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CIcero: On Rhetoric

Page history last edited by George Pullman 14 years, 8 months ago


Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero) was born 106 B.C.E, to an upper middle class family in Arpinum Italy.  Fortunately for Cicero, his father, an equestrian knight, was able to acquire an education typically reserved for those with an aristocratic status due to his connections within Rome.  After being sent to Rome Cicero studied ancient Greek philosophers and historians rhetoric under Greek teachers in the Greek language.  Using his knowledge of the Greek language, Cicero translated much of what he learned about Greek philosophy and rhetorical theories into Latin, allowing it to reach a much larger audience within Rome.


Major Works On Rhetoric:


De Inventione (86 B.C.E.)

In 86 B.C.E., Cicero constructed De Invetione.  It is speculated that Cicero wrote De Inventione, as well as Rhetorici libri, with all intents and purposes of to cover the five canons of rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.  Unfortunately, Cicero failed to complete his goal, or the remaining books have become lost over time.  Nonetheless, De Inventione was to become one of the most read classical treatises on classical rhetoric and becoming one of the traditional texts regarding speech as well as the writing processes for the five canons of rhetoric.


De Oratore (55 B.C.E.)

In 55 B.C.E., Cicero composed De Oratore.  De Oratore is considered to be one of Cicero’s treatises that accurately express his views on rhetoric.  With Aristotle’s Rhetoric circulating Rome shortly before its release, Cicero’s De Oratore is heavily influenced by Aristotle.  De Oratore discusses the responsibility of the orator, it’s place within society, and discusses certain qualities an orator must obtain in order to be efficient.  Like Phraedrus, the text also discusses what type of craft rhetoric really is and expresses the differences between the orator and the philosopher.


De Partitione Oratorae (50 B.C.E.)

This is a short piece that gives Cicero’s perspective on the canon of arrangement and its structure. 


Brutus (46 B.C.E.

Although fragmented, Brutus attempts to prove that Roman rhetoric is up to par with the Greeks by comparing the history of both Greek and Roman rhetoric.  .  He further discusses the relevance of rhetors and specifies their qualifications (going so far as to even rank existing Roman rhetors.  Also, within Brutus, Cicero argues against those who claim that he is nothing but a “Greekling,” by claiming that his rhetorical background is undoubtedly Roman.


Orator (46 B.C.E.)

Orator sets out to define the qualifications of an ideal rhetor.  Cicero reemphasizes that the ideal rhetor is not someone who has mastered one specific style of rhetoric, but a person that can adapt to any rhetorical setting.  This treatise particularly conveys Cicero’s message that a rhetor or orator must be fluid in order to adapt from one situation to another.  The ideal orator must master all canons of rhetoric in order to be a prominent rhetorician.


De Optima Genere Oratorum (46 B.C.E.)

Oratorum set the criterion for a well spoken individual.  Cicero states that an eloquent man must “speak so as to teach, to delight, and to persuade.”  According to Cicero, each of the three criterions has a specific importance in the field of rhetoric.  One must speak so as to teach in order to find the truth, one must speak with delight in order to keep the mind captivated, and one must be able to persuade in order to get the truth across.


Topica (44 B.C.E.)

Cicero’s final treatise on rhetoric discusses the connection between philosophy and rhetoric.  He discloses his belief that there is a close ties that can be found between the two crafts.  Cicero asserts that the bridge between philosophy and rhetoric is invention.  Contrary to Aristotle’s Topic, Cicero creates closer correlations between rhetorical and logical argumentation.  Brutus ultimately reveals that rhetoric can only be utilized when it is combined with other subject matter.




Enos,Theresa. Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times to the Information Age. University of Arizona. 1996. 102-105.

Enos, Richard. Marcus Tullius Cicero. Classical Rhetoric and Rhetoricians. Greenwood Publishing Group. 2005. 101-110

Gaines, Robert. Roman Rhetorical Handbooks. A Companion to Roman Rhetoric.Blackwell Publishing. 2007. 163-180.

Petersson, Torsten. Cicero: A Biography. University Of Califiornia Press. .366-369

Comments (1)

Stephanie Abram said

at 11:57 am on Sep 29, 2009

Good job Chad. Cicero happens to be my favorite rhetorician. I'm glad you chose him.

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