How Important was the rhetorical Context of Cicero’s orations: his listeners’ fear of Catiline’s conspiracy and army?

Rhetoric was a central aspect of Cicero’s orations.  Without the use of rhetoric, he would not have made the same impact during his era, nor would he have impacted the modern world.

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), is considered to be one of the most effective users of rhetoric in history.  He was a Roman politician who served as consul in 63 BC.  This man, was regarded even in his own time for his rhetorical abilities.  The thought of being pursued by this in front of the Roman Senate is daunting for the victim. In each of his speeches he delivered, he had a goal, and he was consistent with that goal throughout the speech.  For this reason, the victim knew they would be defeated if they attempted to deny Cicero’s accusations.

Cicero pursued a man, known in English as Catiline (108-62 BC), he was a member of the Roman senate.  Cicero believed, and argued, that Catiline was conspiring an attempt to overthrow the city.  He verbally addressed him in front of the Roman senate.  He accused Catiline of being the source of evil in the city of Rome.  He delivered four different orations, each with different goals, all of which had a focus on removing Catiline’s conspiracy from the city.

Rhetoric was central to Cicero’s series of orations.  The use of rhetoric, was the heart of his speech.  What exactly is rhetoric? From Wikipedia: “Rhetoric is the art of discourse, wherein a writer or speaker strives to inform, persuade or motivate particular audiences in specific situations.”  In order to make his audience fear Catiline’s conspiracies, Cicero had to use rhetoric to effectively motivate his audience.  He had to persuade and motivate his audience to take action against the conspiracy of Catiline.

The orations he delivered were not in the format of a trial.  They were strictly political speeches.  He did not specify his accusations and he offered no proof of his accusations.  He did not order sanctions against Catiline, he just gave him advisory.  The goal of his first oration was to persuade Catiline to leave the senate, and to ultimately leave the city of Rome.  He accomplished this goal through use of rhetoric.  Cicero was successful in this task, and Catiline departed from the city.  This was done, not through lawful force, but rather by means of effective rhetoric.

If Cicero had not accomplished what he did with his rhetorical techniques, Catiline may have been successful in his attempt to overthrow the city.  If not successful in his attempt, there would have been executions of innocent Roman citizens.  It was not over, however.  When Catiline left the city, his allies were still corrupting Rome, Cicero confronted this in the following orations.  Catiline would later attack the city, but he was no longer inside the walls of the city, and he lost power because of this.  Without the rhetorical context of Cicero’s orations, his audience would not have taken action, and the course of history would be vastly different.

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