When Professor of Eloquence Daniel Achrelius
started a speech, the audience held its breath. His poetic talents and
outspokenness earned him a reputation. Researcher Raija Sarasti-Wilenius
completed her doctoral thesis on the Latin epideictic speeches of Achrelius.
When Raija Sarasti-Wilenius talks about her research subject, Latin
orations written in Finland, the response of the audience is spontaneous:
"Most often people tend to think that well, there's not much to
research in there then."
The researcher wants to prove this a fallacy: there is abundant material,
which has simply been overlooked. "The Nordic countries have harboured
the idea that material written in Latin is of no national relevance.
Another reason is that historians have been unable to understand Latin."
Sarasti-Wilenius took part in a five-year project during which the
participants collected and studied Latin literature written in the Nordic
countries. The project resulted in an extensive Internet database and
a publication entitled The History of Nordic Latin Literature.
The materials took the researcher by storm. She regards the speeches
of Daniel Achrelius, written at the end of the 1600s when he was Professor
of Eloquence at the Royal Academy of Turku, as particularly interesting.
were a part of the Academy's traditions and the celebrations of the
circles close to it. Speeches dedicated to the royalty, nobility and
the members of the Court of Appeal and the Academy were delivered at
inaugurations, birthdays and funerals. According to the custom of that
day, they were also printed.
Feared master of eloquence
Achrelius became the protagonist of Sarasti-Wilenius' doctoral thesis.
She describes the professor
as a genuine renaissance person: he was not only a famous orator, but
also a poet, compiler of textbooks and a philosopher of the natural
Poetic talent made the professor famous. When the master of eloquence
spoke in the auditorium of the Academy, he attracted the most esteemed
audiences of Turku. The occasions were both anticipated and feared.
The Professor was famous for his frankness. This trait was a constant
source of difficulties; the man who did not mince his words was suspended
from his office more than once.
Sarasti-Wilenius points out that a certain degree of criticism was
unavoidable: "The 17th century guarded the principles
of Lutheran purity with jealousy, and the Catholic Church and the Pope
were harshly criticised. Achrelius could be explicitly nasty but in
the context this was allowable. This served to strengthen the unity
of the audience."
Criticism of the Lutheran Church was naturally banned. When the master
of eloquence accused the clergy of hypocrisy, Bishop Johannes Getzelius
thought he recognised himself in the speech, and once again, Achrelius
had to go.
Laudation orations emphasised virtues
The historical background of such orations dates back to the laudation
orations of classical times. Laudation orations not only praise the
object but also contain a moral point to educate the audience. According
to Sarasti-Wilenius, the pedagogical function is particularly well illustrated
in memorial speeches.
"The oration painted a picture of the person as an exemplary representative
of his kin or profession. There was no need to confine oneself to the
exact biographical information. The most important thing was that the
orator showed the audience the significance of the virtues. The underlying
thought was that virtue increases when praised."
Exaggeration and even extreme opinions were part of the style. The
manner in which Achrelius paid his respects to a late professor of theology
in his memorial speech might amuse an audience today: "Farewell,
you follower of Christ and the faithful interpreter of his Gospel, you
prophets and apostles, colleague of martyrs, king of the new Jerusalem;
farewell you star of the learned, you jewel of the pious, the newest
lamp of the newest light."
The virtues often emphasised _ Christian piety, justice and sensibility
_ are part of the moral-philosophical tradition of classical times.
Besides inner qualities, outward appearance was also praised: "It
was known in the classical world that a `handsome package' of a person
makes the virtue even more valuable."
Praise for knowledge and science was Achrelius' stock subject. The
of the nobility were a source of concern for the professor. "In
his textbook on rhetoric compiled for young aristocrats, Achrelius states
that being noble by birth is not enough, nobility has to be redeemed
The orators resorted to rhetoric freedom. Historians have occasionally
ignored that fact, and speeches have been read as biographical documents.
"Caution should be taken if the aim is to establish historical
facts from the speeches," says Sarasti-Wilenius. "Historians
should also be familiar with the Latinate tradition."
Speech as a status symbol
A speech emphasised the social status of the orator, and a printed
speech was, in particular, a much sought-after status symbol. This is
illustrated by the fact that people ordered laudation orations. "Some
even asked Achrelius to draw up their funeral speech."
The bourgeoisie imitated the nobility's custom of delivering speeches.
Latin was the language of the Academy, whereas Swedish was the language
of the middle classes. "Roughly speaking, Latin was the language
of the learned and the nobility. Swedish was the language of the bourgeoisie,
non-scholars and women."
In the 17th century, everyone studying at the Academy had
to learn eloquence. Delivering speeches in Latin was one of the basic
a learned man. In the 18th century, the status of Latin deteriorated
and was largely replaced by Swedish _ even in the Academy. Simultaneously,
the printing of speeches became rarer. In the process, eloquence was
gradually replaced by studies in the Latin language and Roman literature.
Can a contemporary researcher deliver a speech in Latin? Sarasti-Wilenius
ponders the question for a moment and says: "I had such a wonderful
master that by imitating him, drawing up a speech should not be that
Raija Sarasti-Wilenius: Daniel Achrelius' Latin Speeches and Rhetorical
Theory in Seventeenth-Century Finland. 261 pages. Helsinki 2000. ISBN