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This chapter examines the role of the storm as a setting for rhetorical performance in Roman epic, starting from the first simile of the Aeneid in which Neptun is compared to an orator and tracing its reception in Lucan and Silius. I argue that the orator in the storm becomes a key figure through which poets playfully question rhetoric’s claim to master the grand style that is traditionally assimilated to stormy natural phenomena. These scenes of “embedded” rhetorical performance provide a self-conscious commentary on rhetoric and its relation to poetry. Far from being “seduced” or “victimized” by rhetorical influence, poets address and react to the cultural narratives about poetry’s relation to rhetoric found in rhetorical texts, for example, in Cicero.
This chapter focuses on select scenes of deliberative oratory in Roman epic and on the figure of the demagogue who inhabits them - Thersites in the Iliad, Drances in Virgil’s Aeneid 11, Odysseus in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 13, Cicero in Lucan, Varro in Silius. Tracing the ways in which poets use these orators as foils for their generic rivals, I suggest that far from chanelling disapproval of rhetoric, these demagogues are truly hybrid figures, who leverage anti-rhetorical discourse while simultaneously claiming for poetry the same power and persuasiveness of rhetoric.
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