Eloquence

February 28, 2014 at 10:35 am 1 comment

Eloquence was held up as a great virtue by the Celts, whether it be for Druids leading ritual, princes inspiring their men before entering battle, a satirist publicly shaming a stingy king, or a poet reciting the king’s ancestry.   Poetry is often seen as an effete “extra” in modern Western culture,  but in oral cultures, poetry is used to remember history, myth and other types of knowledge.  Even in this era of the pervasive written word we still do that – Khronos knows how often I mentally check “Thirty days Hath September” when I don’t have a calendar in front of me.  (Actually I usually do recite it aloud- as those who know me well can attest my internal thought processes don’t stay very internal!)

There is a misconception that some people are just really good speakers, and the rest of us aren’t. While there may be some that have a natural talent for eloquence, like an “ear” for music, it is a talent that must be constantly honed and practiced. Most politicians, ministers, actors and comedians start out as nervous public speakers and improve with time, practice and usually coaching.

How is eloquence a virtue? Having a talent is a personal trait, but not one we typically think of us moral. Well, that’s how virtue ethics differs from conventional morality- it’s not just about being honest and kind. The stuff they taught you in kindergarten, those aren’t really virtues. Eloquence is a virtue both for its own sake- its intrinsic beauty, its reverence for the spoken word, and the powerful social role that it can play.

A leader who continually bungles speeches is seen as a bad leader by the public, even when he or she makes good decisions when off-camera. And a leader who makes bad decisions for his or her people can still be seen as a great leader if he/she is a fantastic orator. Playing your social role well helps maintain the social order, which is a part of the cosmic order. This is the underlying basis of virtue ethics in Indo-European cosmology- it can most clearly be seen in the concept of dharma in Hinduism.

Recommended Resources:

Toastmasters– this is a secular service organization whose members dedicate themselves to the craft of public speaking

Wellstone Action, Take Action Minnesota– these are both progressive organizations that provide activist training (including public speaking and lobbying)

Girl Scouts- the Cadette’s rank specifically has a public speaking badge. It’s an important aspect of other levels of scouting. Boy Scouts does as well.

Ar nDraiocht Fein– in general and in the Bardic & Liturgists Guilds in particular, eloquence is greatly encouraged in ADF. There are great articles on speech and ritual performance in our magazine, Oak Leaves, workshops at our festivals and discussions about it on our lists.

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Entry filed under: Celtic/Druid, Concepts & Definitions, Ethics, History. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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