Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cicero is More Than a Town in Illinois

For all of you language mavens out there, there's a lovely article from Great Britain about Obama's use of rhetoric, and its historical antecedents.

And yes, it is sad that only the British are well enough educated to a) write this story and b) think that the general public might want to read this story.

Here's a little teaser for you:

There have been many controversial aspects to this presidential election, but one thing is uncontroversial: that Obama's skill as an orator has been one of the most important factors - perhaps the most important factor - in his victory. The sheer numbers of people who have heard him speak live set him apart from his rivals - and, indeed, recall the politics of ancient Athens, where the public speech given to ordinary voters was the motor of politics, and where the art of rhetoric matured alongside democracy....

During the Roman republic (and in ancient Athens) politics was oratory. In Athens, questions such as whether or not to declare war on an enemy state were decided by the entire electorate (or however many bothered to turn up) in open debate. Oratory was the supreme political skill, on whose mastery power depended. Unsurprisingly, then, oratory was highly organised and rigorously analysed. The Greeks and Romans, in short, knew all the rhetorical tricks, and
they put a name to most of them....

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