What A Character!

Cicero is considered by many to be the most widely panned Roman historical figure. His work has survived scrutiny for centuries, and his concept of “character” in Roman society is matched by none, with the exception of Quintilian.

Cicero believed in the concept of “perfectus orator,” or “perfect speaker” in Latin. This person was a leader who manifested the values of the state, and exemplified extraordinary character. While rhetoric, for many Romans, was a means of achieving personal success (as they had seen the Greeks do so), Cicero saw it as a way for a citizen of great character to embody the just political ideologies of the state. I agree with Cicero when he says that character is not crafted through the words of a speech, but is an inherent trait of an individual that gradually reveals itself through decisions and actions over the course of a lifetime. A sleazy con artist can develop “character” on the surface, and seem to others as a man with good intentions, while he is, in truth, a liar and a cheat. Bernie Madoff is one such example. True character is evident in individuals such as Malala Yousafzai, who stood for what she believed in and refused to back down. Over the course of her lifetime (which is only 17 years so far) she has proved time and time again how she can make the right decisions and voice her opinion on controversial matters in a dangerous environment. She exhibits traits of what Cicero would call a “perfectus orator,” in that she has dignity, worthy achievements (youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient), and a solid reputation. Her speeches invoke powerful feelings in her audience, and she has not gained such character without trials and tribulations. She would, by Cicero’s standards, be a worthy leader of a state (at least given her current achievements). I find it fascinating how we can have older people stand at the head of a nation who seem to abide by lofty moral standards, while they are actually corrupt, greedy, and self-centered. Then you have someone like Malala, who is not even yet an adult by our standards, who has accomplished more true “good” than those politicians. It almost seems backwards, but one can only admire her strength and courage and hope to follow in her footsteps.

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