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Declamations ( Latin declamatio ) were practice speeches in antiquity, through which the budding speakers trained in rhetoric lessons. In today's sense, declamation means as much as artfully reciting ( reciting ) poetic texts , also: giving a convincing speech.

“Declamation” is also used appropriately, in the sense of theatrical overemphasis.


The phenomenon of declamation as such is known throughout Greco-Roman antiquity (and not only throughout antiquity, but also in the Middle Ages and modern times) and its origins can be dated back at least to the time of the Sophists . It goes back to the performance of poetic works in non-scripted cultures in general.


Even in ancient Rome , at the time of Cicero , the declamatio was not only part of rhetoric lessons, but also a private activity, even for those who had already completed their training as speakers. Cicero claims to have declaimed more than anyone else ( Tusc. Disp. 1,4,7) and attributes the fading of Hortensius' oratory to his neglect of declamation (Brut. 320).

With the transition from the republic to the principate , the schools of rhetoric became, so to speak, the most conspicuous institution of eloquence, since the popular assembly disappeared completely and the senate withered away as the emperor's recipient of orders. Lessons in rhetoric no longer provided so much education for politics and developed an aesthetic value of eloquence.

In addition to declamation at school and in private, there was a third function: declamation as a show speech, which was not educated but carried out for its own sake and presented to an applauding audience. In this context one speaks of the "concert rhetoric" and of the fact that the rhetoric schools in the empire became a theater and had the aim of entertaining the audience.

The political change was also noticeable in another way in the declamatory teaching. The content of the declamations changed, it stood out more and more from reality. Practice speeches with bogus and unrealistic topics became dominant, which has led to the sometimes harsh criticism of them.

A distinction is made based on Seneca d. Ä. between two types of declamation: the controversiae and the suasoriae . The controversiae were the surrogate of the real court speech, in which a real or a fictitious legal case was presented in pros and cons. The suasoriae were accordingly the surrogate of deliberative speech, in which a mythical or historical figure was advised or advised against something. The declamators could talk as long as they wanted and take the side they liked. Often they responded to opposing objections that were not even expressed and were purely imaginary.

Ancient sources

There are three great ancient sources that give us an insight into the system of declamation. On the one hand, this is the rhetorical work of Seneca the Elder. On the other hand, there are the pseudo-Quintilian declamations, and thirdly there are the declamations that Calpurnius Flaccus passed on to us.

The rhetorical work of Seneca d. Ä.

Seneca d. Ä. wrote Oratorum et rhetorum sententiae divisiones colores in old age - he was already over 90 years old . As he says in the praefatio to the first book, he is responding to the requests of his three sons Novatus, Seneca the Elder. J. and Mela, Lucan's father, tribute. Seneca d. Ä. himself was probably never a rhetorician and also not a lawyer, but he was a diligent listener to the most famous speakers and rhetors of his time. Only he couldn't hear Cicero , he complains, because the civil wars had prevented this.

His rhetorical work includes ten books controversiae and one book suasoriae . They deal with 74 legal cases and 7 suasoria. From my own perspective, the work reflects the transition from republic to monarchy . And so is Seneca d. Ä. also one of the first to describe the change from republican eloquence to imperial eloquence as a decline.

As a source for the immense material that Seneca d. Ä. provides us, he names only his memory and tries to reinforce this claim by pointing to his former ability to repeat 2,000 names in the correct order and more than 200 verses that were given to him. Even if you have Seneca d. Ä. admits an extraordinary mnemonic technique, there is much to suggest that he also used written sources.

The pseudo-Quintilian declamations

Two collections of declamations have survived under Quintilian's name, the declamationes maiores and the declamationes minores . Both collections are believed to have been incorrectly attributed to Quintilian.

The corpus of the smaller declamations originally consisted of 388 declamations, of which only the last 145 came to us. They differ in length, as they partly reflect an entire declamation, partly only a section. Often they are introduced or interrupted by a sermo in which the speaking teacher has a say and gives advice on how to keep the declamation. In contrast to Seneca d. Ä. The author of the collection does not arrange the declamations according to sententiae, divisiones and colores , nor according to any other ordering principle. Their disorder is also expressed in the fact that the themes of two declamations are identical.

This leads to the assumption that the smaller declamations were never intended for publication. Winterbottom argues that they are not the notes of one or more students, but rather the estate of a speech teacher. This has produced it for its own purposes and partially revised, which explains the double occurrence of individual topics and passages. The sermones would therefore be notes that helped the speaking teacher present the declamations to the students. The authorship is - as mentioned - controversial. As Winterbottom makes clear with a number of parallels, if it was not Quintilian himself, he must have been an avid reader of his Institutio oratoria . The first or second century AD would therefore be considered for dating.

The larger declamations are the only complete practice sermons that have survived. There are 19 pieces that are presented without comment. Although they have been passed down under Quintilian's name, it is fairly certain that they were not written by him but by several rhetoric teachers. Presumably they can be dated to the second century AD or later.

The Declamations of Calpurnius Flaccus

The Declamationum excerpta passed down by Calpurnius Flaccus are the smallest collection of declamations. They are excerpts from 53 declamations that are neither commented on nor reproduce complete speeches, but rather focus on the sententiae that occurred in the practice speeches .

A big problem is who the author of the scriptures is and when it was written. Possibly the author is the consul suffectus from the year 96 AD. It is possible that Calpurnius Flaccus is also the addressee of a letter from Pliny the Elder. J. and thus possibly a pupil of Quintilian. However, these are pure speculations due to the same name and a lack of certificates. The script was likely written in the late first or second century AD. The criteria for this are style and use of words, which emerge from the text itself.


The lecture or the declamation from memory is also a type of event in the present, operated by full-time reciters, theater actors, but also amateurs .


  • Stanley F. Bonner: Roman Declamation in the Late Republic and Early Empire. Liverpool 1949.
  • Manfred Fuhrmann: The ancient rhetoric. An introduction. Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf et al. 2003, ISBN 3-7608-1304-6 .
  • J. Sandstede: Declamation. In: G. Ueding (Hrsg.): Historical dictionary of rhetoric. Volume 2, Tübingen 1994, ISBN 3-484-68102-0 , pp. 481-507.
  • Wilfried Stroh: Declamatio. In: Bianca-Jeanette, Jens-Peter Schröder (Hrsg.): Studium declamatorium: Investigations into school exercises and ceremonial speeches from antiquity to modern times. Festschrift for Joachim Dingel on his 65th birthday. (= Contributions to archeology. Volume 176). Saur, Munich et al. 2003, ISBN 3-598-77725-6 , pp. 5-34.

Web links

Wiktionary: Declamation  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Ideas about Declamation  - Sources and Full Texts