De Oratore Figurative Reading
Cicero’s De Oratore, translates to On the Orator or On the Ideal Orator, and serves as a description of what he imagines to be the perfect or ideal orator. In a time when the state was in disarray, a figure was needed to take control and lead the people out of the proverbial wild. While traditional power and persuasion at the time came from military strength and weaponry, Cicero describes a different type of power, one that comes from persuasion. The weapon described: eloquence.
In describing the ideal orator, Cicero describes the power that such a speaker would have. This power, he says, is able, “to raise up those that are cast down, to bestow security, to set free from peril, to maintain men in their civil rights”(32). These possibilities are ones that seem as though they would come not from speaking, but from physical action or physical force. They are possible in this case, because Cicero describes this eloquence as a weapon. The skills that come with it, he says, are, “weapons wherein you can defend yourself, or challenge the wicked man, or when provoked take your revenge”(32).” In an attempt to sway his own listeners into believing the immense power that spoken word can have, Cicero turns speech into action, convincing his audience of the great importance of this figure. By using the metaphor of persuasive powers being “weapons,” he gives physical power to what otherwise would be intangible.
Physical power, especially in the time of Cicero’s writing, most often came from an army or from a soldier. But Cicero is describing the same power that would be produced from a soldier stepping up to take control, but he speaks of an orator, a public speaker. This tangibility of power gives the orator much more persuasion than he would otherwise have. Persuasion comes not from just being convinced of an argument, as it would if you were just listening to normal speech, but from force of a weapon. Force of a weapon implies a threat, and potentially a life-threatening situation. That is an incredible amount of power being bestowed upon speech.
With this weapon the orator has the ability to, “challenge the wicked man.” To do such a thing the wicked man must first be discerned, meaning that the orator, armed with these physical capabilities can discern right from wrong, and good from bad. In challenging the wicked man, it becomes the orators duty to, “uphold the safety of countless individuals and of the entire state”(34). Physical power from spoken word given the ability to uphold the safety of an entire state is only possible when spoken word takes on a physical form. From the metaphor of eloquence as this weapon, spoken word takes this form.
With this weapon, the orator would be able to take command of the state, leading them to safety and greatness. Eloquence, writes Cicero, is the only power, “strong enough either to gather scattered humanity into one place, or lead it out of its brutish existence in the wilderness”(33). In these few lines, eloquence’s persuasion and power has now turned from simple speech, to a powerful weapon, and now it is the only weapon powerful enough to create civilization. It discerns humanity from the beasts, shaping states, laws, and cultures. Eloquence has the ability to not only protect the state but create it from the mess of the wilderness.
Cicero’s own eloquence speaks to the power that speech has. Without his words, this power would not be bestowed upon the orator, and he would not be able to uphold the safety of an entire state. The physical power from the metaphor serves to strengthen it further, acting as its own argument of eloquence’s power. Cicero takes speech, and from it creates a power that builds states, separates man from beast, fights off enemies, and seeks revenge. Without this figure, eloquence would be an intangible power, based on conviction alone. The argumentative power that this figure holds comes from the tangibility that Cicero gives it when it is equated to a weapon. Physical force and physical strength turn this figure into a power greater than any army, creating, defending, and upholding the state.