Sunday, May 8, 2016

Cicero and Classical Rhetoric: A Good Man Is Still Fluent Dead

Much needless suffering (including physical carnage) flows from our inability to persuade with words rather than force.  Much of that verbal inability comes from a lack of basic instruction in the rhetorical arts that the Greeks and Romans perfected long ago.  Their manuals (such as the Rhetorica ad Herennium and Artistotle's Rhetoric) lie too often untouched  though freely available online and in libraries all around us.  Ignoring such works makes no sense, and I hope one day the vast majority of us will rediscover and value what the ancient rhetoricians have given us.  I wonder how Cicero might speak to us now about the power of word over sword (of dropping the "s" from "sword" and using the resulting "word"), and about the need to read, ponder, and perfect the teachings his earlier generations have kindly left us.  I've written the following sonnet hoping to capture some wisdom from that man of words who was murdered by men of swords and whose hands and head were cut off and nailed up for public view.

      Cicero's Sonnet

We clearly must have order if we are
To be.  For lacking it would leave us no
Means to distinguish us.  Thus, insofar
As there’s disorder we’re extinguished--sow
Dissention in us and we start to fade
To that degree.  Thus, disagreeing, we
Survive to the extent that we persuade.
How do it?  Swords are tempting.  Yet, we see
The word’s superior.  What’s bloodless and
Eternal on its face is better than
A dated slaughter.  Good men therefore stand
With gods at journey’s end yet don’t quit man
In full.  Their words live though they lose their head
And hands.  A good man is still fluent dead. 

© Harold Anthony Lloyd 2016

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