Review: BMCR 2015.05.43 Pagán on van den Berg, The World of Tacitus’ ‘Dialogus de Oratoribus’

BMCR 2015.05.43 (

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.05.43

Christopher S. van den Berg, The World of Tacitus’ ‘Dialogus de Oratoribus’: Aesthetics and Empire in Ancient Rome. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xiii, 344. ISBN 9781107020900. $110.00.

Reviewed by Victoria E. Pagán, University of Florida (vepagan​ AT

Preview (

[Disclaimer: The author contributed to the Companion to Tacitus which I edited; other than this we have no connection.]

In this close analysis of Tacitus’ Dialogus, Christopher van den Berg foregrounds two problems and related ideas that lead toward a comprehensive understanding of the place of eloquentia in the literary history and literary criticism of the Roman empire. First, in challenging the assumption that the work is about the decline of oratory under the principate, van den Berg reevaluates the inconsistencies in the speeches that have detracted from its interpretive value and he shows instead that Tacitus is able “to employ meaningful inconsistencies in the service of a larger argument and to intervene obliquely in a work so as to inform our understanding of its statements” (p. 72; cf. p. 56). Second, beyond identifying the interconnections between the Dialogus and Cicero’s oratorical treatises, van den Berg demonstrates how “the Dialogus’ voracious allusions absorb the strategies of its predecessor, remodeling de Oratore’s procedures to suit its own designs” (p. 227). That is, the
Dialogus is an account of the changes in rhetorical practice that constitute the modern incarnation of eloquentia. These two strategies for reading the Dialogus allow for a fresh hermeneutic: “Rather than thinking of the Dialogus in terms of decline or its opposite, we might better be served by attempting to understand what might be at stake for Tacitus in choosing to frame the problem in those terms” (p. 238). We are certainly served well by van den Berg’s thorough and sophisticated analysis.


Read comments on this review or add a comment ( on the BMCR blog.

Seen on Classicists: Classical Association of Scotland Conference 2015, St Andrews, June 18-19

Dear all,
Registration is open for this year’s Classical Association of Scotland conference at the School of Classics, University of St Andrews, 18-19 June 2015:

‘The Ethics of Reading in Hellenistic and Early Imperial Greek and Roman Texts’

Ancient authors often conceived of writing and reading as an activity with serious moral and ethical implications.
Important aspects of this process and its larger social-cultural context have already been well understood: the relationship between rhetorical training and the formation of character which is so prominent in Isocrates (e.g., Too 1995) and his admirer, Dionysius of Halicarnassus (e.g, Hidber 1996; Wiater 2011); the importance of speeches as carefully crafted representations of the speaker’s character (e.g., Gunderson 2003; Gleason 1995); the significance of exempla as guidelines for the readers’ own attitudes and behaviour, both in historiography and oratory (e.g., Rutherford 1994; Pownall 2004), and the philosophical conceptions of self-hood and character that have often influenced authors’ believes about character and (self-)representation (e.g., Gill 1996, 2006).
This conference aims to contribute to this lively debate and further elucidate the intersections of reading/ writing and ethics and morals in ancient thought. In particular, we hope to explore new aspects to the question by shifting the focus of the debate from the authors and their strategies of self-representation to the different ways in which texts of various genres involve the readers into ethical and moral issues.
Drawing on a wide variety of different genres of both Greek and Latin texts, the contributions to this conference seek to explore the numerous ways in which narratives intersect with moral and ethical questions and controversies. Some guiding questions include:
• how did ancient authors – philosophers and authors of literary texts but also political communities as “authors” of inscriptions – conceive of the moral and ethical implications of their texts?
• in what different ways do texts raise moral and ethical issues and controversies and prompt readers to engage with and take a stance towards them?
• which are the ethical and moral issues that are raised through these different narrative strategies?
• can we achieve a more precise understanding of how they imagined their texts would shape or inform their readers’ characters? Can we go beyond the familiar concept of imitatio/ μίμησις that corresponds to the use of exempla and other overt, ‘didactic’, elements in ancient texts?
• which elements of ancient texts and narratives apart from direct authorial statements contribute to prompting the reader to create an ‘ethical profile’ of the author?
For registration, a full programme, and further information please go to
Do not hesitate to contact me (nw23(at) or our conference assistant Mrs Margaret Goudie (classcon(at) with any questions.
Best wishes,
Nicolas Wiater

via Classicists: reminder – The Byzantine Republic

The Byzantine Republic

A round-table discussion with Benet Salway, Dennis Stathakopoulos, and
Anthony Kaldellis
June 4th, 6pm, University College London, Gordon House, room 106.

Although Byzantium is known to history as the Eastern Roman Empire,
scholars have long claimed that this Greek Christian theocracy bore
little resemblance to Rome. Here, in a revolutionary model of Byzantine
politics and society, Anthony Kaldellis reconnects Byzantium to its
Roman roots, arguing that from the fifth to the twelfth centuries CE the
Eastern Roman Empire was essentially a republic, with power exercised on
behalf of the people and sometimes by them too.The Byzantine Republic
recovers for the historical record a less autocratic, more populist
Byzantium whose Greek-speaking citizens considered themselves as fully
Roman as their Latin-speaking “ancestors.”
Kaldellis shows that the idea of Byzantium as a rigid imperial theocracy
is a misleading construct of Western historians since the Enlightenment.
With court proclamations often draped in Christian rhetoric, the notion
of divine kingship emerged as a way to disguise the inherent
vulnerability of each regime. The legitimacy of the emperors was not
predicated on an absolute right to the throne but on the popularity of
individual emperors, whose grip on power was tenuous despite the
stability of the imperial institution itself. Kaldellis examines the
overlooked Byzantine concept of the polity, along with the complex
relationship of emperors to the law and the ways they bolstered their
popular acceptance and avoided challenges. The rebellions that
periodically rocked the empire were not aberrations, he shows, but an
essential part of the functioning of the republican monarchy.

For information contact Valentina Arena: v.arena​ AT ​