing manhood in the schools

Amy Richlin

'An orator is, son Marcus, a good man skilled at speaking.' This famous line contains worlds of gendered cultural experience in each word. The orator is male, not female; father teaches son; the orator conforms to moral norms; he is trained; he speaks-in public, in a certain way. Yet the orator's gender was a crux of Roman culture and still demands study.


STATE OF THE QUESTION

The question of the relation of gender to rhetoric could not well have been considered before the Roman gender system itself came to be examined, and indeed seems not to have arisen. 1 Recent years have seen a surge of relevant research. 2 Most of this work, as well as my own, shows the influence of the Berkeley New Historicists, treating the rhetorical schools and performance halls as a locus of gender construction, a place where manhood is contested, defended, defined, and indeed produced. 3 Related approaches deal with Rome in the context of cultural studies, wherein ideological apparatus, of which rhetoric is surely one, are analysed as parts of an organic culture. 4

This work, however, depends on a critical tradition allied to, but often divergent from, feminist theory. 5 Manhood and male sexuality have tended to take centre stage here, as, for example, in Stephen Greenblatt's influential work, or in the way John Winkler looked toward Michael Herzfeld's Poetics of Manhood. 6 The overwhelmingly male nature of ancient rhetoric naturally has promoted a similarly male focus in current work on gender and rhetoric, with a few exceptions. 7 It has at least been possible to study ways in which the female persona was used within the rhetorical schools, as if

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