The (in)congruence of theory and practice in Greek oratory

greek oratory

Generously supported by University College, Oxford, the Open University, the Jowett Copyright Trust, and the Faculty of Classics.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric is generally held to be the defining handbook of Greek rhetorical theory, at least during the Classical period. Taken in tandem with texts such as those of Gorgias and Anaximenes, a set or sets of organising principles for understanding Greek oratory can arguably be compiled, and these are often used by modern scholars when studying ancient speeches. And yet some of the most prominent practical examples of rhetoric, the corpus of the Attic orators, often diverge from the tenets of the theorists in notable ways, including by blending recognised genres, disrupting structural expectations, or seeking to provoke unusual responses from listeners. Even between the theorists, there are disagreements as to the features of correct and effective speechwriting. In this conference, we hope to explore the congruence, or lack of it, between Greek rhetorical theory and oratorical practice.


Tuesday, 12 September 2023, 10 Merton Street Lecture Room, University College.

9-9.30 Arrival and refreshments / Opening remarks

9.30-11: Session 1

Lene Rubinstein (Royal Holloway, University of London): Disrupting structural expectations: rhetorical theory versus oratorical practice

Linda Rocchi (University of Copenhagen): ‘See you in court’: personal enmity and public spiritedness in rhetorical arguments

11-11.30: Tea/coffee

11.30-1: Session 2

Eleni Volonaki (University of the Peloponnese): Proems of forensic speeches: theory and practice

Rosalia Hatzilambrou (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens): ‘… πως πίλογος λλ μ λόγος ’: the  epilogue in fourth-century rhetoric and forensic oratory

1-2: Lunch (Butler Room)


2-3.30: Session 3

Bill Allan (University College, Oxford): Aristotelian emotions and the Attic orators

Matteo Barbato (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin): Emotions, delivery and the law in Attic Oratory

3.30-4: Tea/coffee


4-5.30: Session 4

Chris Kremmydas (Royal Holloway, University of London): Ethos in Attic oratory: between theory and practice

Kerry Phelan (Maynooth University): A modest proposal: subtle character construction in Demosthenes’ forensic speeches

6.30 pm Pre-dinner drinks (Fellows’ Garden)

7.15pm Conference Dinner (Alington Room)


Wednesday, 13 September 2023, 10 Merton Street Lecture Room, University College.

9-9.30 Arrival and refreshments

9.30-11: Session 5

Christine Plastow (Open University): Deliberative trials: judging the future in Athenian forensic rhetoric

Katherine Backler (Trinity College, Oxford): Lysias 8: a speech without a genre

11-11.30: Tea/coffee


11.30-1: Session 6

Guy Westwood (Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford): Oratorical image-making in theory and practice

Giulia Maltagliati (Clare Hall, Cambridge): Rhetoric of clarity - clarity of rhetoric: oratory, vagueness, and ambiguity

1-2: Lunch (Butler Room)

2-3.30: Session 7

Chris Carey (University College London): Political oratory in and out of democracy: convergence, divergence and implications

Jud Herrman (Allegheny College): Menander Rhetor and Athenian funeral orations

3.30-4: Tea/coffee


4-5.30: Session 8

Martina Astrid Rodda (Merton College, Oxford): Lucian's characters as orators: rhetoric, reception, and embodiment

Alessandro Vatri (Durham University): Demosthenes' prose rhythm from Hermogenes to McCabe (and beyond)

5.30-6: Closing Remarks

A special rate of £5 for registration (including refreshments and lunches) and £5 for dinner is available to all students (regardless of University) and to other members of the University of Oxford and the Open University.

Otherwise, registration costs £10 and includes refreshments and lunch on both days. There is a separate charge of £20 for the conference dinner.


To register, please go to:

For further information, please contact the conference organizers:

Professor Bill Allan (

Dr Christine Plastow (