November 10, 2007

Advice for Politicians

It is timely to offer sage political advice, via one of the greatest orators of ancient Rome, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC).

Speaking from the floor of the Roman Senate, Cicero could bring down the house with a single line, not to mention shill for his friends, skewer his opponents, and break his arm patting his own back.

Here is the advice that Cicero gave in 46 BC, to fellow statesman (and eventual Caesar stabber) Marcus Junius Brutus:

1. Speak Plainly When It's Right to Speak Plainly

"The orator who is distinguished by the simplicity of his manner . . . will be sparing in the use of new words, easy and modest in his metaphors, and cautious in the use of . . . other ornaments of language and sentiment."

2. But Always Have a Quick Wit

"Oratory will be frequently enlivened by turns of wit and pleasantry, which in speaking have a much greater effect than is imagined. There are two sorts of them: smart sayings and repartees, and humor. Our orator will make use of both--in his narratives, to make them lively and entertaining--and in giving or retorting a stroke of ridicule."

3. Use Zingers and Sound Bites with Care

"The powers of ridicule are not to be employed too often . . . nor with the least degree of petulance and abuse, lest we appear audacious and ill-bred. . . . 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."

4. Wax Lyrical When It's Right to Wax Lyrical

"This is the eloquence that bends and sways the passions! This is the eloquence that alarms or soothes them at her pleasure! This is the eloquence that sometimes tears up all before it like a whirlwind; and, at others, steals imperceptibly upon the senses, and probes to the bottom of the heart!"

5. Repeat--But Only When It's Right

"The nervous, the fierce, the flaming orator, if he is born for this alone, and only practices and applies himself to this . . . is of all the most contemptible. The plain and simple orator, speaking acutely and expertly, has an appearance of wisdom and good-sense . . . but the copious and diffusive speaker, if he has no other skill, will scarcely appear to be in his senses."

6. Prove, Delight, and Push Their Buttons

"He is truly eloquent . . . who in the Forum, and in public debates, can 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."

7. Cling to Logic--It's Useful

"A finished orator . . . should borrow the assistance . . . of logic. For though public speaking is one thing and disputing another, and though there is a visible difference between a private controversy and a public harangue, both the one and the other come under the notion of reasoning."

8. Cling to Morality--It's Useful, Too

"He ought to acquaint himself not only with the art of logic, but with all the common and most useful branches of morality. For without a competent knowledge of these, nothing can be advanced and unfolded with any spirit and energy, or with becoming dignity and freedom."

9. Hit the History Books, Kids

"He should also be well versed in history and the venerable records of antiquity, particularly those of his country. . . . To be unacquainted with what has passed in the world, before we came into it ourselves, is to be always children."

10. Read Philosophy (Yes, Philosophy)

"The eloquent speaker . . . cannot be formed without the assistance of philosophy. . . . Because without philosophy, no man can speak fully and copiously upon a variety of important subjects."

11. But Don't Talk Like a Philosopher

"Their language has neither the nerves nor the sting which is required in the orator's when he harangues the crowded Forum. . . . For the language of philosophy is gentle and composed, and entirely calculated for the shady walks of the Academy--not armed with those forcible sentiments, and rapid turns of expression, which move the populace."

12. Finally, Understand How Politics Really Works

"Our orator . . . should be thoroughly acquainted with the sources of argument and proof. . . . Otherwise, how can he enlarge upon those which are most pertinent, and dwell upon such as more particularly affect his cause? Or how can he soften a harsh circumstance, or conceal, and (if possible) entirely suppress what would be deemed unanswerable, or steal off the attention of the hearer to a different topic?

I think we can safely suggest that Marcus Tullius Cicero does a regular triple turn with a half pike and an end twist in his grave at the caliber of today's politicians. If Cicero - the politicians politician - wasn't already dead, he would for certain die of mortification.


  1. Cicero.

    It should be remembered that in a society that rewarded valour and battle scars, to rise to the top - other than through gaining those scars - money and patronage was required. As well as a clever rhetoritician's brain.

    Cicero had much of the later three. He singularly failed, though, in the courage of his convictions. He had not risen to promminence due to courage, valour and the scars they gained. For him - unlike the Pompeys, Caesars, Flamininuses, Paulluses and Scipios - no Triumphs with the treasures of the Greek East in tow.

    When the Republic was in the ICU, suffering the wars and machinations of the Trumvirs (first and second), Cicero - under sustained attack - betook himself to Athens in Greece. He scarpered.

    He was, mind you, being harrassed by a rather violent individual by the apt name of Clodius who thought little of political murder for his paymaster, the overweening Crassus whose greed was only exceeded by his wealth.

    Still, when he returned, he repudiated much of what he had stood for so as to guarantee his future safety.

    Best err, stop the err, moralising history lecture now I s'pose.

    I'll just leave via this open port over here....

  2. Oh, picky, picky, picky!

    Had he not scarpered we would not have the benefit of his rhetoric, non?

    Had Shakespeare not nicked off to London, leaving the wife and kids, who knows what vapid stories and themes we'd be recycle to this very day.

  3. Anonymous9:16 PM

    "There is a concatenation of all events in the best of possible worlds; for, in short, had you not been kicked out of a fine castle for the love of Miss Cunegonde; had you not been put into the Inquisition; had you not traveled over America on foot; had you not run the Baron through the body; and had you not lost all your sheep, which you brought from the good country of El Dorado, you would not have been here to eat preserved citrons and pistachio nuts."

    "Excellently observed," answered Candide; "but let us cultivate our garden."

  4. "let us cultivate our garden."

    Ah, if only more conversations were ended thus, the world would surely be a far better place Justin.

  5. I have been cultivating the Rectory garden. With a black beer in hand, of course: gai lan; silver beet; chili (of all temps); rockmelon and rosemary (for the Rectory lamb. Soon to come: oregano (for same); dill and thyme.

    I wonder - during his time in self imposed, incontinent exile - if Cicero aided his great friend and providor od succour, Titus Pomponius Atticus, in his garden? Atticus, so named for his life encompassing philhellenism (particularly his love of Athens), was an Epicurean after all.

    Cornelius Nepos, like the Greek Plutarch, wrote "biographies" of the great men of history. His "life" of Atticus can be found here. For those who have an interest that is.

    There likely are....not too many...or maybe one.

    Think I'll go read it and leave everybody in peace.

    Then again, I've already done so.

    Oh look! There's an open port! Believe I'll just slip out past that incoming trojan....

  6. See, alls well that ends well: Cicero didn't scarper, he was off gardening with Atticus for a bit.

    It's nice that they were BBFs.

  7. Anonymous11:17 PM

    Mmm, chillies, Mike.
    The hotter the better!
    Yee haw!!

  8. alusWhen Sulla came to Athens on his way back from Asia, he kept Pomponius by him as long as he was there, captured by the young man's culture and learning.

    What a lovely little annecdote. Nary a mention that this return was after the sack of that same Athens (86bc) by the brutal dictator Sulla.

    As I reported from Athens, on Harry's blog, Plutarch (if I recall correctly) states that the streets and cisterns of the Karameikos (the district about the ancient Dypilon gate, the main gateway to Athens) literally ran with the blood of the butchered.

    After a year of siege, the thuggish dictator was not of a mind to exercise any restraint upon his troops.

    He may have needed Atticus for protection....

  9. You're, umm, so convincingly familiar with the days of yor, that I suddenly dare not ask how old you are Bertie.

    I know I've seen photo's, and you look spritely, but perhaps if I saw you in a toga, I might see you in an entirely different, err, light.

  10. Stuff the toga!

    Were you to see me in a Chlamys and Kausia with pelte on arm and sarissa in hand....

  11. "Were you to see me in a Chlamys and Kausia with pelte on arm and sarissa in hand...."

    Ooooh, I don't think so Father, not on a family blog, such as this; a stuffed toga would be more than sufficient until we know you a little better.

  12. I'd quite forgotten that I'd posted a picture of myself so dressed.

    That was when I was clean shaven and fit.