Cicero When He Was Sexy

“…eloquence without wisdom is often most mischievous…” the young and later self-condemned Cicero writes –appropriately – from de Inventione; for who isn’t inventing themselves at twenty-one- years- old? Cicero goes on to talk about eloquence and make me curious if what he actually means is rhetoric until he answers and defines that for me in part V of Book I:  “A very great and extensive portion of it is artificial eloquence, which men call rhetoric.” And again the note, the battle of the powers of The Word (Volosinov reference, English 515) to persuade – that eloquence is wielded for both evil and for good. It seems Cicero and maybe every rhetorician ever has pondered on this morality in rhetoric. The first few weeks of this classical rhetoric class I was finding it a bit taxing – but then as I assign the rhetorical analysis paper in my English 101 class and am reminded and I teach of the ways news stations, ads, speeches and damn near everything has a rhetoric – that is to say, how often rhetoric is used for unethical purposes. And, as Lacey pointed out in presentation last week, the unethical use of anger and calmness dichotomy (Aristotle) in our everyday rhetorical lives.

And speaking of Aristotle, thank the gods for Cicero. He is, it seems in reading his work and also Wikipedia on Cicero, the reason we have a nice concise version of Aristotle’s Rhetoric to begin with. From Book I part VII, the canons:

“And these are the divisions of it, as numerous writers have laid them down: Invention; Arrangement; Elocution; Memory; Delivery. Invention, is the conceiving of topics either true or probable, which may make one’s cause appear probable; Arrangement, is the distribution of the topics which have been thus conceived with regular order; Elocution, is the adaptation of suitable words and sentences to the topics so conceived; Memory, is the lasting sense in the mind of the matters and words corresponding to the reception of these topics. Delivery, is a regulating of the voice and body in a manner suitable to the dignity of the subjects spoken of and of the language employed.

…But we consider that the man who writes a treatise on the art of rhetoric ought to write about two other subjects also; namely, about the materials of the art, and about its divisions. And it seems, indeed, that we ought to treat of the materials and divisions of this art at the same time.”

He ends with stated invention as the most important canon. Makes sense seems how the title is de Inventione.

Another part that stood out to me in this text is that once again, it would seems the problems or complaints of academia – at least that I have – are super duper old:

“For of those who are worthy of fame or recollection, there is no one who appears either to have said nothing well, or everything admirably. So that it seemed folly either to forsake the sensible maxims brought forward by any one, merely because we are offended at some other blunder of his, or, on the other hand, to embrace his faults because we have been tempted by some sensible precept which he has also delivered” (Book II.ii).

And of our main man, Aristotle (and oh that we could have an Aristotle the next generation!) that, “…he has disentangled them with great diligence and explained their difficulties.” Quintilian called for reading and lot of it but hold on, only the good stuff. Aristotle perhaps did not bother with that but instead, according to young and learning (and restless?) Cicero, provided us with something Quintilian would value reading.

One thought on “Cicero When He Was Sexy”

Comments are closed.