Among the many ancient masters of rhetoric in the Roman orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero. He was a lawyer and statesman during the days when Rome transitioned from a republic of laws to a dictatorship under the Caesars. He lived from 106 to 43 BC, and wrote extensively on rhetoric, philosophy, and politics. His determination to hold fast his integrity and to criticize those that he felt did not uphold the laws of Rome ended in his assassination at the hands of Marc Antony. Those of us interested in the value of public speaking should be favorably disposed to men like him. His integrity and his writings on rhetoric provide us a wealth of information on public speaking skills. 

Pillar of Iron

A good look at the life of Cicero can begin with a novel by Taylor Caldwell, A Pillar of Iron. Not only has this author established herself as a great novelist, but she has written several novels about famous people from the distant past: the Apostle Paul, and Luke the writer of the Gospel of Luke. Her insights into the life of Cicero can be traced to her extensive research into his life and writings.

Caldwell does not hide his blemishes, but the life of a man who sought to maintain his integrity, loved a society based on just laws, and knew how to effectively persuade audiences should be studied and imitated for the good he did. For public speakers of any age, Cicero’s writings on rhetoric are ageless.

Personality versus Integrity

It has been said that today, we have transitioned from a society that once valued integrity to one that celebrates personality. We love charisma. We are easily attracted to people who have it. Dare I say we are enamored with their presence and ability to garner our support only because on some innate power of their personality?

In Caldwell’s book, we find that Cicero plays the foil to one of the most charismatic figures of Rome, Julius Caesar. Interestingly enough, the two men grew up together, and though lifelong friends, Cicero opposed Caesar’s ambitions.

The Cult of Personality

Hollywood does not maintain a foothold on elevating personality over integrity. Today’s public speakers are often masters of elevating themselves because of the power of their personality. Even some churches fall prey to this. To be successful in some theological circles seems to demand the high-powered and energetic magnetism displayed by those who can create a frenzy of excitement.

Although Cicero persuaded by using the power and eloquence of words, he didn’t sacrifice his integrity just to please his audiences. By reading Caldwell’s book, anyone desiring to present their ideas to the public or to their business associates will benefit from reading about the life of one of the most famous orators of all time.

In later posts I will provide insights into Cicero’s rhetorical advice. Below, I’ve included his theory of rhetoric as well as several of his many quotes. Hopefully this will stir your interest. In the meantime, I recommend A Pillar of Iron to anyone wishing to follow in the footsteps of one of masters of public speaking.

© 2023 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC

Quotes by Marcus Tullius Cicero: orator philosopher, and Roman statesman

Cicero defines rhetoric as the art of speaking and writing in a way that is effective, persuasive, and convincing. [I am and advocate of the close connection between speaking and writing.]

“Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.”

It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.”

Nothing is more noble, nothing more venerable than fidelity. Faithfulness and truth are the most sacred excellences and endowments of the human mind.”

The wise are instructed by reason, average minds by experience, the stupid by necessity and the brute by instinct.”

To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.”