Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Roman Oratory Before Cicero

I've been reading an interesting book lately, Rhetoric at Rome; A Historical Survey by M.L. Clarke. Here are some highlights from chapter IV- Roman Oratory Before Cicero:

The age of the Gracchi, with its clash of ideals and personalities, was conducive to high and excited political oratory. The two brothers were famous for their eloquence; Cicero, in spite of his disapproval of the uses to which it was put, cannot forbear to praise[1]

Cicero recalls a passage of one of Gaius’s speeches: ‘Quo me miser conferam? quo vertam? in Capitoliumne? at fratris sanguine madet. an domum? matremne ut miseram lamentantem videam et abiectam?’ [2] Cicero’s theme is the importance of actio, and he tells us that Gaius’s eyes, voice and gestures when uttering these words were such that even his enemies could not refrain from tears…

On the other hand Cicero could give Gaius lessons in rhythm. Take that sentence, he says, From Gracchus: ‘Abesse non potest quin eiusdem hominis sit probos improbare qui improbos probet.’ How much better if he had written ‘qui improbos probet probos improbare.’[3] (pp 43-44)

The stoics believed in speaking the truth in plain words; they eschewed ornament and emotional appeal. Their style, says Cicero, was a meagre one, hardly calculated to win popular applause.[4] How true this was shown by the experience of Rutilius Rufus. As a good Stoic he expressed the strongest condemnation of such theatrical tricks as had won Galba acquittal,[5] and when he was himself accused, quite unjustly, of maladministration, he disdained to use such arts. He made no appeals to the mercy of the jury and would not allow more than the simple truth to be said in his defence.[6] ‘There were no groans or exclamations on the part of his advocates’ says Cicero, ‘no expression of grief or indignation, no appeals to the commonwealth, no supplication; why no one stamped his foot, for fear, I suppose, that the Stoics might hear of it.’[7] (p 45)

Wit as a weapon of oratory belongs to the Roman tradition. So no doubt does pathos. ‘Demosthenes’, wrote Swift, ‘who had to deal with a people of much more Politeness, Learning and Wit, laid the greater weight of his oratory upon the Strength of his Arguments offered to their Understanding and Reason. Whereas Tully [i.e. Cicero] considered the Disposition of a sincere more ignorant and less mercurial Nation by dwelling almost entirely on the Pathetick Part.’[8] Whether this analysis of national character is correct or not, the pathetic is a note which sounds stronger in Roman than in Greek oratory. It sounded at full blast in Antonius’ defence of Aquilius, when he contrasted the former glories of the consul and triumphant commander with his present piteous and precarious condition, displayed his client in person, sorrowing and dressed in mourning, tore open his shirt and showed his wounds.[9] (pp 47-48)

[1] De Oratore I. 38, Brutus 103, De Hauspicum Responsis 41. In early life Cicero was more favourably disposed to the politics of the Gracchi. In De Inventione (I.5) they are bracketed with Cato, Laelius and Africanus as men in whom was ‘summa virtus et summa virtute amplificata auctoritas et quae et his rebus ornamento et rei publicae praesidio esset eloquentia.’
[2] De Oratore III .214, fragment 58 Malcovati, Oratorum Romanorum Fragmenta Liberae Rei Publicae. Cf. Quintilian XI. iii. 115
[3] Cicero, Orator 233
[4] Cicero Brutus (id) 114
[5] Cicero De Oratore I. 228
[6] De Oratore 237-230 Brutus 115. One of his advocates was Q. Mucius Scaevola, also a Stoic, whose sober legal judgements proved ineffective against Crassus’s mockery in the causa Curiana. See p. 47.
[7] De Oratore I 230. Other Stoic orators were Q. Aelius Tubero, whose mode of speaking, according to Cicero, matched the harshness and uncouthness of his life (Brutus 117, De Officiis III. 63), Mummius (Brutus 94, cf De Republica V. 11) and Fannius (Brutus 101).
[8] A letter to a Young Gentleman lately enter’d into Holy Orders.
[9] Cicero De Oratore II. 195.

5 comments:

Nick said...

Hi Joel. Nice post. Sounds like the Stoics are overweighting logos. Cicero was big into the ethos of the speaker (ie their character and credibility) as well as pathos.
Nick

jm said...

Glad you found it interesting, though it's completely unoriginal, just quotes from a good book. There'll be more to come, too...

You're right about the stoics; Cicero recounts this particular example as a criticism of their rhetoric, i think.

Emma Barlow said...

Hi Mr. Mo...long time no speak...it's Emma :) (2006 Latin, in case I'm just that forgettable, lol.) So I meant to email you when I started uni again (yes, I'm a first year again this year!) but then uni got in the way of me doing anything but uni work. Sorry! But anyway, now I have a moment to tell you: I'm totally doing Intermediate Latin and my teacher is totally Dexter Hoyos. How funny is that. For that matter, how funny is he!! (And I'm so glad I finally know where your handwriting comes from... :P) He asked us all what schools we went to, and when I told him, he said, "Ooh, Joel Morrison! Excellent!" And he gave you a big thumbs-up. Teeheehee. We're doing Cicero's In Catilinam I. It's so hard, having not done any in two years, but I'm stuggling through. And I'm also doing Spanish, Italian and French, so I'm teetering on the brink of insanity :) How's this year's lot of HSC n00bs going? As good as we were? :P

Vale!

Emma

jm said...

hi emma, fantastic to hear from you. Dexter is great- i learnt a lot from him at uni and i'm sure you will too. the latin will come back quickly, and the french too, and with those two already i'm sure you'll find italian and spanish a snap. i'm quite jealous actually- i'd love to study italian properly some day. anyway, all the best!

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