It is difficult to imagine a rhetorical situation in which one’s own life is at stake. I can only wonder if Savonarola had any regrets as he was tortured, and then hanged, and then burned at the stake. That’s literally overkill. This isn’t trivializing the situation, either; this is trying to make sense of the kairos: a world where people are not only willing to kill other people for heretical disagreement, people are seemingly equally willing to die defending their disagreement.
The genre, as designated by the introduction to the sermon, is that of a “Feast of Ascension.” The holiday commemorates the 40th day after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to mark the day he ascended back into heaven after his resurrected ministry. It appears that this holiday was marked by some level of frivolous extravagance, to where Savonarola felt the need to speak on that day, at that time.
When Savonarola starts: “I am oppressed in all things,” he intends to appeal to the senses of similarly minded people. He anticipates an audience who can relate to that situation, and say: “Wow, you know what? I feel pretty oppressed, myself. Let’s hear this out.”
An additional insight into Savonarola’s rhetorical stance is demonstrated by his self-identification to the story of Balaam and the ass. This biblical reference not only reflects Savonarola’s ethos as a preacher of the Word, but he is giving theological context to his plight to evoke pathos from his audience. It is quite evident that he is appealing to a Catholic audience, people of religious circumstance. It is quite an evocative setting, then, to identify himself as a sort of humble servant, the metaphorical ass as the parallel to Biblical text. He seeks to identify himself as a very apparent opposite to the decadence that he so openly condemns before him.