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oratory, the art of swaying an audience by eloquent speech. In ancient Greece and Rome oratory was included under the term rhetoric, which meant the art of composing as well as delivering a speech. Oratory first appeared in the law courts of Athens and soon became important in all areas of life. It was taught by the Sophists. The Ten Attic Orators (listed by Alexandrine critics) were Antiphon, Andocides, Lysias, Isocrates, Isaeus, Aeschines, Demosthenes, Lycurgus, Hyperides, and Dinarchus. Classic Rome's great orators were Cato the Elder, Mark Antony, and Cicero.

The theory of rhetoric was discussed by Aristotle and Quintilian; and three main classes of oratory were later designated by classical rhetoricians: (a) deliberative—to persuade an audience (such as a legislature) to approve or disapprove a matter of public policy; (b) forensic—to achieve (as in a trial) condemnation or approval for a person's actions; (c) epideictic—“display rhetoric” used on ceremonial occasions. Rhetoric was included in the medieval liberal arts curriculum. In subsequent centuries oratory was utilized in three main areas of public life—politics, religion, and law. During the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Reformation, oratory was generally confined to the church, which produced such soul-searing orators as Savanorola, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox.

With the development of parliaments in the 18th cent., great political orators appeared—Charles James Fox, Edmund Burke, Henry Gratten, and Daniel O'Connell in England and Ireland; Patrick Henry and James Otis in the United States; and Danton and Mirabeau in France. Because these politicians usually spoke to men of their own class and education, their orations were often complex and erudite, abounding in classical allusions. In the 19th cent., the rise of Methodism and evangelical religions produced great preachers like John Wesley and George Whitefield who addressed a wide audience of diverse classes of people. Their sermons, replete with biblical allusions and appeals to the emotions, profoundly influenced the oratorical style of many politicians. Famous 19th cent. orators included Disraeli and John Bright in England, Charles Stewart Parnell in Ireland, Lamartine in France, Ferdinand Lasalle in Germany, Louis Kossuth in Hungary, and Joseph Mazzini in Italy. Great American orators included Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Stephen Douglas, and Henry Ward Beecher.

In the 20th cent., orators made frequent use of the “catch phrase” (e.g., William Jennings Bryan's “cross of gold” speech). Noted orators in the first half of the 20th cent. were Bryan, Eugene Debs, Susan B. Anthony, and Woodrow Wilson in the United States, Lenin and Trotsky in Russia, and David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill in England. The bombastic oratorical style of Hitler and Mussolini, inevitably associated with their discredited political ideologies, brought grandiloquent oratory into disrepute. The advent of radio forced oratory to become more intimate and conversational, as in the “fireside chats” of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Television forced additional demands on the orator (usually now called the public speaker), who not only had to sound good but also had to look good. Still, most politicians, notably Adlai E. Stevenson and John F. Kennedy, succeeded in utilizing the ubiquitous television camera to heighten the impact of their speeches. The particular effectiveness of great oratory was movingly demonstrated in 1963 when the civil-rights leader Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech to an audience of 200,000 people in Washington, D.C., and to millions more listening to him on radio and watching him on television.

Oratory, Congregation of the

Oratory, Congregation of the [Lat. abbr., Cong. Orat.], in the Roman Catholic Church, founded in 1575, an association of secular priests organized into independent communities according to the rule written by St. Philip Neri. The purpose of the oratory is to raise local religious standards. To do this they employ three means—prayer, especially the solemn performance of the liturgy; the sacraments, especially the confessional; and preaching, every oratory having daily sermons. Confessions are heard at all times. The best-known oratory of the English-speaking world is probably that of John Henry Newman, who introduced it to England as a means of extending the church there. There are Congregations of the Oratory in the United States at Rock Hill, South Carolina, and Yarnell, Arizona.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a type of monologue used in a situation when the speaker is addressing himself to a large audience for the purpose of persuasion or suggestion.

Oratory is characterized by traditional features of composition and style (and, in general, by the use of language techniques), and also by coordination of linguistic and paralinguistic means of communication. The traditions of modern oratory go back to the rhetorical art of ancient Greece and Rome (Demosthenes and Cicero). The characteristics of oratory were formerly studied in rhetoric. A distinction is made among academic (scholarly), political, juridical, ecclesiastical (especially church sermons), and other forms of eloquent speech.


Apresian, G. Z. Oratorskoe iskusstvo, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1972.
Ob oratorskom iskusstve, 4th ed. Moscow, 1973.
Nozhin, E. A. Osnovy sovetskogo oratorskogo iskusstva. Moscow, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


An ancient oratory in Ireland
A small private chapel furnished with an altar and a crucifix.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


a small room or secluded place, set apart for private prayer
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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