Ciceros Oratory and Rhetoric Influence on Roman Politics Essay

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The establishment of Rome as a Republic in 509 BC was initiated by the overthrow of the Tarquin monarchy by Junius Brutus. From the remains of the fallen monarchy, the Senate assumed full powers in governing Rome with the Senate as its highest governing body. There were no written constitutions but laws and traditions guided the Republic . From that point forward, the Senate had the power to wage war, impose taxes and run the bureaucracy of the expanding Republic with officials delegated to every post under the supreme authority of the Senate.

The Republic thus evolved from a simplistic method of governance inherited from the previous institutions. New offices were invented in order to respond to the needs of the time. Hence, from consuls rose the ranks of the proconsul then the qauestors, praetors, censors and so on. These offices had specific tasks and delegations with powers that varied in length of effect and severity. However, all these powers were concentrated in the hands of the patricians which the plebeian section resented until political currents soon swept and shook the foundations of the republican institutions controlled by the aristocracy .

In 1st century BC these events culminated into a dictatorship by a former proconsul, Julius Caesar and soon the Roman Republic was on the verge of dissolution. A conflict between two social classes ensued and finally the Roman Republic that was ruled by the Senate was no more than a puppet of a tyrant. During the final years of the Roman Republic, a brilliant orator emerged from the ranks of the aristocracy, Marcus Tullius Cicero, whose life was intertwined with the republics collapse.

Though originally, Cicero was not born from a wealthy family such that he would be, by virtue of birth, destined to be a part of the ruling aristocracy in the Senate. His was a political ambition which he gained through a career in law. He eyed for a seat in the Senate and with that he studied philosophy, jurisprudence and rhetoric. With the gift of words he made it into the Roman bureaucracy by being elected into the succeeding offices of the qauestor, aedile, praetor and finally consul in 63 BC . Ciceros ascension to the highest office was attributed to Lucius Sergius Catalina who was vying for the post.

To prevent Catalina (Catiline) from being elected, Ciceros party nominated him. His speech during the election was quite essential in the exceptional rise to power by a non-patrician. In his First Oration against Catiline, DOoge translates Ciceros speech before the Roman Senate: ¦Before what youth, whom you had ensnared by the charm of your enticements, have you not carried a sword to encourage for his audacity or a torch to fire for his lust¦ this, Cicero said in the presence of Catalina who tried to defend himself but the senators hauled at him a barrage of questions and interruptions that made Catalina flee from the Forum.

Further engaging hatred against Catalina among the upper class senators, Cicero even invented that Catalina murdered his wife . He likewise included in his speech the senators were either fearful of nothing or fearful of everything that they declined at first to act against Catalina . Such was Ciceros powerful speech that the tables were turned against Catalina. In Catalinas desperate attempt to attain the consulship, he hatched conspiracies which were passed to Cicero who immediately reported back to the Senate.

With such virtuosity, Cicero acquired emergency powers from the Senate. He later obtained messages Catalina sent to the Allobroges in lieu of his plans to raid the city. All these events were articulated by Cicero in a series of speeches in the Senate asserting that a threat had been extinguished. Following his presentation of evidence to the Senate, arrests were immediately carried out and the conspirators were executed without trial . Ciceros revelations received frenzied applauses from the Senate as the rebellion was quelled before it touched the streets of Rome.

Hence, the Cataline conspiracy gave way for Cicero and his oratory the popularity among the citizens and earned his consulship all at the same time . It was not the first time that Cicero made use of his oratorical skills but it was the very last of his outstanding accomplishments as a senator for the winds of the civil war upon Rome, and it was just a little time that Julius Caesar had tolerated the whimpering of the useless Senate . It was inevitable that Cicero eventually fell for the complexities of the military mind of Julius Caesar.

He was eventually exiled for rallying behind the losers side. His exile was based on the allegations that he executed the Catilinarian conspirators without trial made by his archenemy Publius Claudius, but in reality, it was caused by his defense of Romes republican structure and the maintenance of the Senate which Caesar held powerless through the Triumvirate, with Crassus and Pompey . His exile gave him time to reflect his republican principles. His three major works worth to be discussed here in length was On the Orator, On the Republic and On the Laws.

These documents in the form of dialogue were his manifesto of the republican principle he adhered to and believed to be the best for Rome. These treatises were interconnected with each other as each one was a prerequisite to the next. On the Orator discussed the characteristics of an ideal orator. Here he ascribed that a good orator must likewise be well acquainted with philosophy and law as a rhetorician should always have the solid foundations of factual basis for his arguments.

Seemingly possible that the rhetorical abilities were reciprocally beneficial so that philosophical and political ideas could be well articulated hence better understood and subsequently agreed upon by a target audience. An ideal orator, he said, had to be at the fore of political decisions, create the necessary laws and be in himself an example of the correct way of living. These necessary traits of the orator were essential for the formation of an ideal commonwealth which he detailed in the treatise On the Republic. It was deliberated there that the Roman institutions were undermined at the onset of the Triumvirate.

He further evaluated that the Roman Republic was a concoction of the components of a monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. In this paper his despise for the aristocracy which had marginalized him in the beginning of his career became evident. The moral decay of the aristocracy had been pointed out to be a possible cause of the governments destruction. In order to avert such destruction, virtue must be actively exercised and the essence of the foundations of community had to be considered at all times. Therefore, the statesman who ran the affairs of the republic had to be accustomed to the concept of natural law.

These laws he asserted on the last treatise, On the Laws, were to be based on the natural order of things such that man should perform his duties as what was determined of him to do even before his birth. He asserted that only through reason justice could be discovered that would subsequently provide the commonwealth with the laws that would govern its affairs . These discourses on the republican principles however, were deemed useless since Julius Caesar was just waiting for the right moment to strike. When Cicero was finally permitted to return to Rome, he was accepted by the citizens with somewhat unchanged enthusiasm.

Feeling indebted to Pompey, he again took the center stage of the Forum to persuade the Senate to give Pompey dictatorial powers which Pompey took advantage while Caesar was on a military campaign in Gaul . While having these especial dictatorial powers, Pompey moved against Caesars advantage. The strokes of history went against Cicero as Julius Caesar ultimately defeated Pompey and became the sole dictator of the Roman Empire. Thus along with Pompeys vanquish from the city, senators who also went to Pompeys side fled in hope that they would be able to remove Caesar from his tyranny through Pompeys legions in Africa and Spain.

When Cicero was granted clemency by Julius Caesar in 47 B. C. , a condition was set that he would not be engaged in politics but when Caesar was assassinated in March 44 B. C. , Cicero again meddled with the affairs of the struggling factions who were eyeing Caesars former position. He was after all, hopeful that Octavian, the heir apparent to Caesars throne, would be influenced and manipulated to bring the Senate back to its former glory. In order to ensure Octavians victory over Mark Anthony, he engaged into the battle of persuading the senators, though they only held ceremonial powers, to aid Octavian.

This series of speeches were called the Philippics. The Philippics had shown the greatest orator and rhetoric in Cicero and come scholars say that it was the finest moment in his political career but those speeches only spelled his death. Clearly, the Philippics were aimed to crush Mark Anthony. Unfortunately, Octavian had already come up with agreements with other contending parties. Cicero met his death quite sardonically too deviated from the eloquence of his oratory and the refinement of rhetoric. It was a brutal end for a man who lived by the word.

His head was displayed at the Forum to convey a clear message to the Romans that the Roman Republic was extinct and that the new age had commenced .


Boatwright, M. T. , Gargola, D. J. , & Talbert, R. J. A. (2006). A Brief History of the Romans. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. Clayton, E. (Ed. ) (2006) The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Michigan. DOoge, B. L. (1915). Cicero Select Orations. New York: Benj. H. Sanborn & Co. Holland, T. (2003). Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic. London: Little Brown. Suetonius. (2003). The Twelve Caesars (R. Graves, Trans. ). London: Penguin Group.

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