Rousseau (Emile: Or, On Education, 322-3) exults in “what the ancients accomplished with eloquence,” but notes that for them eloquence “did not consist solely in fine, well-ordered speeches.” Rather, “what was said most vividly was expressed not by words but by signs.”
Romans were masters of the language of signs:
“Different clothing according to ages and according to stations – toas, sagums, praetexts, bullas, laticlaves; thrones, lictors, fasces, axes; crowns of gold or of herbs or of leaves; ovations, triumphs. Everything with them was display, show, ceremony, and everything made an impression on the hearts of the citizens. It was important to the state that the people assemble in this place rather than in that other one, that they saw or did not see the Capitol, that they were or were not turned in the direction of the Senate, that they deliberated on this or that day. Accused persons changed costume, and so did candidates; warriors did not vaunt their exploits, they showed their wounds. On the deaths of Caesar I imagine one of of the orators wishing to move the people; he exhausts all the commonplaces of his art to present a pathetic description of Caesar’s wounds, his blood, his corpse. Antony, although eloquent, did not say all that. He has the body brought in. What rhetoric!” [Rousseau reading Shakespeare?]
He adds in a note that “the Roman clergy cleverly preserved” the old Roman language of signs.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, September 21, 2012 at 1:00 pm
Permission is given to use material on this site, provided the source is cited, blog entries are republished in full, and the author is notified in advance.