APULEIUS' SPEECH STENOGRAPHED? (Florida 9.13)'
text published in: Classical Quarterly 51, 2001, 321-4
In the collection of fragments of speeches by Apuleius of Madauros that has come down to us as the Florida[i] some pieces have attracted the special attention of scholars. Among them is Fl. 9, in which Apuleius delivers a tour de force of oratorical display. The climax of the speech is a piece of flattering praise of a proconsul of Africa on his departure from office (9.30-40). This praise is reached by two preliminary sections that deal with different themes. The first of these (9.1-13) is devoted to the speaker himself. In a clear instance of polemics, as in the earlier pieces Fl. 3; 4; and 7, he tries to gain the sympathy of the audience, by pointing to the difficult situation he finds himself in: expectations are high in case of a man of great talents,[ii] and so he cannot make the slightest error of language or style. For like a proconsul's texts (such as edicts), his words are unalterable.
The second part (9.14-29) develops a detailed, positive portrait of the sophist Hippias, focusing, rather surprisingly, on his various manual skills in making clothes and instruments. This forms an easy starting-point for a second piece of self-praise of the speaker and his literary talents, now no longer veiled but as outright and open as possible (9.27-9).
There is an intriguing passage at the end of the first section (9.13). Having pictured the contrast between a proconsul's messenger (praeco), who runs around and makes loud proclamations, and the proconsul himself, who is sitting quietly and issuing written decrees that will be unalterable, the text continues:
'Patior et ipse in meis studiis aliquam pro meo captu similitudinem; nam quodcumque ad uos protuli, exceptum ilico et lectum est, nec reuocare illud nec autem mutare nec emendare mihi inde quidquam licet.'
('I personally suffer something similar for my own part in my studies; for whatever I have brought before you, is immediately taken down and read, and I cannot withdraw it, nor change or correct anything from it.')
The passage is commonly considered as important testimony for the presence of stenographers in 2nd century courts. Sitting among the large audience, they apparently took down the speaker's words during his performance and put the material to circulation in written form, without prior consent of the author.[iii] On the basis of this interpretation, some scholars have argued that Apuleius' self-defence known as the Apology was such a product, literally taken down by stenographers from the speaker's words.[iv]
At first sight, this interpretation of Fl. 9.13 seems plausible, since the earlier passages in that context have actually dealt with the 'oral' production of speech, including the speaker's risk of being criticized for errors in pronunciation (9.6-7). The Latin words used by the speaker certainly allow us to see a reference to stenographers here, since the verb excipere can be used as a technical term for 'taking down spoken words'.[v] Particularly in the later period of the Roman empire, the activity of exceptores (or notarii) is well documented,[vi] but there is evidence too in earlier authors, such as Cicero.[vii] Notably, in Quint. Inst. 7.2.24, the Roman professor disclaims speeches made by notarii in his name: nam ceterae, quae sub nomine meo feruntur, neglegentia excipientium in quaestum notariorum corruptae minimam partem mei habent.[viii] Meanwhile, such independant activity of stenographers acting against the will of the speaker seems to have been uncommon.[ix]
There is one major problem. This interpretation of Fl. 9.13 is based on the reading exceptum, that is found in some of the lesser MSS.[x](10) However, it is not the reading of our main MSS FΦ, which have excerptum. Following the general approach of most scholars, notably of the Groningen Apuleius Group,[xi] we can defend this reading of F, since it makes good sense.
With excerptum the sense would be rather different, in that the reference would be to written speeches by Apuleius, that were somehow brought into circulation in abbreviated or fragmentary form. As a matter of fact, the words quodcumque ad uos protuli can perfectly well refer to the publication of written speeches.[xii] The immediately preceding example in Fl. 9 of the proconsul and his tabella, contrasted with his praeco and his voice, seems to point to a written text, since Apuleius clearly models himself on this proconsul. Moreover, he will shortly be referring to his various opera (9.14), a term by which he surely points to the different books he has composed.
So the reference seems to be to persons in the audience threatening to make other use of Apuleius' literary output against his will: illegal excerptors. The words atque lectum seem perfectly natural after excerptum: 'whatever I bring into circulation is immediately excerpted and read.'[xiii]
There is ample evidence for the practice of making excerpts from books or speeches.[xiv] In Apuleius' time, we read about making extracts in the correspondence of Fronto and Marcus Aurelius; cf. e.g. Fronto (Loeb-ed. Haines) I,p.14 and p.138; in some instances, master and pupil seem to have exchanged excerpts; cf. I,p.80 and p.302. As Gellius' Noctes Atticae shows, a collection of abstracts could even become the basis of a publication; cf. Gel. pr. 2 Usi autem sumus ordine rerum fortuito, quem antea in excerpendo feceramus. Nam proinde ut librum quemque in manus ceperam seu Graecum seu Latinum uel quid memoratu dignum audiebam (...) indistincte atque promiscue annotabam; further e.g. 17.21.1.[xv]
The noun excerptor does not occur elsewhere in the Latin of antiquity (TLL has no entry), but this is nothing unusual in the Fl., since the collection bristles with rare words and neologisms. Among new formations in -tor, we may note modificator (4.1), dilector (9.32), piator (15.20), nuncupator (15.22), opitulator (16.9), and oblectator (17.15).[xvi]
In defending excerptum, we no longer have an early reference to stenographers publishing literary works. But excerptum raises some interesting questions too, that are of hardly less relevance for our knowledge concerning literary publication. In the larger context of the Florida as a whole, the word is particularly striking, since the work is most likely a collection of excerpts,[xvii] brought together by an unknown person. It is interesting to speculate about the significance of Apuleius' complaint about illegal excerpts itself being included in a collection of excerpts.
If Fl. 9.13 indicates that excerpts of Apuleius' speeches circulated even during his lifetime, it becomes tempting to assume that the Florida itself were composed at an early stage, perhaps already in Apuleius' own time and in his entourage.[xviii](18) Could it be that his present complaint did not so much discourage as
stimulate his excerptors?[xix]
[i]. For recent work on the Florida,
see B.L. Hijmans jr., 'Apuleius orator: "Pro se de Magia" and
"Florida"', ANRW 2.34.2 (1994), 1708‑84; further
Gerald Sandy, The Greek world of Apuleius, Apuleius & the Second
Sophistic (Leiden, 1997), passim); Stephen Harrison, Apuleius: a Latin
Sophist (Oxford, 2000) 89-135. Both a new translation and a complete
commentary on the Florida are in course of preparation. For the
former, see Stephen Harrison, John Hilton, Vincent Hunink, Apuleius of
Madauros, Rhetorical works (Apol, Fl. Soc.), (Oxford, 2000) (forthc.);
for the latter: Vincent Hunink, Apuleius of Madauros, Florida, edited
with a commentary (Amsterdam, 2001).
[ii]. The negative formulation as a
self-defence, implying the rhetorical topos of the speaker's 'problems' and
'lack of skills', in fact constitutes a piece of self-praise. Apuleius takes
pride in his linguistic skills elsewhere too; cf. notably Fl. 20.3-6;
and Apol. 38.5-6.
[iii]. Cf. notably the argument
developed by T.N. Winter, 'The publication of Apuleius' Apology', TAPA
100 (1969), 607‑12, at 612; further e.g. F. Gaide, 'Apulée de Madaure
a‑t‑il prononcé le De Magia devant le proconsul d'Afrique?', LEC
61 (1993) 227‑31, at 227n2; Konrad Vössing, Schule und Bildung im
Nordafrika der Römischen Kaiserzeit (Bruxelles 1997), 446-47 with note
1511, who also refers to alleged confirmation of the stenography notion in
"Apol. 55.5-7" (obviously a mistake, since that text deals
with other themes); further Sandy 1997 (n.1) at 131.
[iv]. For this theory, see notably
[v]. See examples in OLD s.v.
6; cf. also the more general sense of 'picking up, seizing upon' (idem s.v.
[vi]. See H.C. Teitler, Notarii and
exceptores, an enquiry into the role and significance of shorthand
writers in the imperial and ecclesiastical bureaucracy of the Roman empire
(from the early principate to c. 450 A.D.) (Amsterdam, 1985).
[vii]. Cicero's secretary Tiro is often
considered to have been the first Roman tachygrapher; see Teitler (n.6), at
172-3 with references. On shorthand in antiquity see also references in T.J.
Leary, Martial, the Apophoreta, text with introduction and commentary
(London, 1996), 276 on Mart. 14.208.
[viii]. To this may be added Suet. Jul.
55.6 on a speech falsely attributed to Caesar: 'Pro Quinto Metello' non
immerito Augustus existimat magis ab actuariis exceptam male subsequentibus
uerba dicentis, quam ab ipso editam.
[ix]. In his excellent study on the
publication and circulation of texts in Roman culture, Raymond J. Starr,
'The circulation of literary texts in the Roman world,', CQ 27
(1987), 213-23, also discusses the publication of texts by others. He does
not specifically refer to stenography during live performances nor to
excerpting written texts. Either practice, therefore, seems to have been
[x]. A survey of the MSS tradition of
Apuleius may be found at L.D. Reynolds, Texts and transmission
(Oxford, 1983), 15-9.
[xi]. For this approach, see e.g. B.L.
Hijmans, review of E.J. Kenney, Apuleius, Cupid & Psyche, Gnomon
67 (1995), 217-22.
[xii]. Cf. OLD s.v. profero
6 (of literary and artistic works).
[xiii]. In a different context, the two
verbs also appear together in Apol. 83.3 cum... epistulam istam
Rufinus mala fide excerperet, pauca legeret.
[xiv]. Cf. e.g. Plin. Ep.
3.5.10; 6.20.5; Quint. Inst. 7.1.29; 9.1.24 and 10.2.13.
[xv]. A curious, late testimony for
the phenomena of stenography and excerpting used in combination is Sid.Ap.
9.9.8 quid multa? capti hospitis genua complector, iumenta sisto, frena
ligo, sarcinas soluo, quaesitum uolumen inuenio produco, lectito, excerpo
maxima ex magnis capita defrustans. Tribuit et quoddam dictare celeranti
scribarum sequacitas saltuosa compendium...
[xvi]. See further Maria G. Ferrari,
'Aspetti di letterarietŕ nei Florida di Apuleio', SIFC NS 40 (1968),
85‑147 at 106-11.
[xvii]. Cf. in general Hijmans (n.1) and
Harrison (n.1), 89. Some of the longer Fl. may well be complete
speeches; such as Fl. 9 or 16. But this does not change the character
of the collection as such.
[xviii]. However, the traditional
division of the Florida into four books, as made in the MSS, remains
a problem here. The awkward demarcation between books 1 and 2 after Fl.
9.14, in the middle of a coherent speech, would seem to point to editorial
activities by others than Apuleius himself.
[xix]. I thank Dr. H.C. Teitler and Dr.
S.J. Harrison, who kindly commented upon earlier versions of this notice. Of
course they are not responsible for any of my arguments and contentions.
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