Werner’s Dictionary of Elocutionists, 1887, images

This post includes many biographies and advertisements for public speakers and experts in “elocution,” which, in the 19th century United States, was synonymous with the rhetorical arts of delivery: the use of the body and voice in communication. The images, text fonts, and language were rich and entertaining enough to be excerpted in this post as screenshots from the book itself.


Wilbor, E. M. (Ed.). (1887). Werner’s Directory of Elocutionists, Readers, Lecturers and Other Public Instructors and Entertainers. New York, NY: E.S. Werner.  Google-Books-ID: TF49AAAAYAAJ

Emma Dunning Banks, p. 272

This is the first of many images I’ve selected from this book. I found it worth emphasizing that the book included many female elocutionists. This woman looks very serious.

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The sublime tale of Zenobia and Longinus


Queen Zenobia’s Last Look upon Palmyra by Herbert Gustave Schmalz (1888). (Austriacus, 2012, from Wikimedia Commons, in public domain)

In William Smith’s 1736 English translation of Longinus’s treatise On the Sublime, the translator gives us a history of Queen Zenobia of Palmyra and the rhetorician Longinus’s role in her court.

I offer it here as an interesting example of the portrayal of women and men’s rhetoric in history.

Many elements of the story are taken from a late-Roman text called the Augustan History, and some from other sources. Some facts are disputable and fictional, while others have been confirmed, such as the presence of the philosopher Longinus at her court (See the Wikipedia article on Zenobia).

Regardless of its historical facticity, my interest here is in the story as retold by William Smith. It accompanied his translation of Longinus’s On the Sublime, a highly popular classical work of rhetorical criticism with numerous English translations and editions published during the British Enlightenment. The prominence of Longinus in English culture of the time would have given the tale a wider audience than if the story were published elsewhere.

The story portrays Zenobia as a queen and military general. The queen’s forces were loyal and defended her to the very end. Longinus the philosopher, critic, and rhetorician also played a role in Zenobia’s defense. As her teacher, advisor and communications assistant, he helped her write an eloquently defiant letter in reply to Aurelian’s demand and offer of clemency upon her surrender.

However, the story ends sadly for Zenobia and Longinus. Aurelian’s third and final attack, his siege on Palmyra, her capital city, was eventually successful. The queen and her advisor were both captured during their escape as they crossed the Euphrates river.

In Zenobia’s only indirect speech in self-defense to Aurelian, when she was condemned to death, she relied on an argument of feminine weakness to protect herself and shifted the blame to Longinus. Although this speech degrades Zenobia’s character, it plays a functional role of demonstrating how rhetoric, and the character of a rhetor, can shift according to the circumstances of their power in relation to their audience. Continue reading

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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