The Organization of a Roman Speech

In the Module Writing Institute today we were talking about a metalanguage for commencement addresses. I suggested that it was worth looking at the six-part organization of a classical Roman speech as described by Cicero in De Inventione and De Oratore. This pattern has lasted for thousands of years.

  • Exordium–An introduction in which the speaker states the subject and purpose of the discourse and establishes his or her ethos.
  • Narratio–A narrative of the facts of the case.
  • Partitio or Divisio–A statement of what is to come, consistent with the point at issue.
  • Confirmatio–Arguments in favor of the case. Oriented toward logos.
  • Refutatio–A refutation of the arguments against the case.
  • Peroratio–A conclusion, often oriented toward pathos.

I argued that if we were still teaching this pattern, instead of the five-paragraph essay, our society would be much more advanced. All of the requirements of good logical argumentation are built into this pattern, though it also addresses ethical and pathetic appeals. And it is still in use in sermons and other ceremonial discourse.

More can be found at the Silva Rhetoricae site.  Click on “Canons of Rhetoric/Arrangement” in the column on the left side.

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