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Panat Times

Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


A 16th-century Italian model for the French-style rhetoric presented in my Harmonic Orator


In 1501 Agostino Vespucci attended a service in Rome at the church that the French call "Saint-Louis-des-Français." In a letter to his friend, Niccolò Machiavelli, he first described the music, and then the oration in honor of St. Louis, which was given by a cleric who, though "base-born," possessed remarkable skills in the rhetorical art. Here is an excellent example of how skill at rhetoric could lead to an individual's rise in society. To describe the cleric's skills, Vespucci uses the very same terms (shown here in bold type) that seventeenth-century French methods employ:

"There was also, halfway through the mass, a Latin oration recited by a most learned man .... he took about a full hour. And in truth, Niccolò, my friend, this was the art of the orator, because he is base-born and has never been seen before or heard about around here, or very little; and nevertheless, because he was a Roman, he gave more pleasure than Phaedra or Marso or Sabellico or Lippi, who are considered excellent. He showed, first of all, that he had a great memory, that he know how to embellish well and to narrate clearly; he showed how good his pronunciation was, how good his vocabulary and gestures, which harmonized together with both his voice itself and his thoughts, since the former served the latter at the same time; so that truly I venture to affirm that, very often, not only with his hands but also with his very nods he would manifest his will to the audience. And I do not know how that man could ever have spoken so felicitously, unless he imitated Demosthenes, who was wont to compose a speech looking into a certain great mirror. And leaving aside his learning, his eloquence, the infinite shadings, many flourishes and cutting remarks with which his oration was strewed, he performed so well, by Hercules, that he won people over to himself, he persuaded, he moved, and finally he delighted. And at the end of his oration [i.e., his "peroration"], he poured forth such a wave of eloquence, that everyone was astonished and amazed; because of which it came about that an almost theatrical applause was given to him by many, although it was in church. Many believe that, if he had been in the presence of the king, he would on the spot have made him a grandee in his council."
Source: Machiavelli and his Friends, Their Personal Correspondence, trans. and ed. by James B. Atkinson and David Sices (DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1996), pp. 41-42.