Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.07.10

Andrea Balbo (ed.), I frammenti degli oratori romani dell' età augustea e tiberiana. Parte seconda. 2 vols. Minima Philologica. Serie latina, 4.   Alessandria:  Edizioni dell'Orso, 2007.  Pp. xxv, 590.  ISBN 978-88-7694-810-4.  €50.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Rolando Ferri, Università di Pisa (
Word count: 2170 words

Andrea Balbo's (henceforward: B.) edition of the fragments of the Roman orators of the imperial age is going to replace a naturally outdated nineteenth-century predecessor, Heinrich Meyer's Oratorum Romanorum fragmenta... usque ad Q. Aurelium Symmachum (Turici, 1842). The second instalment, or Parte seconda, which is under review now,1 is a two-tome work of nearly 600 pages and deals with the fragments of the orators born or thought to have been born in the period 14-37 AD; they are presented in chronological order and are numbered continuously. B.'s massive contribution multiplies five- or six-fold the number of fragments recorded in Meyer, reaching up to F189, but the exact increase is difficult to calculate because numbers in Meyer do not refer to single fragments, but to entries for orations. Unfortunately, B. has not devised a continuous fragment numbering system for the whole project, and Parte seconda starts afresh from F1. Advance on Meyer is of course apparent, but, as will be seen, some qualifications are in order.

The book begins with an introduction (XI-XXIV) which supplements the methodological principles argued out in fuller form in Parte prima (esp. 11-14). The evidence relating to individual orators is then presented first in a prosopographical introduction, then by the edition of the relevant testimonia and fragments, all accompanied by a serviceable Italian facing translation. Each orator's entry is rounded off by a commentary, also in Italian, in which some of the most prominent problems and issues raised in the fragments and testimonia are discussed. A bibliography and an index of ancient sources complete the volume.

Oratory, and eloquence generally, by an established common view, went into decay after Cicero, with the loss of Republican political freedoms. What this means is that political assault was no longer sustained by high-profile confrontation in public debates and political trials. However, no matter how much eminent senatorial writers brought up on Demosthenes and Cicero moaned about the drudgery of low-profile civil and penal cases at the courts, oratory thrived till the end of antiquity, and yielded good career prospects for many: witness, for Egypt alone, R. A. Coles' book on Reports of Proceedings in Papyri (Brussels, 1966). To the historian of Latin, the near-total loss of oratorical production after Cicero means the loss of one major window on the evolution of Latin. Oratory was certainly an important channel for the spread of Latin in the provinces, and published orations must have reflected the subtle changes of the language more closely than other literary genres. Orators, after all, had to be easily understandable even for relatively unsophisticated juries and the audience; we know, for example, that the narratio in which they related the supposed facts of the case, according to our rhetorical writers, the plain everyday language (cf. Cicero, Orator 124; Quintilian 4.2.36).

I have sketched out briefly these considerations about the role of oratory in the development of the Roman language and literary culture, because I admit that my assumptions made me instinctively critical of some of B.'s choices. One of the most prominent, as well as ambivalent, features of this book is that B. has chosen to include among the fragments all Tacitean passages in which a mention is made of an orator, and all passages in which Tacitus reports in direct or indirect speech the content of an oration. The practice is controversial because Tacitus, like other Greek and Roman historians, such as e. g. Thucydides or Sallust, rewrote speeches extensively. Disagreement among scholars, as reported by B. in his Introduction, XII-XVIII, is not on whether such rewriting took place, but on the extent of Tacitus' reliability in reporting their actual contents. B. defends his inclusive policy on the precedent of editions of philosophers' fragments, in which verbatim evidence is not essential, but of course one reads philosophers for their views, orators for their words. B.'s practice is consistent with his own stated methodological premise in Part 1 (2004), pp. 13-14, where he announced that he would count as fragments not just verbatim extracts but also all information about the existence or the subject of a given oration. In my view, however, this methodology is flawed, and I feel bound to query the legitimacy of counting as a fragment, for example, F9 (Haterius) qui nil mutandum censuerat, "who had proposed that nothing should be altered", or F57 laudante filium pro rostris Tiberio "as Tiberius pronounced the elogium for his son at the rostra.", or F118 intercessit Haterius Agrippa tribunus plebei, "which Haterius Agrippa, as tribune of the plebs, vetoed", or F136 διὸ καὶ ταμίᾳ τινὶ φόνου αἰτίαν ἔχοντι ἐδίκασε τοῦ Γερμανικοῦ συναγορεύειν οἱ μέλλοντος, "therefore, when Germanicus was going to act as council to a quaestor charged with murder" (not to mention ἐδίκασε, which B. left untranslated).

In my opinion, most of B.'s non-verbatim fragments ought to go among the testimonia; the latter ought to undergo some drastic pruning, as most of the information is pointless, or easily accessible in a number of sources. What does T5 have to say about Haterius? "These things were so much the more remarkable in him (= Tiberius), because, in the respect he paid to individuals, or the whole body of the senate, he went beyond all bounds" (= Suet. Tib. 29). What is the point of quoting in extenso (T69) Ov. Pont. 2.5.37-56 just to let us know that Germanicus was praised for his eloquence, or T71, a long extract from Suetonius with a description of Germanicus' slender legs, which appears to be included only for the phrase in utroque eloquentiae genere?

This preoccupation with completeness is, in my view, specious, and comes at some cost to relevance, accuracy, and originality. A consideration of the function and relevance of the project ought to have been the primary concern in the planning of an edition such as this one, even at the level of the series' editorial management, which, to exculpate B., I suspect to be wholly absent here. Latinists, certainly, are going to have a hard time sifting through a great deal of verbiage to find the really relevant bits of imperial oratory.

The greater the pity, because there are discussions of real worth here, in particular in the treatment of Domitius Afer, Bruttedius Niger, Vallius Syriacus (but why 'Siriano' in the Italian versions?), Crispus Passienus, and generally all orators for whom verbatim fragments are indeed preserved. To be sure, there is some room for improvement here too, especially in the matter of presentation. Reconstructions of the orations are difficult to follow, because B., instead of illustrating the known facts plainly, has a tendency to examine other scholars' conflicting views first, and it is not always clear which one he has chosen to endorse. Use of footnotes would perhaps have relieved the author's anxiety to show his laudable acquaintance with previous scholars' work. Also, it would have been useful to help the readers to some basic information about Roman legal procedure in the period under consideration.

Some haste, or at least lack of careful revision, seems apparent in a few inaccurate translations of Greek and Latin, as one can see from the following list of comments on specific passages.

T2: qui hermeneumata docerent does not mean 'coloro che insegnano a dar giudizi', but 'people who teach translation', or language teachers, a low-pay job.

F3: (Tac. Ann. 2.33) decretumque ne "si propose che" (for 'it was decided').

F20: (comm. p. 116) Suet. Tib. 24 (senec)tuti meae requiem cannot possibly be a half-pentamenter, because the dative ending is long.

T60: the phrase illud domi est is meaningless as It. 'quell'altro è a casa'. The phrase, described by the source, Sen. Contr. 9.3.21 as a bellus idiotismus, a nice conversational turn, is translated by Winterbottom with 'that's in the bag'. It means indeed 'that's an easy job, we can count that as done'.

F62: τοῦτο δὲ is omitted in the translation; δικάζεσθαι does not mean 'istruire processi pubblici' but 'to stand trial'.

F137: Germanicus' Greek oration at the Alexandrian gerousia, deserved a more detailed discussion of single points, and a verbal commentary.

P. 385: B. has misunderstood the passage in Cassius Dio, 56.27, where the historian says that Germanicus' opponent appealed to Augustus to act as a judge in the hope that the emperor would rule against Germanicus to prove his equanimity. Dio's words παρὰ τῷ Αὐγουστῷ δικασθῆναι μάτην ἐθέλησεν do not imply that Augustus refused to preside at the trial, but that he did and nevertheless acquitted the quaestor despite the fact that Germanicus was acting as council, if the following οὐ γὰρ ἐκράτησεν is to have any meaning.

T79: what is the meaning of sponte causas egit of Crispus Passienus?

F171: (Sen. Contr. 9.4.1) timebam ne uno rhetore plus haberemus: "temevo che avessimo soltanto un retore di più", but it actually means "I was afraid we should have one more rhetorician" (Winterbottom).

P. 438: gratias agam (cr+ia) can indeed be interpreted as a hypodochmius (cf. West, Greek Metre, p. 110), but 'l'ipodocmio di Fraenkel' is not mentioned in metrical handbooks, and Fraenkel is not known to have had any signal merits in identifying this particular metrical colarion. Incidentally, according to Lausberg, Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik (München, 1960), vol. 2, 500, this was not one of the 'good' clausulae, because it coincided with an iambic trimeter ending.

F138 relates that the young Passienus began his first speech as a newly appointed senator with the address patres conscripti et tu Caesar, for which Tiberius showed great appreciation. B. takes this to mean that Tiberius liked the phrase as showing that his authority was distinct and equivalent to the senators'. Perhaps it would be clearer to say that in fact Passienus' address form reversed the more usual order and made Tiberius' authority to appear as subordinate to that of the Senate, which is why Suetonius remarks that Tiberius only feigned satisfaction. The new etiquette suggested to address first the emperor, then the senate, as at Tac. Ann. 6.8 idem finis et te, Caesar, et nos absoluerit and 16.31 tu, Caesar, et uos, patres conscripti. Cardinal Wolsey, as minister of Henry VIII, used to head official Latin letters with ego et rex meus, out of a scruple for Latinity, for which people said that he was a better grammarian than courtier (cf. T. K. Arnold, Latin prose composition (London, 1866), 18).

F149: (matrem tamen pueri sepelitote) is sometimes taken to belong to a second oration in defence of Cloatilla, different from the maiestas trial in which Afer is known to have defended her. B. is disinclined to accept this (p. 436). He may be right, but he ought at least to have discussed the meaning of sunt et alio relata... et aliunde petita in the quoting source, Quint. 8.5.16, "(there are sententiae) alluding to other [facts? events?]" (such as F149) "... and taken from other [circumstances?]", where alio relata seems to call back to mind the earlier charge (Cloatilla had been tried then for burying the body of her executed husband).

B. gives titles for all fragments, to indicate the orations from which they come. Some titles, however, are infelicitous, others are misleading.

F44: De commutatione verborum, 'The exchange of words', is not appropriate for Tiberius' objection to the Greek word ἔμβλημα ('embossed ornament') in a Senatorial decree -- he insisted on having an equivalent Latin periphrasis instead.

Among the fragments of Domitius Afer, B. lists F151 Contra libertum Claudi2 Caesaris, which is simply, I think, an improvised bon mot against a friend of the defendant sitting in the audience, not an oration.

At F152 Contra Sulpicium Longum, B.'s use of contra, taken from Meyer, may imply a distinction from the in of oration titles. In any case, it is clear that Sulpicius was only the plaintiff's counsel. Therefore, this is not a title, and the fragment should be assigned to the incerta.

At F153 In Manlium Suram, Manlius is again a lawyer, not the defendant; besides, the quote conveys no hint that Afer made his comment about this character's manner of delivery (fretting about, satagere) while pronouncing a speech, and at best the 'fragment' is a testimonium about Sura's having practiced as a lawyer sometime. One may in fact find sarcastic comments on the opponents' counsel, or orations with anecdotes about other lawyers (cf. Cic. Pro Cluentio, 58-9; Pro Roscio Amerino, 59-61).

F33: De comitiis consularibus is badly chosen as a title, because Tacitus is in fact speaking of several different speeches delivered by Tiberius in support of various consular candidates (Ann. 1. 33 modo... aliquando... plerumque).

My detailed, sometimes radical, criticism of some of B.'s choices should not prompt BMCR readers to the conclusion that this is a mediocre contribution. On the contrary, the project is deserving, and B. has devoted a great deal of research to it. It is to be hoped that these, and other reviewers' comments will help the author to produce a more concentrated version of all imperial orators' fragments, perhaps in one volume, in which the problems I felt bound to highlight here will be sorted out.


1.   Part 1, covering the Augustan period, was briefly reviewed by Canali De Rossi in BMCR 2004.09.30.

2.   B.'s chosen spelling for the genitive of second declension -ius/-ium nouns appears to be almost invariably with a single -i (so iudici, adulteri). There is nothing wrong with this, but the more familiar Latin form, one is told in reference grammars, is -ii, especially after Cicero.

Read Latest
Index for 2008
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:32:58, Friday, 03 April 2009