Roman Rhetoric VII
by: M. Horatius Piscinus

Pars VII : Elocutio et ornatio (Fine points and Flourishes)

Cicero dicet in Pro Caelio suo: "[Prosecution] calls for an exact presentation of the evidence, positive identification of the criminal, reasoned proof, and confirmation by witnesses; whereas slander has no aim or task except to spatter with infamy. If a job is done in ill-temper we call it abuse, but if with grace, we call it wit."

It is quite humorous to find Cicero make this comment here as he was often criticized for the extent that he employed exaggeration, digressions, and embellishments for the very purpose of drawing attention away from the "exact presentation of the evidence." In his Defense of Aulus Cluentius Habitus, his longest oration, there are one digression after another, until by the time he finally comes to cover the matter at hand the judges were too distracted to know which case was being presented. Also, it was in this particular oration, Pro Caelio, that Cicero most employed his wit in an abusive manner, defending his client by throwing blame on everyone else that he could, especially attacking Clodia for promiscuity, and thereby provided a model for every Hollywood script-writer of courtroom drama

Oration does involve a sense of drama, a sense of humor, and often the orator has to become a wordsmith in the same manner as a poet. Cicero is much admired for the manner he constructed his sentences, stringing several ideas together, then forcefully bringing it all to a close with a series of verbs. In Catalina 4.19: atque haec non ut vos, qui mihi studio paene praecurritis, excitarem, locutus sum. Not to be overlooked is the fact that this means of carrying thought is found elsewhere in Roman texts; most notably in certain formulary prayers where a repetition of three verbs of similar meaning are made together. Marcellus Empiricus, De Medicamentis 15.11: hac religione evoco, educo, excanto. In much the same way, those who attended the speeches of Abraham Lincoln recognized something in the manner he phrased his ideas, a style he had developed from reading the King James version of the Bible. Without directly quoting from some source, both Cicero and Lincoln were able to gain a sense of familiarity with their audience by the very manner in which they spoke, and through this means they were able to elicit greater attention.

Another means of attaining an audience's attention and drawing upon it to convey ideas beyond the mere words one expresses is to dip into the collective conscious of one's audience. Again in Pro Caelio, Cicero quoted certain passages from Terence's Adelphi relevant to the point he was trying to make. But in doing so he also drew on the public's awareness in order to colour the principles of the case he presented. Thus Caelius Rufus, his father the elder Caelius, and Clodia were each cast as stereotypes from Terrence's play.

Available to Roman orators was a body of material, - stock images, familiar quotes, stereotypical characters, that they could draw upon to "ornament" their orations. This body of raw material, provided to them while training with rhetoricians, was called the silva rerum. Certain Roman proverbs have come down to us because they were part of the silva rerum, found in plays, poems, and orations (see proverbs below). Two just-so stories are found in Ovid's Ars Amatori 647-665.

Egypt had a drought for nine years once, no rain to quicken
Her harvest fields. Then Thrasius the sage
Told King Busiris the gods could be propitiated
With a stranger's spilt blood.
Busiris replied: "You shall be the gods' first victim,
You the stranger who brings water to Egypt's soil."
So Perillus, the inventor of Phalaris' brazen bull,
Was the first, unlucky man, to roast
In his own cruel contrivance.

Aulus Gellius wrote mainly about legal matters, but included stories that could be referred to in order to make a point. Thus at 1.17 he tells of Socrates' attitude towards his wife Xantippe, and couples this with a quote from Varro, "A wife's fault should either be removed or endured. The husband who removes his wife's fault makes her more agreeable; the husband who endures the fault makes himself better." At 1.8 Gellius tells the story of Demosthenes and the courtesan Lais, taken from Sotion's The Horn of Amaltheia. When Lais agreed to spend a night with Demosthenes if he could meet her price, he replied, "For ten thousand drachmas, I won't buy disappointment." The same story is found in Macrobius' Saturnalia and elsewhere. By using this quote, much as Cicero did towards Clodia, one individual is alluded to as being wise and upright, while the other is disparaged as haughty and dishonorable, without ever having to provide evidence to substantiate the characterizations.

Sometimes only a part of a quote may be used, relying on the knowledge of one's audience to complete the quote and draw their own impressions by it. Thus to say, "O Tite tute Tati," can be a way to catch attention merely by its sound. But when the quote, drawn from Ennius, is completed, it can offer different implications without ever expressing their connotations fully. "O Tite tute Tati tibi tanta tyranne tulisti." Just as Ovid's tales has Thrasius and Perillus devising their own fates, "Yourself, upon yourself, O Titus Tatius the Tyrant, have taken on these terrible troubles."

Elucotiones are those digressions made to explain in further detail some point of an argument, or made to draw attention away from some point of contention. In an argument conducted by email,elucotio is not very effective. Few people are interested in reading a long post. Nor in an age of sound bits are you likely to find politicians addressing the public with elucotiones. One needs to try to get across their arguments in brief succinct statements. That is where ornationes can be helpful, as they relay greater detail in depth, emotional impressions, and digressions in thought if not words. Ornationes rely on public awareness, thus on popular culture. Today little quips are drawn from film, music, television commercials, just as Cicero drew on popular plays of his time, because in order to be effective they must be timely as well.

A selection of Roman proverbs from the silva rerum:

Aliquando bonus dormitat Homerus: "Sometimes good Homer sleeps."
~Horace [=to act foolishly, be uniformed, or simply stupid]

Aquila non captat muscas: "An eagle does not catch flies." ~Livy
[=the use of excessive force, or a request for it, implies an
attempt to cover up another intention]

Bruta fulmina et vana: "Thunderbolts that strike blindly and in vain."
~Pliny the Elder [=false or unimportant accusations made to titillate
the public and discredit a reputation]

Cito matura, cito putridum: "Quickly ripened, quickly rotted."
[= hasty actions often fail]

Dulce bellum in expertis: "War is sweet to those who have not
experienced it." ~Pindar

Fortes fortuna iuvat: "Fortune favors the resolute." ~Livy

In silvam ne ligna feras: "One does not carry firewood into a forest."
~Horace [=advise not to go looking for trouble, or that under the
pretext of one thing, a person was trying to cause something else]

In vino veritas: "In wine there is truth." ~Seneca
[=carelessly made comments often reveal one's true sentiments]

Manus manum lavat: "One hand washes the other." ~Seneca
[=an implied connivance]

Mus uni non fidit antro: "A mouse does not rely on one hole." ~Plautus
["He has something else up his sleeve." =false intentions]

Ne supra crepidam sutor iudicaret: "Let the cobbler not judge beyond
the sandal." ~Pliny
[=do not give or take advise beyond someone's expertise]

Pisces natare oportet: "Fish must swim." ~Petronius
[= a person can only act according to their nature, more often
implying an evil nature]

Quem di diligunt adolescens moritur: "Only the good die young."
~Plautus [= someone who has been around for a long time, in politics,
business, etc., can't be trusted]

Sol omnibus lucet: "The same sun shines on all of us." ~Petronius
["Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones." = public
opinion witnesses the accuser as well as the accused]

Sus Minervam [docet]: "Teach your grandmother."
[= an impudent person who does not know what he is talking about, or
that an inexperienced person does not know what would be the
consequences of what he is proposing]

Suus cuique mos: "To each person according to his own customs."

Ut sementem feceris ita metes: "As you sow, so shall you reap."
© 2001-2018 Societas Via Romana