The Things Accomplished by Latin Orators
If you ever take a Latin course, you will realize after translating unadapted texts that the philosophers of ancient Rome were some of the best writers in history. These men (yes, they were usually men because of Rome’s social standards) used many rhetorical strategies to express their ideas and plead their cases. Ancient Rome was an opinionated time of orators fighting to win the stage with their speeches and new ideas.
These orators, and all literate men, were allowed to sit on the senate to present a problem, vote on issues, or just talk. Most Roman men had something to say, so when these orators took the stage, they had to keep the senate’s attention, keep their speech concise and on topic, and persuade them to support a political or social change.
Not only did these men address the richest and most educated men, like the senate, they had to reach all the masses, including the poorest and illiterate. These orators needed to know how to convey a difficult concept to people who had no idea what was going on. And their writing is how they won over the minds of the Roman people.
Keep in mind that these speeches were reviewed and adjusted by the leaders of Rome so that conspiracy would not become an issue. The orators had to say what they wanted to say with limitations so that they would not be caught sparking a flame, which was usually their main intention.
One of the most famous Roman orators is Marcus Tullius Cicero. He usually just went by Cicero, which was a nickname meaning “chickpea,” describing a facial feature of his. He didn’t have a serious name, but he was oh-so serious when he addressed an audience.
Cicero wrote a speech about the Conspiracy of Catiline and delivered it to the courts. He had to convince the entire jury to convict this well-known man, which was a difficult task to do. The speech needed evidence and persuasive rhetoric to convict this man. He needed to get through all of his offenses in limited court trials with direct statements to convince the people to take his side of the case instead of Catiline’s. Cicero proved his skills, sending Catiline into exile.
Another famous Roman speaker and writer was the emperor Augustus. On multiple occasions, he had to convince his people to trust him whole-heartedly. He had to persuade his men to go into battle where death was inevitable. Yet, because of his word, he was believed to be a credible man and was followed by many. Augustus knew how to address the people and persuade them to do what he wanted—one reason why he was emperor.
Augustus decided to write down everything he did for Rome to prove his greatness as an emperor. “Res Gestae Divi Augusti,” literally meaning “The Things Accomplished by the Divine Augustus,” was one of his writings. He referred to himself in third person throughout the text to add credibility as if some outside person wrote it. This writing encouraged the people to believe in him. Augustus talked the big talk with a confident (maybe overconfident) air that earned him followers. He listed everything from battles to economic decisions that he succeeded in making Rome better. To do this, he had to make these long, drawn-out events into smaller accounts.
These two orators and others had to advertise themselves for building reputations, destroying other reputations, and erecting an empire based on their concepts. They applied rhetorical concepts to win the people over, and it worked. Conciseness and credibility were two elements of every orator’s writing.
Their ideas and methods can still and should still be used today.
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