Peter Ramus ; edited with an introduction by James J. Murphy ; translation by Carole Newlands
Cicero had written seven books on rhetoric, but Ramus chose Orator for the attack which had been inevitable since his original denunciation of Cicero's rhetoric in 1543. There are probably two reasons for this. The first is that he was thus able to enter into the widespread controversy over "Ciceronianism." More importantly, this choice enabled him to concentrate on the one Ciceronian work closest to his own personal view of rhetoric. For Ramus, rhetoric was a matter only of the exterior elements of style and delivery and Orator concentrates on style. It is set in the form of a letter to Cicero's friend Marcus Junius Brutus responding to Brutus's reaction to Cicero's earlier history of Roman oratory -- titled Brutus after its dedicatee. None of Cicero's other six works on rhetoric would have provided Ramus the same opportunity to fasten on questions of style the way he does in the Questions of Brutus. Ramus accuses Cicero of trying to prove that he is the "perfect orator" about which Orator is written. He also accuses him of being merely an unthinking follower of Aristotle. The basic assault, however, is syllogistic.
Ramus reduces Cicero's ideas to syllogistic form to demonstrate their error and inconsistency. Throughout, Ramus continues to claim that Cicero does not know the true province of rhetoric. Moreover, he argues that what is found "muddled and confused in unfathomable darkness" in this one book is also true of all of Cicero's other books. Thus, The Questions of Brutus becomes a wide-ranging polemic like his attack on Aristotle. There are numerous rhetorical questions, apostrophes, exclamations, syllogistic analyses, and a great many digressions. Basically Ramus follows the order of Cicero's Orator, though there are occasional backward-forward references as well. Ramus does not, however, use the quotation-plus-interpretation method employed in the commentaries on his orations. Instead he takes up concepts rather than quotations, usually using specific citations only when he wishes to attack Cicero's language on some point. Therefore, this book is self-contained: Ramus states Cicero's position, then his own.