10 timeless tips for excellent communication from Cicero

Back in ancient Rome there wasn’t “PR” or “Marketing” or “social media” but there was a “public square” and there was “communication” and there most certainly was “persuasion” and “propaganda” – and it largely depended on rhetoric, and oratory, and the type of oratory most highly prized was eloquence.

Cicero was a bit of an expert on eloquence, and oratory. Not only did he publish a bunch of material on how to speak, and be eloquent, other famous people like Julius Caesar, dedicated their own published works on oratory to him. This makes him an ancient expert, somewhat anachronistically, on public relations, and communication. All you have to do is replace “Oratory” with “communication” and “eloquence” with “being good at communicating”…

cicero statue

Image Credit: Cicero Statue, The First Premise, Cicero

As I read through Cicero’s handbooks and other stuff for a bit of research, and for fun, I’m struck over and over again by how timeless his principles and advice are. His single-minded pursuit of oratory excellence, and thus, excellence in communication led him to study communication, and persuasion, from its earliest days as a science – to his present day, an approach we can probably learn from, even if we want to pretend everything of value has been invented in the last couple of generations (and even if we don’t – it’s worth seeing how timeless truth is).

He acknowledges that this pursuit is pretty difficult, because while there are some objective qualities of good oratory, and an objective essence of good communication – that all communication can be judged on, the actual act of communication is almost purely subjective.

“How then shall we strike out a general rule or model, when there are several manners, and each of them has a certain perfection of its own? But this difficulty has not deterred me from the undertaking; nor have I altered my opinion that in all things there is a something which comprehends the highest excellence of the kind, and which, though not generally discernible, is sufficiently conspicuous to him, who is skilled in the subject.”

Here are 10 things I think modern communicators can learn from Cicero, with some quotes (and if you hit the “read more” link after the list, there’s a bunch of quotes from his Cicero’s Brutus or History of Famous Orators, and The Orator).

It’s a pretty long post including the quotes – sorry if it all makes it into the RSS feed.

  1. Words are powerful. Especially when they’re well used.
    Words persuade people.

    This is the Eloquence that bends and sways the passions!—this the Eloquence that alarms or sooths them at her pleasure! This is the Eloquence that sometimes tears up all before it like a whirlwind; and, at other times, steals imperceptibly upon the senses, and probes to the bottom of the heart!

  2. Know what you’re trying to do when you communicate (move your audience to action or change their thinking).
    Good communication means thinking about who your audience is, and how you want to change them (or stop them changing).

    As, therefore, the two principal qualities required in an Orator, are to be neat and clear in stating the nature of his subject, and warm and forcible in moving the passions; and as he who fires and inflames his audience, will always effect more than he who can barely inform and amuse them” 
  3. Know your audience, and their expectations. Contextualise. Don’t bore people.
    Given these two points, the communicator should choose words that speak to their audience, so communication requires observation, education, thinking, and participating in life.

    “He, therefore, is the man of genuine Eloquence, who can adapt his language to what is most suitable to each. By doing this, he will be sure to say every thing as it ought to be said. He will neither speak drily upon copious subjects, nor without dignity and spirit upon things of importance; but his language will always be proportioned, and equal to his subject.”

  4. Be clear
    Use words and phrases people will understand, phrased as concisely as possible, but pay heed to convention and context, don’t be so clear you’re boring.

    …the simple and easy Speaker is remarkably dexterous and keen, and aiming at nothing but our information, makes every thing he discourses upon, rather clear and open than great and striking, and polishes it with the utmost neatness and accuracy.”

  5. Pay attention to the structure of your argument.
    Think about pace, rhythm, rhyme, and verve, but most importantly – how to structure your argument around your purpose.

    “For every cause can have but one natural introduction and conclusion; and all the other parts of it, like the members of an animal body, will best retain their proper strength and beauty, when they are regularly disposed and connected.”

  6. Be engaging.
    This means cleverly, or inventively, using new and exciting combinations of words designed to stir people, and using humour sometimes (carefully and originally).

    “This kind of Oratory will likewise be frequently enlivened by those turns of wit and pleasantry, which in Speaking have a much greater effect than is imagined. There are two sorts of them; the one consisting in smart sayings and quick repartees, and the other in what is called humour. Our Orator will make use of both;—of the latter in his narratives, to make them lively and entertaining;—and of the other, either in giving or retorting a stroke of ridicule.”

  7. Use familiar structures, concepts and tools, but change the words to paint new, clear, pictures.
    Sticking with what people know, and using it to change what they think, is a good strategy.

    “But in the use of metaphors, he will, perhaps, take greater liberties; because these are frequently introduced in conversation, not only by Gentlemen, but even by rustics, and peasants: for we often hear them say that the vine shoots out it’s buds, that the fields are thirsty, the corn lively, and the grain rich and flourishing. Such expressions, indeed, are rather bold: but the resemblance between the metaphor and the object is either remarkably obvious; or else, when the latter has no proper name to express it, the metaphor is so far from appearing to be laboured, that we seem to use it merely to explain our meaning.”

  8. Character, and personal substance, is important, bad character corrupts communication
    It’s not just the medium that is the message. You are the message too. Partly because in oratory you were the medium – in modern communication who you are is as important, if not more important, than what you say.

    “But (as I have before observed) I have been so much transported, not by the force of my genius, but by the real fervor of my heart, that I was unable to restrain myself: —and, indeed, no language will inflame the mind of the hearer, unless the Speaker himself first catches the ardor, and glows with the importance of his subject.”

  9. Communicating well is hard, successful communication achieves its purpose.
    While there are plenty of communication principles, it should be judged on its fruits – how well does what you’re communicating achieve its purpose?

    “The general merit of an Orator must and will be decided by the effects which his eloquence produces. For (in my opinion at least) there are three things which an Orator should be able to effect; viz. to inform his hearers, to please them, and to move their passions.”

  10. Practice, imitation, reading, and writing makes better, and if at first you don’t succeed, keep pursuing excellence.
    Communicating well is hard work. But it’s better to try to communicate well, and fail, than to simply communicate poorly.

    “It is but reasonable, however, that all those who covet what is excellent, and which cannot be acquired without the greatest application, should exert their utmost. But if any one is deficient in capacity, and destitute of that admirable force of genius which Nature bestows upon her favourites, or has been denied the advantages of a liberal education, let him make the progress he is able. For while we are driving to overtake the foremost, it is no disgrace to be found among the second class, or even the third…” 

If you want to read further, I’ve included the list again, with more supporting quotes from Cicero, below…


1. Words are powerful. Especially when they’re well used.

“Eloquence is the attendant of peace, the companion of ease and prosperity, and the tender offspring of a free and a well established constitution.” – Cicero, Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

“A very elegant compliment! for as the glory of a man is the strength of his mental capacity, so the brightest ornament of that is Eloquence; in which, whoever had the happiness to excel, was beautifully styled, by the Ancients, the Flower of the State; and, as the Poet immediately subjoins, ‘Suadaeque medulla’ “the very marrow and quintessence of Persuasion.”Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

“This is the man whose enchanting and diffusive language is so much admired by listening nations, that they have tamely suffered Eloquence to rule the world;—but an Eloquence whose course is rapid and sonorous!—an Eloquence which every one gazes at, and admires, and despairs to equal! This is the Eloquence that bends and sways the passions!—this the Eloquence that alarms or sooths them at her pleasure! This is the Eloquence that sometimes tears up all before it like a whirlwind; and, at other times, steals imperceptibly upon the senses, and probes to the bottom of the heart!—the Eloquence which ingrafts opinions that are new, and eradicates the old; but yet is widely different from the two characters of Speaking before-mentioned.” The Orator

2. Know what you’re trying to do when you communicate

“As, therefore, the two principal qualities required in an Orator, are to be neat and clear in stating the nature of his subject, and warm and forcible in moving the passions; and as he who fires and inflames his audience, will always effect more than he who can barely inform and amuse them” – Cicero, Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

“He, then, is truly eloquent, (for after him we must search, by the direction of Antonius) who in the Forum, and in public debates, can so speak, as to prove, delight, and force the passions. To prove, is a matter of necessity:—to delight, is indispensably requisite to engage the attention:—and to force the passions, is the surest means of victory; for this contributes more effectually than both the others to get a cause decided to our wishes.” – The Orator

“He, then, is an Orator indeed! who can speak upon trivial subjects with simplicity and art, upon weighty ones with energy and pathos, and upon those of middling import with calmness and moderation. You will tell me, perhaps, that such a Speaker has never existed. Be it so:—for I am now discoursing not upon what I have seen, but upon what I could wish to see; and must therefore recur to that primary semblance or ideal form of Plato which I have mentioned before, and which, though it cannot be seen with our bodily eyes, may be comprehended by the powers of imagination.” – The Orator

3. Know your audience, choose words that speak to them: communication requires observation, education, thinking, and participating in life

“An Orator should always be furnished with a plentiful stock of sentiments,—(I mean such as may claim the attention of the learned, as well as of the vulgar)—before he concerns himself about the language and the manner in which he ought to express himself.” – The Orator

“He, therefore, is the man of genuine Eloquence, who can adapt his language to what is most suitable to each. By doing this, he will be sure to say every thing as it ought to be said. He will neither speak drily upon copious subjects, nor without dignity and spirit upon things of importance; but his language will always be proportioned, and equal to his subject.” – The Orator

“The taste of the Audience, then, has always governed and directed the Eloquence of the Speaker: for all who wish to be applauded, consult the character, and the inclinations of those who hear them, and carefully form and accommodate themselves to their particular humours and dispositions” – The Orator

“Our Orator then, (for I am not speaking of a mere school-declaimer, or a noisy ranter in the Forum, but of a well-accomplished and a finished Speaker)—our Orator, as there is such a copious variety of common-places, will examine them all, and employ those which suit his purpose in as general and indefinite a manner as his cause will permit, and carefully trace and investigate them to their inmost sources. But he will use the plenty before him with discretion, and weighing every thing with the utmost accuracy, select what is best: for the stress of an argument does not always, and in every cause, depend upon similar topics. He will, therefore, exercise his judgment; and not only discover what may be said, but thoroughly examine the force of it.” – Cicero, The Orator

“I will confine my discourse to our other Speakers, among whom there is not one who has gained more than a common acquaintance with those parts of literature, which feed the springs of Eloquence:—not one who has been thoroughly nurtured at the breast of Philosophy, which is the mother of every excellence either in deed or speech:—not one who has acquired an accurate knowledge of the Civil Law, which is so necessary for the management even of private causes, and to direct the judgment of an Orator:—not one who is a complete master of the Roman History, which would enable us, on many occasions, to appeal to the venerable evidence of the dead:—not one who can entangle his opponent in such a neat and humourous manner, as to relax the severity of the Judges into a smile or an open laugh:—not one who knows how to dilate and expand his subject, by reducing it from the limited considerations of time, and person, to some general and indefinite topic;—not one who knows how to enliven it by an agreeable digression: not one who can rouse the indignation of the Judge, or extort from him the tear of compassion;—or who can influence and bend his soul (which is confessedly the capital perfection of an Orator) in such a manner as shall best suit his purpose.” – Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

“These showy kinds of eloquence are agreeable enough in young people; but they are entirely destitute of that gravity and composure which befits a riper age. As Hortensius therefore excelled in both, he was heard with applause in the earlier part of his life.” – Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

“For it is of little consequence to discover what is proper to be said, unless you are able to express it in a free and agreeable manner: and even that will be insufficient, if not recommended by the voice, the look, and the gesture.” – Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

It’s important to tailor your communication to your setting – for Cicero this meant the language he used in legal pleadings was different to the language he used when he was speaking in the forum. Each space had different rules and conventions.

“But as there are several kinds of Eloquence which differ considerably from each other, and therefore cannot be reduced to one common form;—for this reason, as to mere laudatory Orations, Essays, Histories, and such suasory performances as the Panegyric of Isocrates, and the speeches of many others who were called Sophists;—and, in short, as to every thing which is unconnected with the Forum, and the whole of that species of discourse which the Greeks call the demonstrative. For here, a fluency of expression is confessedly nourished and cultivated; and the easy construction, and harmonious cadence of our language is more openly attended to. Here, likewise, we both allow and recommend a studious elegance of diction, and a continued flow of melodious and well-turned periods;—and here, we may labour visibly, and without concealing our art, to contrast word to word, and to compare similar, and oppose contrary circumstances, and make several sentences (or parts of a sentence) conclude alike, and terminate with the same cadence; —ornaments, which in real pleadings, are to be used more sparingly, and with less appearance of art.” Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators).

“The manner of speaking, then, which is observed in the demonstrative or ornamental species of Eloquence, and which I have before remarked, was peculiar to the Sophists, is sweet, harmonious, and flowing, full of pointed sentiments, and arrayed in all the brilliance of language. But it is much fitter for the parade than the field; and being, therefore, consigned to the Palaestra, and the schools, has been long banished from the Forum. As Eloquence, however, after she had been fed and nourished with this, acquires a fresher complexion, and a firmer constitution; it would not be amiss, I thought, to trace our Orator from his very cradle.”

4. Be clear: Use words and phrases people will understand, phrased as concisely as possible, but pay heed to convention and context.

“He will conduct himself as if he was setting out an entertainment, and while he carefully avoids a splendid magnificence, he will not only be plain and frugal, but neat and elegant, and make his choice accordingly. For there is a kind of genteel parsimony, by which his character is distinguished from that of others.” – The Orator

“Our style must be pure, and correct;—we must speak with clearness and perspicuity; —and be always attentive to appear in character.” – The Orator

“The Orator, then, who is distinguished by the simplicity of his manner, provided he is correct and elegant, will be sparing in the use of new words; easy and modest in his metaphors; and very cautious in the use of words which are antiquated;—and as to the other ornaments of language and sentiment, here also he will be equally plain and reserved.” – The Orator

“For in history, nothing is more pleasing than a correct and elegant brevity of expression.” – Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

“Whatever, therefore, may be discussed by reason and method, should be constantly reduced to the primary form or semblance of it’s respective genus.” – The Orator

“…the simple and easy Speaker is remarkably dexterous and keen, and aiming at nothing but our information, makes every thing he discourses upon, rather clear and open than great and striking, and polishes it with the utmost neatness and accuracy. But some of this kind of Speakers, who are distinguished by their peculiar artificie, are designedly unpolished, and appear rude and unskilful, that they may have the better opportunity of deceiving us:—while others, with the same poverty of style, are far more elegant and agreeable,—that is, they are pleasant and facetious, and sometimes even florid, with here and there an easy ornament.” Cicero, The Orator

“For his very speeches have so many obscure and intricate periods, that they are scarcely intelligible; which in a public discourse is the greatest fault of which an Orator can be guilty.” – The Orator

“Some also confine their attention to the smoothness and equability of their periods, and aim at a style which is perfectly neat and clear: while others affect a harshness, and severity of diction, and to give a gloomy cast to their language:—and as we have already observed that some endeavour to be nervous and majestic, others neat and simple, and some to be smooth and florid, it necessarily follows that there must be as many different kinds of Orators, as there are of Eloquence.” – The Orator

“The finished Orator, therefore, who is the subject of this Essay, in whatever manner he would appear to be affected himself, and touch the heart of his hearer, will employ a suitable and corresponding tone of voice” – The Orator

5. Pay attention to structure: Think about pace, rhythm, rhyme, and verve, but most importantly – how to structure your argument around your purpose

“Before him [Isocrates], the artificial structure and harmony of language was unknown;—or if there are any traces of it to be discovered, they appear to have been made without design; which, perhaps, will be thought a beauty:—but whatever it may be deemed, it was, in the present case, the effect rather of native genius, or of accident, than of art and observation. For mere nature itself will measure and limit our sentences by a convenient compass of words; and when they are thus confined to a moderate flow of expression, they will frequently have a numerous cadence:—for the ear alone can decide what is full and complete, and what is deficient; and the course of our language will necessarily be regulated by our breath, in which it is excessively disagreeable, not only to fail, but even to labour.” – Cicero, Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

“But M. Calidius has a more particular claim to our notice for the singularity of his character; which cannot so properly be said to have entitled him to a place among our other Orators, as to distinguish him from the whole fraternity; for in him we beheld the most uncommon, and the most delicate sentiments, arrayed in the softest and finest language imaginable. Nothing could be so easy as the turn and compass of his periods; nothing so ductile; nothing more pliable and obsequious to his will, so that he had a greater command of it than any Orator whatever.”

“For every cause can have but one natural introduction and conclusion; and all the other parts of it, like the members of an animal body, will best retain their proper strength and beauty, when they are regularly disposed and connected.” – Cicero, Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

“But after he has thus invented what is proper to be said, with what accuracy must he methodize it? … Accordingly, he will give the portal of his Harangue a graceful appearance, and make the entrance to his cause as neat and splendid as the importance of it will permit.” – Cicero, The Orator

“For as language is ever soft and yielding, and so amazingly pliable that you may bend and form it at your pleasure; so different natures and dispositions have given rise to different kinds of Elocution. Some, for instance, who place the chief merit of it in it’s rapidity, are mightily pleased with a torrent of words, and a volubility of expression. Others again are better pleased with regular, and measured intervals, and frequent stops, and pauses. What can be more opposite? and yet both have their proper excellence.” – Cicero, The Orator

6. Be engaging: Use new and exciting combinations of words designed to stir people. Use humour sometimes (carefully).

“This kind of Oratory will likewise be frequently enlivened by those turns of wit and pleasantry, which in Speaking have a much greater effect than is imagined. There are two sorts of them; the one consisting in smart sayings and quick repartees, and the other in what is called humour. Our Orator will make use of both;—of the latter in his narratives, to make them lively and entertaining;—and of the other, either in giving or retorting a stroke of ridicule, of which there are several kinds; but at present it is not our business to specify them. It will not be amiss, however, to observe by way of caution, that the powers of ridicule are not to be employed too often, lest we sink into scurrility;—nor in loose and indecent language, lest we degenerate into wantonness and buffoonery; —nor with the least degree of petulance and abuse, lest we appear audacious and ill-bred;—nor levelled against the unfortunate, lest we incur the censure of inhumanity;—nor against atrocious crimes, lest we raise a laugh where we ought to excite abhorrence;—nor, in the last place, should they be used unseasonably, or when the characters either of the Speaker, or the Hearer, and the circumstances of time and place forbid it;—otherwise we should grossly fail in that decorum of which we have already said so much.

We should likewise avoid all affected witticisms, which appear not to be thrown out occasionally, but to be dragged from the closet; for such are generally cold and insipid. It is also improper to jest upon our friends, or upon persons of quality, or to give any strokes of wit which may appear ill-natured, or malicious.”

7. Use familiar structures, concepts and tools, but change the words to paint new, clear, pictures. 

“But in the use of metaphors, he will, perhaps, take greater liberties; because these are frequently introduced in conversation, not only by Gentlemen, but even by rustics, and peasants: for we often hear them say that the vine shoots out it’s buds, that the fields are thirsty, the corn lively, and the grain rich and flourishing. Such expressions, indeed, are rather bold: but the resemblance between the metaphor and the object is either remarkably obvious; or else, when the latter has no proper name to express it, the metaphor is so far from appearing to be laboured, that we seem to use it merely to explain our meaning.” The Orator

“The Greeks themselves acknowledge that the chief beauty of composition results from the frequent use of those translatitious forms of expression which they call Tropes, and of those various attitudes of language and sentiment which they call Figures”Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

“Many of the Greeks have pursued it with success: but, in my opinion, they must all yield the palm to Demetrius Phalereus, whose Eloquence is ever mild and placid, and bespangled with a most elegant variety of metaphors and other tropes, like so many stars. By metaphors, as I have frequently observed, I mean expressions which, either for the sake of ornament, or through the natural poverty of our language, are removed and as it were transplanted from their proper objects to others, by way of similitude. As to tropes in general, they are particular forms of expression, in which the proper name of a thing is supplied by another, which conveys the same meaning, but is borrowed from its adjuncts or effects” – The Orator

8. Character, and personal substance, is important, bad character corrupts communication

Believing what you’re saying is best…

“But (as I have before observed) I have been so much transported, not by the force of my genius, but by the real fervor of my heart, that I was unable to restrain myself: —and, indeed, no language will inflame the mind of the hearer, unless the Speaker himself first catches the ardor, and glows with the importance of his subject.” – The Orator

“Discretion, therefore, is the basis of Eloquence, as well as of every other accomplishment. For, as in the conduct of life, so in the practice of Speaking, nothing is more difficult than to maintain a propriety of character. This is called by the Greeks, “the becoming,” but we shall call it decorum.” Cicero, The Orator

“Philosophers, therefore, have carefully discussed this extensive and important topic in the doctrine of Ethics, (though not, indeed, when they treat of right and wrong, because those are invariably the fame:) —nor is it less attended to by the Critics in their poetical Essays, or by men of Eloquence in every species and every part of their public debates. For what would be more out of character, than to use a lofty style, and ransack every topic of argument, when we are speaking only of a petty trespass in some inferior court? Or, on the other hand, to descend to any puerile subtilties, and speak with the indifference and simplicity of a frivolous narrative, when we are lashing treason and rebellion?

…Here, the indecorum would arise from the very nature and quality of the subject: but others are equally guilty of it, by not adapting their discourse either to their own characters, or to that of their hearers, and, in some cafes, to that of their antagonists; and they extend the fault not only to their sentiments, but to the turn of their expression… But it is sufficient to our present purpose to observe, that in all our words and actions, as well the smallest as the greatest, there is a something which will appear either becoming or unbecoming, and that almost every one is sensible of it’s confluence. But what is becoming, and what ought to be, are very different considerations, and belong to a different topic:—for the ought to be points out the perfection of duty, which should be attended to upon all occasions, and by all persons: but the becoming denotes that which is merely proper, and suited to time and character, which is of great importance not only in our actions and language, but in our very looks, our gesture, and our walk; and that which is contrary to it will always be unbecoming, and disagreeable.” Cicero, The Orator

“As honour is the reward of virtue, conferred upon a man by the choice and affection of his fellow-citizens, he who obtains it by their free votes and suffrages is to be considered, in my opinion, as an honourable member of the community. But he who acquires his power and authority by taking advantage of every unhappy incident, and without the consent of his fellow-citizens, as Curio aimed to do, acquires only the name of honour, without the substance.”  – Cicero, Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

This undermines everything else…

“For he had been extremely well educated, and was perfectly versed in every branch of polite literature: he had likewise a penetrating genius, and an elegant variety of expression; and appeared grave and sententious without arrogance, and modest and diffident without dejection. But like many other young men he was carried away by the tide of ambition… Thus, by exposing himself to a fatal catastrophe, while he was endeavouring to rival the fame of Cyrus and Alexander, who lived to finish their desperate career, he lost all resemblance of L. Crassus, and his other worthy Progenitors.” – Cicero, Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

9. Communicating well is hard, successful communication achieves its purpose. While there are plenty of communication principles, it should be judged on its fruits

“For I wish to make it appear, that in such a powerful and ancient republic as ours, in which the greatest rewards have been proposed to Eloquence, though all have desired to be good speakers, not many have attempted the talk, and but very few have succeeded.” – Cicero, Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

“A man, therefore, who is a real connoisseur in the art, can sometimes by a single glance as he passes through the Forum, and without stopping to listen attentively to what is said, form a tolerable judgment of the ability of the Speaker. When he observes any of the Bench either yawning, or speaking to the person who is next to him, or looking carelessly about him, or sending to enquire the time of day, or teazing the Quaestor to dismiss the court; he concludes very naturally that the cause upon trial is not pleaded by an Orator who understands how to apply the powers of language to the passions of the judges, as a skilful musician applies his fingers to the harp.” – Cicero, Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

“The general merit of an Orator must and will be decided by the effects which his eloquence produces. For (in my opinion at least) there are three things which an Orator should be able to effect; viz. to inform his hearers, to please them, and to move their passions.” – Cicero, Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

10. Practice, imitation, reading, and writing makes better, and if at first you don’t succeed, keep pursuing excellence.

“I never suffered even a single day to escape me, without some exercise of the oratorial kind.”

“He is absolutely master of his trade, and, neglecting every other profession, has applied himself solely to this; and, for that purpose, has persevered in the rigorous task of composing a daily Essay in writing. His words are well chosen; his language is full and copious; and every thing he says receives an additional ornament from the graceful tone of his voice, and the dignity of his action. In short, he is so compleat an Orator, that there is no quality I know of, in which I can think him deficient. But he is still more to be admired, for being able, in these unhappy times, (which are marked with a distress that, by some cruel fatality, has overwhelmed us all) to console himself, as opportunity offers, with the consciousness of his own integrity, and by the frequent renewal of his literary pursuits.” – Cicero, Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

“A good voice, indeed, though a desirable accomplishment, is not in our power to acquire:—but to exercise, and improve it, is certainly in the power of every person.” Cicero, The Orator

“I really think of Caesar, and every body else says the same of this accurate connoisseur in the Art of Speaking, that he has the purest and the most elegant command of the Roman language of all the Orators that have yet appeared: and that not merely by domestic habit, as we have lately heard it observed of the families of the Laelii and the Mucii, (though even here, I believe, this might partly have been the case) but he chiefly acquired and brought it to its present perfection, by a studious application to the most intricate and refined branches of literature, and by a careful and constant attention to the purity of his style… a pure and correct style is the groundwork, and the very basis and foundation, upon which an Orator must build his other accomplishments: though, it is true, that those who had hitherto possessed it, derived it more from early habit, than from any principles of art… But Caesar, who was guided by the principles of art, has corrected the imperfections of a vicious custom, by adopting the rules and improvements of a good one, as he found them occasionally displayed in the course of polite conversation. Accordingly, to the purest elegance of expression, (which is equally necessary to every well-bred Citizen, as to an Orator) he has added all the various ornaments of Elocution; so that he seems to exhibit the finest painting in the most advantageous point of view.” – Brutus (Or History of Famous Orators)

“The Attic Speakers, he will tell me, are the models upon which he wishes to form his Eloquence. But which of them does he mean to fix upon? for they are not all of the same cast. Who, for instance, could be more unlike each other than Demosthenes and Lysias? or than Demosthenes and Hyperides? Or who more different from either of them, than Aeschines? Which of them, then, do you propose to imitate? If only one, this will be a tacit implication, that none of the rest were true masters of Atticism: if all, how can you possibly succeed, when their characters are so opposite?” 

“It is but reasonable, however, that all those who covet what is excellent, and which cannot be acquired without the greatest application, should exert their utmost. But if any one is deficient in capacity, and destitute of that admirable force of genius which Nature bestows upon her favourites, or has been denied the advantages of a liberal education, let him make the progress he is able. For while we are driving to overtake the foremost, it is no disgrace to be found among the second class, or even the third… There is, therefore, no reason why those who have devoted themselves to the study of Eloquence, should suffer their hopes to languish, or their industry to flag. For, in the first place, even that which is most excellent is not to be despaired of;—and, in all worthy attempts, that which is next to what is best is great and noble.” – Cicero, The Orator


The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

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