English 509 Reading Response

English 509: Classical Rhetoric

September 11, 2014

It’s week three, week two for reading response. We started with Phaedrus then read a Tacitus – Quintilian split. Didn’t know what to make of it really, still don’t just yet, but then, I’ve always been a slower, more pensive learner and reader.

Tacitus, The Annals, Books 1 and 6

In the first verse, if versus are what we are calling them, Tacitus writes, “Dictatorships were held for a temporary crisis.” From the patchy knowledge I have of this time period, this happened a lot. And then, because of the American tradition of “liberty or death” and trading safety for freedom, this from verse two stood out to me, “aggrandised by revolution, they preferred the safety of the present to the dangerous past” (Book 1). And revolution was quieted, “Then by degrees the instinct of obedience returned. They quitted the gates and restored to their places the standards which at the beginning of the mutiny they had grouped into one spot” (Book 1, 28).  Indeed, as my classmate noted last week, Cat I believe it was, this seemed to be a pretty depressing and violent time to live in (though The Annals is almost a 100 years later than The Histories we read last week).

Also a theme: sexism. Book 1: “Then, there were feminine jealousies, Livia feeling a stepmother’s bitterness towards Agrippina, and Agrippina herself too being rather excitable, only her purity and love of her husband gave a right direction to her otherwise imperious disposition” (33) and “Neither wife nor son are dearer to me than my father and the State” (42). Later in Book 6: “But Agrippina, who could not endure equality and loved to domineer, was with her masculine aspirations far removed from the frailties of women” (25). Last week we discussed Tacitus as a way of knowing the cultural norms – I am a bit startled by the unoriginal similarities in cultural norms of present day. I want us to have changed more. The Roman empire may or may not be the original source of social problems and tendencies, questionable values, but they certainly were one of the earliest to write it down.

Quintilian Book 10 Chapter 1 and Book 12 Chapter 1

The value of reading and an Orator must be a good man.

Again, I didn’t really think I would encounter problems, points or issues that would be so exactly the same for us today, as they were 2,000 mas or menos years ago. There was the scope of written texts in Quintilian’s time as now, yet what to be read is the dilemma because: “to go through authors one by one would be an endless task” (Book 10, 37) “[f]or a long time, too, none but the best authors must be read, and such as are least likely to mislead him who trusts them” (Book 10, 20).  Our problem now is how to we decide which are the best, and even then, how can we possibly get to them all – classical rhetoric memoria trumped by the ability to google. Also the problem, the subjectivity of what is best(what writing is best) and what parts are in fact a universal indicator of ‘good’ writing, a thing that possibly isn’t static either.



2 thoughts on “English 509 Reading Response”

  1. The sexism throughout was pretty awful. I appreciated your comment about hoping we had changed more. I was actually surprised that women are mentioned in these works as often as they are, and that when they are brought up usually it’s for a negative reason.

  2. I appreciated the fact you addressed the sexist nature illustrated in “Annals.” I, too, find it funny/sad that the view of women being jealous creatures was just as prevalent thousands of years ago as it is today. It mostly comes down to who is in charge and their view on the roles of others in culture. -Sigh- I guess we haven’t progressed as much as I thought we had.

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