18 November 2016
GSI: Kuan Hwa
De Oratore: The Power of Eloquence
Cicero employs figurative language to amplify how important the power of rhetoric is in his work De Oratore. In passages 31 to 34 of book 1, Cicero uses the character of Crassus to explain the power of eloquence. Through these four paragraphs, Crassus frames all rhetorical figures within a schematic structure of a list of questions. The schema enables Cicero’s readers to be induced to Crassus’ claims about eloquence as a powerful tool of oratory. By depicting the world of statecraft through the ideal orator, and implementing the power of eloquence as a skill, Crassus narrates how the power of language can be used as a tool to transform the landscape of politics for the betterment of civilization.
The importance of eloquence starts with Crassus depicting rhetoric as an intellectual avenue that stimulates the mind. Cicero constructs a simile and a synesthesia to amplify his argument when Crassus states, “What so pleasing to the under-standing and the ear as a speech adorned and polished” (Cicero 31). Crassus relates eloquence to something that can be literally polished, like a statue of the Roman god Jupiter that has been shined. Once he compares rhetoric to a polished work, he then evokes a rhetorical question to his readers, “what achievement is so mighty and glorious” that it “[transforms]” the “impulses of the crowd?” (Cicero 31). This figure, in the form of a rhetorical question, enables Crassus to demonstrate that no achievement is greater in leading a state than a faculty that enables one to dictate the pulse of a crowd.
Cicero proceeds to elaborate by asserting that eloquence is a desirable virtue of an individual leader. Crassus uses a metaphor to compare the faculty of eloquence to that of kings, and argues that it is an “indispensable” skill that is “kingly” (Cicero, 32). He articulates this metaphor by exemplifying that if one attains eloquence he may rise to the status of a king. This metaphor elucidates eloquence as statecraft by reiterating that the power of language can make the ideal orator be viewed as a king to his constituents.
Cicero then uses symbolism to compare the power of rhetoric to “weapons” that enable the orator to “defend [himself]” (Cicero, 32). This symbolism is used to promote justice and defense for the orator to protect himself from those who may combat his ideals. This is evident when Crassus states that the orator can “defend” oneself against the “wicked man” (Cicero, 32). This articulates that the weapon of eloquence is a symbol that the ideal orator can use to harm, or deploy in defense for the sake of civilization and politics. However, it is peculiar that Cicero uses the symbol of weapons as opposed to the symbol of “walls” and “borders.” The choice of symbolism that Crassus employs in the form of eloquence as “weapons,” is an offensive tool of statecraft that the ideal orator can use to shape civilization to how he see’s fit.
Crassus then applies divisio to distinguish between men and animals as he proceeds. He believes that through eloquence, one can “surpass men themselves” and that the orator can be “superior to animals” (Cicero, 33). This personification relates men who do not have the weapon of eloquence as mere animals to the orator who possesses the power of language. This imagery depicts the orator as a shepherd that has the ability to herd his animals to the right direction. Cicero then employs the schema of anaphora as a tool to help Crassus amplify his statement of eloquence leading civilization. This is apparent when Crassus explains that eloquence has the power “to gather scattered humanity” and “to lead” and “to give shape to laws” (Cicero, 33). This figure of anaphora, through the repetition of beginning clauses, helps Crassus solidify the point of eloquence in statecraft. However, the personification of humans in relation to animals is a figurative tool Crassus would not be able to use in modern day politics, but it is a persuasive trope during the slavery stricken time of Cicero.
Ultimately, Crassus uses the rhetorical expression of climax to amplify the potential of “eloquence” and how it may sway the “crowd,” “the judges,” and the “senate,” this faculty is what makes the ideal orator a “[glorious]” and “mighty” individual in the face of politics (31). Through the character of Crassus, Cicero constructs a powerful argument, that through eloquence, the ideal orator is able to capture the minds of the individuals around him and essentially have the power to summon the state into being.