Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.09.30

A. Balbo, I frammenti degli oratori romani dell'età augustea e tiberiana. Parte prima: Età augustea.   Alessandria:  Edizioni dell'Orso, 2004.  Pp. 296.  ISBN 88-7694-743-4.  €20.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Filippo Canali De Rossi, Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington DC (
Word count: 497 words

This book is a collection of testimonia and fragments of the Roman orators in the Augustan age. It is intended to be a continuation of the Oratorum Romanorum Fragmenta of Enrica Malcovati, Turin 1976 (4th ed.); older editions covering the material here considered are those of Meyer (1st ed. 1832, 2nd 1842) and Dübner (1837). In the introduction B. lays down the basic principles of his edition, drawing for example the distinction between testimonium and fragment, which has also been the subject of some recent debate.

Twenty-two orators are included in this volume. Among the older ones are outstanding political figures such as Cornelius Gallius (only two fragments can be tentatively attributed to him), Maecenas and Vipsanius Agrippa (the speeches attributed to these characters by Cassius Dio are not included). Other figures are more obscure, such as Passienus pater (five fragments are attributed to him, but no testimonia), Lucius Cornificius and Velleius Capito (they both took part with Agrippa in the prosecution against the murderers of Caesar), C. Sulpicius Galba (father of the later emperor), Acilius Lucanus (a distant relative of the poet Lucanus), Furius Saturninus, Gaius Silus, Iulius Florus, a certain (Manlius?) Torquatus, Q. Varius Geminus, Pompeius Silo.

One of the book's most interesting features is the presentation of some very effective characters on the forensic stage of the Augustan era. One of them, C. Albucius Silus, left his home town Novaria and became a popular declamator in Rome, where he used to develop arguments to an excessive length and strove, sometimes ridiculously, to keep up with new fashions in oratory. M. Porcius Latro, born in Spain, was able to undertake impressive tours de forces to prepare his speeches and alternatively to enjoy immersions in a life of pleasures. He never listened to his students' speeches, thinking that it was sufficient for them to have him as a good example. T. Labienus, belonging to a Republican family, happened to be very poor and destitute of friends under the Augustan régime. He exercised his oratory with an unusual liberty of speech, so that his enemies were able to obtain through the senate, before the death of Augustus, the public destruction of his writings; the later emperor Caligula, to his credit, recovered those writings and made them accessible again. Another outstanding figure among the free speakers was Cassius Severus: he did not refrain from prosecuting one of Augustus' friends, L. Nonius Asprenas, on a charge of poisoning and also made a joke against Paullus Fabius Maximus, another member of the Augustan clique, by saying that he was almost eloquent, almost handsome, almost rich; the only thing Maximus was not "almost" was an idle man. Having become in this way an easy prey for his enemies, he was exiled to Crete and later to Seriphos.

By reading this book I have learned to appreciate the distinction between real oratory and the idle exercise of declamations. The author is to be praised for a scrupulous work of editing, translating and commenting.1


1.   There are, however, some formal imperfections: 1) there are too many entirely blank pages (16, 27, 38, 41, 54, 62, 70, 73, 84, 93, 116, 119, 134, 156, 159, 168, 186, 196, 222), and sometimes pairs of almost blank pages (86-87, 142-143, 148-149, 178-179, 188-189, 226-227), in order to allow the text and translation to face each other; 2) B. has a taste for cryptic abbreviations, whose solution is not always easy to find as the bibliography is scattered under several headings, one for each source of fragments; 3) the numbering system is not satisfactory: testimonia and fragments have continuous numeration (up to T 80 and F 45), while the orators altogether lack one.

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