Cicero on Practical Rhetoric

Cicero and his followers associated rhetoric with the art of practical politics. (Cicero got this idea from Isocrates). His ideal orator was one who had encyclopedic knowledge and who obeyed the tenets of civil prudence. St. Augustine followed Cicero’s idea about practical oratory, applying it to religion.

Cicero wrote four essays on oratory with De Inventione being the first. In it he indicate five procedures that make up oratory: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory and Delivery. A second essay, De oratore, was a handbook of good oration; a third Brutus, contains his description and history of Roman oratory, and a in a fourth, Orator, is his discussion of what it takes to be an ideal orator.

De Oratore (on oratory) is, in turn, divided into three books. The first is about the qualities of the orator the second about judicial oratory, and the third about ceremonial and deliberative oratory. Orator is lengthy essay on the relationship between law, philosophy, and rhetoric. Cicero argues that the best orator is one who is able to stir the emotions of his audience. In order to be an accomplished orator one must also lead an exemplary life, take a leading role in politics, and instruct others in oratory.

Cicero’s canons of rhetoric included the following:

In Cicero’s words:

Invention is the discovery of valid or seemingly valid arguments to render one’s cause plausible. Arrangement is the distribution of arguments thus discovered in the proper order. Expression (that is, elocutio,--Cicero’s term for style) is the fitting of the proper language to the invented matter. Memory is the firm mental grasp of matter and words. Delivery is the control of voice and body in a manner suitable to the dignity of the subject matter and the style. (from Cicero, De Inventione, 1, 7, 9, Trans. H. M. Hubbell, 1949).

Cicero, De Inventione (1949) H. M. Hubbell translator.Cambridge, MA: The Loeb Classical Library.