Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Classical Studies

First Advisor

Cynthia Damon


In this dissertation, I demonstrate how the Minor Declamations, a Latin rhetorical text of unknown authorship from the early Roman empire, can be used as a window into the ways that Romans of the imperial period taught and learned the rhetorical skills that would dominate their future as speakers, writers, and thinkers. Originating from the classes of an unknown Teacher, these declamatory controversiae with didactic comments provide unprecedented insights into Roman rhetorical instruction. I first use paratexts transmitted together with the Minor Declamations to reconstruct their earliest physical form as a cache of class notes which was only gradually assembled into the collection we have today. Then, I demonstrate that units of individual controversiae reflect curricular progression. Contrary to current belief, stylistic features of certain parts of the text suggest that some of these units could have been written down by students during class time, and not prepared in advance by the Teacher. In other words, at least some parts of the text are a collective product of the Teacher who delivered the lectures and the students who edited his lessons as they wrote them down. Finally, I show that this Teacher had adopted a pragmatic teaching philosophy in designing his curriculum: he only taught the core parts of a declamatory speech (argumentation) and bypassed the marginal ones such as proems and epilogues. From his programmatic statements scattered across the collection I conclude that this approach was crafted in response to the current debates on style and “decline of oratory.” The Teacher defended his choices from students’ criticism, arguing that an excess of epideictic elements results in declamation which is pleasurable to the ears, but not supported by a strong substructure of logical arguments. He knew that moving the audience was important to the students, but he insisted that making their speeches appealing is something they could do on their own, while argumentation needed to be learned through sustained practice. His program is therefore not striving to change the prevailing taste, but rather to ensure modern oratory has substance.