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7-10-2015, 06:04


The role played by rhetoric in the Aeneid of Vergil differs quite markedly from its role in Lucan. In the former, rhetoric features in only certain specific aspects of the poem; in the latter, it proves to be practically all-pervasive. Indeed, as we shall see, critics have coined the term ‘‘rhetorical epic’’ in order to describe the Bellum Civile. This perspective, however, as we shall also see, can be accepted nowadays only with various qualifications and reservations. Rhetoric and its techniques were naturally a part of Vergil’s wide-ranging education (Heinze 1915: 431-5). In the Aeneid they are evident above all in its numerous speeches: oratory, with its great variety of forms, represents an essential part of the poem, as had already been the case in Homer (La Penna 2002: 172). Indeed, it was the extensive role played by speeches in the Aeneid, together with the enormous importance ofrhetoric in the education and the culture ofantiquity, that soon led ancient critics to emphasize the role of rhetoric in Vergil’s poem. Quintilian often quotes speeches from Vergil in his Institutio Oratoria in order to illustrate figures of speech such as apostrophe, irony, and so on (Highet 1972: 3); on the whole, however, he is well aware of the difference between epic poetry and oratory, and when, in book 10, he discusses Vergil’s literary merits, he treats him exclusively as a poet (Inst. 10.1.85-6). This difference was largely overlooked by subsequent grammarians, who began to look at the whole Aeneid as a work of ‘‘oratory,’’ while the professional teachers of rhetoric made widespread use of Vergil’s text to illustrate the principles oftheir art. It thus became common to pose the question whether Vergil was more important as an orator or as a poet. At the beginning of the second century ce, Publius Annius Florus wrote a dialogue (no longer extant) with the title Vergilius: Orator an Poeta? Subsequently, the commentators of late antiquity (Servius, Servius Danielinus, and in particular Tiberius Claudius Donatus) arrived at the conclusion that

The Aeneid was largely constructed on the basis of the precepts of rhetoric. While scholars nowadays no longer subscribe to this kind of hypothesis, the reassessment of the role of rhetoric in the Aeneid that has taken place in the last few decades has sometimes overstepped the mark.

The heritage of Vergil’s rhetorical education best emerges from the speeches delivered before assemblies and in ‘‘diplomatic’’ contexts. An excellent example of this latter kind of speech is the one that Ilioneus (the most eloquent of the Trojans after Aeneas) makes before Dido, one in which ancient commentators note the presence of specific rhetorical loci communes (Aen. 1.522-58). Ilioneus begins with a highly skillful exordium whose aim is - as Servius had already pointed out in his note on this passage (Milanese 1985: 913-14) - to win the benevolence of the queen for the Trojan exiles, by praising her personality and her achievements:

O regina, novam cui condere luppiter urbem iustitiaque dedit gentes frenare superbas.

(Vergil, Aeneid 1.522-3; tr. Lewis 1952)

O queen, who, under God, have founded a new city And curbed the arrogance of proud clans with your justice.

By using the word regina to refer to Dido, Ilioneus insists on her responsibility to protect supplicants and reminds her that her city is founded on just principles guaranteed by Jupiter himself (nova urbs translates here the Punic name of Carthage).

This introduction is followed by a plea that aims to arouse the queen’s pity (1.52939). We might detect here the rhetorical technique of miseratio, but in the words of Ilioneus, the plea is inseparably combined with a narratio and an argumentatio. Ilioneus relates what has happened to the Trojans and seeks to reassure the queen: Aeneas and his companions are sailing toward Italy and are only asking for hospitality for a brief time. This is followed by another supplication and another argumentatio (where we find mention of Aeneas, whose fate is unknown to Ilioneus, although the latter hopes he has not drowned in the storm). The speech finishes with a lengthy final supplication, where we are more inclined to identify a propositio than a peroratio: Ilioneus asks permission for the Trojans to repair their ships, and then to leave (Highet 1972: 52-3).

As can be seen, the correspondences here with the techniques of rhetoric are far from insignificant. Nevertheless Ilioneus’ speech does not exhibit the compositional structure set forth in rhetorical theory based on the sequence of exordium, narratio, propositio, argumentation refutation and peroratio. This difference may perhaps lead us to a preliminary conclusion: Vergil does not construct his speeches according to the principles codified in rhetorical teaching, but he has a good knowledge of the loci communes of rhetoric and he bears them in mind whenever they may be of use to him (La Penna 2002: 172). Naturally we should remember that orators and rhetoricians could themselves derive their loci communes from poetic texts or from literary texts in general; likewise it should be noted that even an outstanding orator like Cicero was careful in his speeches not to follow too rigorously the rigid structural divisions proposed by the manuals of rhetoric; in fact, Cicero himself had stated explicitly in his De Oratore that it was not the art of orators that had developed from the precepts of rhetoricians but rather the examples of the leading orators that had influenced rhetorical codification.

Ilioneus delivers another speech of the same tenor and of the same length before King Latinus (Aen. 7.213-48, although the fact that the last line is incomplete may suggest that Vergil intended to develop this speech further). There is a clear structural parallelism between the two speeches of Ilioneus, which occur respectively at the beginning of the ‘‘Odyssey-like’’ and the ‘‘Iliad-like’’ parts of the Aeneid. Most of his speech in book 7 is devoted to the narratio of what has happened to the Trojans and is related in the ‘‘grand’’ style: Ilioneus exalts the past glory of Troy and insists on the fact that Aeneas and the Trojans descend from Jupiter. This section of his speech culminates in the memory of the universal renown that accompanied the Trojan war and is related in a series of rich, superbly constructed expressions:

Quanta per Idaeos saevis effusa Mycenis tempestas ierit campos, quibus actus uterque Europae atque Asiae fatis concurrerit orbis, audiit et si quem tellus extrema refuso summovet Oceano et si quem extenta plagarum quattuor in medio dirimit plaga solis iniqui.

(Vergil, Aeneid 7.222-7; tr. Lewis 1952)

How terrible a storm, unleashed from cruel Mycenae,

Burst over the plains of Ida; how destiny compelled A war between East and West, the collision of Europe and Asia - All have heard this: it is known in remotest lands where Ocean Breaks on the earth’s rim, known where the tyrant sun cuts off.

The following argumentatio insists on the power of fate and the Italic origins of Dardanus, the ancestor of the Trojans (7.231-42); this is followed by the offering of gifts (7.243-8). The final, unwritten part of the speech might have been destined to contain a supplication with the function of a propositio and possibly a peroratio (Highet 1972: 53-5).

The most extensive and cogent rhetorical debate in the Aeneid is the one that takes place in book 11 in the council of King Latinus after the defeat of the Latin army. Four speeches are reported in full, and they all follow the ‘‘deliberative’’ pattern even if each of them contains its own variations and individual colorings (Highet 1972: 55-65; La Penna 2002: 169-70). The ambassador Venulus begins by reporting the answer of Diomedes, who refuses to renew hostilities or fight further against the Trojans and offers sincere praise for Aeneas as a patriot and a warrior (Aen. 11.25293). Diomedes’ speech describes at some length the distressing experiences of the Greeks after the destruction of Troy (11.255-77), a real tour deforce on Vergil’s part seeing that he sums up in little more than twenty lines the nostoi (‘‘homecomings’’) of the Greek heroes from Troy culminating in the transformation of Diomedes’ men into sea-birds. This description is followed by an extremely short propositio (ne vero, ne me ad tales impellitepugnas!, ‘‘no, no, don’t push me into another war like that!’’, 11.278), the argumentatio of Diomedes’ refusal (11.279-92), and his final exhortation not to fight against the Trojans (11.293ff.). The following speech by Latinus (11.302-35) is influenced by the form that speeches often take in writers of history: the king first of all invites the members of the council to reflect on their defeat and on the dangers that are looming; he then proposes a treaty with the Trojans and finally invites his council to come to a decision.

The speeches made by Drances and Turnus echo some of the passions that raged in the political debates during the final period of the Roman republic. The words of the demagogue Drances (11.343-75) recall the fiery speeches of certain tribunes of the plebs: in an attempt to sway the council in favor of Latinus’ ideas, Drances attacks his adversary, Turnus, as an aristocrat who wants to repress the freedom of speech and the legislative power of the plebs. He proposes an agreement with Aeneas, which includes his marriage to Lavinia, and he ends up with a sarcastic commiseratio addressed to Turnus and alluding to the sufferings and the massacres of the plebs. Turnus responds with a violent reply (11.378-444): he accuses the demagogue of cowardice (11.378-91) and scornfully rejects the accusations of cowardice directed at him (refutatio: 11.392-409); he then addresses the king in a calmer tone of voice, trying to inspire confidence in the possibility of victory under his own guidance (11.411-33); lastly, he declares that he is willing to fight a duel with Aeneas, presenting the offer as a sort of devotio for the community. Thus, from an initial explosion of violentia, Turnus arrives at a sober expression of courage, sense of honor, and acceptance of his destiny.

Another important debate in the Aeneid is the one that takes place in the assembly of the gods, at the beginning of book 10 (Aen. 10.1-117; cf. Highet 1972: 65-72; La Penna 2002: 170). The function of Jupiter, the head of the gods, is particularly important: he is unaffected by any kind of passion and Vergil assigns to him the task of interpreting and supporting the decisions of fate. In the introduction (10.6-15), Jupiter rebukes the gods for their quarreling and their untimely interference, and his final orders are even more serious (10.104-13). By contrast, the speeches of Venus and Juno are highly emotional, and we can discern here the influence of the part of rhetoric that aimed primarily to sway ( movere) the passions of the audience (Setaioli 1985: 104). The first half (10.18-43) ofVenus’ speech (10.18-62) is a commiseratio of the Trojans and at the same time a protest against Juno’s hostility; the second half is a supplication initially aiming to save Ascanius and subsequently pleading for the higher objective of the resurrection of Troy. Thus, through her supposedly modest request to save the young son of Aeneas, Venus in reality tries to persuade Jupiter to condemn Juno’s behavior and stop her from persisting in her persecution of the Trojans in the future. This is an ‘‘oblique’’ kind of discourse that hides its real intentions behind a different presentation of the facts, to which writers on rhetoric gave the name of schema (Highet 1972: 66). Juno’s reply is angry and vehement, and mainly takes the form of a violent and overwhelming series of questions (10.65-95). This refutatio of the accusations directed at her functions also as a condemnation of the actions of the Trojans and Venus, one that distorts the facts of the situation to a degree uncommon even in the most passionate rhetoric (a technique known in the rhetorical terminology as remotio or translatio criminis); the goddess concludes with a brief peroratio highly charged with indignatio (10.94-5).

Traces of‘‘diplomatic’’ rhetoric can be seen also in the speech that Aeneas delivers to Dido when he is about to leave her in book 4. Forced to submit to the will of destiny, Aeneas must suppress the sorrow in his heart and leave Carthage, perhaps unaware of the great suffering that his departure will bring the queen. His problem in rhetorical terms becomes one of ‘‘diplomacy’’: how to alleviate and soothe Dido’s passion, and how to discuss the matter:

Heu quid agat? quo nunc reginam ambire furentem audeat adfatu? quae prima exordia sumat?

(Vergil, Aeneid 4.282-3; tr. Lewis 1952)

But oh, what was he to do? What words could he find to get round The temperamental queen? How broach the matter to her?

The verb ambire here would have reminded Roman readers of the sphere of politics and electoral propaganda, while the noun exordium, a term that originally came from the field of weaving, had become closely associated through rhetoric and oratory with the beginning of a speech (although this association with the oratorical sphere should not be pushed too far perhaps, since similar uses of the term are also found in Greek dramatic poetry; La Penna 1966: lx-lxi). Subsequently Aeneas starts to search for mollissima fandi tempora (‘‘the most tender moment for speaking’’) and rebus dexter modus (‘‘a manner suited for this purpose,’’ Aen. 4.293-4) for his conversation with the queen: here, too, the language is that of a prudent diplomat. In fact, Aeneas does not succeed in his plan because the queen soon realizes that the Trojans are preparing to depart, and she furiously starts hurling abuse at him. While Aeneas in his answer displays genuine feelings of sorrow and tenderness, it is above all the expression pro re pauca loquar (‘‘I shall say a few things in my defense,’’ 4.337) that is influenced by the language of legal oratory. Aeneas goes on to explain abruptly to the queen that he has never viewed their relationship as a marriage and that the only object of his love is the aim of his mission.

Many of the numerous other speeches in the Aeneid can be viewed primarily as expressions of emotion or pathos influenced both by the personality of the speaker and by the narrative context. (Vergil usually maintains very close links with the concrete dramatic situation and, unlike Ovid, abstains from abstract rhetorical discussions; see Heinze 1915: 434; La Penna 2002: 171.) The monologues in particular are deeply infused with emotion, especially the three pronounced by Dido in book 4 (4.534-52, 590-629, 651-62), each of which differs markedly in tone from the others; these speeches emphasize the increasing loneliness of the queen as she pursues her suicidal course.

In such speeches the poetic tradition - and in particular that of tragedy - is far more important than that of rhetoric, yet it is impossible to make a neat, clear-cut distinction between the two. This is true in particular of several funeral laments of outstanding literary merit in the Aeneid. In his comment on the lament of the mother of Euryalus, Servius points out that her conquestio is full of the ars rhetorica (see his note ad Aen. 9.479), and refers to the section of De Inventione (1.106-9) where Cicero lists the topoi that are useful to arouse pity. Of course, not all the topoi listed by Cicero are actually found in the lament of the mother of Euryalus, but in several cases the comparison presented by Servius proves to be useful (La Penna 1983: 332).

Primarily in the speeches inspired by pathos and by the need to sway the emotions, but also in others of the more skillfully ‘‘diplomatic’’ kind, Vergil shows that he is well aware of the power of rhetoric to distort and falsify reality: thus, for example, the extremely cunning speech of Sinon to the Trojans in book 2 of the poem is no less distorting than Juno’s furious words before the assembly of the gods. The conclusion has been drawn from this that Vergil is profoundly diffident toward rhetoric since it is ‘‘the art of telling lies’’ (Highet 1972: 283-5), but there is good reason to question this interpretation. The distorting power of rhetoric was well known. Cicero, for example, considered that the supreme ability of the orator lay in the capacity to lead the hearts and minds of his listeners where he wanted. This function was also well known to a teacher of rhetoric like Quintilian, who remarked that, when Cicero boasted after the trial of Cluentius that he had blurred the vision of his listeners, the vision of Cicero himself on that occasion had certainly not been blurred (Inst. 2.17.21). Elsewhere Quintilian himself wrote: ubi vero animis iudicum vis adferenda est et ab ipsa veri contemplatione abducenda mens, ibiproprium oratoris opus est (‘‘the peculiar task of the orator arises when the minds of the judges require force to move them, and their thoughts have actually to be led away from the contemplation of the truth,’’ Inst. 6.2.5; tr. H. Butler 1920). It seems unlikely, then, that Vergil had in mind some ‘‘philosophical’’ (in the Platonic sense) condemnation of rhetoric: rather, the speeches in the Aeneid present a ‘‘mimesis’’ of oratorical discourse and its various, often irresistible potentialities.