Cicero’s De Oratore

In this first reading of Cicero’s De Oratore, the concept of delivery in rhetoric seems to be locus.

From the texts of Cicero, rhetorical scholars have learned the story of the Greek Demosthenes. When Demosthenes was asked his opinion of what constituted the most important element of rhetoric, he three times repeated one word: “delivery, delivery, delivery” (Duncan, 2006, p. 84). Nothing additional has survived regarding Demosthenes’ thinking on delivery, and his answer remains a mystery in terms of what may have informed his conclusion as to the critical nature of delivery. In De Oratore, Cicero meditated on Demosthenes’ assertion; Cicero noted that he had observed how“many poor speakers have often reaped the rewards of eloquence because of a dignified delivery, and many eloquent men have been considered poor speakers because of awkward delivery” (p.347). Based on Demosthenes’ observation, Cicero theorized that:“If, then, there can be no eloquence without this [delivery], and this without eloquence is so important, certainly its role in oratory is very large” (p. 347). In this work, delivery is clearly of foundational importance to rhetoric. Composing for Recomposition: Rhetorical Velocity and Delivery by Jim Ridolfo and Danielle DeVoss

I am curious about comparing Cicero to Aristotle on how they describe delivery and its impact on rhetoric. I focused in on two sections—”The Requirements of an Orator” and “Conventional Oratorical Training” due to an interest in Cicero’s discussion of delivery both in terms of a natural talent and something resultant from practice.

rhetoric as natural gift

  • natural talent is the chief contributor to the virtue of oratory
  • on the art, not the principles and method that are wanting but inborn capacity
  • intelligence and talent: invention, exposition and embellishment, recollection
  • cannot be bestowed by art but must be granted by nature
  • art can give polish – through instruction one can become better
  • “any blunder that may be committed eclipses even those other things that are praiseworthy”
  • “we have to picture to ourselves in our discourse an orator from whom every blemish has been taken away, and one who moreover is rich in every merit”
  • “the greater an orator’s capacity, the more profoundly nervous he was” due to
    • fate of a speech not in accordance with wish sometimes
    • orators judged harshly; out of sorts interpreted as stupidity (compares to orators receiving harsh judgment than actors)
  • characteristics of orator: demand the subtlety of the logician, the thoughts of the philosopher, a dicition almost poetic, a lawyer’s memory, a tragedian’s voice, and the bearing almost of the consumate actor
  • “For attributes which are commended when acquired one apiece, and that in but modest degree, by other craftsman in their respective vocations, cannot win approval when embodied in an orator, unless in him they are all assembled in perfection”

rhetoric as skill from practice

  • requires enthusiasm and something like the passion of love
  • “Yet assuredly endeavours to reach any goal avail to nothing unless you have learned what it is which leads you to the end at which you aim”
  • described as habitual method
  • described training or rehearsal (embodied performance)
  • duty of an orator is to speak in a style fitted to convince; that every speech has to do with the investigation of a general question (no persons or occasions indicated) or with a problem (concerned with specific individuals and times); inquiry into a deed done, its character, its classification, whether it was done lawfully, whether there is ambiguity or contradiction
  • prescribed commonplaces to deploy in courts
  • all activity and ability of orator falls into five divisions: hit upon what to say; manage discoveries not merely in order but with “discriminating eye for the exact weight as it were of each argument”; adornments of style; keep guarded in memory; deliver with effect and charm
  • five divisions: invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery
  • must secure goodwill of audience
  • must state case
  • must define dispute
  • must establish allegations
  • must disprove other side
  • “and in our peroration expand and reinforce all that was in our favour, while we weakened and demolished whatever went to support our opponents”
  • “there is a certain practical training that you must undergo…learn beforehand and practise, by a training like that for games, what will have to be done in the fighting-line, so to speak, of the courts”

A Bubblines visualization from Voyant Tools that represents the frequency of indicated words in the text by bubble radius. I read Cicero’s text for: practice, invention, delivery, style, arrangement, memory, style, habit, talent, art, gift, skill, education, training with curiosity in perhaps visualizing how delivery was described (something as natural gift or talent or learned skill) as well as how often the five divisions of rhetoric appear.

Cicero appears to bring anxiety, doubt, and poor performance (means don’t achieve end) into his discussion of delivery, something that seems absent in other historical texts we have read on performing rhetoric. What effect does this have on rhetoric as oration? How does this impact rhetorical training? Does this make space for rhetorics that aren’t hinged on oral/language performance alone?

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