Mysterious Cicero Dialogue

(In looking through some boxes in my basement, I came across the following, written out in longhand.  While its origins are not clear,  it is abundantly clear that I was both having fun and taking myself very seriously when I wrote this.  Also, it’s pretty freaking awesome.  Enjoy!)

– Cicero receives an anonymous letter requesting a secret meeting several miles outside of Rome.  After dinner, he retires to his study and locks the door.  He steps out the window and lets himself down lightly into the alley.  He steals quietly into the Roman countryside.  As he approaches the place of meeting, he sees Virilio.

Virilio:  I appreciate your willingness to see me.

Cicero: Certainly.

V:  I have just finished reading your “De Oratore.”  Fascinating!

C:  I am flattered.

V:  I knew that I had to speak with you immediately.

C:  Yes, I recognized the urgency in your letter.  What seems to be the problem?

V:  You are the father of rhetoric, is that correct?

C:  Again, I am flattered, but I would hardly-

V:  “Vir bonus dicendi peritus”

C:  I beg your pardon.

V:  A good man skilled in speaking.

C:  Yes, I am familiar with the term.

V:  This definition will forever change the face of rhetoric.  You become your ideal.  You will have a following.  Virtually every orator for centuries to come will emulate your style of philosophical eloquence, your skilled use of loci, your masterful method of delivery.  Oratory, philosophy, and statesmanship all combined into one.  It is perfect!

C:  Thank you.  But I fail to see…  Can you see the future?

V:  I am the future.

C:  Why have you chosen to speak to me?

V:  Because your son is dead.  Rhetoric is dead.

C:  But how can that be?

V:  Here, read these.  We will talk again in the morning.

C:  Who are you?

V: I am Virilio.

– Virilio hands Cicero several papers, and then turns into the night.  Cicero takes the pages, glances over them briefly, and then places them in his satchel.  He slowly begins the journey back into town.

(Early the next morning)

V: Good morning.

C:  Surely you realize that I can not have slept at all.

V:  Why is that?

C:  Those papers you gave me, is all of that true?

V:  Yes, and there is plenty more where that came from.

C:  I find it hard to believe.

C:  I have far too many questions.

V:  Questions are good.

C:  Yes, if they have answers.

V:  Well, in that case, I have a question for you.  You define your ideal orator, philosopher, statesman as a good man skilled in speaking, is that correct?

C:  Yes.

V:  A good man skilled in speaking to whom, may I ask?

C:  To whom?

V:  Yes.

C:  Well, to men, of course.  Assemblies of men.

V:  In “De Oratore” you said, “there is to my mind no more excellent thing than the power, by means of oratory, to get a hold on assemblies of men, win their good will, direct their inclinations wherever the speaker wishes, or divert them from whatever he wishes.”

C:  Yes, that sounds quite like something that I would have said.

V:  So rhetoric is useful in addressing large groups of men?

C:  Yes.

V:  How large?

C:  What do you mean “How large?”

V:  Ten, twenty?

C:  Certainly.

V:  One hundred, two hundred?

C:  Yes.  In some cases as many as a thousand.

V:  A thousand?

C:  Yes.

V:  How about the whole world?

C:  The whole world?  But I do not see-

V:  But you will see.

C:  How is that even possible?  A global audience?

V:  How about a universal audience?

C:  Please explain.

V:  I assume that you are familiar with the works of Aristotle.

C:  Certainly.

V:  Do you recall his theory on argumentation?

C:  Yes, a persuasive argument is one that persuades the person to whom it is addressed.

V:  Correct.  So rhetoric is valid in addressing large groups of men?

C:  Yes, I thought we clarified-

V:  We did, I am merely trying to give you the answer to your question.  Rhetoric is valid in addressing large groups of men, but what about small groups of men?

C:  The number of men is hardly relevant to the significance of the-

V:  What if it was just one man?

C:  I suppose the general method of persuasion would remain about the same, though specific loci could be subject to some sort of variation.

V:  What if the one man was yourself?

C:  What?

V:  How about introspection?  Self-reflection?  Would you consider these to be forms of rhetoric?

C:  Rhetoric without an audience?  What is rhetoric without an audience?

V:  So you do not agree-

C:  I did not say that.  I am merely saying that I have never before considered it, and therefore I am not sure what to think.

V:  If you will permit me, I would like to quote a passage from your second book “De Oratore.”

C:  Please.

V:  “Now nothing in oratory…is more important than to win for the orator the favor of his hearer, and to have the latter so affected as to be swayed by something resembling a mental impulse or emotion, rather than by judgment or deliberation.”

C:  Yes, rhetoric is the art of persuasion.

V:  But no deliberation.

C:  No, that is something different.

V:  Which is more important?

C:  I am afraid that I do not understand.

V:  If you could only have the one or the other, which would you keep?

C:  Is that really an issue?

V:  It will be.

C:  How?  When?

V:  A good man skilled in speaking.  A good man…

C:  What do you mean?

V:  Do you have any enemies?

C:  We all have enemies.

V:  Enemies that would seek your life?

C:  Possibly.

V:  Definitely.

C:  What are you trying to say?

V:  You are, at once, the definer and the defined.  “A good man skilled in speaking.”  When you die, rhetoric-

C:  Dies?

V:  No.  Changes.

C:  It is the nature of things to change.

V:  That is true.  When you die, people forget.  An orator is no longer a “good man skilled in speaking.”  An orator is “a man who is skilled in speaking speaking.”  People lose trust in rhetoric.  Eloquence becomes the manipulative tool of deceivers.  The void between rhetoric and dialectic becomes almost insurmountable.

C:  What happens?

V:  Perelman happens?

C:  Perelman?

V:  Yes.  Chaim Perelman.  Did you read his article “The Realm of Rhetoric”?  It was in those papers I gave you last night.

C:  No, I am afraid that there were too many.  I must have missed that one.

V:  Well, let me explain it to you then.  Perelman created a new rhetoric.  This “new rhetoric” is founded upon a theory of argumentation not unlike Aristotle’s.  The aim of Perelman’s argumentation “is not to deduce consequences from given premises; it is rather to elicit or increase the adherence of the members of an audience to theses that are presented for their consent.”  Where your rhetoric is only valid in addressing certain groups, Perelman’s “new rhetoric” is effective without any audience.

C:  Even this universal audience?

V:  Yes.  The role of audience is central to Perelman’s philosophy.

C:  What about the “good man skilled in speaking”?

V:  Perelman recognizes that there are three different general audience types: the universal, the specific, the individual.  The rhetor, more than just “a good man skilled in speaking,” must be capable of reading his audience and eliciting a certain response.  A philosopher seeks to convince the universal audience while the specialist speaks to persuade a specific audience.

C:  What about the individual?

V:  I am glad that you ask that question.  That is exactly the problem that critics will have with rhetoric after your death.  Eloquence persuades through emotional appeals, but sometimes to the neglect of laws or truth.

C:  Precisely.  “For men decide far more problems by hate, or love, or lust, or rage, or sorrow, or joy, or hope, or fear, or illusion, or some other inward emotion, than by reality, or authority, or any legal standard, or judicial precedent or statute.”

V:  And you think that is right?

C:  I think that is true.

V:  Do you agree that the aim of argumentation is to increase the adherence of the audience to the premises presented by the orator?

C:  I do.

V:  Do you agree that acquiring the adherence of the audience, by whatever means, is indicative of a successful rhetorician?

C:  I agree that he is successful within the realm of persuasion that he considers worthwhile.

V:  Perelman feels that the validity or efficiency of an argument depends upon the orator’s interpretation of the audience’s response.  Validity is determined by type of response, and efficiency is determined by quantity of response.

C:  That seems reasonable.

V:  Were you able to read any of the papers I gave you last night?

C:  Yes.  Several of them were quite interesting.

V:  Is there anything that you would like to discuss?

C:  Yes, there are many things, perhaps too many.  Would you like to discuss them over lunch?

V:  Certainly.

–  They begin down the path towards Rome.  The two seem thoughtful, but no burdened.  Cicero points to a watchtower outside the city.

C:  Do you see that tower in the distance?

V:  I do.

C:  Would you describe it for me?

V:  How do you mean?

C:  Just a simple, physical description.

V:  All right.  It looks to be about forty feet tall, probably twenty feet wide, made of grey stone.

C:  What shape would you say it is?

V:  What shape?

C:  Is it round or square?

V:  Well, my vision is not what it could be, and we are quite some distance away, but it definitely looks round to me from here.

C:  Would you believe me if I told you that it was square?

V:  Of course, you are familiar with the tower, and you vision is probably better than mine.

C:  Oh no.  It looks round to me from here as well.

V:  What is your point, then?

C:  The point is, the tower looks round from here, but square from up close.  Which is the true shape of the tower?

V:  Oh, an orator and a philosopher too.  You truly are an ideal rhetorician.

C:  It is a question of perspective.

V:  So you have read Richards?

C:  I have.

V:  What did you think of Chapter Three, “The Interanimation of Words”?

C:  Yes, I noticed that that particular chapter was of interest to you.  Several times you underlined the word “context.”

V:  Yes, what do you think?

C:  Well, it is clear that a word has no meaning without a literary context.

V:  Right, the meaning of a word depends heavily upon the words that come before and after it in a sentence.  What about the other meaning of context?

C:  Which do you mean?

V:  The “technical sense.”  Context within a series of events.  Chronological context.

C:  I am afraid I do not understand.

V:  Allow me to explain.  A word has no meaning on its own.

C:  Yes, I understand that part.

V:  Well, an event has no meaning on its own either.

C:  What do you mean?

V:  Did you read Kant on the “categorical imperative.”

V:  I have recently been reading a book.  Waterland, by Graham Swift.  British contemporary.

C:  British contemporary?

V:  Never mind.  The book discusses the importance of chronological context.  The story tells about a history teacher whose wife goes crazy and steals a baby-

C:  Wait, what does this have to do with anything?

V:  This is central to everything; this is the reason that I have come.

C:  Okay, please continue.

V:  The main character, Tom, is a history teacher.  After his wife steals the baby, his lectures begin to take a turn for the-

C:  Worse?

V:  No, realistic.  Blatantly truthful.  Crucially significant.

C:  How so?

V:  He has this one student.  Price.  At one point, Price denounces the importance of history, claiming that…  Oh, I wish I would have brought the book.  He says something to the effect of, “What matters is the here and now.  Not the past, the here and now and the future.”

C:  That seems valid enough.

V:  What?

C:  That’s very important.  Persuading, or rather, eliciting the adherence of, the audience here and now is very important.  There is nothing more important.

V:  Where did you go to school?

C:  Here in Rome.

V:  What did you study?

C:  Mathematics, law, philosophy…

V:  Who did you study?

C:  What do you mean?

V:  Who did you study?  Pythagoras, Aristotle, Plato…

C:  Yes, all of them.  And others.

V:  So in a certain sense, you learned from the past?

C:  Yes, I suppose that I did.

V:  And what about the future?

C:  The future?

V:  “What does education do, what does it have to offer, when deprived of its necessary partner, the future?”

C:  I am afraid I still do not understand.

V:  You think the here and now is the most important.  How can that be so when any particular “Here and Now” is only now and here for a moment?

C:  Well I-

V:  What is history but a series of meaningful “Heres and Nows”?

C:  I do not know.

V:  You do know.  What is the purpose of your rhetoric?

C:  To gain through the power of persuasion-

V:  No, what is the end result?  What are you trying to do?  What kind of audience are you trying to reach?

C:  I want to reach every audience, to persuade them to do good, to persuade them to learn and to improve.

V:  To learn?

C:  Yes.

V:  To change?

C:  Yes.

V:  To advance?

C:  What are you getting at?

V:  Did you read the articles of mine?  The ones I gave you?

C:  Which ones?

V:  The “Art of the Motor” and “The Third Interval: A Critical Transition”?

C:  Yes.

V:  What did you think?

C:  Very well written, though I must admit that there were several things that I did not understand.

V:  Like what?

C:  “Real time.”  “Cyber space.”

V:  Oh, well, did you read Immanuel Kant’s essay on Metaphysics?

C:  That does not sound familiar.

V:  I am sure that it was among the articles I gave you.

C:  Well, you will be able to see for yourself.  We are here.

–  They have arrived at Cicero’s home.  They go through the entryway and into the dining area where lunch is already prepared.  They eat for a while, and then Cicero excuses himself.  He returns with the papers that Virilio gave him the night before.

C:  What was the name of that article?

V:  “Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics” by Immanuel Kant.

C:  It is not here.

V:  I was sure that I had given it to you.  It is very important to our discussion.  Let me check in my things.

(Cicero waits as Virilio searches through his bag).

V:  Oh, here it is.  I am glad that I brought it with me, at least.

C:  What does it say?

V:  Basically, Kant has come up with a new theory of metaphysics.  We are to understand the world as it appears to us.  He believes that there is sensory material in an external world.  Our perception of the world depends upon two “filters” in our mind:  pure intuitions (space and time), and then categories or pure concepts of understanding, of which there are twelve.

C:  Okay.

V:  What we are primarily concerned with are the pure intuitions: space and time.

C:  Okay.

V:  Everything that we experience we experience in space and time; thus, as far as our interpretation is concerned, everything that we experience takes place in space and time.

C:  That makes sense.

V:  Were you able to read Nietzsche’s “The Gay Science”?

C:  Yes.

V:  What was your understanding of the “will to power”?

C:  That it is man’s desire for perpetual change that gives his life meaning.

V:  That is correct.  Man’s search for meaning is constantly influenced by a desire to overcome.

C:  To advance.

V:  Exactly.

C:  Does this have something to do with your being here?

V:  This has everything to do with my being here.

C:  From the future?

V:  Precisely.

C:  How did you get here?

V:  As you know, there are three physical barriers: sound, heat, and light.  The first two were easily felled.  “The sound barrier has been cut across by the super and hypersonic aircraft, while the heat barrier is penetrated by the rocket taking human beings outside the Earth’s orbit in order to land them on the moon.”  The barrier of light is not so easily overcome.

C:  But it is possible?

V:  Yes it is possible.

C:  And that facilitates time travel?

V:  Yes.

C:  Then what is the problem?

V:  The problem is that I am the only one that knows.

C:  I still do not understand.

V:  The entire rest of the human population is still trying to overcome the light/time barrier.  Unable to overcome it physically, their “will to power” demands that they synthesize a “new techno-world” in which time is irrelevant.

C:  “Real-time,” “Cyber space”?

V:  Exactly.  “Cyberspace is a new form of perspective.  It does not coincide with the audio-visual perspective which we already know.  It is a fully new perspective, free of any previous reference: it is a tactile perspective.  To see at a distance, to hear at a distance: that was the essence of the audio-visual perspective of old.  But to reach at a distance, to feel at a distance, that amounts to shifting the perspective towards a domain it did not yet encompass; that of contact, of contact-at-a-distance: tele-contact.”  Do you see the danger?

C:  Yes, the end of human contact.

V:  And interaction.  The end of human to human communication.  A fundamental loss of orientation.

C:  The end of time.

V:  The painter Paul Klee expressed the point exceptionally well when he noted, “Defining the present in isolation is tantamount to murdering it.  This is what technologies of real time are achieving.  They kill ‘present’ time by isolating it from its presence here and now for the sake of another commutative space that is no longer composed of our ‘concrete presence’ in the world, but of a ‘discrete telepresence’ whose enigma remains forever intact.”

C:  How can this have happened?

V: How can we fail to understand to what degree these radio-technologies…will soon overturn not only the nature of human environment and its territorial body, but also the individual environment and its animal body, since the development of territorial space by means of heavy material machinery…is now giving way to an almost immaterial control of the environment…that is connected to the terminal body of the men and women, interactive beings who are at once emitters and receivers?

C:  What can be done?

V:  In the future, speed becomes information itself.  Man needs to be reminded that speed is not a phenomenon, but a relationship among phenomena.

C:  But why would man do this?  In the future, man is nothing more than a “well-equipped invalid,” a “motorized handicapped.”  Everything at the push of a button.  The only communication is between man and machine, with man in the lesser, subservient position.  Why would man allow technology to develop to the point of self-detriment?

V:  The will to power, the desire to advance, to overcome.  Bigger, faster, stronger.

C:  Weaker.

V:  I know.

C:  Why do you not just tell them that time travel is possible?  That you have overcome the light barrier?

V:  Because if it was not this, it would be something else.  Such is the nature of man.

C:  Why?

V:  Because man is in the constant pursuit of new horizons.  Where he cannot achieve them physically, he creates them technologically.

C:  What will be the end result?  Death?

V:  No, the end of the world.

C:  No action, no context, no relationship.  How can technology be stopped?

V:  Technology cannot be stopped, man merely needs to learn how to develop a positive relationship with technology, to control it without having it control them.

C:  How is that possible?

V:  Martin Heidegger wrote an essay entitled “The Question Concerning Technology.”  He dismisses the dangers of technology and yet he is not anti-technology.  He suggests that the danger of technology is that it tries to turn everything into a resource.  Man desires resources in order to make it easier to turn other objects into resources.  It is an endless cycle, and should remain such.  If everything is a resource, life has no purpose, there is no progression.  Man needs to foster ways to not live technologically, thus maintaining his relationship with a natural reality, and resisting technological control.  The more technology reigns, the more beautiful natural exceptions become.

C:  What do you want me to do?

V:  Vir bonus dicendi peritus.

C:  I beg your pardon.

V:  A good man skilled in speaking.

C:  I am familiar with the term.

V:  In the future, rhetoric is dead.  We need an example, an orator, philosopher, speaker, teacher, a good man skilled in speaking to bring it back to life.  A good man skilled in speaking!  To whom?  To everyone, and no one.  Speak for the love of speaking, feeling, learning, knowing.  Persuade for the joy of persuasion.  Why eloquence?  Why not eloquence?  Fill in the void, provide context, create meaning.  A good man skilled in speaking.  A good man.  A human being.  A human being among human beings.  A human being skilled in speaking, teaching, learning, loving, convincing, persuading, living.  You know why it is important, you know how to convince others of that importance.  There is no more excellent thing than to persuade by means of oratory the wills of men.  How many men?  The whole world.  A universal audience.  Use technology to save men from technology.  You are the only one that can help.  Will you come with me?

C:  I want to help, I know that is important.  But my place is here, my time is now.

V:  Here and Now?

C:  Yes.

V:  The Here and Now is meaningless without the past.  It is pointless without the future.  Besides, you will die if you stay here.

C:  There are things that I fear more than death.

V:  The end of the world, perhaps?

C:  Possibly.

V:  Definitely.

C:  Let me get my things.

–  Cicero and Virilio leave the villa and proceed into the Roman hills.


12 thoughts on “Mysterious Cicero Dialogue

  1. Holy crap, that’s hilarious. What a fine use of your time!

    Did you write this when we were taking all those philosophy courses at school, or was this earlier?

    Anyone who doesn’t think this is awesome can put their nose in the corner. for 100 years.

    • Thanks! I got a kick out of myself. I wish I had more time for just such pursuits.

      I think this was later, given some of the works referenced. I can only assume this was a project of some kind, but the handwritten copy was all I had. I had even handwritten in little superscript footnote indicators, but no corresponding references.

      I thought it was pretty awesome. It made me feel awesome. And sometimes that’s all that counts.

  2. P.S. It seems my attitudes about technology have not changed much in the last 10+ years. I still have the referenced rhetoric book by I.A. Richards. Maybe I will give it another gander.

  3. I’m sorry you feel that way, Daisy M. Just out of curiosity, what is more interesting to you than philosophy and rhetorical theory? There was a time in my life where this was a lot of what I thought and talked about. And I have never felt quite so fulfilled or purposeful since.

    And I have it on good authority that you are going to need every second of nursing home time you can get. A lot can happen in 10 minutes. A LOT!!!

  4. I thought about it all night, and I am still not sorry I posted it. I am abundantly grateful I didn’t waste one second of my life studying business or political science or economics. I have since invested 3 years of my life studying something I was not passionate about, and I long for those 3 years back desperately. But that’s not the way it works. You can only go forward. If I can forgive myself those 3 years, I hope you’ll forgive me your ten minutes.

    • Obviously my hasty reading completely misapprehended the tone in which your post was made. I thought it was something like “hey, look at this funny/bizarre thing I wrote way back when” when, in fact, it was apparently meant to be taken quite seriously. I was not casting aspersions on your intellect, course of study, or the trajectory of your life for the past decade. My flippant comment offended you, and I apologize.

      • No, no. It’s fine. If you didn’t know me back then, or have any context for the dialogue or characters involved, the only possible reading of that (inarguably) lengthy post would be “what the hell is he talking about?” Perhaps it was I that was hasty in labeling it “awesome,” when a more accurate description would have been “nerdy” or “quirky” or “strange.” It was not meant to be taken seriously, but even I can see that it would not be everyone’s idea of hilariously funny. I shall endeavor to find something that tickles your particular fancy going forward.

        I am not offended, just hyper-sensitive.

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