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From Antiphon to Autocue: Speechwriting Ancient and Modern (25-26 April 2013)

Posted on 07/04/2013

London 25-26 April 2013

The role and importance of professional speech-writers in modern Western political life has been the focus of increasing attention over the past three decades. Recently, there has been a surge of interest especially in the collaborative processes involving front-line political figures who deliver the speeches as if they were their own and their ghost-writers who often work in teams. 

The phenomenon of the ghost-written speech is not new, however. In classical Greek rhetorical theory the challenges facing a ‘professional’ speech-writer were recognized and discussed at least as early as the 5th c. BC and the term logographos (‘speech-writer’) was used in a derogatory sense in Attic oratory from the 4th c. BC. At the same time a number of individuals acquired fame and fortune through the practice of speech-writing and the survival of a substantial part of the corpus of Classical Greek Oratory is due to this fact. 

In antiquity there was a strong link between direct democracy with its requirement that people in positions of responsibility and influence address thousands of people on a regular basis. Some of these were seasoned participants in political debates, but others, not least high-ranking military officials, would not necessarily have the skills or expertise to perform successfully without a ghost-written speech. The phenomenon was also known in the Roman world: e.g. the emperor Nero had some of his speeches written by Seneca.

Most of the evidence that we have for the actual practice of ghost-writing are the extant speeches themselves. For that reason, a series of questions pertaining to the interaction between ghost-writer and client have often been raised, but modern discussions so far have been largely inconclusive. What has not been attempted in modern scholarship is the application of a comparative approach that seeks to formulate new questions to be asked of the ancient material, while at the same time investigating modern practice in a historical perspective. 

The two-day conference (25-26 April 2013) entitled ‘From Antiphon to Autocue’ will bring together a range of scholars specializing in ghost-writing ancient and modern as well as a number of modern practitioners in order to examine cross-cultural and diachronic aspects of the practice.

For the conference programme, registration, conference venue, and contact details see the conference website


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