Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.07.25

Andrew Laird, Powers of Expression, Expressions of Power: Speech Presentation and Latin Literature.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1999.  Pp. xviii + 358.  ISBN 0-19-815276-0.  £45.00.  

Reviewed by James T. Chlup, University of Durham (
Word count: 2151 words

From Andrew Laird (=L.) we have an exciting study of speech presentation in Latin literature. It is a thorough work, covering the principle genres of Latin literature as well as the main questions on the subject raised by the leading literary theorists.

The amount of work that has gone into this book is impressive. First, there is a substantial bibliography, twenty-six pages (319-44), including both the works of classical scholarship necessary to L.'s topic, and the chief literary theorists, from Bakhtin to Genette to Kristeva to White. As a preliminary indication of the effect of this critical reading that L. has evidently done, we come across all the essential critical theory catchwords: 'ideology', 'narrative', 'discourse', and 'intertextuality'1 among others. A second witness to the depth of the volume comes in the many references to post-classical authors including, for example, J. D. Salinger, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and George Eliot.2 These two aspects of the book lead us to consider this book to be more than just a reading of the ways and means of speech presentation in Latin. The author's stated aim in the introduction backs this up: 'this book is addressed not only to readers of ancient literature -- Greek as well as Latin -- but also to those in other disciplines who are concerned with theories of discourse and narrative' (xv). Thus we understand why it is 'Speech Presentation and Latin Literature' and not 'Speech Presentation in Latin Literature'. The volume not only uses the theorists to read selected examples of Latin poetry and prose, but also he turns these readings back on the theorists to further the continuing debate.

The opening two chapters 'Speech and Symbolic Power: Discourse, Ideology, and Intertextuality' (1-43) and 'Platonic Formalism: Socrates and the Narratologists' (44-78), cover largely theoretical material. For those not familiar with the theorists and their works mentioned here, these chapters can be rather daunting, but L. very carefully guides the reader through the necessary issues without over-simplifying the argument (for example, his good handling of intertextuality [40-3]).

Chapter three, 'Speech Modes and Literary Language' (79-115), defines the terms that L. employs in the subsequent four chapters. These are the different types of speech in literature -- 'speech modes'. For the reader's convenience, these are laid out in a table for comparison (89). It will be surprising to some to find that speeches come in forms other than the seemingly straightforward direct (DD) and indirect discourse (ID), although there is more than meets the eyes with these two as well (for example, the synchronisation between 'narrative time' and 'story time' in DD [89]). L. also gives us: free direct discourse (FDD) (when the reader is unsure how far a quoted speech corresponds to the original believed to have been spoken [91]); mimetic indirect discourse (MID) ('the diction does seem to be more the property of the original speaker than the narrator' [95]); free indirect discourse (FID) ('sentiments ... could be either spoken or thought -- it is not usually revealed' [97]); and, finally, 'record of a speech act' (RSA) ('we are given merely an indication that something was said or thought and we have much less information about the original utterance -- though we may know its effect or nature of its content' [99]). L. carefully explains each term, providing examples to illustrate each. Examples from both Latin and post-classical literature appear here, which allows L. to demonstrate that this subtle hierarchy of speech modes is not limited to the ancient world. Also note that he is very careful to point out when the ancient and 'modern' are not quite the same, for example with MID, where his modern example is Austen's Sense and Sensibility (95).

Chapter four marks the shift between the theoretical and applied sections of the book, beginning with Latin historiography: 'Fictions of Authority: Discourse and Epistemology in Historical Narrative' (116-52). L. begins by looking at 'a convenient example of inventive speech presentation' (121), from Tacitus' Agricola. Here the author focuses not on a single speech, but the paired speeches of Agricola and Calgacus (121-3) (another excellent example is the Hannibal-Scipio conference in Livy, book 30, where the historian points out that both Hannibal and Scipio speak through an interpreter, and there is a prolonged silence before Hannibal speaks).3 Both the introduction and the perceived response to each speech is important in how effective we judge each character's oration to be -- the context is just as important as the text itself, if not more so. The speeches, therefore, while obviously interesting for what each character says, are merely incidental when compared to how they are set up, which Tacitus directs so as to further his overall goal in the monograph.

There is one thing that would have made this chapter even stronger. The discussion of the Seneca story in Tacitus (127-31), although helpful in discussing the idea of ipsa verba, does not in my opinion allow L. to exploit fully his theoretical treasures. This chapter would certainly have been made stronger had L. offered a focused reading of speeches and narrative in a specific work. This could have proved especially fruitful with Livy or Tacitus, whose works provide some excellent examples of speeches in the genre, such as Camillus' famous oration in book 5 of Livy, or Cremutius Cordus' speech in Annals 4.4 Take Cordus' speech: he defends himself against charges against his history-writing, which in a very exciting way suggests Tacitus commenting upon the nature of his very own Annals; thus we have two speakers sharing the same voice. Shortly following this there are the fascinating paired letters of Tiberius and Sejanus, which have been classified as a kind of paired speech.5 Here at least the author deserves credit for the fact that his book will allow fruitful discussions on these speeches and relationship to their respective narratives to occur.

Any work that desires to be a comprehensive study of a topic or theme in Latin literature must deal adequately with Virgil's Aeneid at some point. Chapter five, 'The Rhetoric of Epic: Speech Presentation in Virgil's Aeneid' (153-208), pays due homage to this work. That speeches are central to epic is made clear in a footnote at the start of this chapter, where L. cites some impressive statistics on how much attention ancient epics devote to speeches, ranging from one-third to two-thirds of the narrative (154 n.3). Further, there is the question of the epic itself as a type of speech. All epics begin with the impression of the poet speaking (in the Aeneid we have arma virumque cano [1.1], placing both the man and the dominant event of the poem within the context of Virgil's speaking act). The author confesses that the nature of speech presentation in Virgil is far too large a subject for his book, therefore what he offers is selective (154, also note 154 n.5, directing the reader to the chapter of L.'s D.Phil thesis upon which this book is based). In this chapter, despite this selectivity, L. provides several stimulating readings of speeches in the Aeneid, such as the role of speeches in the first book (157-64, including those important first words I just mentioned) and the use of FID in books 4, 9 and 12 (167-83). L. also points out that in this epic not only speaking is important but also its converse, silence (183-92). The most famous example of this has to be Dido's silence upon Aeneas finding her in the underworld (6.455-74) (185-8). Therefore, L. carefully guides the reader through the epic from full speaking to indirect discourse to silence. Then there is a sense of returning full circle, as the author goes from silence to the longest and perhaps the most important speech in the epic, Aeneas' account of the fall of Troy (199-205), which helps explain the power relations between the speakers and listeners.

L. returns to prose in chapter six, 'Ideology and Taste: Narrative and Discourse in Petronius' Satyricon' (209-58). The appeal of Petronius' work is obvious: as the ancient novel bears resemblance to its modern descendant, the author's desire to raise both ancient and modern questions about speech presentation can be done here rather nicely. The author points to several different methods of discourse here, with even the narrator, Encolpius, employing a variety of speech modes (217). L. considers not only the narrative itself (where he carefully exploits the fact that it begins in medias res) but also the interesting contrast between Encolpius' speech (217-21) and the presentation of his thoughts (221-8). There is also the question of verse versus prose in the novel, which itself L. rightly picks up as a way of juxtaposing different levels of discourse, just as an author might do with ID and DD. Further, there is also the story within the story, which the author calls an 'embedded narrative' and which he discusses fully (235-46).

The focus on Petronius' narrative does not mean that the other well-known example of the genre, Apuleius' Metamorphoses, is left out. Two aspects of this work would have very much enriched L.'s debate: (i) the fact that the narrator/ character speaks directly to the reader, thus the whole novel is, in effect, a speech, and (ii) the Cupid and Psyche side-story in books 4-6, a story that has two audiences: the girl listening to the story and the reader of Apuleius' novel. If we then read (ii) in the (con)text of (i) we have the see before us the prospect of a very rich debate. The differences between Apuleius and Petronius would have made a comparison very informative, but space and focus unfortunately does not permit it. However, Apuleius' work appears at various points in the notes in this chapter to remind us that he is not far from L.'s thoughts (for example, 212 n.8; 242 n.70; 243 n.71; 243 n. 72; 243 n.74), and more prominently in chapter three where it serves as one of the examples of FID (107).

Finally, there is chapter seven, 'Allegories of Representation: Messengers and Angels' (259-305). Messengers and speeches have a natural relationship, so it would appear. However, despite this being a 'convention' (L.'s quotation marks) the author notes that it has received little attention (261). Therefore, in this chapter the author guides the reader through six examples of messengers in literature and notes the varying nature of the messenger: 'conventions of this kind are never static and inert. They vary not only from author to author, but also from one occurrence to another within a single narrative text' (261). Here his subjects are not limited to Latin literature, but also include post-classical literature, beginning with the Aeneid (264-74) (allowing him to build upon what he has done in chapter five, as well as making this chapter appear as an outgrowth of it), followed by readings of Iacopo Sannazaro's De Partu Virginis (274-81), Ovid's Metamorphoses (281-7), Statius' Thebaid (287-91), Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica (291-6) and, finally, Milton's Paradise Lost (296-300). The bringing together of classical and post-classical works permits L. to highlight the differences and similarities between uses of messengers. Milton's poem occupies the appropriate final position amongst these as it was the last to be produced and as its use of messengers is different from all the other works in this chapter (see, for example, what L. writes about the message from God to Adam in book 5 [296-7]). As in the previous chapters of the book L. raises many fascinating points: for example, the relationship between the messenger and the message. Sometimes the messenger finds himself/herself first in the position of listening to the message (which can be spoken) and then speaking the message him/herself (see especially L.'s discussion of Jupiter/Mercury/Aeneas in Aeneid 4 [264-71]). The most fundamental issue raised by the author in this chapter is that the messenger scene is an expression of power itself on the part of the character (a god) sending the message. The author summarises thus: 'power and hierarchy, prominent concerns generally in the study of speech presentation, are no less prominent in the messenger scene. Simply to commission a messenger is to demonstrate some kind of superior status' (262-3), which recalls the 'expressions of power' part of L.'s title.

L.'s book is an invaluable aid to all researching Latin literature, irrespective of the particular genre. More than that, it is also an aid to those interested in the use of speech in literature in general (as an aid to this wider audience, perhaps a paperback edition is warranted, making the book more accessible). It is an information-filled book that presents the reader with a lot of critical material, but the clear style helps the reader and re-reading and re-re-reading pays handsome dividends. A lot of the theories of criticism that L. employs in the book are still undergoing development, many still some way from maturity. With this book L. has in an invigorating way participated in their development.


1.   Note the careful caveat on 'intertextuality' from A. J. Woodman in C. S. Kraus and A. J. Woodman, Latin Historians, Oxford, 1997, ch. 5 n. 47: '"intertextuality" is a modish word, now about thirty years old, to denote the fact that there is a relationship between texts ... the word has the advantage over more traditional terms, such as "imitation" or "allusion", in that it implies nothing about whether the relationship in any given case is intentional'.
2.   One that would have served L. exceptionally well, I thought, is F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise, where one chapter replaces the standard narrative with a playscript.
3.   Ab Vrbe Condita 30.30.1-2: summotis pari spatio armatis, cum singulis interpretibus congressi sunt, non suae modo aetatis maximi duces, sed omnis ante se memoriae, omnium gentium cuilibet regum imperatorumve pares. paulisper alter alterius conspectu, admiratione mutua prope attoniti, conticuere.
4.   The most detailed reading of Cremutius Cordus' speech is J. L. Moles, 'Cry Freedom: Tacitus Annals 4.32-35', Histos 2 (1998) (; see also R. H. Martin and A. J. Woodman, Tacitus: Annals IV, Cambridge, 1989, 176-84. On speeches in Tacitus' Histories, two exciting studies are: D. S. Levene 'Tacitus' Histories and the Theory of Deliberative Oratory' in C. S. Kraus, ed., The Limits of Historiography: Genre and Narrative in Ancient Historical Texts, Leiden, 1999, 197-216 and E. Keitel, 'Speech and Narrative in Histories 4', in T. J. Luce and A. J. Woodman, eds., Tacitus and the Tacitean Tradition, Princeton, 1993, 39-58. On speeches in Livy, see first P. G. Walsh's chapter on speeches in his Livy: His Historical Aims and Methods, Cambridge 1961; on structure see T. J. Luce, 'Structure in Livy's Speeches', in W. Schuller, ed., Livius: Aspeckte seines Werkes [Xenia 31], Konstanz, 1993, 71-85. On Camillus' speech in particular, the standard reading is R. Ogilvie, A Commentary on Livy I-V, Oxford, 1965, 741-52; there are also references to Camillus' speech in Luce's paper, passim.
5.   This is 4.39-41. For analysis see Martin and Woodman (1989) 193-200 (cited n.4 above).

Read Latest
Index for 2000
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:26:55, Friday, 03 April 2009