Cicero's de Oratore and Horace's Ars Poetica

By George Converse Fiske; Mary A. Grant | Go to book overview
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Humanly speaking, the perfect orator, (or the perfect poet) is the one who in his works most perfectly realizes the result of a nice adjustment between the conflicting claims of φύσις, μελέτη, and ἐπιστήμη. Platonically (and Stoically speaking) the perfect orator (or the perfect poet) is an ideal brought down from the austere heights of philosophy to the shifting lights and shadows of rhetoric and poetics. The mediating doctrine of τὸ πρέπον here also exercises a strong influence between the world of ideas, of absolutes, of perfection, and the imperfect, failing, struggling, and aspiring world of human effort. As we have seen one of its facets is turned toward the world of Platonic absolutes, viz., τὸ πρέπον κατὰτὴν σοφίαν, the other toward the changing world of man, τὸ πρέπον πρός ἕκαστον πρόσωπον καὶ πρα + ̑γμα.1 Cicero recognizes this two-fold orientation for the orator and Horace for the poet. Thus in the introductory chapters of the Orator 3-6 Cicero expresses the difficulty of describing the perfect orator and the fear that the very attempt may deter worthy aspirants. He remembers, however, that even in the case of philosophy, a λόγος πρὸς τὸ πρα + ̑γμα, the sweep of Plato did not deter Aristotle, hence the doctrine of the utility or at least the permissibility of the mediocris orator in the field of oratory, which is after all a λόγος πρὸς τοὺς ἀκροατάς, and which is therefore addressed to the passions, thoughts, and emotions of the multitude. But what of the malus orator and the malus poeta, and are the fields of poetry ripe for the gleaning of the mediocris poeta as those of oratory are for the mediocris orator? I wish first to consider in this final chapter the whole question of the difference in orientation between poetry and oratory; second to consider what results this difference of orientation has upon the activities of the

Cf. my Cicero's Orator and Horace's Ars Poetica, pp. 49 ff.


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