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A term which came into use first in Cicero's time ( Brut. 90, 310) for the rhetorical exercises employed in the training of orators. These were of two kinds: (a) suasoriae; (b) controversiae. The former were based upon some historical or legendary theme, and the pupil was required to treat some problem arising thence, as, for instance, whether Sulla should have resigned his dictatorship (Juv.i. 16) or Cato have committed suicide (Pers. iii. 45). These were regarded as suitable for beginners, as not requiring any wide or minute knowledge of law (Tac. Dial. 35). The latter dealt with legal questions, and took the form of the discussion of an imaginary case, such as might arise in the courts. Marcus Seneca (q.v.), the father of the philosopher, has left seven examples of suasoriae, thirty-five of controversiae, as well as ten books of excerpta controversiarum, which contain many interesting specimens of the kind of questions thus treated. The practice had at first a real value, and Cicero represents himself as continuing it for a great part of his life ( Tusc. i. 4, 7), although in his later years he preferred philosophical topics. But, with the decline of free speech, the exercise sank into a mere occasion for display. The themes were hackneyed or extravagant, the language affected and full of strained antithesis and epigram (Quintil. viii. 3, 76; 5, 14, etc.); and what should have been a preparation for real life became an end in itself. The rage for declamation was at its height during the first century of the Empire. Quintilian's sober sense did much to check it; and though the practice did not wholly die out of the schools, it seems to have been confined within more reasonable limits. (Cf. Bernhardy, Röm. Lit. 53; Petron. 1-3; and Mayor's notes on Juv.i. 16; vii. 150- 170.)

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  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Tacitus, Dialogus, 35
    • Petronius, Satyricon, 1
    • Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes, 1.4
    • Persius, Saturae, 3
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