“…but that no one could be an orator but a man of true wisdom; and that eloquence itself, as is consisted in the art of speaking well, was a kind of virtue, and that he who possessed one virtue possessed all, and that virtues were in themselves equal and alike; and thus he who was eloquent possessed all virtues, and was a man of true wisdom”(Cicero 26-27). There are numerous times that Cicero marries oratory with eloquence. In fact, it is referenced over 900 times by Cicero in On Oratory and Quintilian in Institutio Oratoria, Book 2. In the quote above eloquence is considered not only a virtue but one that encapsulated all other virtues. Any man that possessed all these virtues was considered a wise man.
Eloquence originates from the Latin word eloquentia, which can loosely be traced back to a few Greek words that refer to the Muses or persuasion. The roots of the word come from the verb loqui, which means “to speak”. The “e” attached to the front is a shorted form of the preposition “ex” meaning “out of”. Eloquence, therefore, is the “action, practice, or art of expressing thought with fluency, force, and appropriateness, so as to appeal to the reason or move the feelings.” Eloquence has also been coupled with writing. Cicero discusses eloquence in writing stating that… “nor will any man ever attain them (meaning qualities of applause) unless after long and great practice in writing…” (43). The OED asserts that eloquence is “primarily of oral utterance, and hence applied to writing that has the characteristics of good oratory.”
David Hume, an 18th Century Scottish philosopher, developed a list of discourses that would be considered eloquent. The art included sermons, essays, argumentative discourse, and poetry, along with a few other categories. In essence, eloquence has not changed much from Cicero’s time or since Hume’s developed his categories. In our society individuals who are considered eloquent include politicians, lawyers and many other public figures. Eloquence has never been more central than in our society where technology allows us instantaneous access to speakers as well as the ability to review them multiple times. It is no wonder that writing continues to be a tool for developing eloquence in speaking. Public figures utilize the services of speech writers to assist them in developing their eloquence. There is one aspect of Cicero’s descriptions of eloquence that I am uncomfortable in applying to today’s society. That is that individuals who are eloquent possess true wisdom. I would agree that they possess a certain type of wisdom, in that they know how to use words to persuade the emotions of their listeners, and that they have a particular amount of knowledge on certain subjects. However, this does not mean that their judgment is always sound. Yes, it is ideal and that is what Cicero was striving for. Unfortunately, this was not the case in Cicero’s time and is not the case in our time either.
Word Count: 496
Online Etymology Dictionary
On Oratory and Orators
Oxford English Dictionary
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy