Roman Oratory…and the Environment?

Roman Oratory…and the Environment?

The classical world may have more connections to vegetarianism than you thought...Pythagoras, Seneca, and even Plato, among others, were vegetarian!

Classical Roman rhetoric isn’t usually associated with exhortations about environmental awareness, let alone vegetarianism. Nonetheless, I decided to forge the connection earlier this year in my Latin III class. The project seemed simple; in order to gain a better understanding of Roman rhetoric, we were to present memorized speeches, carefully penned in the style of true classical orators.

Roman oratory is a multidimensional concept. Speeches consist of six main parts (this system is still used by most modern speakers) employing memorization and improvisation. The problem for me was appearing convincing as well as non-offensive to a room full of fellow tenth-graders. Thankfully, the Roman format for speeches is very straightforward and fact-based. The exordium, or introduction, proves the speaker’s reliability and shows the audience how strongly the issue at hand affects them and contributes to the greater good of the community. Not a problem–the meat industry is an often conveniently-overlooked factor in environmental destruction and a major source of deforestation, wasted natural resources, pollution, and climate change.

The narratio, partitio, and confirmatio all set forth the thesis of the case and supportive arguments. I split my oration into three sections–rainforest destruction, land and water pollution, and world hunger issues–and discussed how a reliance on meat intensified these problems. The refutatio is a rebuttal section and proves why counter-arguments are inaccurate. Getting material for this section was also not an issue–I had my pick of myths ranging from “if we were all vegetarian, cows would overpopulate the planet…” to “humans consuming soy is just as bad as cattle consuming soy!” Speeches traditionally end with a summary of points and an emotional outburst, or the peroratio. However, for the sake of connecting more with my audience, I ended the speech in a more balanced and moderate way than Cicero might have suggested. “Don’t worry,” I said, “there is no need to swear off meat all at once! By simply reducing your meat consumption (especially beef) you can take steps to help save the environment and stop global warming. Refrain from eating that hamburger – our earth will thank you for it!”

My class was more receptive to the speech than I had anticipated, although I did hear a typical goofball “bacon, bacon, bacon!” chant after I had finished. A few people looked slightly betrayed by the lunches they were carrying, and others seemed interested and willing to learn more. I can only hope to have raised awareness of issues surrounding vegetarianism that might lead to a slightly more environmentally responsible population in the future–and I thank Roman oratory for helping me do it!