Oratory, the art of public speaking, was highly regarded in ancient Rome. It was taught in all schools, even the youngest boys were taught the basics of the skill. Some scholars thought that oratory was the most important of all the arts.
Most Roman citizens would be expected to speak in public at some stage of their lives. They would give their opinions during meetings of the Comitia (see page 136), speak out at meetings of local government and take part in court cases.
Even when a citizen hired a lawyer for a court case, he was still expected to make a speech putting forward his point of view. Being able to speak out with skill and confidence was vital.
Oratory was a wide-ranging subject. The basics include the ability to speak clearly and loudly so that an entire audience could hear what was being said. A speaker also had to dress smartly and have a neat haircut.
Vocabulary was a prized skill. This did not men knowing lots of different words, but knowing the precise meanings of words and how to vary the intensity of meaning by putting different words together in a sentence.
History was also included in the subject of oratory. It was thought to be useful to compare the subject of the speech with the actions of a famous man from Rome’s past.
A knowledge of the gods and religion was considered vital. An orator who could include references to the gods and their actions in his speech in an appropriate way was highly regarded.
Philosophy was considered to be important as it allowed an orator to produce underlying reasons why the subject of his speech was important and why people should agree with him.
The Romans believed that their greatest orator was Marcus Tullius Cicero, a politician and lawyer who lived during the time of the civil wars (see page 26). Many of Cicero’s speeches were written down and used in schools.
Cicero rose to be consul in 62bc and made some of his most famous speeches in defence of the republican constitution in the face of attack by Julius Caesar. Cicero was executed in 43bc after trying to oust Mark Antony (see page 28) from power.
from 1000 FACT ON ANCIENT ROME by Rupert Matthews
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