De Oratore (55 B.C.)
Rhetoric Timeline
Primary Source Synopses

Of Cicero's rhetorical treatises De Oratore, "On the Orator," was the most sophisticated treatment of rhetorical doctrines, surpassing his youthful De Inventione, which was more consistent with the rudimentary and systematic rhetoric, Rhetorica ad Herennium, that for so long was attributed to him. All of these are vital texts in establishing ancient Roman rhetorical doctrine, but De Oratore problematized the issues at the base of rhetoric by embodying them in dialogue form.

Compact Outline:
Book I The Nature, Range, Requirements, and Educational Systems of Oratory
Book II Rhetoric as Theoretical or as Practical;
Pragmatic Suggestions on Argumenation, Audience, Emotion, Wit, Arrangement, Memory
Book III Style (also Decorum, Delivery)

Detailed Outline:
Book One
Sect. 1-23 Introduction
Sect. 1-5 Cicero Replaces Former Treatise; The Orator's Broad Education
Sect. 6-15 Rarity of Great Orators
Sect. 16-23 Requirements for Oratory
Sect. 24-29 Scene Set for the Dialogue
Sect. 30-95 The Nature and Range of Oratory
Sect. 30-34 Crassus: Oratory Vital to Society
Sect. 35-44 Scaevola: Influence of Orators Limited
Sect. 45-57 Crassus: Oratory Requires Wide Knowledge
Sect. 58-68 Crassus: Oratory Requires Knowledge of Political and Moral Science
Sect. 69-73 Crassus: Orator Compares to Poet in Expressiveness and Range; Style Reveals Orator's Education
Sect. 74-79 Scaevola: Such Wide Knowledge Beyond Orator's Grasp
Sect. 80-95 Antonius: Broad Knowledge Impractical, Abstract; Reported Debate on Philosophy vs. Rhetoric
Sect. 96-112 Crassus Urged to Expound
Sect. 102-109 Crassus: Is There an Art of Rhetoric? Only by Reducing Experience and Observation to a System
Sect. 113-262 The Requirements of an Orator
Sect. 113-136 Crassus and Antonius: Natural Ability; Orators Subject to Critics
Sect. 137-147

Crassus: Conventional Oratorical Training:

  • Oratory's Purpose
  • Classification of Subjects
  • Determining status
  • Three Kinds of Oratory: forensic, deliberative, panegyric
  • Five Divisions of Rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery
  • Parts of an Oration
  • Rules of Diction
Sect. 148-159

Crassus: Necessary Oratorical Exercises:

  • Speeches on Subjects from Real Life
  • Written Compositions (for style, matter)
  • Paraphrasing Poetry and Prose
  • Training Voice and Gesture
  • Memory Techniques
  • Public Speaking
  • Reading and Analysis of Literature
  • Debating pro and contra
  • Studying History, Law, Politics
  • Making Notes
Sect. 160-204 Crassus: Dignity and Force Required
Sect. 205-218 Antonius Rebuts Crassus: Oratory Requires Speaking Convincingly, Not Wide Knowledge
Sect. 219-233 Antonius: To Affect Emotions, No Philosophy Needed
Sect. 234-239 Antonius: Knowledge of Law Unnecessary, Only Eloquence
Sect. 240-250 Antonius: Only General Principles of Law Needed
Sect. 251-262 Antonius: Practice More Crucial Than Wide Knowledge History, etc.
Sect. 263-265 Crassus: Antonius Shows Refuting Skill, Invites Further Exposition


Book Two
Sect. 1-11 Introduction: Crassus and Antonius Learned and Experienced
Sect. 12-27 The Second Day's Debate Begins
Sect. 28-38 Antonius: Oratory Not Reducible to a Science; Some Rules from Observation and Experience
Sect. 39-73 Rhetoric Makes No Rules for Many Subjects Requiring Eloquence
Sect. 74-89 Catullus: Uselessness of Theory Without Practice; Antonius: Criticism of Some Rhetorical Rules; Natural Ability Paramount
Sect. 90-98 Antonius: Constant Imitative Practice Required; The Greek Schools of Oratory
Sect. 99-113 Antonius: Mastering Facts of a Case Brings Out Main Issue
Sect. 114-151 Antonius: Establishing Facts; Stating a Case Under a General Proposition
Sect. 152-161 Catulus and Antonius: Greek and Roman Approaches to Philosophy (Aristotle, Stoicism, Carneades)
Sect. 162-177 Antonius: The Doctrine of Topics
Sect. 178-184 Antonius: Securing the Audience's Good Will
Sect. 185-216 Antonius: Exciting Emotion
Sect. 217-234 Caesar: Wit
Sect. 235-247 Caesar: The Laughable
Sect. 248-263 Caesar: Seven Kinds of Verbal Wit
Sect. 264-290 Caesar: Nine Kinds of Wit of Thought
Sect. 291-332 Antonius: Arrangement
Sect. 333-340 Antonius: Speeches of Advice; Ethos
Sect. 341-349 Antonius: Panegyric
Sect. 350-367 Antoinus: Memory Techniques

Book Three
Sect. 1-10 Fate of Characters in the Dialogue
Sect. 17-24 Crassus: Style Inseparable From Matter
Sect. 25-37 Crassus: Various Styles Admirable
Sect. 38-52 Crassus: Purity of Diction
Sect. 53-96 Crassus: The Ornate Style
Sect. 56-73 Crassus: Eloquence and Philosophy
Sect. 97-148 Crassus: Rules for Embellishment
Sect. 149-208

Crassus: The Ornate Style (detail):

  • Word Choice
  • Order
  • Rhythm
  • Figures of Speech
Sect. 208-227 Decorum and Delivery

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University
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