Cicero’s Philosophy of Style

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Through the voice of Crassus in Book III of De Oratore, Cicero discusses embellishing style by making language correct, brilliant, ornamental, and appropriate; additionally, the orator must be suitably knowledgeable, cultured, and gifted in delivery. However complex this style, the key component—to this reader—is knowledge, reflected through Cicero’s desire to see the reuniting of the schools of philosophy and speaking. Throughout Book III of De Oratore, philosophy of style is developed through the principles of knowledge.

The subject of the orator’s level of knowledge is given great attention by Crassus, making this a significant component of Cicero’s philosophy of style. Crassus begins his exposition by asserting that philosophy and oratory are inseparable (De Oratore 17); this is a strong indication that knowledge is a key component of his style. Cicero appears to value Socrates’ notion that knowledge is most important, but he does not agree with the subsequent separation of knowledge and oratory: “This is the source from which has sprung the undoubtedly absurd and unprofitable and reprehensible severance between the tongue and the brain…” (De Oratore 49).

Socrates and Plato would have commended Cicero on his defense for knowledge as the foundation for any speaker. First in Plato’s Gorgias, and again his sentiments are echoed in Phaedrus when Socrates states an important method for obtaining knowledge—the definition: “In every discussion, my dear boy, there is one and only one way of beginning…that is to know what it is that one is discussing” (Phaedrus 46).