Division: Outlining the Parts of a Speech

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In classical rhetoric, division is the part of a speech in which an orator outlines the key points and overall structure of the speech. Also known in Latin as the divisio or partitio, and in English as the partition. The etymology originates from the Latin, "divide".

Observations of the Term

  • "The partition is of two parts: the speaker can state the material on which there is agreement with the opponent and what remains in dispute, or can list the points to be proved. In the latter event it is important to be brief, complete, and concise. Cicero notes that there are additional rules for partition in philosophy that are not relevant here."
    (George Kennedy, "Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition", 2nd ed. University of North Carolina Press, 1999)
  • "The Latin term divisio is related to partitio, but indicates that the main heads of the argument are prepared in view of the opposing position. The author of "Rhetorica ad Herrenium" describes the divisio as having two parts. The first contains the points of agreement and disagreement between litigants arising out of the narrative. This is followed by a distribution, which is made up of two parts: the enumeration and the exposition. The enumeration involves telling how many points one will make. The exposition is the giving of the points to be discussed. No more than three points are recommended. Cicero (Inv. 1.31) indicates that the partitio can take two forms: points of agreement and disagreement with a stated problem, or 'the matters which we intend to discuss are briefly set forth in a mechanical way.' In theory, partitio heads should be explicit -- but in actual speeches this is the exception rather than the rule. Commonly the partitio is much less obvious (at least to modern readers)."
    (Fredrick J. Long, "Ancient Rhetoric and Paul's Apology". Cambridge University Press, 2004)

    An Example of Division/Partitio

    "So you can see what the situation is; and now you must decide yourselves what is to be done. It seems to me best first to discuss the character of the war, then its scale, and finally the choice of a commander."
    (Cicero, "De Imperio Cn. Pompei." "Cicero: Political Speeches", trans.

    by D.H. Berry. Oxford University Press, 2006)

    Quintilian on Partitio

    "[A]lthough partition is neither always necessary nor useful, it will, if judiciously employed, greatly add to the lucidity and grace of our speech. For it not only makes our arguments clearer by isolating the points from the crowd in which they would otherwise be lost and placing them before the eyes of the judge, but relieves his attention by assigning a definite limit to certain parts of our speech, just as our fatigue upon a journey is relieved by reading the distances on the milestones which we pass. For it is a pleasure to be able to measure how much of our task has been accomplished, and the knowledge of what remains to do stimulates us to fresh effort over the labour that still awaits us. For nothing need seem long, when it is definitely known how far it is to the end."
    (Quintilian, "Institutes of Oratory", 95 AD, translated by H.E. Butler)