Latin Language Blog

Latin literature VII: Oratory Posted by on Mar 28, 2012 in Latin Language, Roman culture

The oratory was for the ancient the art of persuading people through speaking correctly. His teaching and techniques are called rhetoric. In Rome, following the models of classical Athens, oratory took on enormous importance.

From the 2nd century BC. Rome hosted a large number of Greek rhetoricians, while some Romans traveled to Greece to learn the techniques of public speaking. At this time the most brilliant speeches were uttered in the Senate, the real decision-making center of public life in Rome, where the capacity of persuasion in the exercise of oratory was decisive for the political success of a Roman.

The careful and educated diction gave rise to many of the literary tropes that we know, which nowadays are also called figures of speech. Because of these figures oratory is one of the most difficult and elaborate literary genres.

Oratory speeches are usually classified into three types: deliberative, which tries to convince someone to do or not do something; judicial, which defends the innocence or guilt of someone and the demonstrative, which consists on praising or criticizing someone.

The most illustrious and representative was certainly Cicero (106 – 43 BC.) who wrote many speeches. Among his speeches we can find the Catilinariae, a set of three speeches delivered in the Senate in the year of his consulate (63 BC.). After the death of Cicero no speaker would reach its high level again. But we should also highlight a Hispanic, Seneca the Elder (55 BC. – 40 AD.), father of the famous philosopher. He wrote some speeches as an exercise to teach the art of oratory called Controversiae (controversies) and Suasoriae (dissuasive discourses). Orators continued existing until the end of the Latin times.

Since the year 81 BC., when Rhetorica ad Herennium (unknown author) was published, there were produced many manuals in Latin which formed the basis of this literary genre that became central to the literature and development of Rome itself. Cicero wrote several works (De oratore “On the speaker,” Orator…) involving manuals of oratory, based on Greek rhetoric.

With the advent of the Empire the importance of the Senate declinedand with it the oratory, which had reached the summit of the genre with Cicero in Rome and Demosthenes in Athens (fourth century BC.) But the oratory remained in the top of the formation of every citizen, major cities had schools of rhetoric. In Rome at the time of the Flavian emperors they teached the rhetoric of Quintilian, who composed a very important work: Institutio oratoria (Instruction of a speaker), it was the culmination of the treatises on rhetoric written in Latin, and one of the first books with a clear teaching vocation.

The last major treatise is Tacitus’, the historian of the late 1st century AD., who made ​​up the Dialogus oratoribus.
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