A Higher Art

Why is oracy generally and rhetoric in particular seen as “a higher art?” The Roman politician, lawyer, and orator Cicero summed it up thus, “Rhetoric is one great art comprised of five lesser arts: inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, and actio.”

But what are these lesser arts? The first, inventio (invention) is the process of developing and refining your arguments. You need to know exactly what your stance is, if you are going to persuade others of it.

The second, disposition (arrangement) is the process of organizing your arguments for their fullest impact. Whether sandwiching your weaker points between stronger ones, or a progressive build-up of ever stronger points, the arrangement of presentation is a skill to be developed.

Elocutio or style, is the third sub-art. It is the process of determining how you phrase your arguments using rhetorical techniques such as metaphor and hyperbole.

The fourth important skill is memoria or memory. This is the process of memorising your speech in order to avoid the use of notes. This is not only by rout retrieval of the speech itself, but of supporting materials such as literary references and statistics that might enhance your presentation or lead to impromptu embellishments in response to your audience.

Finally delivery or actio comes into play. This is the process of practicing your delivery. Not only of the speech’s text but of your gestures, inflections, and pauses as well.

This complex arrangement of “arts” leads to the mastery of the “uber-art” of rhetorical persuasion; or as Cicero put it “speech designed to persuade.”



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