a term which came into use first in
Cicero's time (Brut.
90, 310: “commentabar declamitans,
sic enim nunc loquuntur” ) for the rhetorical exercises, employed
in the training of orators. These were of two kinds: (a
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. 1.16
Cato have committed suicide (Pers. 3.45). 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, the father of the philosopher, has
left seven examples of suasoriae,
as well as ten books of
many interesting specimens of the kind of questions thus treated. The
practice at first had a real value, and Cicero represents himself as
continuing it for a great part of his life (Tusc.
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
(Quint. 2.7, 1). The themes were hackneyed or extravagant, the language
affected and full of strained antithesis and epigram (Quint. Inst. 8.3
, &c.); 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; and Mayor's notes on Juv. 1.16
representations from works of art of boys declaiming before their teachers
are given in Daremberg and Saglio, vol. ii. pp. 34, 35.)