Category Archives: Literature, Film & Music

POLITICS, ORATORY & THE TELEPROMPTER: CICERO ON THE ORATOR

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          I never really gave it much thought until now, having read Cicero’s De Oratore (On the Orator), that the world, especially in politics, lacks great public speakers, or rather orators. In Cicero’s book, he outlines the importance of orators and what distinguishes a true orator from simply a public speaker. One of the main things that he stipulates is the necessity of the orator to be versed in philosophy:

“Let this then be laid down among the first principles, (and it will be better understood presently,)–that the eloquent man whom we are looking for cannot be rendered such without philosophy. Not indeed that there is everything necessary in philosophy, but that it is of assistance to an orator as the wrestling-school is to an actor; for small things are often compared with great ones. For no one can express wide views, or speak fluently on many and various subjects, without philosophy. Since also, in the Phaedrus of Plato, Socrates says that this is what Pericles was superior to all other orators in, that he had been a pupil of Anaxagoras the natural philosopher. And it was owing to him, in his opinion, (though he had learnt also many other splendid and admirable accomplishments,) that he was so copious and imaginative, and so thoroughly aware–which is the main thing in eloquence–by what kinds of speeches the different parts of men’s minds are moved.” – Cicero

          With philosophy you can argue from multiple levels and it aids the individual to build an eloquence in their speech to help move the hearts of the crowd that s/he is speaking to.  But besides all this – you can read his full account on the nature of the orator – I want to focus on the lacking of great orators in todays society, particularly in high level politics. When you watch a political leader on television they typically are reading off a teleprompter; a camera with a television screen that has the speech to be read on it. I cant help but feel that this takes away from the human element of it, the sincerity that would be derived if it were said impromptu.

“Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:
Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.” – Cicero

          Likewise, even the speeches that are given in public by political officials are rehearsed speeches that are not typically written by the individual speaker, but rather their staff and public relations administrators. Thats not to say that all of them do that, but the overwhelming majority does. The speeches they give are constructed to appeal to the particular audience that they are planning to speak to and have an emotive endgame built into them. Also, politicians are trained beforehand to memorize answers to possible queries that they may be asked during or after a speech, and particularly before debates.

“What is morally wrong can never be advantageous, even when it enables you to make some gain that you believe to be to your advantage. The mere act of believing that some wrongful course of action constitutes an advantage is pernicious.” – Cicero

          I don’t want you to think that the world is entirely devoid of true orators, that is not the case at all! Some of my most idolized people are great orators, and that is perhaps the case for that very fact! Michio Kaku is an example, and William Lane Craig, although I don’t agree with him, is a great orator nonetheless:

          It seems that we need more people learning the art of speech, joining debate clubs and practicing public speaking. I find it the mark of a great orator, and intellectual, to be able to respond to any questions especially under pressure. Recently I was flabbergasted by a half hour long international panel interview with Russian president Vladimir Putin, where he was bombarded with questions – some controversial –  to which he responded with highly intellectual answers with some great historical precedence:

          Now, Im not saying that Putin is a great orator, but rather I want you to focus on how he answers his questions and how he reacts to them. I find it an interesting and impressive interview. Of course Cicero would stipulate that there is much more that is necessary for an individual to possess to be called an orator, but all I am asking is that people look around and see that many of those speaking in public are simply human robots, spilling out words that they themselves did not write, and perhaps could never hope to truly understand.

          I leave you all to ponder this international lacking in proper speakers with a video of what Cicero would call an orator. Although it is all in Latin, watch how the orator speaks to the crowd:


By: Steven Umbrello – Originally posted on The Leather Library Blog