Roman Ladies’ Farce upon Marcus Aurelius, and his Satire of Women in Reply

This 1703 edition of ancient letters edited by John Savage presents a “severe” yet artful letter by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It opens by describing several Roman ladies’ theatrical farce upon the Emperor, their question to him about what scholars say of the origin of women, and the Emperor’s satiric reply.


[Aurelius’s complaint]

Whilst I continue at Rhodes, improving myself in the Art of Oratory, you, I understand, have made and play’d a Farce upon me at Rome, on the Feast of the great Goddess Berecinthia. What you intended by this sort of Proceeding I have also learn’t, which was to expose my Life and trample upon my Fame.

The Author of this piece of Scandal I have likewise heard to be, Avlinia for the Composition, Lucia Fulvia for the Transcribing, and you Toringula for the Singing Part.

It seems you represented me after different Manners.

  • You gave me a Book turn’d upside down, to signifie I was an absurd Philosopher:
  • You made me go with my Tongue lolling out, to shew I was a bold Speaker:
  • You planted Horns upon my Forehead, to make me pass for a common Cuckold:
  • You put a trayling Pike into my Hand, to denote me a Cowardly Leader:
  • You represented me with no Beard, as an effeminate Person:
  • And lastly bound an Handkerchief about my Eyes, to make me look as if I had been a condemn’d Criminal.

Moreover not contented with all this, you at another time equipp’d me after a new Manner. You made me a Statue with Feet of Straw, Legs of Wood, Thighs of Brass, Belly of Horn, Arms of Pitch, Hands of Paste, Head of Plaister, Asses Ears, Serpents Eys, Cats Teeth, a Scorpions Tongue, Hair of Vine-Roots, and a Forehead of Lead, whereon were engraven the following Capitals, M.N.T.N.I.S.U.S. which signifiy’d, as I take it, That this Statue of mine, was compos’d of no more different Materials, than I was of variety of Falsehoods.

[The ladies’ question]

Now after all these affronts put upon me, I cannot but wonder how you cou’d have the Assurance to send Fulvius Fabritius, to ask me a Question in your Names?

Yet to shew you, your harmless Satyr does not in the least affect me, I will gratifie your Request, tho’ you have so little derv’d it of me. Your Question is,

Whether I have found in all the course of my Reading, of what, by whom, where, when, what and how the first Woman was made?

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Athenian humor on orators and prophets

Savage-1703-titleThis comical and thought-provoking letter by the stoic philosopher Diogenes narrates how he bested three men in arguments, 1) a philosopher/orator, 2) a poet/prophet, and 3) a rich young citizen/host.

In each case, the comedy is situational as well as verbal, involving socially indiscreet behaviors on Diogenes’ part: interrupting, striking with a stick, and spitting. Diogenes’ words seem to justify and explain his behavior to auditors and/or the reader and he comes across as the trickster/victor. In the narrative, calling each person by two descriptive terms (i.e. philosopher, orator) emphasizes the variability and change in character based on their words or behavior.

Savage-1703-LetterCC-p435a[Diogenes] to Monemus; telling him some pleasant Adventures of his at Athens

Whilst you continue in Olympia, expecting every Day the Games should be celebrated, I am come to Athens, where I pass my time in another manner.

Walking the other Day about the Forum, with my Cup in my Hand, after my usual Custom, and viewing both the Sellers and Talkers of all Sorts, I at length happen’d to light upon a Philosopher, who was discoursing concerning the Quality and Efficacy of the Sun. Coming up to him, and crowding in among his Auditors, I ask’d him,

Pray Sir, How long is it since you dropt from Heaven?

The poor Orator not a little surpriz’d at my Question, answer’d not a Word, which his Audience observing, and thinking I had confounded his Arguments, departed; leaving him to contemplate the rest upon the Ground, and me to pursue my Frolick. Continue reading

Isocrates’ Nicocles: Monarchy and the Good King

Ganymedes Zeus MET L.1999.10.14.jpg

Zeus and Ganymede “Ganymedes Zeus MET L.1999.10.14” by David Liam Moran (= User:One dead president) – Own work. Image renamed from Image:Ganymede serving Zeus.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The passage quoted below comes from an eighteenth-century English translation of the Greek rhetorician Isocrates’ speech, “Nicocles” (c. 372-365 BC). The passage I’ve chosen occurs roughly in the middle of the argument.

The speech as a whole is a political work composed for oral reading and discussion. Isocrates writes in the voice of Nicocles, his former student, who is now king of Cyprus, supposedly addressing his subjects with an instructional speech on good government.

This section begins with a summary of the preceding arguments that prove that monarchy is better than democracy — this is not the writer Isocrates’ personal belief, but is something appropriate for a king to argue, and is likely done with a view to build sympathy for Cyprus among Athenian readers of this speech. The speaker/character Nicocles briefly expands on the point with an analogy to the monarchic government among the Greek gods.

Next, Nicocles touches on how he obtained his position as ruler; the writer explains this section is brief because its expansion is not warranted by the occasion, and serves as a transition to the next major topic, his own reign. He then begins to argue that he deserves his position, and his subjects’ respect, because of his virtues and deeds. His first proof is the way he has handled the administration of his government. Several examples demonstrate his virtuous kingly conduct.

Below the passage, I’ll provide my reasons for selecting this passage, and some food for thought about Isocrates’ methods and aims. Continue reading

L’Estrange’s Witty Preface to Tully’s Offices

Sir Roger L'Estrange

Sir Roger L’Estrange, by John Michael Wright. From Wikimedia.

As I’m doing research for my book on Enlightenment British rhetorical culture, I often come across some interesting gems of wit. One of them is Sir Roger L’Estrange’s preface to his English translation of Marcus Tullius Cicero’s De Oratore (titled Tully’s Offices), first edition, 1680.

See how he jokes about prefatory letters requiring their own excusing prefaces!  And how does he make prostitutes relevant to this topic? Interesting.  I love the phrase “one Mass of Put[r]id and Elaborate Folly” — who curses nowadays with such elegance and high vocabulary?

(The numbers in [ ] are page images, since the preface’s pages are not numbered).


Cicero's Offices, 1680, preface p1‘TIS hard, me thinks, that a Man cannot Publish a Book, but he must presently give the World a Reason for’t; when yet there’s not One Book of Twenty that will bear a Reason; not One Man of a Hundred, perhaps, that is able to Give One; nor One Reason of a Thousand [2] (when they are given) that was the True Reason of Doing it. The True Reason (I say) For there’s a great Difference, many times, betwixt a Good Reason, for the doing of a thing, and the True Reason why the thing was done.

The Service of God is a very Good Reason for a Man’s going to Church; and yet the meeting of a Mistriss There, may, perchance, be the True Reason of his Going.

And so likewise in Other Cases, where we cover our Passions and our Interests under the Semblances of Virtue, and Duty. Continue reading

Isocrates’ Hymn to Logos

Agora of Athens seen from the Areopagus.JPG

“Agora of Athens seen from the Areopagus” by Catharinaa – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Here’s the text of Isocrates’ famous “Hymn to Logos” in which he praises the community-building function of rhetoric.

It’s from the opening of Isocrates’ speech, “Nicocles” (B.C. 372-365).

Below I provide a side-by-side comparison of English translations from 1980 (left) and 1735 (right).

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Supporting group research projects with free online communication technologies

Fall 2011 Student Hackathon CodingIn this blog post and an informal, face-to-face lunchtime “brownbag” seminar for faculty members held today on campus, I will present some principles and examples of free online applications that have worked well in my team-intensive professional communication and social research methods courses.

The main purpose of the workshop is to share instructors’ insights and specific experiences with communication technologies for student team research projects, starting with my own. Each technology has had its strengths and weaknesses, and some of these can work together or even be set up to function within or “through” the Blackboard course management interface we use at our university.

The relevance to rhetoric is that teams require appropriate forums for their collaborative everyday communication, and the forums can structure, enable and limit the kinds of informative and persuasive acts that learners and researchers need to engage in during a short-term university course.

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The rhetorical experience of live classical music audiences

NotesAs a member of the Calgary Renaissance Singers & Players, a community choir that performs European renaissance music, I have been practicing for an upcoming concert.

I recently had the opportunity to be in the audience of a performance of the music of Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven by Jane Perry, our current choir director, who played the piano alongside a cellist and clarinetist from our city’s orchestra.

This led me to some reflections on the rhetorical aspects of participating in early and classical music performances as an audience member, especially when one is also a performer of similar music from a nearby culture and era. Continue reading