Historical Rhetorics/Cicero's Public and the Greek Tradition

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Chapter Six: Cicero's Public and the Greek Tradition[edit | edit source]

  • Cicero, On Oratory, Books One, Two, and Three

Reading Notes / Lecture Material[edit | edit source]

Cicero. On Oratory and Orators. Trans. J. S. Watson. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1970.

Ralph A. Micken's Introduction[edit | edit source]

Micken testifies to Cicero's "lost" importance (xiv), and increasing invective against him: "Cicero has been condemned on the grounds of style, called an Asian, a wordmonger, accused of being fascinated with his own verbosity, a stylistic show-off"(xv). Much of this invective can be traced back to the Enlightenment's preoccupation with a "plain" style.

A deeper criticism of Cicero regards whetheItalic textr he offers rhetorical theory anything original or merely collects and repeats the work of others. Is there anything new in Cicero?

On the characters: Crassus is essentially Cicero, but so too, might Antony and Scaevola represent some of Cicero's skepticisms toward oratory (xvi).

Mickens on the political climate of Cicero's Rome (the transition from the republic to the empire):

If we accept the theory so often advanced that rhetoric prospers and burgeons in times when society is free, and reaches its greatest heights when freedom is being threatened, an ambitious orator could scarcely have hoped for a more favorable time (xvii)

Mickens traces Cicero's successes and failures (and eventual demise). The short version: Cicero often chose to back the wrong horse.

Mickens notes Isocrates' influence on Cicero (xx), and concludes: "In summary, one may say that Cicero, having reviewed the theory of rhetoric in terms of its functions and methods and having examined it in all of its ramifications, returns to the Isocratic emphasis. To Cicero, rhetoric was training for leadership." (xlix)

We can debate how accurate this assessment actually is; my feeling is that Cicero places much more emphasis on philosophy than Isocrates would have cared to--Isocrates seems, to me, to be reflected in Antony's discussion of philosophy in Book II. But Crassus in Book I and III seems to demand far more depth in (Platonic, Socratean) "philosophy" than I Isocrates (although here we might debate whether Crassus' philosophy is Platonic or Isocratic--what does it mean to study "every thing that relates to human life" (207).

Of interest to me was Mickens' swipe at Quintilian; he writes, in regards to Cicero's insistence upon philosophy and technique: "How can we emphasize adequately the philosopher-statesman concept without neglecting the admittedly less attractive but still very important matters of language and oral presentation? Cicero did not solve this problem in his day but his comments are useful. Shortly Quintilian was found not to be so insistent upon philosophy for the orator, and the rhetoricians of the empire for the most part soon turned away to the empty stylized approach. There might be a warning here for the scholars of the second half of this century with all of our communications theory, behavioral modifications studies, and narrowly focused research projects based upon statistics" (xxvii).

Mickens has an interesting note on the default social constructionism of ancient Rome (see the Duncan quote xxvii-xxviii). The 20th century's work on social construction, and 21st century work on network theory (such as ANT) or even OOO can be seen as recovering this "default" knowledge of how language, relations, and objects "create and sustain social bonds" (xxviii).

Thinking about the Speakers[edit | edit source]

Mickens covers this in the introduction, I think--Crassus is the Idealist Cicero; Antonius the younger Cicero (author of De Invention).

Is There Anything New in Cicero?[edit | edit source]

See the Meador write up below): possible responses:

  1. Critique of Greek learning (specifically, the breaking up of learning into different disciplines)
  2. Lack of attention to politics
  3. Emphasis on writing as a method for training

What is Eloquence?[edit | edit source]

Of importance: the question of whether oratory can exist without philosophy? Crassus might put this question otherwise: "should philosophy (and history, disputation, physics) exist without oratory?" Zach: "Does philosophy matter without oratory?"

Cicero to his brother, setting the stage for Crassus vs. Scaevola/Antonius: "I consider eloquence to be the offspring of the accomplishments of the most learned mean; but you think it must be regarded as independent of elegant learning, and attributable to a peculiar kind of talent and practice" (pg. 7, I.ii)

There's two ways to think through this question: 1) what is the techne of oratory (components, etc); and 2) what is the scope of rhetoric (purpose, its place in the intellectual pantheon).

The Scarcity of Great Orators[edit | edit source]

Perhaps an early version of the "Johnny Can't Write" article, Cicero notes in his letter to his brother how few effective speakers there are--stressing that there are even fewer orators than poets (pg. 9, I.iv; this is a theme throughout the book, the proximity between poetry and oratory, see pg. 199). See below for Crassus' remarks on the learning required of the orator--which leaves little doubt as to why there are so few of quality.

Populist vs Elitist[edit | edit source]

Throughout On Oratory, Cicero is cautious to endorse a "Gorgian" view of style and discourse; much of Crassus and Antony's debate circles around how obscure the orator's reading list should be. In Book III, Crassus makes his rejection of academic audiences quite clear, and remarks that style should be seen in places, but shouldn't overwhelm a discourse. An early indication of the tension that will permeate the text comes in Cicero's discussion of the scarcity of great orators:

"This ought to seem to more wonderful, as attainments in other sciences are drawn from recluse and hidden springs; but the whole art of speaking lies before us, and is concerned with common usage and the custom and language of all men; so that while in other things that is most excellent which is most remote from the knowledge and understanding of the illiterate, it is in speaking even the greatest of faults to vary from the ordinary kind of language, and the practice sanctioned by universal reason" (pg 9, I.iv).

Antonius's response to Crassus' call for the great Ideal orator; and language reserved for "academic" conversations versus "the tumults of the city and forum" (pg. 26, I. xviii). Antonius rejects the necessity of studying philosophy and defines the scope of the orator as: "I account him a good speaker who could express his thoughts with accuracy and perspicuity, according to the ordinary judgement of mankind, before an audience of moderate capacity; but I considered him alone eloquent, who could in a more admirable and noble manner amplify and adorn whatever subjects he chose, and who embraced in thought and memory all the principles of every thing related to oratory" (pg 29-30, I.xxiv). Notice Antonius' version of eloquence circles around style (amplification, adornment) and does not, as does Crassus's, relate to substance.

Responding to Antonius, Crassus strives to "keep myself under such restraint as not to seem to speak like a master, or artist, but like one of the number of private citizens, moderately versed in the practice of the forum, and not altogether ignorant" (pg. 33, I.xxiv).

Crassus: "Your retired lucubrations must be exposed to the light of reality" (pg. 44 I.xxxiv).

The Value and Scope of Oratory[edit | edit source]

Cicero holds that oratory played a central role in the elevation of Rome over other cities and states (pg. 9, I.iv).

Cicero, channeling Isocrates: "For it is by this one gift that we are most distinguished from brute animals, that we converse together, and can express our thoughts by speech" (p. 14, I.ix). Cicero continues to argue that it is speech that assembled humans into cities, generated laws and social institutions, and helped us articulate laws and rights.

Cicero also acknowledges "the Q Question" ("I could cite more instances of mischief than of benefit done to the public affairs by men of eminent eloquence" (p. 15, I.ix). But Cicero argues that such danger is the result of a lack of training--for those well-versed in philosophy and wisdom would be inoculated against such mischief. Hence, there is an Aristotelian ring to Cicero here--to study rhetorical means of persuasion is also to build up a measure of resistance to them.

One of the first catalogues comes from Cicero himself in the opening to Book I:

A knowledge of a vast number of things is necessary, without which volubility of words is empty and ridiculous; speech itself is to be formed, not merely by choice, but by careful consideration of words, and all the emotions of the mind, which nature has given to man, must be intimately known; for all the force and art of speaking must be employed in allaying or exciting the feelings of those who listen. To this must be added a certain portion of grace and wit, learning worthy of a well-bred man, and quickness and brevity in replying as well as attacking, accompanied with a refined decorum and urbanity. Besides, the whole of antiquity and a multitude of examples is to be kept in the memory; nor is the knowledge of laws in general, or of the civil law in particular, to be neglected. And why need I add any remarks on delivery itself, which is to be ordered by action of body, by gesture, by look, and by modulation and variation of the voice, the great power of which, alone and in itself, the comparatively trivial art of actors and the stage proves, on which though all bestow their utmost labor to form their look, voice, and gesture, who knows not how few there are, and have ever been, to whom we can attend with patience? [...]
Let us, then, cease to wonder what is the cause of the scarcity of good speakers, since eloquence results from all those qualifications, in each of which singly it is a great merit to labor successfully; and let us rather exhort our children, and others whose glory and honor is dear to us, to contemplate in their minds the full magnitude of the object [oratory], and not to trust that they can reach the height at which they aim, by the aid of precepts, masters, and exercises, that they are all now following, but to understand that they must adopt others of a different character. (pg 10-11, I.v)

Let us add to the list of precepts, masters, and exercises, notions of standardized examinations, rubrics, and inter-relator reliabilities. Antonius rails against the rule books (pg. 27, xviii), but he aligns the rule books with the an over emphasis on philosophy. Note, too, that Cicero's use of "rhetorician" seems to echo the ancient Greek word for "sophistry."

In the beginning of Book I, the skeptic Scaevola articulates a more modest scope for rhetoric than the one expressed by Cicero in the opening introduction (and the one articulated by Crassus throughout the rest of the Book). For Scaevola, the study or rhetoric pertains to juridical matters, in which "the cause you plead shall seem the better and more probable that in public assemblies, and in delivering opions, your oratory shall have the most power to persuade; that, finally, you shall seem to the wise to speak with eloquence, and even to the simple to speak with truth" (p. 17, I.xi).

Responding to Scaevola's depiction of the orator (above), Crassus wonders: "But if you allow nothing to belong to the orator but to speak aptly, ornately, and copiously, how can he even attain these qualities without that knowledge which you do not allow him? For there can be no true merit in speaking, unless what is said is thoroughly understood by him who says it" (p. 18, I.xi). "For what savors so much of madness, as the empty sound of words, even the choicest and most elegant, when there is no sense or knowledge contained in them?" (p. 19, I.xii). Later, Crassus directly refutes Socrates' critique of Gorgias in the Gorgias dialogue:

What Socrates used to say, that all men are sufficiently eloquent in that which they understand, is very plausible, but not true. It would have been nearer truth to say that no man can be eloquent on a subject that he does not understand; and that, if he understands a subject ever so well, but is ignorant of how to form and polish his speech, he can not express himself eloquently even about what he understands" (pg. 22, I.xiv).

For Crassus, the scope of oratory isn't merely juridical; although I think this point is a bit more implicit than explicit. Crassus: "For the proper concern of an orator, as I have already often said, is language of power and elegance accommodated to the feelings and understandings of mankind" (pg. 20, I.xvii).

Crassus on the scope of learning: "I am of this opinion, that no one is to be numbered among orators who is not thoroughly accomplished in all branches of knowledge requisite for a man of good breeding" (pg. 24, I.vi). Interesting here is the follow up, redargind how one recognizes the subtle traces of training (interesting because of Crassus's close to the dialogue, and his comment regarding Antony that "he did not offend me so much when he pulled our civil law to pieces, as he amused me when he professed himself ignorant of it" (pg. 82, I.lxii; see also Crassus's comment "I am not certain whether you are not really of another opinion, and whether you are practicing upon us your wonderful skill in refutation" (pg. 81)). Resonances, here, of Crassus's comments regarding Plato as a rhetorician, defacing rhetoric?

For Crassus, the role of the orator is akin to a technical writer; s/he penetrates into the specialized learning of the expert enough to speak on the "subject with variety and copiousness" (pg. 21, I.xiii). Antonius gives us a WAC sensibility: "but as an orator can speak best of all men on subjects that belong to other arts, if he makes himself acquainted with them (as Crassus observed yesterday), so the professors of other arts speak more eloquently on their own subjects, if they have acquired any instruction from this art" (pg. 92, II.ix).

For Crassus, thorough study of philosophy and psychology are requisite to oratorical training, since it is only by "a thorough insight into the nature of mankind, and all the passions of humanity, and those causes by which our minds are either impelled or restrained" that the orator can "effect its object by eloquence" (p. 19, I. xii). (See also I.xv, see Antonius's challenge to this program of study, pg. 37 Ixxviii).

A difference, then: Scaevola's orator is confined to the courtroom. S/he is interested in effecting a decision. Cicero's orator is distributed among all the institutions of the commonwealth. S/he is interested in promoting action.

Crassus on the power of oratory: pg. 60 (I.xlvi); another stress upon the ability of the orator to defend herself from enemies (contra Socrates in the Apology) and to move the passions of audiences.

Cicero's Response to Plato[edit | edit source]

Crassus's notes that Plato "seemed to me to prove himself an eminent orator, even in ridiculing orators. A controversy indeed on the word ORATOR has long disturbed the minute Grecians, who are fonder of argument than of truth" (p. 18, I.xi).

Crassus notes that the ancient teachers of language were also teachers of morality; he, like Antonius, traces an opposition to academia for academia's sake; the proper channel for learning and intellectual energy is the polis (see pg 207-208, III.xv). Cicero/Crassus's chief villain, Socrates, who inspired "that divorce, as it were, of the tongue from the heart, a division certainly absurd, useless, and reprehensible, that one class of persons should teach us to think, and other, to speak, rightly" (pg. 209). Note, too, the Crassus vigorously opposes the divorce of philosophy from the realms of everyday discussion.

But Crassus seeks to restore the study of oratory to its pre-Socratic roots, as a meta-discipline that governed more than juridical proceedings. (see pg 212, III.cxix). Crassus:

"The real power of eloquence is such, that it embraces the origin, the influence, the changes of all things in the world, all virtues, duties, and all nature, so far as it affects the manners, minds, and lives of mankind. It can give an account of customs, laws, and rights, can govern a state, and speak on every thing relating to any subject whatsoever with elegance and force" (pg. 213-14, III.cxxi).

Crassus frames his project (and one must think Cicero is loud here), as stealing back ancient wisdom from those who original stole it--see pg. 227, III.cxxxi). Part of this is a program of study that we might call interdisciplinary, one that would re-unite learning and challenge the breaking up of learning into discrete, stand-alone subjects (see 229, III.cxxxiii, the distribution of the sciences).

The Study of Oratory[edit | edit source]

Like Isocrates, Crassus argues that "nature and genius in the first place contribute most aid to speaking [...] for there ought to be certain lively powers in the mind and understanding, which may be acute to invent, fertile to explain and adorn, and strong and retentive to remember; and if anyone imagines that these powers may be acquired by art (which is false, for it is very well if they can be animated and excited by art; but they certainly can not by art be ingrafted or instilled, since they are all gifts of nature)..." (pg. 34, I.xxiv). Here again, the premises behind No Child Left Behind, that every child can succeed and that lack of success must indicate a systemic problem, are called into question by Cicero's Crassus.

The study of oratory, for Crassus, is grounded not only in natural ability, but also in authentic desire; he tells the young Cotta: "What do you think is wanting to you, Cotta, but a passionate inclination, and a sort of ardor like that of love, without which no man will ever attain any thing great in life, and especially such distinction as you desire?" (pg. 39, I.xxx).

One important element of Crassus's pedagogy is his thoughts on writing (see pg. 42, I.xxxiv). Essentially, writing makes us slow down and think. Cicero's discussion of writing here lines up nicely with Ong's "Writing is a Technology That Restructures Thought," it shows how the medium of writing came to influence the expectations of public speech. What would Crassus have us write? Praise, interpretation, correction, censure, refutation (pg. 44, Ixxxiv). Over and over and over again. In Book II, Antonius also calls for an imitative pedagogy (see pg. 107).

Along with writing as practice, Crassus insists upon a very broad course of reading; this course grounds the studias humanitas, or Humanities--acting, military strategy, Greek, poetry, history, sciences, disputation, civil law, antiquity, politics. To this list Crassus later adds the more "philosophical" arts (he stresses that these are not agreed on by everyone, everywhere, as were the others:

If you think it scarcely worthy my age to listen to those ordinary precepts, commonly known every where, can we possibly neglect those other matters which you said must be known by the orator, respecting the dispositions and manners of mankind, the means by which the minds of men are excited or calmed, history, antiquity, the administration of the republic, and finally, or our own civil law itself? (pg. 46, I.xxxvi).

There is then a long discussion of civil law as one of the hearts of what the orator must wield, most of the examples demonstrate the power of stasis theory. It also testifies to the influence of Aristotelian ontology, since much of Crassus/Cicero's articulation of civil law operates via ontological definition.

Crassus: "Let, then, the end proposed in civil law be the preservation of legitimate and practical equity in the affairs and causes of the citizens" (pg. 55, I.cxlii).

An interesting element in Crassus--he seems to refuse the idea that one can be taught (though he very much believes that one can learn), see especially pg 61, I.xlvi)

Note that Antonius steps back from Crassus's Ideal (and unrealistic?) depiction of the orator (see pg. 64-71); a few highlights from Antonius's response to Crassus:

"Our friend Crassus seemed to me to define the faculty of an orator, not by the proper limits of his art, but by the almost immense limits of his own genius" (pg. 64)
"...it is necessary for a good orator to have heard and seen much, to have gone over many subjects in thought and reflection, and many also in reading; though not so as to have taken possession of them as his own property, but to have tasted of them as things belonging to others. For I confess that the orator should be a knowing man, not quite a tyro or a novice in any subject, not utterly ignorant or inexperienced in any business of life" (pg. 65-66)
"for us who are engaged in so busy a state, and such occupations in the forum, it is sufficient to know and say just so much about the manners of mankind as is not inconsistent with human nature" (pg. 66).

Antonius resumes this line of argument toward the end of his speech, noting that Crassus' long litany of requirements would have " a greater tendency to deter than to encourage" (pg. 80, I.clxi). In fact, I would argue that is Cicero/Crassus's point: the idea is to attract only the most dedicated to the craft of oratory, and to scare away those looking for an easy ride.

Antonius represents the pragmatist and the populist; he continues:

But the orator, by his eloquence, represents all those things which, in the common affairs of life, are considered evil and troublesome, and to be avoided, as heavier and more grievous than they really are; and at the same time amplifies and embellishes, by power of language, those things which to the generality of mankind seem inviting and desirable; nor does he wish to appear so very wise among fools as that his audience should think him impertinent or a pedantic Greek, or, though they very much approve his understanding, and admire his wisdom, yet should feel uneasy that they themselves are but idiots to him; but he so effectually penetrates the minds of men, so works upon their senses and feelings, that he has no occasion for the definitions of philosophers, or to consider in the course of his speech 'whether the chief good lies in the mind or in the body';" [...] but we seek something of a far different character; we want a man of superior intelligence, sagacious by nature and from experience, who can acutely divine what his fellow-citizens, and all those whom he wishes to convince on any subject by his eloquence, think, feel, imagine, or hope" (pg. 67 I.clii)

Antonius is clear that reading Plato is something to do behind closed doors, and that Plato's imaginary community is far removed from the proper audience of the orator (not only above, but also at pg. 70, I.clv).

A passage in Book II sheds some light on Antonius's sense of reading:

[...] my custom is to read these books, and some others, when I have leisure, not to hunt for any thing that may improve me in speaking, but for my own amusement. What profit is there from it, then? I own that there is not much; yet there is some; for as, when I walk in the sun, though I may walk for another purpose, yet it naturally happens that I gain a deeper color; so, when I have read those books attentively at Misenum (for at Rome I have scarcely opportunity to do so), I can perceive that my language acquires a complexion, as it were, from my intercourse with them. But, that you may not take what I say in too wide a sense, I only understand such of the Greek writings as their authors wished to be understood by the generality of people. (pg 98, see also his resistance to philosophy and poetry, 99).

To see Antonius's resistance to logicians (deconstructive philosophy, represented by Diogenes):

For our mode of speaking is to be adapted to the ear of the multitude, to fascinate and excite their minds, and to prove matters that are not weighed in the scales of the goldsmith, but in the balance, as it were, of popular opinion; we may therefore entirely dismiss an art which is too silent about the invention of arguments, and too full of words in pronouncing judgement on them. (II.cxxxviii)

Note that Crassus repeats this objection, in less forceful terms, in Book III, in regards to Stoic philosophy and even the descendants of Socrates and Plato, for "if we should adopt their notions [that there is nothing certain to be known], we should never be able to expedite any business by speaking" (pg. 211).

Crassus and Antonius charge us with the question: "to what extent can oratory exist without philosophy?" (see pg. 71, I.civ). In the introduction to Book II, Cicero comes down clearly on the side of Crassus: "It is pertinent, however, to the treatise which I have commenced, and to this portion of it, to remark, that no man could ever excel and reach eminence in eloquence without learning, not only the art of oratory, but every branch of useful knowledge" (pg. 84, II.i).

Also, Antonius characterizes Aristotle as someone who profoundly recognized the power of rhetoric yet, at the same time, considered it "beneath him."

Much of Book II covers the elements of oratorical practice. There is a lot of familiar Greek notions here (and one new one, stasis theory, articulated below). Some other highlights from Antonius:

"Thus the whole business of speaking rests upon three things for success in persuasion: that we prove what we maintain to be true; that we conciliate those who hear; that we produce in our minds whatever feeling our cause may require" (pg. 114). What is missing?

Book II's (unfortunately long?) discussion of humor, see as representative page 157.

The use of strategic digression, pg. 175

Crassus's response to Antonius in Book III warrants attention. Crassus stresses that, given the power of the orator to influence public action, s/he must be held to the highest of standards. Clearly, while Cicero might (in the voice of Antony) be skeptical of Plato's rampant elitism, he is not (in the voice of Crassus) opposed to the rigor of studies to be adopted by oratorical-philosopher kings. Crassus:

On my authority, therefore, deride and despise all those who can imagine that from the precepts of such as are now called rhetoricians they have gained all the powers of oratory, and have not yet been able to understand what character they hold, or what they profess; for indeed, by an orator, everything that relates to human life, since that is the field on which his abilities are displayed, and is the subject for his eloquence, should be examined, heard, read, discussed, handled, and considered; since eloquence is one of the most eminent virtues; and though all the virtues are in their nature equal and alike, yet one species is more beautiful and noble than another; as is the power, which comprehending a knowledge of things, expresses the thoughts and purposes of the mind in such a manner, that it can impel the audience whithersoever it inclines its force; and, the greater its influence, the more necessary it is that it should be united with probity and eminent judgement; for if we bestow the faculty of eloquence on persons destitute of these virtues, we shall not make them orators, but give arms to madmen. (pg. 207).

Nascent Social Construction?[edit | edit source]

I borrow this heading from McComiskey's explication of Gorgias. I believe Crassus's response to Antonius (in Book III), his insistence upon style as substantive, echoes the Gorgian/McComiskean/Latourian emphasis on discourse sustaining reality (note: this does not mean that reality is discursive, as we stressed in our discussions of Gorgias). To what extent does Crassus embody Protagoras's fragment? Crassus:

Antonius, when he assumed to himself the part of speaking upon those matters which form the subject of the orator's speech, and left me to explain how they should be embellished, divided things which are in their nature incapable of separation; for as every speech consists of the matter and the language, the language can have no place if you take away the matter, nor the matter receive any illustration if you take away the language. Indeed, the great men of antiquity, embracing something of superior magnificence in their ideas, appear to me to have seen farther into the nature of things than the visual faculties of our minds can penetrate; as they said that all these things, above and below, formed one system, and were linked together in strict union, by one and the same power, and one principle of universal harmony in nature; for there is no order of things which can either of itself, if forcibly separated from the rest, preserve a permanent existence, or without which the rest can maintain their power and eternal duration. (pg. 197-98, III.v)

In simpler form: "thoughts cannot be made to shine without the light of language" (pg. 199, III.vi).

Stasis Theory[edit | edit source]

Crassus proceeds to provide Cotta with an outline of study; the long passage in I.xxxi provides an overview of the major elements of Roman rhetoric. Note: Crassus later stresses that none of this outline is "new" (in other words, he is simply highlighting the basics). Distinct to Cicero (since we did not explicitly hit upon this in our study of the Greeks), is his discussion of stasis theory:

first, it is the business of an orator to speak in a manner adapted to persuade; next, that every speech is either upon a question concerning a matter in general, without specification of persons or times, or concerning a matter referring to certain persons or times. But that, in either case, whatever falls under controversy, the question with regard to it is usually, whether such a thing has been done, or, if it has been done, of what nature it is, or by what name it should be called; or, as some add, whether it seems to have been done rightly or not. (pg. 40, I.xxxi).

Antonius discusses stasis a bit more in Book II, adding:

There are in all, therefore, three sorts of matters which may possibly fall under doubt and discussion--what is now done, what has been done, or what is to be done; what the nature of a thing is, or how it should be designated; for as to the question which some Greeks add, whether a thing be rightly done, it is wholly included in the inquiry what the nature of the thing is" (pg. 114, II.cxxviii).

Crassus goes into more depth regarding conjectural stasis in Book III:

But to conjecture they return again, and divide it into four kinds; for the question is either, "what a thing is" as "whether law among mankind is from nature or from opinions?" or "What the origin of a thins is," as "What is the foundation of civil laws and governments?' or the cause and reason of it; as if it is asked "Why do the most learned men differ upon points of great importance?" or as to the possible changes in any thing; as if it is disputed "Whether virtue can die in men, or whether it be convertible into vice?" (there is more here, too, on definition and consequences, see pg. 225, III.cxxix).

Richard Lanham, in his Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, explicates: "Cicero argued that the whole matter [stasis, issue, schematizing what an argument was about] was contained in three questions: does it exist? (Sitne?); what is it (Quid sit?); what kind of thing is it? (Quale sit?). For Lanham, this is the root of the modern "journalist's litany, Who? What? When? Why? Where?" (93). Lanham credits Hermagoras with articulating four different types of theses related to stasis:

  1. conjectural, dispute over a fact, was the deed done?
  2. definitional, dispute over a definition, what KIND of deed was done?
  3. qualitative, dispute over the value, quality, or nature of an act, was it a LEGAL deed?
  4. translative, dispute over moving the issue from one court of jurisdiction to another, are we trying the case in the right court. (94)

Each of these theses emphasizes a different mode of evidence--for instance, a conjectural thesis seeks to present physical evidence. A definitional or translative thesis, however, will need to provide discursive evidence (to demonstrate the legitimacy of a definition based on standards already established). A qualitative thesis is the most open to exploring circumstantial evidence, since it often makes contextual justifications for negative definitions. Think of defending a wife accused of murdering an abusive husband. Clearly, stabbing him in the chest is murder in the eyes of the law books--the discursive/textual frameworks--but can be qualified as self-defense and thus valued as a justified act. Similarly, qualitative arguments can change the ways in which we define things.

Is Oratory an Art (or Science)?[edit | edit source]

Note that Crassus rejects the idea that oratory is an art (by which word he means, in more modern language, "science," see pg. 33, I.xxiv). Recall Isocrates's similar discussion in Antidosis, wherein he charges that one of the great mistakes of the sophists is that they claim to treat what is a vital "art" as an exact "science." Ultimately, and a swipe at Plato, Crassus reminds us that while the question of whether oratory is an art isn't inconsequential, "we must understand that there are other things of more consequence for the attainment of eloquence" (pg. 33, I.xxiv).

Cicero and Style[edit | edit source]

While the discussion of style is generally dominant in Book III, it shows up in Book I as well; Crassus: "one thing there will certainly be, which those who speak well will exhibit as their own; a graceful and elegant style, distinguished by a peculiar artifice and polish" (pg. 19, I.xii). Peculiar strikes as a perhaps peculiar word here (but think through the great orators of the 20th century--can't we "hear" them in terms of style?).

Crassus reminds us that reading is about more than just learning content: "A certain intellectual grace must also be extracted from every kind of refinement, with which, as with salt, every oration must be seasoned" (pg 45, I. xxxiv).

Of note, Antonius's mocking of sophistry, pg. 90, II.iv.

What is important to Crassus, in Book III, is that we recognize that there is no one style--rather, there are many styles. The great orators, self-directed individuals, learn to cultivate their own style (even if, as both Crassus and Antonius suggest, they begin their studies via direct imitation). (see 201, that each teacher learn to discern the tendencies and potential of each individual student).

Crassus's discussion of style is linked to the term "gracefully": "Him who speaks distinctly, explicitly, copiously, and luminously, both as to matter and words, who produces in his language a sort of rhythm and harmony; who speaks, as I call it, gracefully. Also, there is the key word congruity--the ability to match content and form to audience (this echoes some of Antonius's concerns about speaking to a general audience). See page 207, III.cxiv.

Crassus argues that style shouldn't be overwhelming, a little bit goes a long way (pg. 219-220, III.cxxv).

Amplification is at the core of oratorical style (pg. 222, III.xxviii).

Worthy of Note[edit | edit source]

Cicero's discussion of how fear can be productive, how the good orator recognizes the "difficulties of speaking," by recognizing how much is at stake (pg. 35-36, I.xxvi).

Crassus, reflecting on the connections between the Twelve Tables and the philosopher's disputations:

"For from these we perceive that virtue is above all things desirable, since honest, just, and conscientious industry is ennobled with honors, rewards, and distinctions; but the vices and frauds of mankind are punished by fines, ignominy, imprisonment, stripes, banishments, and death; and we are taught, not by disputations endless and full of discord, but by the authority and mandate of the laws, to hold our appetites in subjection, to restrain all our passions, to defend our own property, and to keep our thoughts, eyes, and hands, from that of others" (pg 57, cxliv).

Crassus on Aristotle's disdain for Isocrates, see 232-233 (III.xxxv).

Relevant Secondary Sources[edit | edit source]

Professor Margaret D. Zulick has compiled a collection of sources dedicated to Cicero.