Roman Rhetoric IV
by: M. Horatius Piscinus
PARS I | PARS II | PARS III | PARS IV | PARS V | PARS VI | PARS VII
Pars IV : Inventio et dispositio
Now that we have looked at how an oration is formally structured, and how arguments may be made, either logically or fallaciously, we should step back a moment and look at how we should proceed to get to those steps.
The first two steps in preparing an oration involves the gathering of information (inventio) and arranging the information (dispositio) for making a logical argument. Remember that the core of your oration should be a logical argument, everything else is ornamentation that we will consider separately under elocutio. Inventio and dispositio should be taken hand in hand, but how you will proceed in these steps will differ with the kind of oration you are preparing. For quaestiones cognionis the aim is in acquiring knowledge, using logical proofs, in order to teach. The gathering of information therefore should lead you, should instruct you, and you should not develop any opinion on the topic until you have investigated the matter thoroughly. The greatest mistake made by students, or historians, or scientists, is to form an opinion first, for it leads to the gathering of material which only supports a opinion, and discards other pertinent information that can be used against your argument. Overlooking pertinent information and significant facts will discredit any argument.
On the other hand orations for quaestiones actionis do involve arguing for a particular point of view. Here the object is to persuade others to your point of view, whether giving a political speech or arguing a court case. As you gather information it needs to be classified into whether it supports your argument or not. The information that could contradict your position is just as important to gather, as you will have to be able to argue against it. As you take in information keep them separate, but annotate between them so that you can keep in mind what information is available to counter their use on either side.
Whether preparing for quaestiones cognitonis or actionis, there are some things to keep in mind. Information has to be organized into various categories. Any propositio you form will be composed of different partiones, and information can be separated as it is gathered into different topics of reference. If some information could apply to more than one consideration then place it with each it pertains to, and annotate it with cross references to any other considerations. Later as you form your argument you will decide where best to use the information, and by having first cross-referenced it you can best decide how to tie together different portions of your argument. The different considerations of an argument should be mapped out as though you were outlining a story. At the same time you should prepare a chronological table, and perhaps other guidelines like genealogical tables depending on the topic, so that you can always refer to how different bits of information may relate to one another.
Another important categorization of information has to do with the relative value of your sources. Whether you are writing an article on Roma antiqua or presenting an argument in the Comitia Generalis or one of the collegia, you should solidly base as many of your facts as possible in primary sources. Dealing with Roma antiqua as we do, your primary sources are the original Latin text of Latin authors or of inscriptions. For the former, Classical works are found in many editions or websites and reference to them need only include the author, title and sections. If a translation is being used, then information on the translator and its publication should be provided in a bibliography. Tufts University's Perseus Project is a web source for many classical works.
For the latter, collections of Roman inscriptions in Dessaus' Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae (ILS) can be found at Gnomon Online: Latin Inscriptions - the Internet Release, and additional inscriptions at ILS Folio server (temporarily not available; many inscriptions are available on the University of Heidelberg's Epigraphy Databank). For abbreviations used on Latin inscriptions go to "Abbreviations in Latin Inscriptions". There is also the more complete Corpus Inscriptionum Latinum from which the ILS is drawn, and the Corpus Inscriptionum Etruscum. Other collections exist for papyri, ostraca, and coins. Also considered a primary source are those scholarly studies of archaeological materials, such as N. de Grummond's A Guide to Etruscan Mirrors. Secondary sources are those scholarly works that are based on primary sources, including translations of Latin texts. Some Latin texts are actually secondary sources which quote from some other source, such a secondary source is Pliny the Elder's Natural History.
Everything else is a tertiary source. These are of much less value and should be avoided. Exceptions would be standard reference sources such as the Oxford Classical Dictionary or Cornell and Matthews' Atlas of the Roman World when they are used for such information as commonly used abbreviations. Other tertiary sources, such as the Adkins & Adkins handbooks, are filled with misinformation and should only be used as a guide to finding primary and secondary sources. Your approach to sources should be similar to that of a lawyer preparing a trial case. Primary sources are documents and physical evidence, secondary sources are witness testimonies, and everything else is simply hearsay and misinformation.
Finally, as you gather information, include in your notes enough information that you will be able to go back later to your sources, or use the annotations for your footnotes. Keep a running bibliography as you find sources, and in your notes annotate where each piece of information was found, including author, book title, section or page number, as though you were footnoting. There are different styles and systems to use for footnoting. Perhaps the best method to use for posts and contributions to our websites is to include an internal footnote, i.e. (Cicero, In C Verrem LXI.6). For a contribution to one of our websites you should include a short bibliography to which your footnotes may be referred.
Careful preparation and organization of your information will produce a better argument and will lend more credibility to your argument. The above are just a few suggestions for when you take your initial steps.