Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day


C.T. Lewis defines the Latin verb inauguro, -are, -avi, atus in An Elementary Latin Dictionary as meaning "to take omens from the flight of birds, practice augury, divine" or "to hallow by augury, consecrate, inaugurate, install." The ancient Romans believed that the will of the gods was shown to mortals through signs, such as strikes of lightning or the appearance of certain birds or animals . Augurs were the interpreters of these signs in ancient Rome and determined whether these portents were favourable or foreboding. The Romans consulted augurs before important political events, such as the appointment of magistrates, before the seating of the Senate, or the installation of consuls, as well as before military battles. According to William Smith's Concise Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, by the time of the Roman Republic, augurs were primarily considered ceremonial. We see the influence of the Romans in the inauguration of the U.S. President in the ritual and prayers that take place as a President assumes his office.


Those of you who are fascinated by rhetoric and oratory may be interested in an article that appeared in today's Washington Post entitled "His Way With Words: Cadence and Credibility." Henry Allen discusses the new president's use of cadence, tone and metrics, obviously influenced by African American clergy, and based in the ancient Greek and Roman oratorical tradition. Allen shows how Barack Obama and other great modern speakers have made use of the rhetorical devices of asyndeton, litotes, epistrophe, anaphora, alliteration and chiasmus.