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Classics

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Arts and Science

Abstract

In ancient Rome, an elite man had to have virtus, or manliness, to be considered a true man, a vir. Many factors determined whether a man was seen as having proper virtus or not. Rhetorical skill seems to have played a role in the construction of gender for men in early imperial Rome. My project explores the relationship between rhetoric and gender in this period of time. Textual analyses of works from the early Roman Empire provide evidence for how descriptions of speech were used to suggest whether a man had virtus or not. Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria offers an educational guide to training the perfect orator. His work is used to present the theory behind the hypothesis that rhetorical ability is related to the construction of gender for men. He stresses the link between being a vir bonus, a good man, and being an orator. The Epistulae of Pliny includes eulogies and recommendations that give insight into how Roman elite men may have used the connection between rhetoric and gender in their own writings to characterize individuals. He invites his readers’ judgment of men’s character by describing their rhetorical skill. Finally, Tacitus’ Annales provides evidence for the use of rhetorical abilities to portray the character of historical figures. His descriptions of some of the Roman emperors from Tiberius to Nero demonstrate how the stereotypes related to rhetorical skill are used to suggest whether they can be considered true men with proper virtus or not. These authors include elements of rhetorical ability when writing on the character of elite Roman men, indicating a connection between speaking skills and masculinity. This research adds another aspect to our growing understanding of gender in ancient Roman society.

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Virtus et Oratio: Masculinity and Rhetoric in Early Imperial Rome

In ancient Rome, an elite man had to have virtus, or manliness, to be considered a true man, a vir. Many factors determined whether a man was seen as having proper virtus or not. Rhetorical skill seems to have played a role in the construction of gender for men in early imperial Rome. My project explores the relationship between rhetoric and gender in this period of time. Textual analyses of works from the early Roman Empire provide evidence for how descriptions of speech were used to suggest whether a man had virtus or not. Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria offers an educational guide to training the perfect orator. His work is used to present the theory behind the hypothesis that rhetorical ability is related to the construction of gender for men. He stresses the link between being a vir bonus, a good man, and being an orator. The Epistulae of Pliny includes eulogies and recommendations that give insight into how Roman elite men may have used the connection between rhetoric and gender in their own writings to characterize individuals. He invites his readers’ judgment of men’s character by describing their rhetorical skill. Finally, Tacitus’ Annales provides evidence for the use of rhetorical abilities to portray the character of historical figures. His descriptions of some of the Roman emperors from Tiberius to Nero demonstrate how the stereotypes related to rhetorical skill are used to suggest whether they can be considered true men with proper virtus or not. These authors include elements of rhetorical ability when writing on the character of elite Roman men, indicating a connection between speaking skills and masculinity. This research adds another aspect to our growing understanding of gender in ancient Roman society.

 

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