Rhetoric in the Monuments of Ancient Rome

Grade Levels: 11-12 and AP Students
Time Required: 5-7 Class Periods
Author: Claire Walter; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Subject Areas: English, AP Language and Composition

The classical tradition of rhetoric fostered the skills of information discovery, information organization and information presentation. It traced its history from the great playwrights of Greece like Sophocles and Euripides through Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle to the great Greek orators like Demosthenes. From there the development and use of rhetorical techniques passed on to Rome and Cicero. The physical spaces constructed during these time periods, because they served as public message boards and cultural expressions, employed the rhetorical styles, structures, and tenets of these early playwrights, philosophers and orators. The most dramatic use of monumental rhetoric occurred during the Roman Empire.

Cicero, as the voice of the waning Roman Republic, and Augustus, in his rise as Emperor of Rome, employed rhetorical strategies and devices that were simultaneously reflected in the physical spaces around them.

In studying the visual depiction of rhetoric in conjunction with written rhetorical forms, students will build visual frameworks for identifying rhetorical strategies and analyzing their use in both written and visual forms.

The best remembered and most imitated orator of Rome was Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 to 43 B.C.). Cicero’s most remembered works, a set of three orations written in 63 B.C., were designed to root out the nefarious plot of Catiline to overthrow the Roman government. Cicero used these orations to affirm his legacy as the champion of representative government. Over time popular memory has designated the surviving buildings and spaces of the Roman Forum as the physical memorial of Cicero’s deeds.

Both the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) and the Res Gestae are significant works from the time of Caesar Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D. The Ara Pacis was commissioned in 13 B.C. in honor of Augustus’ return to Rome and his solidification of the empire. It was originally located in the Campus Martius, a region of Rome developed by Augustus. The Res Gestae was written in A.D. 14 at the end of Augustus’ reign by Augustus himself to commemorate and legitimize his achievements. They were originally inscribed on stone columns erected throughout the Roman Empire.

The elements of Roman rhetoric are presented in the Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian (96 A.D.). It was Vitruvius, a contemporary of Augustus, who articulated the philosophy of architecture and visual rhetoric in his work De Architectura. The rhetorical triangle of Professor David Jolliffe will provide a framework for understanding and deconstructing the elements of rhetoric. Studying these works concurrently provides a solid foundation for understanding how rhetoric is embedded in the very fabric of society.

*What are the basic elements of rhetoric?

*How does written rhetoric work?

*How are visual rhetorical devices similar to written rhetorical devices?

*How do visual and written rhetoric accomplish a similar purpose?

1. Students will be able to identify the basic elements of rhetoric.

2. Students will be able to analyze how written rhetoric works.

3. Students will be able to identify and analyze how visual rhetorical devices are similar to written rhetorical devices.

4. Students will be able to analyze how written and visual rhetoric work to accomplish a similar purpose.

1. Download and review this video of the Ara Pacis.

2. Download and review this video of The Roman Forum & The Temple of Saturn.

3. Download and print copies of Student Resource Packet 1 and Student Resource Packet 2.

4. Download and print copies of the Graphic Organizer.

5. Download and review the lesson on the Elements of the Rhetorical Triangle of Prof. David Jolliffe as presented by Clori Rose. 

6. Down load and review How to Read a Monument.

7. Download and review the Language and Composition Prompt on Cicero.

Lesson One Introduction

In Lesson One students will explore and develop relationships between several related primary sources in order to build a synthesized argument on Augustus’s rhetorical strategies. Students will study the visual depiction of rhetoric in conjunction with the written form. Students will build visual frameworks for identifying written rhetorical strategies and analyzing their use.

Lesson Two Introduction

In Lesson Two students will follow the same format used in Lesson One with new source materials from Cicero to build independence in the process and develop greater understanding of rhetorical analysis.

The questions in the Graphic Organizers in both lessons one and two can be used as formative assessments, or students can develop a full essay on either question for assessment.

Provide students with the AP Language and Composition style prompt containing the longer excerpt from one of Cicero’s Orations against Catiline. Students will then write a rhetorical analysis essay pulling together the skills they have developed and solidified in lessons one and two.

This extended lesson plan is only one way to organize this material. Teachers are urged to adapt the material to their own needs and schedules.

For the purposes of teaching rhetorical analysis through a visual framework, the excerpts provided in the Student Resource packets will suffice. However, all of the works excerpted in the packets can be read in their entirety to build context and greater understanding.

Students can use the graphic organizers developed in lessons one and two to practice transfer of skills and or provide further scaffolding. Students must develop the rhetorical situation (audience, exigence, and purpose) as well as the visual and written rhetorical features that helped Augustus and Cicero achieve rhetorical success.

For a creative approach to studying the connection between structural and written rhetoric, students can research famous speeches in American history and where they were given. For example, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Review Thinking About Architectural and Written Texts.

1. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

2. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1.a: Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

3. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1.b: Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.




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