Okay! I know a lot of you were surprised that I missed celebrating Marcus Tullius Cicero’s 2113th birthday last week (January 3rd or 6th depending on which source you believe.). How could I overlook the greatest orator of ancient Rome?
Well, I hadn’t. It’s hard for me, as a speaker myself, to forget that Cicero’s career ended with his severed head and one hand being placed on the lectern where he had delivered many of his orations. It seems in Cicero’s case, his enemy, Marc Antony, wasn’t content with “lend me your ears.”
But while Ciceroing around the web, I discovered a
recent English language translation of his treatise, The Orator. When I have some time I’ll go through it and see what words of advice he offers for today’s speaking environments.
In the meantime, here is Cicero’s description of the three types of orators. See if you recognize these styles in any of today’s public figures.
The lofty and majestic Speaker, who distinguishes himself by the energy of his sentiments, and the dignity of his expression, is impetuous, diversified, copious, and weighty, and abundantly qualified to alarm and sway the passions; which some effect by a harsh, and a rough, gloomy way of speaking, without any harmony or measure; and others, by a smooth, a regular, and a well-proportioned style.
On the other hand, the simple and easy Speaker is remarkably dexterous and keen, and aiming at nothing but our information, makes every thing he discourses upon, rather clear and open than great and striking, and polishes it with the utmost neatness and accuracy. But some of this kind of Speakers,…are designedly unpolished, and appear rude and unskillful, that they may have the better opportunity of deceiving us.
But there is likewise a middle kind of Oratory, between the two above-mentioned, which neither has the keenness of the latter, nor hurls the thunder of the former; but is a mixture of both, without excelling in either, though at the same time it has something of each, or (perhaps, more properly) is equally destitute of the true merit of both. This species of Eloquence flows along in a uniform course, having nothing to recommend it....
(Translated by Michael S. Hart, © 2002)