“Brutus, Orator” by Cicero

Brutus, Orator

As reason is the glory of man, so the lamp of reason is eloquence.

The Origin and History of Oratory

In “Brutus“, Cicero traces the origin and history of oratory in ancient Greece and Rome, and provides a concise and astute critique of various classes of individual orators, ranking their achievements in the five components of rhetoric (invention, arrangement, diction/expression, action/delivery and memory). Demosthenes is considered the greatest among the Greeks, Marcus Antonius and Lucius Crassus among the Romans.

In “Orator“, Cicero relates his own training and development as an orator, and describes the styles and practices of an Ideal Orator, with emphasis on euphony, symmetry and rhythm.

Cicero the Farmer

“I cannot undertake to repay you out of the new crop, as farmers do, for all new growth has been checked within me, and drought has burned and withered all that flowering which once promised abundance. Nor can I repay you from the garnered grain of my storehouse; it lies there in darkness and I who alone have the key find every approach to it cut off. I must therefore sow something in soil uncultivated and abandoned, and by careful cultivation make it possible to increase with interest the generosity of your gift; that is if my mind can respond as well as a field, which after lying fallow for many years generally yields a richer harvest.”

Judgment of a Good Orator

“There are three things which an orator should effect: instruct his listener, give him pleasure, stir his emotions. By what virtues in the orator each one of these is effected, or from what faults the orator fails to attain the desired effect, or in trying even slips and fails, a master of the art will be able to judge. But whether or not the orator succeeds in conveying to his listeners the emotions which he wishes to convey, can only be judged by the assent of the multitude and the approbation of the people. For that reason, as to the question whether an orator is good or bad, there has never been disagreement between experts and the common people, … There is however this difference, that the crowd sometimes gives its approval to an orator who does not deserve it, but it approves [what is offered] without comparison.

For just as from the sound of the strings on the harp the skill with which they are struck is readily recognized, so what skill the orator has in playing on the minds of his audience is recognized by the emotions produced. Thus the intelligent critic, not by patient sitting and attentive listening, but by a single glance in passing can often form a correct judgment of an orator.”

Cicero as a Model for Orator

Of [others] there was not one who gave the impression of having read more deeply than the average man, and reading is the well-spring of perfect eloquence; no one whose studies had embraced philosophy, the mother of excellence in deeds and in words; no one who had mastered thoroughly the civil law, a subject absolutely essential to equip the orator with the knowledge and practical judgement requisite for the conduct of private suits; no one who knew thoroughly Roman history, from which as occasion demanded he could summon as from the dead most unimpeachable witnesses; no one who with brief and pointed jest at his opponent’s expense was able to relax the attention of the court and pass for a moment from the seriousness of the business in hand to provoke a smile or open laughter; no one who understood how to amplify his case, and, from a question restricted to a particular person and time, transfer it to universals; no one who knew how to enliven it with brief digression; no one who could inspire in the judge a feeling of angry indignation, or move him to tears, or in short (and this is the one supreme characteristic of the orator) sway his feelings in whatever direction the situation demanded.

Figures of Thought

The whole essence of oratory is to embellish in some fashion all, or at any rate, most of the ideas.

The [ideal] orator will make frequent use of the following figures: he will treat the same subject in many ways, sticking to the same idea and lingering over the same thought; he will often speak slightingly of something or ridicule it; he will turn from the subject and divert the thought; he will announce what he is about to discuss and sum up when concluding a topic; he will bring himself back to the subject; he will repeat what he has said; he will use a syllogism; he will urge his point by asking questions and will reply to himself as if to questions; he will say something, but desire to have it understood in the opposite sense; he will express doubt whether or how to mention some point; he will divide the subject into parts; will omit or disregard some topic; he will prepare the way for what is to come; he will transfer to his opponent the blame for the very act with which he is charged; he will seem to consult the audience, and sometimes even with the opponent; he will portray the talk and ways of men; he will make mute objects speak; he will divert the attention of the audience from the point at issue; he will frequently provoke merriment and laughter; he will reply to some point which he sees is likely to be brought up; he will use similes and examples; he will divide a sentence, giving part to a description of one person, part to another; he will put down interrupters; he will claim to be suppressing something; he will warn the audience to be on their guard; he will take the liberty to speak somewhat boldly; he will even fly into a passion and protest violently; he will plead and entreat and soothe the audience; he will digress briefly; he will pray and curse; he will put himself on terms of intimacy with his audience. Moreover, he will aim at other desirable virtues, so to speak, of style: brevity, if the case demands; often also by his statement of the case he will make the scene live before our eyes; he will often exaggerate a statement above what could actually occur; his language will often have a significance deeper than his actual words; there will be passages in a lighter vein, and a portrayal of life and manners.

The Formation of a Thought

The outline of the thought is no sooner formed in the mind than the words begin to muster; and these the mind, the swiftest thing there is, immediately distributes so that each one falls into its proper place in the ranks, and the orderly line of words is brought to a close now with one, now with another rhythmical figure. And all the words both at the beginning and in the middle should look to the end. For in oratory sometimes the speed is swift, sometimes there is a slow and steady progress, so that at the very beginning you must consider how you wish to end the sentence.


3 thoughts on ““Brutus, Orator” by Cicero

  1. Pingback: Politics, Oratory & The Teleprompter: Cicero on the Orator | The Leather Library
  2. Pingback: The Leather Library / Politics, Oratory & The Teleprompter: Cicero on the Orator

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