In the series of the more important rhetorical writings of Cicero the Brutus occupies a place intermediate in point of time between the de Oratore and the Orator. Cicero in the de Divinationea alludes to these three works as a corpus of five books, which he ventures to compare with the writings of Aristotle and Theophrastus on the same subject. On this hint some modern scholars have constructed a doctrine of unity of plan, designating the three books de Oratore as the foundation of theory, the Brutus as the historical exemplification, and the Orator as the delineation of the ideal. This looks attractive and is not without some elements of truth. But, in fact, of the three works the de Oratore is the only one of spontaneous origin, written with a desire to present abstractly a theory of oratory and the portrait of the perfect orator. The Brutus and the Orator on the contrary, of later date, are controversial treatises, looking to the support of one side of a debate which had not yet arisen to general consciousness when the de Oratore was composed.
The general point of view of the de Oratore is an adaptation to Roman conditions and experience of doctrines which were entertained by recent or contemporary Greek philosophers, such as Philo and
Antiochus. Their aim seems to have been to effect a truce between the opposing factions of rhetoric and philosophy, which had waged war upon each other since Socrates’ challenge to the assumptions of the sophists. Thus in Cicero the orator is at once philosopher and orator, the speaker who is able to draw upon universals for the elucidation and presentation of particular questions. From a stylistic point of view Cicero’s “orator” (who is none other than himself) has his roots in the copiousness, not to say grandiloquence, of the Asiatic rhetoric, which had furnished instruction and example to Roman oratory from the time of its first conscious study.
But at the very time when Cicero was composing the de Oratore (55 b.c.) there existed at Rome a coterie of younger men who had begun to revolt from the manner represented by Cicero and Hortensius, and from the recognized Roman tradition in general. It would seem that Calidius, who is characterized as elegant but lifeless, justified his restraint by deliberate antithesis to what seemed to him “the bacchanalian frenzy” (Brutus 276) of current oratory. But the first specific evidence of a school and a tendency relates to Gaius Licinius Calvus, who called himself “Attic,” and from Cicero’s point of view “erred himself and caused others to err” (284). This is apparently the first emergence in ancient literature of that movement of revolt called Atticism, which was destined to have an enormous influence on subsequent times, and even upon the selection and preservation of Greek (and in some degree of Latin) literature for posterity. Roman “Atticism” we think of most commonly as an antithesis to “Asiatic” rhetoric; but in truth it is probable that in origin the