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Chain of Gold

Chain of Gold

Greek Rhetoric in the Roman Empire

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Susan C. Jarratt


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
220 pages, 6 x 9, 6 illustrations


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  • Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Table Of Contents

About the Book

Barred from political engagement and legal advocacy, the second sophists composed and performed epideictic works for audiences across the Mediterranean world during the early centuries of the Common Era. In a wide-ranging study, author Susan C. Jarratt argues that these artfully wrought discourses, formerly considered vacuous entertainments, constitute intricate negotiations with the absolute power of the Roman Empire. Positioning culturally Greek but geographically diverse sophists as colonial subjects, Jarratt offers readings that highlight ancient debates over free speech and figured discourse, revealing the subtly coded commentary on Roman authority and governance embedded in these works.
Through allusions to classical Greek literature, sophists such as Dio Chrysostom, Aelius Aristides, and Philostratus slipped oblique challenges to empire into otherwise innocuous works. Such figures protected their creators from the danger of direct confrontation but nonetheless would have been recognized by elite audiences, Roman and Greek alike, by virtue of their common education.  Focusing on such moments, Jarratt presents close readings of city encomia, biography, and texts in hybrid genres from key second sophistic figures, setting each in its geographical context. Although all the authors considered are male, the analyses here bring to light reflections on gender, ethnicity, skin color, language differences, and sexuality, revealing an underrecognized diversity in the rhetorical activity of this period.
While US scholars of ancient rhetoric have focused largely on the pedagogical, Jarratt brings a geopolitical lens to her study of the subject. Her inclusion of fourth-century texts—the Greek novel Ethiopian Story, by Heliodorus, and the political orations of Libanius of Antioch—extends the temporal boundary of the period. She concludes with speculations about the pressures brought to bear on sophistic political subjectivity by the rise of Christianity and with ruminations on a third sophistic in ancient and contemporary eras of empire.


Susan C. Jarratt, a professor emerita of comparative literature at the University of California, Irvine, is a past president of the American Society for the History of Rhetoric and a past editor of Rhetoric Society Quarterly. She is the author of Rereading the Sophists: Classical Rhetoric Refigured and a coeditor of Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words and Unruly Rhetorics: Protest, Persuasion, and Publics.


"[Jarratt] achieves her goals as a scholar and a Sophist, providing readings of the period that many academics will consider more useful, necessary, and persuasive than the conclusions of 30 years ago."—A. P. Church, CHOICE

“It will no longer be possible to read Greek literature from the Roman era without referring to Chain of Gold. This book will be a landmark in the history of rhetoric and in the history of Roman imperialism. It initiates a fascinating discussion with implications for our own political issues.”—Laurent Pernot, former president of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric, author of Rhetoric in Antiquity

Chain of Gold is not only an essential contribution to scholarship on Greek rhetoric in the Roman Empire; it is an exploration of the nature, limits, and, above all, possibilities for rhetoric in an age of empire. As such, it is critical reading not only for historians of rhetoric but for all who are concerned with the state of speech before authoritarian powers.”—Ned O’Gorman, editor, Journal for the History of Rhetoric

“With theoretical subtlety and historical sensitivity, Jarratt brilliantly develops a form of rhetorical analysis precisely calibrated to the distinctive character of Greek rhetors as colonized subjects under the Roman imperium. Carefully argued and engagingly written, Chain of Gold is revisionary rhetorical history at its very best.”—Steven Mailloux, author of Rhetoric’s Pragmatism: Essays in Rhetorical Hermeneutics