“The complete and perfect orator is who can speak in public about every subject with richness of arguments and variety of tunes and images.”
— Crassus, in Cicero. De Oratore.

Key Terms: Disertus, Eloquens, Loci/Topoi, Inventio, Dispositio, Elocutio, Memoria, Actio

Cicero’s De Oratore takes the form of a letter to his brother, describing a dialogue between several notable public speakers of their day. While I must first acknowledge that this format was frustrating and problematic for me in terms of finding solid positions and answers within the text, I also see the strengths of it. The use of dialogue allows for complexity, examining concepts from multiple perspectives and arguing the strengths and weaknesses of various positions. Unfortunately, speaking candidly, I also found the work tedious to read and not generally engaging. Part of this may be due to the limitations of translation, but I am nonetheless relieved that Cicero is not a central text in my research.

Questions and Answers

1. Considering Adichie’s description of being unable to perceive herself as included in a particular community until she had seen herself welcome there, how can we use Johnson’s pleasure-oriented “renegade rhetoric” to create a more inclusive academic community that encourages students to be active, engaged participants rather than feel academics are a toil inflicted upon them?

One reading of Cicero’s text could be that merit as an orator is sufficient to allow access to public respect, and that merit can be achieved through the study of various arts. As the text does not particularly address matters of inclusion or privilege, I must speculate a fair bit–but it seems plausible to me that the Roman sociopolitical elite would have certainly guarded their power against intrusion. Thus, it is reasonable to suppose that the main inspiration to achieve prowess in rhetoric, for Cicero, might be some measure of social prestige and, by extension, inclusion in that community.

2. In the text, identify a specific community that is discussed. What role does inclusion in and engagement with that community play in forming an identity (both as an individual and as part of said community) that serves to facilitate the goals of liberation and critical consciousness as put forth by Paulo Freire and bell hooks?

The community of orators in Rome seems to be central to the discussion. The text is not particularly concerned with liberation as such, but it asserts repeatedly (in the voices of several different characters) that eloquence and achievement will allow one to command respect. While this is, of course, one way to suggest liberation in a sense–via gained social power–it is also taken within a context where class and power are no doubt also deeply involved. Therefore, it is difficult to particularly see this text as operating in the liberatory tradition of Freire or hooks.

3. How can seeking to orient toward pleasure and satisfaction as pedagogical modes be designed to specifically address the concepts of varied learning styles, multiple intelligences, and the highly varied backgrounds (personal, cultural, academic) of students?

I cannot say that the text seems to address this in particular; however, the way the text is written may be applicable to the concept. By using a dialogic format instead of a single-voiced set of assertions, Cicero does invite the idea of multiple perspectives, difference, and productive disagreement. Given his implicit illustration of the value of these divergences rather than a singular line of argument, one can view this form as allowing for difference in at least a broad sense. Applying this concept to specific ideas of learning styles, etc., remains purely speculative, but it is not difficult to imagine the form of Cicero’s text being adapted to serve such an end.

4. What can we learn about learning, both as students and teachers, by studying the ostensibly enjoyment-oriented concept and practice of “play”? What connects pleasure and play—enjoyment and engagement—to learning, cognition, and individual development?

Unfortunately, Cicero’s assertions seem to be that pleasure and play have little to do with his life. Instead, he characterizes the work of the orator as a toil without great satisfaction. And yet, in contrast, one can again consider the form his text takes. There is an almost playful air in the way he places ideas in the mouths of respected speakers (even if he is doing his best to faithfully represent the ideas of the actual individuals), then turns their words into a debate to allow a complex discussion of the subject. This reading supports my belief that the form a piece of composition takes can have a lot to do with both its effectiveness and how engaging and enjoyable it is to produce. Again, still speculating, it seems entirely possible that this text could be viewed as a way to liven up and “play” with the ideas behind what is obviously a serious and important topic to Cicero.

5. In considering the concept of “inclusion,” how can a focus on student pleasure and engagement in academic pursuits serve to address fundamental questions of complex exclusion and divided identities? Consider this discussion in terms of a borderland, such as discussed by Gloria Anzaldúa in Borderlands/La Frontera. Students’ language is a kind of homeland for them, a place they have long occupied; what divisions and exclusions are we asking them to navigate (within and without) by asking them to learn to write and use language “correctly” without including their own pre-existing language—their own territory, as it were—into the process?

The most apparent borderland within the text is its own divided identity, the separation of its argument into multiple and conflicting voices. There is, of course, also the background of Roman political strife to consider, as well as the very pointed identity separation between the various Roman speakers and their Greek contemporaries and intellectual forebears. The text certainly asserts the importance of “correct” and “eloquent” use of language, perhaps partly as a way of asserting their independent identity. Here again, the text does not seek to critically engage with these issues, but it can perhaps be used as an example of where such complexities can arise–even in the most seemingly privileged (and seemingly homogenous) social situation.

“The pen is the best and most efficient creator and master of speaking.”
— Crassus, in Cicero. De Oratore.


Cicero. De Oratore. Trans. E. W. Sutton and H. Rackham. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 289-339. Print.