'Brutus' is the most accessible of Cicero's books on rhetoric. It contains a series of pen-pictures which illustrate the personalities of Cicero's predecessors and his contemporaries - some of whom, as he admits, were scarcely orators at all. The book is addressed to the famous Marcus Brutus who, less than two years after it was written, stabbed Julius Caesar to death in the senate-house at Rome.
This translation is by E.Jones (1776); a few words and spellings have been changed. The corresponding Latin text can be found on the 'latinlibrary' website. See key to translations for an explanation of the format of the translation.
|→ Go to section number (in range 1 - 333):||Go|
 L When I had left Cilicia, and arrived at Rhodes, word was brought me of the death of Hortensius. I was more affected with it than, I believe, was generally expected. For, by the loss of my friend, I saw myself for ever deprived of the pleasure of his acquaintance, and of our mutual intercourse of good offices. I likewise reflected, with concern, that the dignity of our college must suffer greatly by the decease of such an eminent augur. This reminded me, that he was the person who first introduced me to the college, where he attested my qualification upon oath; and that it was he also who installed me as a member; so that I was bound by the constitution of the order to respect and honour him as a parent.  My affliction was increased, that, in such a deplorable dearth of wise and virtuous citizens, this excellent man, my faithful associate in the service of the public, expired at the very time when the Commonwealth could least spare him, and when we had the greatest reason to regret the want of his prudence and authority. I can add, very sincerely, that in him I lamented the loss, not (as most people imagined) of a dangerous rival and competitor, but of a generous partner and companion in the pursuit of same.  L For if we have instances in history, though in studies of less public consequence, that some of the poets have been greatly afflicted at the death of their contemporary bards; with what tender concern should I honour the memory of a man, with whom it is more glorious to have disputed the prize of eloquence, than never to have met with an antagonist! especially, as he was always so far from obstructing my endeavours, or I his, that, on the contrary, we mutually assisted each other, with our credit and advice.
 But as he, who had a perpetual run of good fortune, left the world at a happy moment for himself, though a most unfortunate one for his fellow-citizens; and died when it would have been much easier for him to lament the miseries of his country, than to assist it, after living in it as long as he could have lived with honour and reputation;- we may, indeed, deplore his death as a heavy loss to us who survive him. If, however, we consider it merely as a personal event, we ought rather to congratulate his fate, than to pity it; that, as often as we revive the memory of this illustrious and truly happy man, we may appear at least to have as much affection for him as for ourselves.  L For if we only lament that we are no longer permitted to enjoy him, it must, indeed, be acknowledged that this is a heavy misfortune to us; which it, however, becomes us to support with moderation, less our sorrow should be suspected to arise from motives of interest, and not from friendship. But if we afflict ourselves, on the supposition that he was the sufferer;- we misconstrue an event, which to him was certainly a very happy one.
 If Hortensius was now living, he would probably regret many other advantages in common with his worthy fellow-citizens. But when he beheld the forum, the great theatre in which he used to exercise his genius, no longer accessible to that accomplished eloquence, which could charm the ears of a Roman, or a Greek audience; he must have felt a pang of which none, or at least but few, besides himself, could be susceptible.  L Even I am unable to restrain my tears, when I behold my country no longer defensible by the genius, the prudence, and the authority of a legal magistrate,- the only weapons which I have learned to wield, and to which I have long been accustomed, and which are most suitable to the character of an illustrious citizen, and of a virtuous and well-regulated state.
But if there ever was a time, when the authority and eloquence of an honest individual could have wrested their arms from the hands of his distracted fellow-citizens; it was then when the proposal of a compromise of our mutual differences was rejected, by the hasty imprudence of some, and the timorous mistrust of others.  Thus it happened, among other misfortunes of a more deplorable nature, that when my declining age, after a life spent in the service of the public, should have reposed in the peaceful harbour, not of an indolent, and a total inactivity, but of a moderate and becoming retirement; and when my eloquence was properly mellowed, and had acquired its full maturity;- thus it happened, I say, that recourse was then had to those fatal arms, which the persons who had learned the use of them in honourable conquest, could no longer employ to any salutary purpose.  L Those, therefore, appear to me to have enjoyed a fortunate and a happy life, (of whatever state they were members, but especially in ours) who held their authority and reputation, either for their military or political services, without interruption: and the sole remembrance of them, in our present melancholy situation, was a pleasing relief to me, when we lately happened to mention them in the course of conversation.
 For, not long ago, when I was walking for my amusement, in a private avenue at home, I was agreeably interrupted by my friend Brutus, and T. Pomponius, who came, as indeed they frequently did, to visit me;- two worthy citizens who were united to each other in the closest friendship, and were so dear and so agreeable to me, that, on the first sight of them, all my anxiety for the Commonwealth subsided. After the usual salutations,- "Well, gentlemen," said I, "how go the times? What news have you brought?"
"None," replied Brutus, "that you would wish to hear, or that I can venture to tell you for truth."
 L "No," said Atticus; "we are come with an intention that all matters of state should be dropped; and rather to hear something from you, than to say any thing which might serve to distress you."
"Indeed," said I, "your company is a present remedy for my sorrow; and your letters, when absent, were so encouraging, that they first revived my attention to my studies."
"I remember," replied Atticus, "that Brutus sent you a letter from Asia, which I read with infinite pleasure: for he advised you in it like a man of sense, and gave you every consolation which the warmest friendship could suggest."
 "True," said I, "for it was the receipt of that letter which revived me from a growing indisposition, to behold once more the cheerful face of day; and as the Roman State, after the dreadful defeat near Cannae, first raised its drooping head by the victory of Marcellus at Nola, which was succeeded by many other victories; so, after the dismal wreck of our affairs, both public and private, nothing occurred to me before the letter of my friend Brutus, which I thought to be worth my attention, or which contributed, in any degree, to the anxiety of my heart."
 L "That was certainly my intention," answered Brutus; "and if I had the happiness to succeed, I was sufficiently rewarded for my trouble. But I could wish to be informed, what you received from Atticus which gave you such uncommon pleasure."
"That," said I, "which not only entertained me; but, I hope, has restored me entirely to myself."
"Indeed!" replied he; "and what miraculous composition could that be?"
"Nothing," answered I; "could have been a more acceptable, or a more seasonable present, than that excellent treatise of his which roused me from a state of languor and despondency."
 "You mean," said he, "his short, and, I think, very accurate Abridgment of Universal History."
"The very same," said I; "for that little treatise has absolutely saved me."
"I am heartily glad of it," said Atticus; "but what could you discover in it which was either new to you, or so wonderfully beneficial as you pretend?"
 L "It certainly furnished many hints," said I, "which were entirely new to me: and the exact order of time which you observed through the whole, gave me the opportunity I had long wished for, of beholding the history of all nations in one regular and comprehensive view. The attentive perusal of it proved an excellent remedy for my sorrows, and led me to think of attempting something on your own plan, partly to amuse myself, and partly to return your favour, by a grateful, though not an equal acknowledgment. We are commanded, it is true, in that precept of Hesiod, so much admired by the learned, to return with the same measure we have received; or, if possible, with a larger.  As to a friendly inclination, I shall certainly return you a full proportion of it; but as to a recompense in kind, I confess it to be out of my power, and therefore hope you will excuse me: for I have no first-fruits (like a prosperous husbandman) to acknowledge the obligation I have received; my whole harvest having sickened and died, for want of the usual manure: and as little am I able to present you with any thing from those hidden stores which are now consigned to perpetual darkness, and to which I am denied all access; though, formerly, I was almost the only person who was able to command them at pleasure. I must therefore, try my skill in a long-neglected and uncultivated soil; which I will endeavour to improve with so much care, that I may be able to repay your liberality with interest; provided my genius should be so happy as to resemble a fertile field, which, after being suffered to lie fallow a considerable time, produces a heavier crop than usual."
 L "Very well," replied Atticus, "I shall expect the fulfilment of your promise; but I shall not insist upon it till it suits your convenience; though, after all, I shall certainly be better pleased if you discharge the obligation."
"And I also," said Brutus, "shall expect that you perform your promise to my friend Atticus: nay, though I am only his voluntary agent, I shall, perhaps, be very pressing for the discharge of a debt, which the creditor himself is willing to submit to your own choice."
 "But I shall refuse to pay you," said I, "unless the original creditor takes no farther part in the suit."
"This is more than I can promise," replied he, "for I can easily foresee, that this easy man, who disclaims all severity, will urge his demand upon you, not indeed to distress you, but yet very closely and seriously."
"To speak ingenuously," said Atticus, "my friend Brutus, I believe, is not much mistaken: for as I now find you in good spirits, for the first time, after a tedious interval of despondency, I shall soon make bold to apply to you;  L and as this gentleman has promised his assistance, to recover what you owe me, the least I can do is to solicit, in my turn, for what is due to him."
"Explain your meaning," said I.
"I mean," replied he, "that you must write something to amuse us; for your pen has been totally silent this long time; and since your treatise On the Republic, we have had nothing from you of any kind; though it was the perusal of that which fired me with the ambition to write an Abridgment of Universal History. But we shall, however, leave you to answer this demand, when, and in what manner you shall think most convenient.  At present, if you are not otherwise engaged, you must give us your sentiments on a subject on which we both desire to be better informed."
"And what is that?" said I.
"What you gave me a hasty sketch of," replied he, "when I saw you last at your Tusculan villa,- the History of Famous Orators;- when they made their appearance, and who and what they were; which furnished such an agreeable train of conversation, that when I related the substance of it to your, or I ought rather to have said our common friend, Brutus, he expressed a violent desire to hear the whole of it from your own mouth. Knowing you, therefore, to be at leisure, we have taken the present opportunity to wait upon you; so that, if it is really convenient, you will oblige us both by resuming the subject."
 L "Well, gentlemen," said I, "as you are so pressing, I will endeavour to satisfy you in the best manner I am able."
"You are able enough," replied he; "only unbend yourself a little, or, if you can set your mind at full liberty."
"If I remember right," said I, "Atticus, what gave rise to the conversation, was my observing, that the cause of Deiotarus, a most excellent sovereign, and a faithful ally, was pleaded by our friend Brutus, in my hearing, with the greatest elegance and dignity."
"True," replied he, "and you took occasion from the ill success of Brutus, to lament the loss of a fair administration of justice in the Forum."
"I did so," answered I, "as indeed I frequently do:  and whenever I see you, my Brutus, I am concerned to think where your wonderful genius, your finished erudition, and unparalleled industry will find a theatre to display themselves. For after you had thoroughly improved your abilities, by pleading a variety of important causes; and when my declining vigour was just giving way, and yielding to your more active talents; the liberty of the State received a fatal overthrow, and that eloquence, of which we are now to give the history, was condemned to perpetual silence."
 L "Our other misfortunes," replied Brutus, "I lament sincerely; and I think I ought to lament them:- but as to eloquence, I am not so fond of the influence and the glory it bestows, as of the study and the practice of it, which nothing can deprive me of, while you are so well disposed to assist me: for no man can be an eloquent speaker, who has not a clear and ready conception. Whoever, therefore, applies himself to the study of eloquence, is at the same time improving his judgment, which is a talent equally necessary in all military operations."
 "Your remark," said I, "is very just; and I have a higher opinion of the merit of eloquence, because, though there is scarcely any person so diffident as not to persuade himself, that he either has, or may acquire every other accomplishment which, formerly, could have given him consequence in the State; I can find no person who has been made an orator by the success of his military prowess.- But that we may carry on the conversation with greater ease, let us seat ourselves."
As my visitors had no objection to this, we accordingly took our seats in a private lawn, near a statue of Plato.
 L Then resuming the conversation,- "to recommend the study of eloquence," said I, "and describe its force, and the great dignity it confers upon those who have acquired it, is neither our present design, nor has any necessary connection with it. But I will not hesitate to affirm, that whether it is acquired by art or practice, or the mere powers of nature, it is the most difficult of all attainments; for each of the five branches of which it is said to consist, is of itself a very important art; from whence it may easily be conjectured, how great and arduous must be the profession which unites and comprehends them all.
 Greece alone is a sufficient witness of this:- for though she was fired with a wonderful love of eloquence, and has long since excelled every other nation in the practice of it, yet she had all the rest of the arts much earlier; and had not only invented, but even perfected them, a considerable time before she was mistress of the full powers of speaking. But when I direct my eyes to Greece, your beloved Athens, my Atticus, first strikes my sight, and is the brightest object in my view: for in that illustrious city the orator first made his appearance, and it is there we shall find the earliest records of eloquence, and the first specimens of a discourse conducted by rules of art.  L But even in Athens there is not a single production now extant which reveals any taste for ornament, or seems to have been the effort of a real orator, before the time of Pericles (whose name is prefixed to some orations which still remain) and his contemporary Thucydides; who flourished,- not in the infancy of the State, but when it was arrived at its full maturity of power.
It is, however, supposed, that Peisistratus (who lived many years before) together with Solon, who was something older, and Cleisthenes, who survived them both, were very able speakers for the age they lived in.  But some years after these, as may be collected from the Attic histories, came the above-mentioned Themistocles, who is said to have been as much distinguished by his eloquence as by his political abilities;- and after him the celebrated Pericles, who, though adorned with every kind of excellence, was most admired for his talent of speaking. Cleon also (their contemporary) though a turbulent citizen, was allowed to be a tolerable orator.
 L These were immediately succeeded by Alcibiades, Critias, and Theramenes, whose manner of speaking may be easily inferred from the writings of Thucydides, who lived at the same time: their discourses were nervous and stately, full of sententious remarks, and so excessively concise as to be sometimes obscure.  But as soon as the force of a regular and a well-adjusted speech was understood, a sudden crowd of rhetoricians appeared,- such as Gorgias the Leontine, Thrasymachus the Chalcedonian, Protagoras the Abderite, and Hippias the Elean, who were all held in great esteem,- with many others of the same age, who professed (it must be owned, rather too arrogantly) to teach their pupils,- how the worse might be made, by the force of eloquence, to appear the better cause.  L But these were openly opposed by the famous Socrates, who, by an adroit method of arguing which was peculiar to himself, took every opportunity to refute the principles of their art. His instructive conferences produced a number of intelligent men, and philosophy is said to have derived her birth from him;- not the doctrine of physics, which was of an earlier date, but that philosophy which treats of men, and manners, and of the nature of good and evil. But as this is foreign to our present subject, we must defer the philosophers to another opportunity, and return to the orators, from whom I have ventured to make a sort digression.
 When the professors therefore, abovementioned were in the decline of life, Isocrates made his appearance, whose house stood open to all Greece as the school of eloquence. He was an accomplished orator, and an excellent teacher; though he did not display his talents in the law courts, but cherished and improved that glory within the walls of his academy, which, in my opinion, no poet has ever yet acquired. He composed many valuable specimens of his art, and taught the principles of it to others; and not only excelled his predecessors in every part of it, but first discovered that a certain metre should be observed in prose, though totally different from the measured rhyme of the poets.  L Before him, the artificial structure and harmony of language was unknown;- or if there are any traces of it to be discovered, they appear to have been made without design; which, perhaps, will be thought a beauty:- but whatever it may be deemed, it was, in the present case, the effect rather of native genius, or of accident, than of art and observation.  For mere nature itself will measure and limit our sentences by a convenient compass of words; and when they are thus confined to a moderate flow of expression, they will frequently have a rhythmical cadence:- for the ear alone can decide what is full and complete, and what is deficient; and the course of our language will necessarily be regulated by our breath, in which it is excessively disagreeable, not only to fail, but even to labour.
 L After Isocrates came Lysias, who, though not personally engaged in forensic causes, was a very artful and an elegant composer, and such a one as you might almost venture to pronounce a complete orator: for Demosthenes is the man who approaches the character so nearly, that you may apply it to him without hesitation. No keen, no artful turns could have been contrived for the pleadings he has left behind him, which he did not readily discover;- nothing could have been expressed with greater nicety, or more clearly and poignantly, than it has been already expressed by him;- and nothing greater, nothing more rapid and forcible, nothing adorned with a nobler elevation either of language, or sentiment, can be conceived than what is to be found in his orations.  He was soon rivalled by his contemporaries Hypereides, Aeschines, Lycurgus, Deinarchus, and Demades (none of whose writings are extant) with many others that might be mentioned: for this age was adorned with a profusion of good orators; and the genuine strength and vigour of eloquence appears to me to have subsisted to the end of this period, which was distinguished by a natural beauty of composition without disguise or affectation.
 L When these orators were in the decline of life, they were succeeded by [Demetrius] Phalereus; who was then in the prime of youth. He was indeed a man of greater learning than any of them, but was fitter to appear on the parade, than in the field; and, accordingly, he rather pleased and entertained the Athenians, than inflamed their passions; and marched forth into the dust and heat of action, not from a weather-beaten tent, but from the shady recesses of Theophrastus, a man of consummate erudition.  He was the first who relaxed the force of eloquence, and gave her a soft and tender air: and he rather chose to be agreeable, as indeed he was, than great and striking; but agreeable in such a manner as rather charmed, than warmed the mind of the hearer. His greatest ambition was to impress his audience with a high opinion of his elegance, and not, as Eupolis relates of Pericles, to sting as well as to please.
 L You see, then, in the very city in which eloquence was born and nurtured, how late it was before she grew to maturity; for before the time of Solon and Peisistratus, we meet with no one who is so much as mentioned for his talent of speaking. These, indeed, if we compute by the Roman date, may be reckoned very ancient; but if by that of the Athenians, we shall find them to be moderns. For though they flourished in the reign of Servius Tullius, Athens had then subsisted much longer than Rome has at present. I have not, however, the least doubt that the power of eloquence has been always more or less conspicuous.  For Homer, we may suppose, would not have ascribed such superior talents of speech to Ulysses, and Nestor (one of whom he celebrates for his force, and the other for his sweetness) unless the art of speaking had then been held in some esteem; nor could the poet himself have been master of such an ornamental style, and so excellent a vein of oratory as we actually find in him.- The time indeed in which he lived is undetermined: but we are certain that he flourished many years before Romulus: for he was at least of as early a date as the elder Lycurgus, the legislator of the Spartans.
 L But a particular attention to the art, and a greater ability in the practice of it, may be observed in Peisistratus. He was succeeded in the following century by Themistocles, who, according to the Roman date, was a person of the remotest antiquity; but, according to that of the Athenians, he was almost a modern. For he lived when Greece was in the height of her power, but when the city of Rome had but lately freed herself from the shackles of regal tyranny;- for the dangerous war with the Volsci, who were headed by Coriolanus (then a voluntary exile) happened nearly at the same time as the Persian war; and we may add, that the fate of both commanders was remarkably similar.  Each of them, after distinguishing himself as an excellent citizen, being driven from his country by the wrongs of an ungrateful people, went over to the enemy: and each of them repressed the efforts of his resentment by a voluntary death. For though you, my Atticus, have represented the exit of Coriolanus in a different manner, you must give me leave to dispatch him in the way I have mentioned."
"You may use your pleasure," replied Atticus with a smile: "for it is the privilege of rhetoricians to exceed the truth of history, that they may have an opportunity of embellishing the fate of their heroes: and accordingly, Cleitarchus and Stratocles have entertained us with the same pretty fiction about the death of Themistocles, which you have invented for Coriolanus.  L Thucydides, indeed, who was himself an Athenian of the highest rank and merit, and lived nearly at the same time, has only informed us that he died, and was privately buried in Attica, adding, that it was suspected by some that he had poisoned himself. But these ingenious writers have assured us, that, having slain a bull at the altar, he caught the blood in a large bowl, and, drinking it off, fell suddenly dead upon the ground. For this kind of death had a tragic air, and might be described with all the pomp of rhetoric; whereas the ordinary way of dying afforded no opportunity for ornament. As it will, therefore, suit your purpose, that Coriolanus should resemble Themistocles in every thing, I give you leave to introduce the fatal bowl; and you may still farther heighten the catastrophe by a solemn sacrifice, that Coriolanus may appear in all respects to have been a second Themistocles."
 "I am much obliged to you," said I, "for your courtesy: but, for the future, I shall be more cautious in meddling with History when you are present; whom I may justly commend as a most exact and scrupulous reporter of Roman History; but nearly at the time we are speaking of (though somewhat later) lived the above-mentioned Pericles, the illustrious son of Xanthippus, who first improved his eloquence by the friendly aids of literature;- not that kind of literature which treats professedly of the art of speaking, of which there was then no regular system; but after he had studied under Anaxagoras the natural philosopher, he easily transferred his capacity from abstruse and intricate speculations to forensic and popular debates.
All Athens was charmed with the sweetness of his language; and not only admired him for his fluency, but was awed by the superior force and the terrors of his eloquence.  L This age, therefore, which may be considered as the infancy of the Art, furnished Athens with an orator who almost reached the summit of his profession: for an emulation to shine in speech is not usually found among a people who are either employed in settling the form of their government, or engaged in war, or struggling with difficulties, or subjected to the arbitrary power of Kings. Eloquence is the attendant of peace, the companion of ease and prosperity, and the tender offspring of a free and a well established constitution.  Aristotle, therefore, informs us, that when the Tyrants were expelled from Sicily, and private property (after a long interval of servitude) was determined by public trials, the Sicilians Corax and Teisias (for this people, in general, were very quick and acute, and had a natural turn for controversy) first attempted to write precepts on the art of speaking. Before them, he says, there was no one who spoke by method, and rules of art, though there were many who discoursed very sensibly, and generally from written notes: but Protagoras took the pains to compose a number of dissertations, on such leading and general topics as are now called common places.  L Gorgias, he adds, did the same, and wrote panegyrics and invectives on every subject: for he thought it was the province of an orator to be able either to exaggerate, or extenuate, as occasion might require. Antiphon of Rhamnus composed several essays of the same species; and (according to Thucydides, a very respectable writer, who was present to hear him) pleaded a capital cause in his own defence, with as much eloquence as had ever yet been displayed by any man.  But Lysias was the first who openly professed the Art; and, after him, Theodorus, being better versed in the theory than the practice of it, begun to compose orations for others to pronounce; but reserved the method of doing it to himself. In the same manner, Isocrates at first disclaimed the Art, but wrote speeches for other people to deliver; on which account, being often prosecuted for assisting, contrary to law, to circumvent one or another of the parties in judgment, he left off composing orations for other people, and wholly applied himself to writing rules and systems.
 L Thus then we have traced the birth and origin of the orators of Greece, who were, indeed, very ancient, as I have before observed, if we compute by the Roman Annals; but of a much later date, if we reckon by their own: for the Athenian State had signalized itself by a variety of great exploits, both at home and abroad, a considerable time before she was ravished with the charms of eloquence. But this noble Art was not common to Greece in general, but almost peculiar to Athens.  For who has ever heard of an Argive, a Corinthian, or a Theban orator at the times we are speaking of? unless, perhaps, some merit of the kind may be allowed to Epaminondas, who was a man of uncommon erudition. But I have never read of a Lacedaemonian orator, from the earliest period of time to the present. For Menelaus himself, though said by Homer to have possessed a sweet elocution, is likewise described as a man of few words. Brevity, indeed, upon some occasions, is a real excellence; but it is very far from being compatible with the general character of eloquence.
 L The Art of speaking was likewise studied, and admired, beyond the limits of Greece; and the extraordinary honours which were paid to oratory have perpetuated the names of many foreigners who had the happiness to excel in it. For no sooner had eloquence ventured to sail from the Peiraeus, but she traversed all the isles, and visited every part of Asia; till at last she infected herself with their manners, and lost all the purity and the healthy complexion of the Attic style, and indeed had almost forgot her native language. The Asiatic orators, therefore, though not to be undervalued for the rapidity and the copious variety of their elocution, were certainly too loose and luxuriant. But the Rhodians were of a sounder constitution, and more resembled the Athenians.  So much, then, for the Greeks; for, perhaps, what I have already said of them, is more than was necessary."
"As to the necessity of it," answered Brutus, "there is no occasion to speak of it: but what you have said of them has entertained me so agreeably, that instead of being longer, it has been much shorter than I could have wished."
"A very handsome compliment," said I;- "but it is time to begin with our own countrymen, of whom it is difficult to give any further account than what we are able to conjecture from our Annals.  L For who can question the quickness of wit of Brutus, the illustrious founder of your family? That Brutus, who so readily discovered the meaning of the oracle, which promised the supremacy to him who should first salute his mother? That Brutus, who concealed the most consummate abilities under the appearance of a natural defect of understanding? Who dethroned and banished a powerful monarch [Tarquinius], the son of an illustrious sovereign? Who settled the State, which he had rescued from arbitrary power, by the appointment of an annual magistracy, a regular system of laws, and a free and open course of justice? And who abrogated the authority of his colleague [Collatinus], that he might rid the city of the smallest vestige of the regal name?- Events, which could never have been produced without exerting the powers of persuasion!-  We are likewise informed that a few years after the expulsion of the kings, when the plebeians retired to the banks of the Anio, about three miles from the city, and had possessed themselves of what is called the Mons Sacer, M. Valerius the dictator appeased their fury by a public harangue; for which he was afterwards rewarded with the highest posts of honour, and was the first Roman who was distinguished by the surname of Maximus. Nor can L. Valerius Potitus be supposed to have been destitute of the powers of utterance, who, after the odium which had been excited against the patricians by the tyrannical government of the decemviri , reconciled the people to the senate, by his prudent laws and conciliatory speeches.  L We may likewise suppose, that Appius Claudius was a man of some eloquence; since he dissuaded the senate from consenting to a peace with King Pyrrhus, though they were much inclined to it. The same might be said of Caius Fabricius, who was dispatched to Pyrrhus to treat for the ransom of his captive fellow-citizens; and of Titus Coruncanius, who appears by the memoirs of the pontifical college, to have been a person of no contemptible genius: and likewise of M'. Curius (then a tribune of the people) who, when the interrex Appius the Blind, an artful speaker, held the comitia contrary to law, by refusing to admit any consuls of plebeian rank, prevailed upon the senate to protest against the conduct of his antagonist; which, if we consider that the Maenian law was not then in being, was a very bold attempt.
 We may also conjecture, that M. Popilius was a man of abilities, who, in the time of his consulship [359 B.C.], when he was solemnizing a public sacrifice in the proper habit of his office, (for he was also a Flamen Carmentalis) hearing of the mutiny and insurrection of the people against the Senate, rushed immediately into the midst of the assembly, covered as he was with his sacerdotal robes, and quelled the sedition by his authority and the force of his eloquence. I do not pretend to have read that the persons I have mentioned were then reckoned orators, or that any fort of reward or encouragement was given to eloquence: I only conjecture what appears very probable.  L It is also recorded, that C. Flaminius, who, when tribune of the people proposed the law for dividing the conquered territories of the Gauls and Piceni among the citizens, and who, after his promotion to the consulship [217 B.C.], was slain near the lake Trasimenus, became very popular by the mere force of his speaking. Quintus Maximus Verrucosus was likewise reckoned a good speaker by his contemporaries; as was also Quintus Metellus, who, in the second Punic war, was joint consul with L. Veturius Philo [206 B.C.]. But the first person we have any certain account of, who was publicly distinguished as an orator, and who really appears to have been such, was M. Cornelius Cethegus; whose eloquence is attested by Q. Ennius, a witness of the highest credibility; since he actually heard him speak, and gave him this character after his death; so that there is no reason to suspect that he was prompted by the warmth of his friendship to exceed the bounds of truth.  In his ninth book of Annals, he has mentioned him in the following terms:
Additur orator Corneliu' suaviloquenti
Ore Cethegus Marcu', Tuditano collega,
"Add the orator M. Cornelius Cethegus, so much admired for his mellifluent tongue; who was the colleague of Tuditanus, and the son of Marcus."
He expressly calls him an orator, you see, and attributes to him a remarkable sweetness of speech; which, even now a-days, is an excellence of which few are possessed: for some of our modern orators are so insufferably harsh, that they may rather be said to bark than to speak. But what the poet so much admires in his friend, may certainly be considered as one of the principal ornaments of eloquence. He adds;
is dictus, ollis popularibus olim,
Qui tum vivebant homines, atque aevum agitabant,
Flos delibatus populi.
"He was called by his contemporaries, the choicest Flower of the State."
 L A very elegant compliment! for as the glory of a man is the strength of his mental capacity, so the brightest ornament of that is eloquence; in which, whoever had the happiness to excel, was beautifully styled, by the ancients, the Flower of the State; and, as the poet immediately subjoins,
"the very marrow and quintessence of Persuasion."
That which the Greeks call Peitho [Persuasion] and which it is the chief business of an orator to effect, is here called Suada by Ennius; and of this he commends Cethegus as the quintessence; so that he makes the Roman orator to be himself the very substance of that amiable goddess, who is said by Eupolis to have dwelt on the lips of Pericles.  This Cethegus was joint-consul with P. Tuditanus in the second Punic war [204 B.C.]; at which time also M. Cato was quaestor, about one hundred and forty years before I myself was promoted to the consulship [63 B.C.]; which circumstance would have been absolutely lost, if it had not been recorded by Ennius; and the memory of that illustrious citizen, as has probably been the case of many others, would have been obliterated by the rust of antiquity. The manner of speaking which was then in vogue, may easily be collected from the writings of Naevius: for Naevius died, as we learn from the memoirs of the times, when the persons above-mentioned were consuls; though Varro, a most accurate investigator of historical truth, thinks there is a mistake in this, and fixes the death of Naevius something later. For Plautus died in the consulship of P. Claudius and L. Porcius [184 B.C.], twenty years after the consulship of the persons we have been speaking of, and when Cato was censor.  L Cato, therefore, must have been younger than Cethegus, for he was consul nine years after him [195 B.C.]: but we always consider him as a person of the remotest antiquity, though he died in the consulship of Lucius Marcius and M'. Manilius [149 B.C.], and but eighty-three years before my own promotion to the same office. He is certainly, however, the most ancient orator we have, whose writings may claim our attention; unless any one is pleased with the above-mentioned speech of Appius, on the peace with Pyrrhus, or with a set of panegyrics on the dead, which, I own, are still extant.  For it was customary in most families of note to preserve their images, their trophies of honour, and their memoirs, either to adorn a funeral when any of the family deceased, or to perpetuate the fame of their ancestors, or prove their own nobility. But the truth of history has been much corrupted by these laudatory essays; for many circumstances were recorded in them which never existed; such as false triumphs, a pretended succession of consulships, and false alliances and elevations, when men of inferior rank were confounded with a noble family of the same name: as if I myself should pretend that I am descended from M'. Tullius, who was a patrician, and shared the consulship with Servius Sulpicius, about ten years after the expulsion of the kings [500 B.C.].
 L But the real speeches of Cato are almost as numerous as those of Lysias the Athenian; a great number of whose are still extant. For Lysias was certainly an Athenian; because he not only died but received his birth at Athens, and served all the offices of the city; though Timaeus, as if he acted by the Licinian or the Mucian law, remands him back to Syracuse. There is, however, a manifest resemblance between his character and that of Cato: for they are both of them distinguished by their acuteness, their elegance, their agreeable humour, and their brevity.  But the Greek has the happiness to be most admired: for there are some who are so extravagantly fond of him, as to prefer a graceful air to a vigorous constitution, and who are perfectly satisfied with a slender and an easy shape, if it is only attended with a moderate share of health. It must, however, be acknowledged, that even Lysias often displays a strength of arm, than which nothing can be more strenuous and forcible; though he is certainly, in all respects, of a more thin and feeble habit than Cato, notwithstanding he has so many admirers, who are charmed with his very slenderness.  L But as to Cato, where will you find a modern orator who condescends to read him?- nay, I might have said, who has the least knowledge of him?- And yet, good Gods! what a wonderful man! I say nothing of his merit as a citizen, a senator, and a general; we must confine our attention to the orator. Who, then, has displayed more dignity as a panegyrist?- more severity as an accuser?- more ingenuity in the turn of his sentiments?- or more neatness and address in his narratives and explanations? Though he composed above a hundred and fifty orations, (which I have seen and read) they are crowded with all the beauties of language and sentiment. Let us select from these what deserves our notice and applause: they will supply us with all the graces of oratory.  Not to omit his Origins, who will deny that these also are adorned with every flower, and with all the lustre of eloquence? and yet he has scarcely any admirers; which some ages ago was the case of Philistus the Syracusan, and even of Thucydides himself. For as the lofty and elevated style of Theopompus soon diminished the reputation of their pithy and laconic harangues, which were sometimes scarcely intelligible through their excessive brevity and quaintness; and as Demosthenes eclipsed the glory of Lysias, so the pompous and stately elocution of the moderns has obscured the lustre of Cato.
 L But many of us are shamefully ignorant and inattentive; for we admire the Greeks for their antiquity, and what is called their Attic neatness, and yet have never noticed the same quality in Cato. It was the distinguishing character, say they, of Lysias and Hypereides. I own it, and I admire them for it: but why not allow a share of it to Cato?  They are fond, they tell us, of the Attic style of eloquence: and their choice is certainly judicious, provided they borrow the blood and the healthy juices, as well as the bones and membranes. What they recommend, however, is, to do it justice, an agreeable quality. But why must Lysias and Hypereides be so fondly courted, while Cato is entirely overlooked? His language indeed has an antiquated air, and some of his expressions are rather too harsh and crabbed. But let us remember that this was the language of the time: only change and modernize it, which it was not in his power to do;- add the improvements of rhythm and cadence, give an easier turn to his sentences, and regulate the structure and connection of his words, (which was as little practised even by the older Greeks as by him) and you will discover no one who can claim the preference to Cato.  L The Greeks themselves acknowledge that the chief beauty of composition results from the frequent use of those mutated forms of expression which they call tropes, and of those various attitudes of language and sentiment which they call schemata [figures]: but it is almost incredible in what numbers, and with what amazing variety, they are all employed by Cato. I know, indeed, that he is not sufficiently polished, and that recourse must be had to a more perfect model for imitation: for he is an author of such antiquity, that he is the oldest now extant, whose writings can be read with patience; and the ancients in general acquired a much greater reputation in every other art, than in that of speaking.  But who that has seen the statues of the moderns, will not perceive in a moment, that the figures of Canachus are too stiff and formal, to resemble life? Those of Calamis, though evidently harsh, are somewhat softer. Even the statues of Myron are not sufficiently alive; and yet you would not hesitate to pronounce them beautiful. But those of Polycletes are much finer, and, in my mind, completely finished. The case is the same in painting; for in the works of Zeuxis, Polygnotus, Timanthes, and several other masters who confined themselves to the use of four colours, we commend the air and the symmetry of their figures; but in Aetion, Nicomachus, Protogenes, and Apelles, every thing is finished to perfection.  L This, I believe, will hold equally true in all the other arts; for there is not one of them which was invented and perfected at the same time. I cannot doubt, for instance, that there were many poets before Homer: we may infer it from those very songs which he himself informs us were sung at the feasts of the Phaeacians, and of the profligate suitors of Penelope. Nay, to go no farther, what is become of the ancient poems of our own countrymen?
Such as the Fauns and rustic Bards composed,
When none the rocks of poetry had crossed,
Nor wished to form his style by rules of art,
Before this venturous man: . . .
Old Ennius here speaks of himself; nor does he carry his boast beyond the bounds of truth: the case being really as he describes it. For we had only an Odyssey in Latin, which resembled one of the rough and unfinished statues of Daedalus; and some dramatic pieces of Livius, which will scarcely bear a second reading.  This Livius exhibited his first performance at Rome in the consulship of M. Tuditanus, and C. Claudius the son of Caecus [240 B.C.], the year before Ennius was born, and, according to the account of my friend Atticus, (whom I choose to follow) the five hundred and fourteenth from the founding of the city. But historians are not agreed about the date of the year. Accius informs us that Livius was taken prisoner at Tarentum by Quintus Maximus in his fifth consulship [209 B.C.], about thirty years after he is said by Atticus, and our ancient annals, to have introduced the drama.  L He adds that he exhibited his first dramatic piece about eleven years after, in the consulship of C. Cornelius and Q. Minucius [197 B.C.], at the public games which Salinator had vowed to Juventas [youth] for his victory at Sena. But in this, Accius was so far mistaken, that Ennius, when the persons above-mentioned were Consuls, was forty years old: so that if Livius was of the same age, as in this case he would have been, the first dramatic author we had must have been younger than Plautus and Naevius, who had exhibited a great number of plays before the time he specifies.  If these remarks, my Brutus, appear unsuitable to the subject before us, you must throw the whole blame upon Atticus, who has inspired me with a strange curiosity to enquire into the age of illustrious men, and the respective times of their appearance."
"On the contrary," said Brutus, "I am highly pleased that you have carried your attention so far; and I think your remarks well adapted to the curious task you have undertaken, the giving us a history of the different classes of orators in their proper order."
 L "You understand me right," said I; "and I heartily wish those venerable odes were still extant, which Cato informs us in his Origins, used to be sung by every guest in his turn at the homely feasts of our ancestors, many ages before, to commemorate the feats of their heroes. But the Punic war of that antiquated poet [Naevius], whom Ennius so proudly ranks among the Fauns and rustic Bards, affords me as exquisite a pleasure as the finest statue that was ever formed by Myron.  Ennius, I allow, was a more finished writer: but if he had really undervalued the other, as he pretends to do, he would scarcely have omitted such a bloody war as the first Punic war, when he attempted professedly to describe all the wars of the Republic. Nay he himself assigns the reason:
Others that cruel war have sung.
Very true, and they have sung it with great order and precision, though not, indeed, in such elegant strains as yourself. This you ought to have acknowledged, as you must certainly be conscious that you have borrowed many ornaments from Naevius; or if you refuse to own it, I shall tell you plainly that you have pilfered them.
 L Contemporary with the Cato above-mentioned (though somewhat older) were C. Flaminius, C. Varro, Q. Maximus, Q. Metellus, P. Lentulus, and P. Crassus who was joint Consul with the elder Africanus [205 B.C.]. This Scipio, we are told, was not destitute of the powers of eloquence: but his son, who adopted the younger Scipio (the son of Paulus Aemilius) would have stood foremost in the list of orators, if he had possessed a firmer constitution. This is evident from a few speeches, and a Greek History of his, which are very agreeably written.  In the same class we may place Sextus Aelius, who was the best lawyer of his time, and a ready speaker. A little after these, was C. Sulpicius Gallus, who was better acquainted with Greek literature than all the rest of the nobility, and was reckoned a graceful orator, being equally distinguished, in every other respect, by the superior elegance of his taste; for a more copious and splendid way of speaking began now to prevail. When this Sulpicius, in quality of praetor, was celebrating the public shows in honour of Apollo, died the poet Ennius, in the consulship of Q. Marcius and Cn. Servilius [169 B.C.], after exhibiting his tragedy of Thyestes.  L At the same time lived Tiberius Gracchus, the son of Publius, who was twice consul and censor: a Greek oration of his to the Rhodians is still extant, and he bore the character of a worthy citizen, and an eloquent speaker. We are likewise told that P. Scipio Nasica, surnamed Corculum [darling of the People], and who also had the honour to be twice chosen consul and censor, was esteemed an able orator: To him we may add L. Lentulus, who was joint Consul with C. Figulus [156 B.C.];- Q. Nobilior, the son of Marcus, who was inclined to the study of literature by his father's example, and presented Ennius (who had served under his father in Aetolia) with the freedom of the City, when he founded a colony in quality of triumvir: and his colleague, T. Annius Luscus, who is said to have been tolerably eloquent.  We are likewise informed that L. Paulus, the father of Africanus, defended the character of an eminent citizen in a public speech; and that Cato, who died in the 85th year of his age, was then living, and actually pleaded, that very year, against the defendant Servius Galba in an assembly of the people, with great energy and spirit:- he has left a copy of this oration behind him. But when Cato was in the decline of life, a crowd of orators, all younger than himself, made their appearance at the same time:  L For A. Albinus, who wrote a History in Greek, and shared the consulship with L. Lucullus [151 B.C.], was greatly admired for his learning and eloquence: and almost equal to him were Servius Fulvius, and Servius Fabius Pictor, the latter of whom was well acquainted with the laws of his country, its literature, and its ancient history. Quintus Fabius Labeo was likewise adorned with the same accomplishments. But Q. Metellus whose four sons attained the consular dignity, was admired for his eloquence beyond the rest;- he undertook the defence of L. Cotta, when he was accused by Africanus,- and composed many other speeches, particularly that against Tiberius Gracchus, which we have a full account of in the Annals of C. Fannius.
 L. Cotta himself was likewise reckoned an experienced performer; but C. Laelius, and P. Africanus were allowed by all to be more finished speakers: their orations are still extant, and may serve as specimens of their respective abilities. But Servius Galba, who was something older than any of them, was indisputably the best speaker of the age. He was the first among the Romans who displayed the proper and distinguishing talents of an orator, such as, digressing from his subject to embellish and diversify it,- soothing or alarming the passions, exhibiting every circumstance in the strongest light,- imploring the compassion of his audience, and artfully enlarging on those topics, or general principles of prudence or morality, on which the stress of his argument depended: and yet, I know not how, though he is allowed to have been the greatest orator of his time, the orations he has left are more lifeless, and have a more antiquated air, than those of Laelius, or Scipio, or even of Cato himself: in short, the strength and substance of them has so far evaporated, that we have scarcely any thing of them remaining but the bare skeletons.
 L In the same manner, though both Laelius and Scipio are greatly extolled for their abilities; the preference was given to Laelius as a speaker; and yet his oration, in defence of the privileges of the Sacerdotal College, has no greater merit than any one you may please to fix upon of the numerous speeches of Scipio. Nothing, indeed, can be sweeter and milder than that of Laelius, nor could any thing have been urged with greater dignity to support the honour of religion: but, of the two, Laelius appears to me to be rougher, and more old-fashioned than Scipio; and, as different speakers have different tastes, he had in my mind too strong a relish for antiquity, and was too fond of using obsolete expressions.  But such is the jealousy of mankind, that they will not allow the same person to be possessed of too many perfections. For as in military prowess they thought it impossible that any man could vie with Scipio, though Laelius had not a little distinguished himself in the war with Viriathus; so for learning, eloquence, and wisdom, though each was allowed to be above the reach of any other competitor, they adjudged the preference to Laelius. Nor was this only the opinion of the world, but it seems to have been allowed by mutual consent between themselves:  L for it was then a general custom, as candid in this respect as it was fair and just in every other, to give his due to each. I accordingly remember that P. Rutilius Rufus once told me at Smyrna, that when he was a young man, the two Consuls P. Scipio and D. Brutus [138 B.C.], by order of the Senate, tried a capital cause of great consequence. For several persons of note having been murdered in the Silan Forest, and the servants, and some of the sons, of a company of gentlemen who farmed the taxes of the pitch-manufactory, being charged with the deed, the consuls were ordered to try the cause in person.  Laelius, he said, spoke very sensibly and elegantly, as indeed he always did, on the side of the farmers of the taxes. But the consuls, after hearing both sides, judging it necessary to refer the matter to a second trial, the same Laelius, a few days after, pleaded their cause again with more accuracy, and much better than at first. The affair, however, was once more put off for a further hearing. Upon this, when his clients attended Laelius to his own house, and, after thanking him for what he had already done, earnestly begged him not to be disheartened by the fatigue he had suffered;- he assured them he had exerted his utmost to defend their reputation; but frankly added, that he thought their cause would be more effectually supported by Servius Galba, whose manner of speaking was more embellished and more spirited than his own. They, accordingly, by the advice of Laelius, requested Galba to undertake it.  L To this he consented; but with the greatest modesty and reluctance, out of respect to the illustrious advocate he was going to succeed:- and as he had only the next day to prepare himself, he spent the whole of it in considering and digesting his cause. When the day of trial was come, Rutilius himself, at the request of the defendants, went early in the morning to Galba, to give him notice of it, and conduct him to the court in proper time. But till word was brought that the consuls were going to the bench, he confined himself in his study, where he suffered no one to be admitted; and continued very busy in dictating to his secretaries, several of whom (as indeed he often used to do) he kept fully employed at once. While he was thus engaged, being informed that it was high time for him to appear in court, he left his house with so much life in his eyes, and such an ardent glow upon his countenance, that you would have thought he had not only prepared his cause, but actually carried it.  Rutilius added, as another circumstance worth noticing, that his scribes, who attended him to the bar, appeared excessively fatigued: from whence he thought it probable that he was equally warm and vigorous in the composition, as in the delivery of his speeches. But to conclude the story, Galba pleaded his cause before Laelius himself, and a very numerous and attentive audience, with such uncommon force and dignity, that every part of his oration received the applause of his hearers: and so powerfully did he move the feelings, and affect the pity of the judges, that his clients were immediately acquitted of the charge, to the satisfaction of the whole court.
 L As, therefore, the two principal qualities required in an orator, are to be neat and clear in stating the nature of his subject, and warm and forcible in moving the passions; and as he who fires and inflames his audience, will always effect more than he who can barely inform and amuse them; we may conjecture from the above narrative, which I was favoured with by Rutilius, that Laelius was most admired for his elegance, and Galba for his passionate force. But this force of his was most remarkably exerted, when, having as praetor put to death some Lusitanians, contrary (it was believed) to his previous and express engagement;- L. Libo the tribune aroused the people against him, and presented a bill which was to operate against his conduct as a subsequent law. M. Cato (as I have before mentioned) though extremely old, spoke in support of the bill with great vehemence; which speech he inserted in his Book of Origins, a few days, or at most only a month or two, before his death.  On this occasion, Galba refusing to plead to the charge, and submitting his fate to the generosity of the people, recommended his children to their protection, with tears in his eyes; and particularly his young ward the son of C. Gallus Sulpicius his deceased friend, whose orphan state and piercing cries, which were the more regarded for the sake of his illustrious father, excited their pity in a wonderful manner;- and thus (as Cato informs us in his History) he escaped the flames which would otherwise have consumed him, by employing the children to move the compassion of the people. I likewise find (what may be easily judged from his orations still extant) that his prosecutor Libo was a man of some eloquence."
 L As I concluded these remarks with a short pause;- "What can be the reason," said Brutus, "if there was so much merit in the oratory of Galba, that there is no trace of it to be seen in his orations;- a circumstance which I have no opportunity to be surprised at in others, who have left nothing behind them in writing."
"The reasons," said I, "why some have not written any thing, and others not so well as they spoke, are very different. Some of our orators have written nothing through mere indolence, and because they were loath to add a private fatigue to a public one: for most of the orations we are now possessed of were written not before they were spoken, but some time afterwards.  Others did not choose the trouble of improving themselves; to which nothing more contributes than frequent writing; and as to perpetuating the fame of their eloquence, they thought it unnecessary; supposing that their eminence in that respect was sufficiently established already, and that it would be rather diminished than increased by submitting any written specimen of it to the arbitrary test of criticism. Some also were aware that they spoke much better than they were able to write; which is generally the case of those who have a great genius, but little learning, such as Servius Galba.  L When he spoke, he was perhaps so much animated by the force of his abilities, and the natural warmth and impetuosity of his temper, that his language was rapid, bold, and striking; but afterwards, when he took up the pen in his leisure hours, and his passion had sunk into a calm, his eloquence became dull and languid. This indeed can never happen to those whose only aim is to be neat and polished; because an orator may always be master of that discretion which will enable him both to speak and write in the same agreeable manner: but no man can revive at pleasure the ardour of his passions; and when that has once subsided, the fire and pathos of his language will be extinguished.  This is the reason why the calm and easy spirit of Laelius seems still to breathe in his writings, whereas the force of Galba is entirely withered and lost.
"We may also reckon in the number of middling orators, the two brothers L. and Sp. Mummius, both whose orations are still in being:- the style of Lucius is plain and antiquated; but that of Spurius, though equally unembellished, is more close, and compact; for he was well versed in the doctrine of the Stoics. The orations of Sp. Albinus, their contemporary, are very numerous: and we have several by L. and C. Aurelius Orestes, who were esteemed indifferent speakers.  L P. Popilius also was a worthy citizen, and had a tolerable share of utterance: but his son Caius was really eloquent. To these we may add C. Tuditanus, who was not only very polished, and refined, in his manners and appearance, but had an elegant turn of expression; and of the same class was M. Octavius, a man of inflexible constancy in every just and laudable measure; and who, after being affronted and disgraced in the most public manner, defeated his rival Tiberius Gracchus by the mere dint of his perseverance. But M. Aemilius Lepidus, who was surnamed Porcina, and flourished at the same time as Galba, though he was indeed something younger, was esteemed an orator of the first eminence; and really appears, from his orations which are still extant, to have been a masterly writer.  For he was the first speaker, among the Romans, who gave us a specimen of the easy gracefulness of the Greeks; and who was distinguished by the measured flow of his language, and a style regularly polished and improved by art. His manner was carefully studied by C. Carbo and Tib. Gracchus, two accomplished youths who were nearly of an age: but we must defer their character as public speakers, till we have finished our account of their elders. For Q. Pompeius, according to the style of the time, was no contemptible orator; and actually raised himself to the highest honours of the state by his own personal merit, and without being recommended, as usual, by the quality of his ancestors.
Following sections (97-180) →
Attalus' home page | 03.04.14 | Any comments?