The Roman World of Cicero's de Oratore

The Roman World of Cicero's de Oratore

The Roman World of Cicero's de Oratore

The Roman World of Cicero's de Oratore

Synopsis

The Roman World of Cicero's De Oratore aims to provide an accessible study of Cicero's first and fullest dialogue, on the ideal orator-statesman. It illustrates the dialogue's achievement as a reflection of a civilized way of life and a brilliantly constructed literary unity, and considers the contribution made by Cicero's recommendations to the development of rhetoric and higher education at Rome. Because Cicero deliberately set his extended conversation in the generation of his childhood teachers, a study of the dialogue in its historical setting can show how the political and cultural life of this earlier period differed from Cicero's personal experience of the collapse of senatorial government, when the overwhelming power of the "first triumvirate" forced him into political silence in the last decade of the republic. After an introductory chapter reviewing Cicero's position on return from exile, chapters include a comparative study of the careers of M. Antonius and L. Licinius Crassus, protagonists of the dialogue, a discussion of Cicero's response to Plato's criticisms of rhetoric in the Gorgias and Phaedrus, and his debt to Aristotle's Rhetoric, analysis of the dialogue's treatment of Roman civil law, existing Latin literature and historical writing, Strabo's survey of the sources and application of humor, political eloquence in senate and contio, theories of diction and style, and the techniques of oral delivery. An epilogue looks briefly at Cicero's De re publica and Tacitus' Dialogus de oratoribus as reflections on the transformation of oratory and free (if oligarchic) republican government by debate to meet the context of the new autocracy.

Excerpt

This book is largely the result of my years of offering the study of De Oratore in graduate courses on Ciceronian rhetoric. I have been blessed in some extraordinarily good students, who are already established teachers, and I could probably have learned more from them than I actually did. But those years reinforced my conviction than De Oratore was a brilliant and beneficial work and a marvellous key to Roman life and values in the late republic. in recent years it has been enriched with the distinguished multivolume philological commentary of Anton Leeman and Harm Pinkster, which most individuals and hardly any libraries can afford. It should be noted that the fifth volume, now approaching completion, will appear in English with the same publishers. Jakob Wisse, the editor of this volume, has already combined with James May to produce a fine new translation Cicero: On the Ideal Orator (Oxford, 2001) equipped with first-class introduction and annotation. But there is a wider audience out there who may not be able to benefit fully from either work: besides the graduate students in classics who were my inspiration, there are scholars of Roman history or Latin literature without a background in classical rhetoric, just as many scholars of rhetoric have areas of expertise far from the culture of the Roman republic. I would also hope that I can encourage students of Cicero’s work by supplementing Cicero’s idealized picture of the older generation with an account of his own career, techniques, and practice: in some respects his experiences in the decade after the apogee of his consulship in 63 offer a striking, even depressing contrast with the conduct of political life in the 1990s: I would like modern readers of this book to come away with a picture of that world as close to Cicero’s own as possible.

If Cicero’s perspective was limited by his own privileged circumstances as well as his times, he is still manifestly an honest observer who also tries to maintain some standards of integrity in his actions, as much in his misguided attempt to hold back Caesar’s land policies as in his fiscal correctness as a reluctant provincial governor and his efforts to reconcile Caesar and Pompey as they duelled for supreme power at Rome. There is such universal . . .

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