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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Oratory refers to the ancient art of (public) speaking. In ancient Greece and Rome, oratory was studied as a component of rhetoric (that is, composition and delivery of speeches), and was an important skill in public and private life. Aristotle and Quintilian discussed oratory, and the subject, with definitive rules and models, was emphasised as a part of a liberal arts education during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.


Latin orare ("speak before a court or assembly; plead"), derived from a Proto-Indo-European base *or- ("to pronounce a ritual formula").

The derived word oration, originally used for prayer since c.1375, now means (recorded since 1502) any formal speech, as on a ceremonial occasion or delivered in a similarly high-flown or pompous manner. Its etymological doublet orison is recorded since c.1175, from Anglo-French oreison, Old French oraison ("oration", 12th century), Latin oratio ("speech, oration"), notably in Church Latin ("prayer, appeal to God") from orare (as above), but retained its devotional specialisation.

The modern meaning of the word, "public speaking", is attested from c.1430.

One meaning of the word oratory is abstract: the art of public speaking. There is also the equivalent Greek word rhētōr, hence the abstract noun rhetoric.

Greek Oratory

The art of public speaking was first developed by the ancient Greeks. Greek oration is known from the works of classical antiquity. Greek orators spoke as on their own behalf rather as representatives of either a client or a constituency, and so any citizen who wished to succeed in court, in politics, or in social life had to learn techniques of public speaking. These skills were taught first by a group of self-styled "sophists" who were known to charge fees, to "make the weaker argument the stronger," and to make their students "better" through instruction in excellence. Plato, Aristotle, and Isocrates all developed theories of public speaking in opposition to the Sophists, and their ideas took on institutional form through the development of permanent schools where public speaking was taught. Though Greece eventually lost political sovereignty, the Greek culture of training in public speaking was adopted virtually wholesale by the Romans.

Latin Oratory

After the ascension of Rome, Greek techniques of public speaking were copied and modified by the Romans. Under Roman influence, instruction in rhetoric developed into a full curriculum including instruction in grammar (study of the poets), preliminary exercises (progymnasmata), and preparation of public speeches (declamation) in both forensic and deliberative genres. The Latin style was heavily influenced by Cicero, and involved a strong emphasis on a broad education in all areas of humanistic study (in the liberal arts, including philosophy), as well as on the use of wit and humor, on appeal to the listener's emotions, and on digressions, often used to explore general themes related to the specific topic of the speech. Oratory in the Roman empire, though less central to political life, remained important in law, and became (under the second Sophistic) an important form of entertainment, with famous orators or declaimers gaining great wealth and prestige for their skills.

This Latin style was the primary form of oration in the world until the beginning of the 20th century. After World War II there began a gradual deprecation of the Latin style of oration.

With the rise of the scientific method and the emphasis on a "plain" style of speaking and writing, even formal oratory has become less polished and ornate than in the Classical period, though politicians in democracies today can still make or break their careers on the basis of a successful (or unsuccessful) speech. Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama have all advanced their careers in large part due to their skills in oratory.


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ORATORY (Lat. oratoria, sc. ars; from orare, to speak or pray), the art of speaking eloquently or in accordance with the rules of rhetoric. From Lat. oratorium, sc. templum, a place of prayer, comes the use of the word for a small chapel or place of prayer for the use of private individuals, generally attached to a mansion and sometimes to a church. The name is also given to small chapels built to commemorate some special deliverance.

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