Roman Eloquence: Rhetoric in Society and Literature

By William J. Dominik | Go to book overview

2

Ciceronian rhetoric: theory and practice

John T. Kirby

Let me begin with a word about the title I have chosen. The word 'rhetoric' is commonly used in both a stricter sense, that is, having to do with theory about (or the study of) discourse, and a looser, that is, as synonymous with discourse itself, or 'oratory'. In the brief space allotted to me here, I shall attempt to say something about Cicero's rhetoric in both senses. As for the term 'Ciceronian', I should say that I mean 'of Cicero' in the strictest sense; it is far beyond the scope of this collection to chart the course of the Ciceronian tradition in Renaissance (and later) rhetorics.


THEORY

Cicero himself was a voluminous writer on the topic of rhetoric, beginning with the De Inventione Rhetorica and spanning the rest of his adult life, to the late Orator in 46 BCE. It is important to remember that, in this lifelong enterprise, he was the heir of a cultural phenomenon that was firmly entrenched, elaborately institutionalized, and minutely codifed. Horace wrote, Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artis/intulit agresti Latio ('Captive Greece captured her fierce captor, and introduced the arts to hayseed Latium', Epist. 2.1.156-7); 1 and in no area of human endeavour was this truer than in that of rhetoric. Well before Aristotle began to work on his monumental Rhetoric-of which more below-the Greeks, and especially those in and around Athens, were absorbed (not to say obsessed) with the phenomenon of persuasive language, with its formalization in oratory, and with its theoretical abstraction in what came to be called rhêtorikê. Indeed this group of cultural practices stands fair to be considered one of the greatest achievements and

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