Thoughts of the greatness of Rome, and especially of its government, are likely to bring to mind the name of Cicero. Whereas a figure such as Julius Caesar may symbolize the military greatness of imperial Rome, the figure of Cicero is a symbol of Roman justice and law, of the Roman senate and its traditions, and of landmark strides in philosophy and literature. Cicero is important in literature primarily for his orations and his many writings about oratory and rhetoric. Through his writings Cicero set a pattern in public speaking that is still alive in Western culture. Moreover, on the bases of what he wrote and said and of the viewpoints he held and defended to the point of dying for them, Cicero became historically one of the great advocates of culture and conservatism.
Cicero took ten years to prepare himself as a lawyer before he appeared on behalf of a client in public. He believed that a thorough education is necessary for success in any activity. Some exponents of oratory have averred that manner is everything; Cicero disagreed, believing that matter is as inescapably a factor in oratorical success as manner. In the Orator (46 b.c.e.; English translation, 1776), one of his most mature pieces of writing on the art of oratory, Cicero wrote that his own success, like that of any orator, was more to be credited to his study of the philosophers than to his study of earlier rhetoricians, and that no one can express wide views, or speak fluently on many and various subjects, without philosophy. Although Cicero tried to make a science of rhetoric and saw profit in his own attempts at its systematization, he also realized that no simple set of formulas could ever make a great orator. As he put it, an eloquent person should be able to speak “of small things in a lowly manner, of moderate things in a temperate manner, and of great things with dignity.”
In Cicero’s time, one prevalent style in oratory was the Asian style. In the Asian type, Cicero himself discerned two subtypes, one epigrammatic and euphuistic, dependent on artful structure rather than on importance of content, and the other characterized by a swift and passionate flow of speech in which choice of words for precise and elegant effect was a dominant factor. Cicero found both styles wanting in some degree and built his own style on an eclectic combination of the two.
Fifty-eight speeches by Cicero are still extant, although not all are complete. The number of his speeches is unknown, but more than forty are known to have been lost. Not all the speeches Cicero wrote were delivered; sometimes he wrote them for occasions that did not occur. His second Philippic (44-43 b.c.e.; English translation, 1868) is an example of such a speech. Marc Antony (Marcus Antonius) had been so enraged by Cicero’s first speech against him after the death of Julius Caesar that Cicero’s friends persuaded the orator to leave the city of Rome...
(The entire section is 1227 words.)