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p843 Orator

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on pp843‑845 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

ORATOR. Cicero remarks (Or. Part. c28) that a "certain kind of causes belong to Jus Civile, and that Jus Civile is conversant about Laws (Lex) and Custom (mos) appertaining to things p844public and private, the knowledge of which, though neglected by most orators, seems to me to be necessary for the purposes of oratory." In his treatise on the Orator, and particularly in the first book, Cicero has given his opinion of the duties of an orator and his requisite qualifications, in the form of a dialogue, in which Lucius Licinius Crassus and M. Antonius are the chief speakers. Crassus was himself a model of the highest excellence in oratory: and the opinions attributed to him as to the qualifications of an orator were those of Cicero himself, who in the introductory part of the first book (c6) declares that "in his opinion no man can deserve the title of a perfect orator, unless he has acquired a knowledge of all important things and of all arts: for it is out of knowledge that oratory must blossom and expand, and if it is not founded on matter which the orator has fully mastered and understood, it is idle talk, and may almost be called puerile." According to Crassus the province of the Orator embraces everything: he must be enabled to speak well on all subjects. Consequently he must have a knowledge of the Jus Civile (I.44, &c.), the necessity for which Crassus illustrates by instances; and he should not only know the Jus Civile, as being necessary when he has to speak in causes relating to private matters and to privata Judicia, but he should also have a knowledge of the Jus Publicum which is conversant about a State as such, and he should be familiar with the events of history and instances derived from the experience of the past. Antonius (I.49) limits the qualifications of the orator to the command of language pleasant to the ear and of arguments adapted to convince in causes in the forum and on ordinary occasions. He further requires the orator to have competent voice and action and sufficient grace and ease. Antonius (I.58) contends that an orator does not require a knowledge of the Jus Civile, and he instance the case of himself, for Crassus allowed that Antonius could satisfactorily conduct a cause, though Antonius, according to his own admission, had never learned the Jus Civile, and had never felt the want of it in such causes as he had defended (in jure).

The profession then of the orator, who with reference to his undertaking a client's case is also called patronus (de Or. I.56, Brut. 38) was quite distinct from that of the Juriconsultus [Jurisconsulti], and also from that of the Advocatus, at least in the time of Cicero (II.74), and even later (de Orat. Dial. 34). An orator, who possessed a competent knowledge of the Jus Civile, would however have an advantage in it, as Antonius admits (I.59); but as there were many essentials to an orator, which were of difficult attainment, he says that it would be unwise to distract him with other things. Some requisites of oratory, such as voice and gesture, could only be acquired by discipline; whereas a competent knowledge of the law of a case (juris utilitas) could be got at any time from the jurisconsulti (periti) or from books. Antonius thinks that the Roman orators in this matter acted more wisely than the Greek orators, who being ignorant of law had the assistance of low fellows, who worked for hire, and were called Pragmatici (I.45): the Roman orators entrusted the maintenance of the law to the high character of their professed Jurists.

So far as the profession of an advocate consists in the skilful conduct of a cause, and in the supporting of his own side of the question by proper argument, it must be admitted with Antonius that a very moderate knowledge of law is sufficient and indeed even a purely legal argument requires not so much the accumulation of a vast store of legal knowledge as the power of handling the matter when it has been collected. The method in which this consummate master of his art managed a cause is stated by himself (de Or. II.72); and Cicero in another passage (Brutus, 37) has recorded his merits as an orator. Servius Sulpicius, who was the greatest lawyer of his age, had a good practical knowledge of the law, but others had this also, and it was something else which distinguished Sulpicius from all his contemporaries — "Many others as well as Sulpicius had a great knowledge of the law; he alone possessed it as an art. Better knowledge of law by itself would never have helped him to this without the possession of that art which teaches us to divide the whole of a thing into its parts, by exact definition to develope what is imperfectly seen, by explanation to clear up what is obscure; first of all to see ambiguities, then to disentangle them, lastly to have a rule by which truth and falsehood are distinguished, and by which it shall appear what consequences follow from premises and what do not." (Brut. 41). With such a power Sulpicius combined a knowledge of letters and a pleasing style of speaking. As a forensic orator then he must have been one of the first that ever lived; but still among the Romans his reputation was that of a jurist, while Antonius, who had no knowledge of the law, is put on a level as an orator (patronus) with L. Crassus, who of all the eloquent men of Rome had the best acquaintance with the law.

Oratory was a serious study among the Romans. Cicero tells us by what painful labour he attained to excellence (Brut. 91, &c.). Roman oratory reached its perfection in the century which preceded the Christian aera. Its decline dates from the establishment of the Imperial power under Augustus and his successors; for though there were many good speakers, and more skilful rhetoricians under the empire, the oratory of the republic was rendered by circumstances unsuitable for the senate, for the popular assemblies, or for cases of crimes and high misdemeanours.

In the Dialogue De Oratoribus, which is attributed to Tacitus, Messala, one of the speakers, attempts (c28, &c.) to assign the reasons for the low state of oratory in the time of Vespasian, when the Dialogue was written, compared with its condition in the age of Cicero and of Cicero's predecessors. He attributes its decline to the neglect of the discipline under which children were formerly brought up, and to the practice of resorting to rhetoricians (rhetores) who professed to teach the oratorical art. This gives occasion to speak more at length of the early discipline of the old orators and of Cicero's course of study as described in the Brutus. The old orators (c34) learned their art by constant attendance on some eminent orator and by actual experience of business: the orators of Messala's time were formed in the schools of Rhetoric, and their powers were developed in exercises on fictitious matters. These however, it is obvious, were only secondary causes. The immediate causes of the decline of eloquence appear to be indicated by Maternus, another speaker in the Dialogue, who attributes the former flourishing p845condition of eloquence to the political power which oratory conferred on the orator under the republic, and to the party struggles and even the violence that are incident to such a state of society. The allusion to the effect produced by the establishment of the Imperial power is clear enough in the following words, which refer both to the Imperial and the Republican periods: "cum mixtis omnibus et moderatore uno carentibus, tantum quisque orator saperet, quantum erranti populo persuaderi poterat."

The memorials of Roman oratory are the orations of Cicero; but they are only a small portion of the great mass of oratorical literature. The fragments of the Roman orators from Appius Caecus and M. Porcius Cato to Q. Aurelius Symmachus, have been collected by H. Meyer, Zürich, 1 vol. 8vo. 2d ed. 1842.


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