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Roman rhetoric aimed to present theoretical and practical guidelines for effective verbal persuasion. Its main principles derived from earlier Greek rhetorical theory, which achieved impressive levels of sophistication during the fourth century bce. As Greek-speaking communities were incorporated into the Roman Empire from the second century bce onwards, the value of rhetorical training gradually came to be appreciated by members of the elite, and, by the end of the first century bce, formal instruction in the subject had become an established feature of upperclass Roman education.
The two best examples of Roman rhetoric are Rhetorica ad Herennium (Rhetorical precepts addressed to Herennius, author unknown) and Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria (The education of the orator). The first takes the form of an instructional handbook (c.88–82 bce), and is closely modeled on contemporary Greek works. Its extensive use of categorization and taxonomy illustrates well the main methodological hallmark of ancient rhetoric. Quintilian’s treatise operates on a much larger scale, and its twelve books (c.93–95 ce) present the most comprehensive discussion of rhetoric to come down to us from the ancient world. The work addresses every facet of the discipline, frequently summarizing the contrasting views expressed on specific topics over the centuries by various rhetoricians, and displays sound judgment in its handling of them.
Several other discussions of Roman rhetoric survive from the classical period: Cicero’s De Inventione, De Oratore, Brutus, Orator, De Partitione Oratoria, De Optimo Genere Oratorum and Topica (between 91 and 44 bce); Tacitus’ Dialogus de Oratoribus (c.96–102 ce); and Iulius Victor’s Ars Rhetorica (probably fourth century ce). During the Renaissance, rhetorical handbooks such as Rhetorica ad Herennium enjoyed a renewed prominence as they came to form the basic educational texts of the ruling classes learning Latin for both administrative and broader cultural purposes.
- Clarke, M. L. (1996). Rhetoric at Rome: A historical survey (rev. D. H. Berry), 3rd edn. London: Routledge.
- Dominik, W. & Hall, J. (eds.) (2007). Blackwell companion to Roman rhetoric. Oxford: Blackwell.
- Kennedy, G. (1972). The art of rhetoric in the Roman world 300 bc–ad 300. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.