Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
Previous Chapter

Book 11 - Chapter 1

Next Chapter
Of speaking with propriety; in different causes, § 1-5. In different parts of the same cause, 6, 7. The orator's chief consideration is what is becoming, 8-11. What is becoming is generally found in union with what is expedient, 12-14. Vanity and self-applause always unbecoming in an orator, 15-17. Whether Cicero is chargeable with this fault, 18-24. But an orator may sometimes express confidence, 25, 26. Yet not so as to declare that his judgment must be infallible, 27, 28. Other faults in orators noticed, 29, 30. Different kinds of orator are suited to different speakers, 31-38. An orator should also adapt his style to the characters of those for whom he pleads, 39-42. He must also vary it to suit those to whom he addresses himself, 43-45. He must also have regard to time and place, 46-48. To the nature of the cause, 49-56. To the characters of those to whom he is opposed, 57-67. How he may sometimes avoid offending those against whom he speaks, 68-74. How the judge may be conciliated, 75-77. How an orator may notice points in which he is conscious that he himself, or his party, is vulnerable, 78-83. How he may touch on delicate subjects, 84. How he may soften his language in an attack on any one, 85-90. Excess in every respect to be avoided, 91. Different kinds of oratory find favor with different audiences, 92, 93.

1. HAVING acquired, as is stated in the preceding book, the ability of writing and thinking, as well as of speaking extempore when necessity requires, our next study must be to speak with aptitude, an excellence which Cicero shows to be the fourth in elocution and which is indeed, in my opinion, the most important of all. 2. For as the dress of oratory is various and manifold, and different forms of it are suited to different subjects, it will, unless it be thoroughly adapted to things and persons, not only not add luster to our eloquence, but will even destroy the force of it and give to our efforts an effect contrary to that which we intended. Of what avail will it be that our language is pure Latin—that it is expressive, elegant, adorned with figures, and harmoniously arranged—unless it is also adapted to establish the conclusions to which we wish the judge to be led and confirmed? 3. Of what service will our eloquence be if we adopt a grand style in trivial causes, a poor and constrained style in such as are of high moment, a florid style on grave subjects, a calm style when forcible argument is necessary, a menacing style in deprecation, a submissive style in spirited discussions, and a fierce and violent mode of speaking on topics intended to please? The same kind of result would be produced as when men are disfigured with necklaces, pearls, and long robes, which are the ornaments of women, while a triumphal habit (than which nothing can be imagined to add greater majesty to men) is to women but an unbecoming encumbrance.

4. Cicero briefly touches on this subject in the third book of de Oratore, and yet he may be thought not to have omitted anything when he says that one kind of style cannot suit every cause, or every auditor, or every character, or every occasion. In his Orator he expresses the same remark in a not much greater number of words. But in the de Oratore, Lucius Crassus, as he is addressing himself to eminent orators and men of great learning, thinks it sufficient to intimate his opinion to those who acknowledged the justice of it. 5. In the Orator, too, Cicero himself, addressing Brutus, remarks that what he says is well known to him and that consequently the subject is noticed by him but cursorily, though it is one of great amplitude and has been treated at great length by the philosophers. I, however, undertaking to form an orator, communicate these precepts not only to those who know, but to those who are learning, and therefore indulgence must be allowed me if I enter into the subject more fully.

6. It must be understood, then, above all things, that kinds of style are proper for conciliating, instructing, and exciting the judge, and what objects we contemplate in the several parts of our speech. We shall then neither use obsolete, nor metaphorical, nor newly-coined words in our exordium, statement of facts, or series of arguments; nor shall we indulge in flowing periods of studied elegance when our cause is to be divided and distinguished into parts; nor shall we choose a low and ordinary sort of style, and of a loose texture, for our peroration; nor, when we ought to excite pity, shall we dry up the tears of our audience with jests. For the effect of all ornament depends not so much on its own nature as on that of the object to which it is applied; nor is it of more importance what you say than where you say it. 7. But the whole art of speaking with propriety depends not merely on our choice of language, but has much also in common with invention of matter, for if mere words have so much power, how much greater power must thoughts have? What was necessary to be remarked, however, with regard to thoughts, I have noticed, from time to time, in the proper places.

8. It cannot be too earnestly inculcated that no one can speak with aptitude and propriety unless he considers not only what is to the purpose, but also what is becoming. Nor am I ignorant that these two qualities of speaking are mostly united, for what is becoming is generally to the purpose. Nor are the minds of judges conciliated by anything more than by the observance of decorum, or alienated by anything more than by violations of it. 9. The two, however, are sometimes at variance, and, when they are so, that which is becoming will be allowed the preference over that which is merely serviceable, for who does not know that nothing would have been of greater service in procuring an acquittal for Socrates than the adoption of the ordinary mode of defense on trials, the conciliation of the favor of the judges by a submissive address to them, and the careful refutation of the charges brought against him? 10. But such a course would have been unbecoming to Socrates, and he therefore pleaded like a man who thought himself deserving, not of punishment, but of the highest honors, for wisest of men as he was, he preferred that what remained of his life should be lost rather than that portion of it which was past. Since he was not sufficiently understood by the men of his day, he committed himself to the judgment of posterity, and purchased, by the sacrifice of a short portion of extreme old age, a life that will last forever. 11. Though Lysias, therefore, who was esteemed the most accomplished orator of the time, offered him a defense ready written, he declined making use of it, saying that though he thought it good, he did not consider that it would become him. From this example, without having recourse to any other, it is evident that the end to be kept in view by the orator is not persuasion, but speaking well, since to persuade would sometimes be dishonorable. The conduct of Socrates was not conducive to his acquittal, but what was of greater importance was honorable to his character as a man.

12. I myself, in making this distinction and separating utility from decorum, speak rather in conformity with the common way of speaking than according to the strictness of truth. Or are we to suppose that the first Scipio Africanus, who chose rather to banish himself from his country than to maintain his integrity against the charges of a mean tribune of the people, acted disadvantageously for his honor? Or that Publius Rutilius, either when he adopted his almost Socratic kind of defense or when he preferred to remain in exile at the time that Publius Sylla recalled him, was ignorant of what was most proper for him? 13. These great men thought that the trivial considerations which abject minds regard as of so much importance are to be despised in comparison with true honor, and consequently, they are distinguished by the perpetual admiration of all ages. Nor let us indulge in so abject a way of thinking as to consider that what we allow to be honorable may be unprofitable. 14. But any occasion for this distinction, such as it is, very seldom occurs, since in every kind of cause, as I observed, whatever is advantageous will generally be becoming.

It is becoming to all persons, at all times, and in all places, to act and speak honorably, while on the contrary, it is becoming to no person, at any time or in any place, to act and speak dishonorably. But matters of less importance, and that hold a middle place between the two, are generally of such a kind that they are lightly regarded by some and more seriously by others, and they must appear either more or less excusable, or more or less reprehensible, according to character, time, place, or motive. 15. And as in pleading, we speak either of what concerns others or what concerns ourselves, we must make a just distinction between the two, provided we bear in mind that there are many things improper to be brought forward in either case.

Above all things, every kind of self-laudation is unbecoming, and especially praise of his own eloquence from an orator, as it not only gives offense to his audience, but generally creates in them even a dislike towards him 16. Our mind has in it something naturally sublime and haughty, and is impatient of a superior. Hence, we willingly raise the humble, or those who submit to us, because when we do so, we appear to ourselves greater than they. When rivalry is absent, benevolence finds a place in us, but he who unreasonably exalts himself seems to depress and despise us, yet not to make himself greater so much as to try to make others less. 17. Hence his inferiors envy him (for envy is the vice of those who are unwilling to yield, though unable to oppose), his superiors deride him, and the judicious censure him. In general, too, we find, that the opinion of the arrogant concerning themselves is unfounded, while to persons of real merit, the consciousness of merit is sufficient.

In this respect, Cicero has been censured to no small degree, although in his speeches, he was much more of a boaster of what he had done than of his abilities in speaking. 18. Indeed, he uttered such boasts, for the most part, not without much appearance of reason, for he had either to defend those whose aid he had received in suppressing the conspiracy of Catiline, or he had to justify himself against popular odium, which he was so far from being able to withstand that he had to go into exile as a punishment for having saved his country, so that frequent allusions to achievements in his consulship may be thought to have been made less from vanity than for self-defense. 19. At the same time that he allowed a full measure of eloquence to the pleaders on the opposite side, he never claimed in his speeches any immoderate share of it to himself; he says, "If there is any ability in me, judges, and I am sensible how little there is, etc.,"and, "The more I feel my inability, the more diligently have I endeavored to make amends for it by application, etc." 20. Even in contending against Quintus Caecilius about the appointment of an accuser of Verres, though it was of great importance which of the two should appear the better qualified for pleading, he rather detracted from Caecilius's talent in speaking than assumed any superiority in it to himself, saying not that he had attained eloquence, but that he had done everything in his power to attain it. 21. It is only at times in his letters, when he is writing familiarly to his friends, and occasionally in his Dialogues, under another person's character, that he does justice to his own eloquence.

Yet I know not whether open self-applause is not more tolerable, even from the very undisguisedness of the offense, than the hypocritical boastfulness of those who speak of themselves as poor when they abound with wealth, as obscure when they are of high rank, as weak when they have great influence, as ignorant and incapable of speaking when they are possessed of great eloquence. 22. It is an ostentatious kind of vanity to speak thus ironically of ourselves. Let us be content, therefore, to be praised by others, for it becomes us, as Demosthenes says, to blush even when we hear other men's commendations of ourselves. I do not say that an orator may not sometimes speak of what he has done, as Demosthenes himself did in his defense of Ctesiphon, but he so qualified what he said, as to show that he was under the necessity of saying it, and to throw the odium of it on him who forced him to say it. 23. So Cicero, though he often speaks of the suppression of Catiline's conspiracy, attributes it sometimes to the meritorious efforts of the senate, sometimes to the providence of the immortal gods. In speaking against his enemies and calumniators, indeed, he generally vindicates his claim to greater merit, for when charges were brought against his conduct, it was for him to justify it. 24. In his verses, I wish he had been more modest, since the malicious have never ceased to remark upon his

Cedant arma togae, concedat laurea linguae,

To gowns let arms succumb, and laurel crowns
To eloquence,


O fortunatam natam me consule Romam,

O happy Rome, that found new life when I
Was consul!

and his Jupiter, by whom he is called to the assembly of the gods, and his Minerva, who taught him her arts. These were extravagances in which, after the example of some of the Greeks, he allowed himself to indulge.

25. But though to boast of eloquence is unbecoming in an orator, yet to express confidence in himself is sometimes allowable, for who would blame such remarks as these: "What am I to think? That I am despised? But I do not see what there is, either in my life, or in the favor which I experience, or in what I have done, or in my moderate share of ability, for Antony to despise." 26. Or as he expresses himself, a little afterwards, with somewhat more boldness: "Would he wish to engage with me in a contest of eloquence? He would then confer an obligation on me, for what ampler field, what more copious subject could I desire, than the opportunity of speaking on behalf of myself and against Antony?"

27. Those speakers are arrogant who assert that they have convinced themselves of the goodness of their cause, or otherwise they would not have undertaken it, for judges listen with unwillingness to a pleader who anticipates their decision. That which was granted to Pythagoras by his disciples, that his Ipse duxit should settle a question, is not likely to be allowed to an advocate by his opponents. 28. But confidence in speakers will be more or less blamable according to their characters, for it is sometimes justified by their age, dignity, or authority, and yet these will hardly be so great in any orator as not to require that his dependence on them should be tempered with some degree of modesty, as must be the case in all particulars in which a pleader draws arguments from his own person. It would have been somewhat too arrogant, perhaps, if Cicero had denied, when he was defending himself, that to be the son of a Roman knight ought to be made a ground of accusation against him. But he turned the charge even in his favor, by identifying his own dignity with that of his judges and saying, "But that I am the son of a Roman knight should assuredly never have been alleged as a reproach against me by the accusers in any cause, while you are trying it and while I am defending it before you."

29. An impudent, noisy, and angry tone is unbecoming in all speakers, but the more remarkable a speaker is for age, dignity, or experience, the more blamable he is if he adopts it. Yet we see some wranglers held under no restraint, either by respect for the judges, or by regard to the forms and practices of pleading, and from this very character of their mind, it is evident that they have no consideration for their honor either in undertaking causes or in pleading them. 30. For men's speech is generally an indication of their disposition and lays open the secrets of their minds. It is not without reason that the Greeks have made it a proverb that "As a man lives, so also he speaks." There are faults also of a still meaner nature: grovelling adulation, studied buffoonery, disregard of modesty in respect to things or words of an offensive or indecent kind, and violations of dignity on all occasions, faults which are oftenest seen in those who are too anxious either to please or to amuse.

31. All kinds of oratory, too, are not alike suitable to all speakers.

Thus a copious, lofty, bold, and florid style would not be becoming to old men as one that is close, mild, and precise, such a one as Cicero wished us to understand when he said that his style was growing grey, just as that age, also, is not adapted for wearing garments gleaming with purple and scarlet. 32. In young men, on the other hand, an exuberant and somewhat daring style is well received, while a dry, circumspect, and concise manner of speaking is offensive in them from its very affectation of gravity. As in regard to manners, the austerity of old men is considered as quite premature in the young.

33. A plain style suits military men. To those who make an ostentatious profession of philosophy, as some do, most of the embellishments of speech are by no means becoming, and especially those which have reference to the passions, which they regard as vices. Extraordinary elegance of diction, too, and studied harmony of periods, are altogether foreign to their pursuits. 34. Not only florid expressions, such as these of Cicero, "Rocks and deserts respond to the voice of the poet," but even those of a more vigorous and forcible character, such as, "I now implore and attest you, you, I say, O Alban hills and qroves, and you, O dismantled altars of the Albans, united and coeval with the religion of the people of Rome," are utterly unsuited to the beard and solemnity of the philosopher. 35. But the man who is desirous of civil distinction, the man of sound sense who devotes himself not to idle disputations, but to the management of public affairs from which those who call themselves philosophers have as far as possible withdrawn themselves, will freely use whatever ornaments of style may tend to effect the object which he has in view when he speaks, having previously resolved in his mind not to recommend anything but what is honorable.

36. There is a style of oratory that becomes princes, but that others would hardly be allowed to assume. Also, the mode of speaking suited to military commanders and eminent conquerors is to a great degree distinct from that of other men. In this kind of style, Pompey was an extremely eloquent narrator of his exploits, and Cato, who killed himself in the civil war, was an able speaker in the senate. 37. The same language will often be characterized as freedom in one person, folly in another, and pride in a third. The reproaches addressed by Thersites to Agamemnon are regarded with derision, but put them into the mouth of Diomede or any one of his equals, they will exhibit only greatness of spirit. "Should I regard you as a consul," said Lucius Crassus to Philippus, "when you do not regard me as a senator?" This is the language of a noble magnanimity, yet we should not think it proper for everyone to utter it. 38. Some one of the poets says that he does not care much whether Caesar were a black man or a white; this is folly. However, had Caesar used the same expression with regard to the poet, it would have been pride.

There is great regard paid to character among the tragic and comic poets, for they introduce a variety of persons accurately distinguished. Similar discrimination used to be observed by those who wrote speeches for others, and it is observed by declaimers, for we do not always declaim as pleaders of a cause, but very frequently as parties concerned in it.

39. But even in the causes in which we plead as advocates, the same difference should be carefully observed, for we often take upon ourselves the character of others and speak, as it were, with other persons' mouths. We must exhibit in those to whom we adapt our voice their exact peculiarities of manner. Publius Clodius is represented as speaking in one way, Appius Caecus in another; the father in the comedy of Caecilius is made to express himself in one style, the father in the comedy of Terence in another. 40. What could be more brutal than the words of the lictor of Verres, "To see him, you must pay so much"? What could be more magnanimous than the behavior of the Roman from whom the only exclamation heard, amidst all the tortures of scourging, was, "I am a Roman citizen"? How suitable is the language used in the peroration of the speech for Milo, to a man who, in defense of the commonwealth, had so often curbed a seditious citizen and who had, at last, triumphed over his plots by valor? 41. Not only, indeed, are there as many various points to be observed in prosopopeiae as in the cause itself, but even more, as in them we assume the characters of children, women, nations, and even of voiceless objects. In regard to all of them, propriety must be observed. 42. The same care is to be taken with respect to those for whom we plead, for in speaking for different characters, we must often adopt different styles, according to whether our client is of high or low station, popular or unpopular, noting, at the same time, the difference in their principles of action and in their past lives. As to the orator himself, the qualities that will recommend him most are courtesy, mildness, good temper, and benevolence. But qualities of an opposite kind will sometimes be very becoming in a speaker of high moral character, as he may testify hatred of the wicked, concern on behalf of the public, and zeal for the punishment of offenses and crimes. Indeed, as I said at first, every kind of honorable sentiment will become him.

43. Nor is it important only what our own character is and for whom we plead, but to whom we address ourselves, for rank and power make a great difference, and the same manner of speaking is not equally proper before a prince, a magistrate, a senator, and a private person or a mere free citizen. Nor are public trails and discussions on private affairs before arbiters conducted in the same tone. 44. For if an orator were pleading in a capital cause, then anxiety, care, and every engine set to work, as it were, for strengthening argument would be becoming in proportion. But in cases and trials of smaller moment, such solicitude would be but foolish, and he would be justly ridiculed who, sitting to speak before an umpire on some unimportant question, should make a declaration like that of Cicero, that he was not only disturbed in mind, but that he felt a trembling through his whole frame. 45. Who, indeed, does not know that the gravity of the senate demands one sort of eloquence, and the levity of a popular assembly another, when, even before single judges, the same mode of address that suits serious characters is not adapted to those of a lighter cast? The same manner that is proper in speaking to a man of learning is improper in speaking to a military or uneducated man, and our language must sometimes be lowered and qualified, lest the judge should be unable to comprehend or see the tenor of it?.

46. Time and place also require a due degree of observation. The occasion on which an orator speaks may be one of seriousness or one of rejoicing; the time allowed him may be unlimited or limited; and to all such circumstances his speech must be adapted. 47. It makes a great difference, too, whether we speak in a public or private place, in one that is populous or unfrequented in a foreign city or in our own, in a camp or in the forum. Each of these places requires its own peculiar form and style of eloquence, as even in other affairs of life, the same mode of proceeding is not equally suitable in the forum, the senate, the Campus Martius, the theatre, and in our own houses. Many things which are not reprehensible in their own nature and are sometimes absolutely necessary are counted unseemly if done in any other place than where custom authorizes.

48. I have already observed how much more elegance and refinement demonstrative topics, as being intended to give pleasure to an audience, admit than those of a deliberative and judicial character, which are conducted in a tone of business and argument. To this is also to be added that many eminent excellences of oratory are rendered unsuitable to certain causes by their very nature. 49. Would anyone endure to hear an accused person in danger of losing his life, especially if pleading for himself before his conqueror or his sovereign, indulge in frequent metaphors, in words either of his own coining or studiously fetched from remote antiquity, in a style as far removed as possible from common usage, in flowing periods and florid common places, and fine thoughts? Would not all such elegances destroy that appearance of solicitude natural to a man in peril and deprive him of the aid of pity, which is necessary to be sought, even by the innocent? 50. Would anyone be moved at the fate of him, whom, in so perilous a situation, he should see swelling with vanity and self-conceit and making an ambitious display of oratory? Would he not rather feel alienated from a man who, under an accusation, should hunt for words, feel anxiety about his reputation for talent, and consider himself at leisure to be eloquent? 51. This Marcus Caelius seems to me to have admirably shown when he defended himself on his trial for an assault, saying, "Lest to any one of you, judges, or to any of all those here to plead against me, any look of mine should seem offensive, or any expression too presumptuous, or, what is the least however of the three, any gesture at all arrogant, etc." 52. Some pleadings consist wholly in pacifying, deprecating, and making confession, and ought we to weep in fine thoughts? Will epiphonemata or enthymemes prevail upon judges? Will not whatever is superadded to genuine feeling diminish its whole force and dispel compassion by an appearance of unconcern? 53. If a father has to demand justice for the death of his son or for some wrong done to him worse than death, will he, instead of being content with giving a brief and direct statement of the matter, study that grace of delivery in his narrative which depends on the use of pure and perspicuous language? Will he count his arguments upon his fingers, aim at exact nicety in his propositions and divisions, and deliver himself, as is commonly the case in those parts of speeches, without the least manifestation of feeling? 54. Whither, in the meantime, will his grief have fled? How have his tears been dried? Whence has so calm a regard to the precepts of art proceeded? Will not his speech be rather a prolonged groan, from the exordium to the last word, and will not the same look of sadness be invariably maintained by him if he wishes to transfuse a portion of his own sorrowful feeling into the breasts of his audience, a feeling which, if once abated, he will never revive in them? 55. By those learning to declaim (for I feel no reluctance to look back to what was formerly my own employment and to think of the benefit of the youth once under my care), these proprieties ought to be observed with the utmost strictness, inasmuch as there are exhibited, in the schools, the feelings of a great variety of characters, which we take upon ourselves, not as pleaders for others, but as if we had actually experienced what we say. 56. For example, cases of the following kind are frequently supposed, in which persons request of the senate leave to put themselves to death, either on account of some great misfortune or from remorse for some crime. In such cases, it is not only unbecoming to adopt a chanting tone, a fault which has become universal, or to indulge in fine language, but it is improper even to pursue a train of argument, unless feeling, indeed, be mixed with it, and mixed to such a degree that it may predominate over proof. For he who in pleading can intermit his grief may be thought capable of laying it aside altogether.

57. I know not, however, whether the observance of the decorum of which we are speaking should not be maintained with even more scrupulosity towards those against whom we plead than towards others, for we should undoubtedly make it our care, in every case of accusation, to appear to have engaged in it with reluctance. Hence I am extremely offended with the remark of Cassius Severus, "Good gods, I am alive, and I see, what may well give me pleasure to be alive. Asprenas in the condition of a criminal." Severus may be thought to have accused him, not from any just or necessary cause, but for the pleasure of being his accuser. 58. In addition to this observance of what is becoming, too, which is common to all cases, certain subjects require a peculiar tenderness of management. Thus the son, who shall apply for the appointment of a guardian over his father's property, ought to testify concern at his father's unsoundness of mind, and a father who brings charges, however grievous, against his son ought to show that the necessity of doing so is the greatest affliction to him. This feeling he should exhibit, not in a few words only, but through the whole texture of his speech, so that he may appear to speak not only with his lips, but from the bottom of his heart. 59. A guardian, also, if his ward makes allegations against him, should never manifest towards him resentment of such a nature that traces of affection and sacred regard for the memory of his father may not be apparent through it. I have remarked, I believe, in the seventh book, how a cause ought to be pleaded by a son against a father who renounces him, and by a husband against a wife who accuses him of ill-treating her; and the fourth book, in which directions are given respecting the exordium, shows when we may properly plead our own cause and when we should employ the services of an advocate.

60. No one can doubt that there may be something becoming, or something offensive, in mere words. A remark, therefore, seems necessary to be added with reference to a point certainly of extreme difficulty: the consideration, namely, of how these things which are by no means inviting in their nature and of which, if choice were allowed us, we had rather not speak, may nevertheless be expressed by us without indecorum. 61. What can wear a more disagreeable aspect, or what are the ears of men more unwilling to hear, than a case in which a son, or the advocates of a son, have to plead against a mother? Yet such pleading is sometimes necessary, as in the cause of Cluentius Habitus, though it need not always be conducted in the same way as Cicero has chosen in speaking against Sassia. I say this not because he did not proceed with the greatest judgment, but because it is important to consider, in reference to the particular case, in what respect and by what means the mother has sought to commit injury. 62. As she had attempted the life of her son openly, Sassia deserved to be assailed with great severity. Yet Cicero admirably managed two points that required particular attention: the first, not to forget the reverence due to parents, and the second, to demonstrate most carefully, by going far back into causes, that what he was to say against the mother was not only proper, but absolutely necessary. 63. Accordingly, his first object was to show the propriety of his mode of proceeding, though it had no immediate bearing on the question in hand, so much was he convinced, in so delicate and difficult a cause, that the first consideration should be what was due to decorum. Thus he made the name "mother" cast odium, not upon the son, but upon her against whom he spoke.

64. However, a mother may sometimes be opposed to her son in a case of less seriousness or bitterness, and a more gentle and submissive tone of pleading, on behalf of the son, will then be proper, for by showing a readiness to make all due satisfaction, we shall lessen any ill feeling that may arise against ourselves and may even divert it to the opposite party. If it is manifest that the son is deeply concerned at being obliged to appear against his mother, it will be believed that the fault is not on his side, and he will at once become an object of compassion. 65. It will be well, too, to throw the blame of the proceeding on other parties, that it may be thought to have had its origin in their malice, and to protest that we will endure to the utmost and make no harsh reply, so that if we have, in fact, no opportunity of showing bitterness, we may appear to have intentionally abstained from it. If any point, again, has to be urged against the mother, it is the duty of the son's advocate to make it appear that he urges it, not with his client's consent, but because the interest of his cause compels him. Thus both the son and his advocate may gain praise.

What I have said with respect to a mother may be regarded as equally applicable to either parent, for I am aware that lawsuits sometimes occur between fathers and sons after emancipation has taken place. 66. In opposing other relatives, also, we must take care that we are thought to have spoken against them unwillingly, from necessity, and with forbearance, and this solicitude should be greater or less according to the respect due to each particular person. The same moderation should be observed in speaking for freedmen against their patrons. To say much in a few words, it will never be seemly to plead against such persons in a style which we should be extremely displeased to find men of that condition adopt against ourselves.

67. The same consideration must at times be shown in opposing personages of great dignity, and some justification must be offered for the liberty which we assume, lest anyone should think that we, in wounding them, indulge a wanton inclination or gratify our vanity. Though Cicero had to speak with the utmost severity against Cotta, since the case of Publius Oppius could not otherwise have been pleaded, he yet apologized, in a long preface, for the necessity of doing his duty. 68. Sometimes, too, it may be proper to spare or deal gently with persons of an inferior condition, especially if they are young. Cicero observes such moderation in speaking for Caelius against Atratinus, appearing not to attack him like an adversary, but almost to admonish him like a father, for he was both of noble birth and a youth, and had come forward to accuse Caelius not without just ground for complaint.

But there may be comparatively little difficulty in moderating our conduct towards those to whom proofs of our forbearance are to be made apparent to the judge or the rest of the audience. In cases where we fear to offend those in opposition to whom we plead, we may feel greater embarrassment. 69. Two antagonists of that kind were opposed to Cicero, when he was pleading for Muraena, in the persons of Marcus Cato and Servius Sulpicius. Yet how delicately does he deny Sulpicius, after allowing him all other merits, the art of successfully standing for the consulship! What else could make a man of noble birth and of high reputation for legal knowledge admit defeat with less regret? How ably has he stated his reasons for undertaking the defense of Muraena, when he says that he supported the claims of Sulpicius against the election of Muraena to office, but that he should not have thought himself justified in not defending Muraena against a capital accusation! 70. With how gentle a touch, too, has he handled Cato! After testifying the highest admiration for his character, he proceeds to represent it as having become hardened in some points, not through his own fault, but through that of the sect of the Stoics, so that we might suppose there had occurred between them, not a judicial contest, but a philosophical discussion. 71. It is certainly, then, the best of rules and the surest of all precepts to follow the example of the illustrious orator and, when you wish to deny a person any particular excellence without offending him, to grant him every other good quality, observing that in this respect alone is he less judicious than in others and adding, if possible, the reason why such is the case, such as that he has been a little too obstinate, credulous, or angry, or that he is incited by other persons. 72. This may serve for a common mode of qualifying our language in all such cases, if there appear, through the whole course of our argument, a regard not only to what is honorable, but to what is kind. There should also seem to be the best of reasons for what we say, and we should express ourselves, not only with moderation, but as if under the compulsion of necessity.

73. It is a different case from this, but not so difficult, when we are obliged to commend certain acts of persons otherwise of ill repute or objects of dislike to us, for we must praise that which deserves praise in whatever character it be found. Cicero pleaded for Gabinius and Publius Vatinius, men who had previously been his greatest enemies, and against whom he had even written orations. But the course which he adopted is justified by his declaration that he was anxious, not about his reputation for ability, but about his honor. 74. His proceeding on the trial of Cluentius was attended with greater difficulty, as he was obliged to assert the guilt of Scamander, whose cause he had pleaded before. But he extricates himself from his embarrassment most gracefully, alleging in his defense the importunity of those by whom Scamander had been introduced to him, and his own extreme youth. Otherwise, he would have greatly injured his reputation if he had made himself appear to be one who would rashly undertake the defense of the guilty, especially in so suspicious a cause.

75. In speaking before a judge who is adverse to the cause which we have undertaken, either from regard to another person's interest or his own, it may be very difficult to convince him, but the proper mode of addressing him is very clear: we must represent that through confidence in his justice, we have no fear for our cause. We must also stimulate him to respect his honor, observing that his integrity and conscientiousness will be the more celebrated the less he consults his resentment or private interest in forming his decision. 76. We may proceed in the same manner, also, before judges from whom we have appealed, if we should be sent back to them again, alleging some plea of necessity, if it be consistent with our cause, or of error or suspicion. The safest mode, however, is to express repentance and to offer atonement for our fault, and we must render the judge, by every artifice in our power, afraid of incurring disgrace by sacrificing our cause to his resentment.

77. The cause upon which a judge has already given a decision, may sometimes happen, from particular circumstances, to come before him again, and he may have to try it a second time. In such a case, it is common to observe that we should not have entered on a discussion of his sentence before any other judge, as it ought to be reversed only by himself, but that certain particulars in the affair were unknown to us (if the nature of the cause allows us to say so), that witnesses were wanting, or (what must be advanced with great caution, and only if nothing else can be urged) that the pleaders did not fully discharge their duty. 78. Even if we have to plead a cause a second time, too, before other judges, as in a second suit for the liberty of an individual, or of cases that come before a second section of the centumviri after our side has been defeated, it will be most proper, whenever it is practicable, to express respect for the opinion of the former judges, a point on which I have spoken more fully in the part where I have treated of proofs.

79. It may happen, also, that we may have to censure in others what we have done ourselves, just as Tubero makes it a charge against Ligarius that he was in Africa. Likewise, some who have been found guilty of bribery have brought others to trial for the same crime, for the sake of recovering their position as citizens, and in the declamations of the schools, a young man who is himself extravagant accuses his father of extravagance. For my own part, I do not see how such proceedings can be plausibly conducted, unless there is discovered something that makes a difference in the two cases, such as character, age, circumstances, motives, place, or intention. 80. Tubero pleads that he was a young man when he went to Africa with his father, who was sent there by the senate, not to take part in the war, but to buy corn. He said he withdrew from his father's party as soon as he found opportunity, but that Ligarius, on the contrary, persevered in his course and kept on the side, not of Pompey (between Ceasar and whom there was a contest for the chief power, though both of them wished well to their country), but of Juba and the Africans, who were the greatest enemies to the Roman people. 81. It is indeed very easy to impute guilt to others when we own ourselves guilty; but this is the part of an informer, not of a pleader, and if no ground of excuse is available, contrition is the only thing that can recommend us to favor, for he may be thought to have sufficiently corrected himself who has been led into detestation of the errors which he has committed. Some characters, however, may offer such censure, not inexcusably, from the very nature of the matter to which it refers, as when a father disinherits a son, the offspring of a harlot, because he has married a harlot. 82. This is a suppositious case in the schools, but it is a case that may really happen, and the father may offer many arguments not unbecomingly in justification of his conduct, such as that it is the wish of all parents to have children of higher character than themselves (since if he had a daughter instead of a son, her mother, though a harlot, would have desired her to be chastely brought up); that he himself was of a humbler condition (supposing that he can fairly say this); that he had no father to admonish him; 83. that his son should have been the less willing to form such a union so that he might not revive the disgrace of his family and reproach his father with his marriage, and his mother with the distresses of the early part of her life, and that he might not give a precedent of such a marriage for his own children to follow. Some glaring turpitude, also, may be supposed in the character of the son's mistress, on which his father cannot now look with indulgence. I omit other arguments, for I am not now composing a declamation, only showing that a pleader may sometimes make advantageous use even of circumstances that appear to be strongly against him. 84. It is a greater embarrassment to an advocate when he has to complain of things that he is ashamed to mention, such as corporeal dishonor, especially in reference to males, or other outrages. I say nothing of the possibility of the sufferer speaking for himself, for what else would become him but to groan, weep, and express detestation of life, leaving the judge rather to divine his grief than to hear it stated? But the advocate will also have to exhibit similar feelings, since this kind of injury causes more shame to those who endure it than to those who inflict it.

85. Asperity of language, when a speaker feels inclined to indulge in it, must, in most cases, be tempered with a mixture of another tone, such as Cicero adopted in pleading for the children of the proscribed. What, indeed, could be more cruel than that men descended from honorable fathers and forefathers should be excluded from places of honor in the state? Accordingly, that great master of the art of swaying the minds of mankind is obliged to assert that it is a very severe law; but he remarks, at the same time, that the constitution of the state was so essentially upheld by the laws of Sylla that if they were repealed, it could no longer stand, and thus he succeeded in saying something in apology for those against whom he had to plead.

86. In speaking on the subject of raillery, I observed how unseemly it is to reproach a person with his condition of life, and that we should not make wanton attacks upon whole classes of men, or entire nations or people. But sometimes the duty of our advocate absolutely obliges him to make some remarks on the general character of some particular description of people, as that of freedmen, soldiers, tax collectors, and the like. 87. In all such cases, it is a common way of qualifying our observations, to represent that we advert with reluctance to points that must give pain, and we must not assail all points in their character indiscriminately, but only that which it is our business to attack, and while we censure that particular, we must make some compensation by encomiums on others. 88. Thus we may say that soldiers are certainly rapacious, but we may add that such a quality in their character is by no means wonderful, as they think that greater rewards are due to them than to other men for the dangers to which they expose themselves and the blood which they lose in defense of their country. We may acknowledge, also, that they are inclined to quarrelling, but may say that this is a natural consequence of their greater familiarity with war than with peace. We may have to detract from the credit of freedmen, but we may at the same time bear testimony to their industry, by which they have released themselves from servitude. 89. As to foreign nations, Cicero affords us various examples of the modes in which we may deal with them. When he has to invalidate the veracity of some Greek witnesses, he allows the Greeks eminence in knowledge and learning, and professes himself a great admirer of that nation. He affects contempt for the Sardinians, he inveighs against the Allobroges as enemies, but none of his remarks, when they were made, appeared at all impertinent or at variance with decorum.

90. If there is anything offensive in a matter of which we have to speak, it may be softened by moderation in the terms which we apply to it. We may say that cruelty in a man's character is too great a severity; that a person who has acted unjustly has been misled by the persuasion of others, and that an obstinate man is somewhat tenacious of his opinion. In many cases we may endeavor to overcome our adversaries by reasoning, which is the most gentle of all modes of contention.

91. To these observations I may add that whatever is in excess is indecorous, and hence even that which in itself is well adapted to our purpose loses all its grace if it is not under the control of moderation. An estimation of what is right on this point should be formed by the exercise of our own judgment rather than commuicated by precepts. We must endeavor to conceive how much may be sufficient and to how much our audience is likely to listen with gratification, for such particulars do not admit of weight and measure because, as is the case with different kinds of food, some satiate more than others.

92. I think it proper to add, briefly, that very different excellences in speaking have not only their admirers, but are often extolled by the same person. Cicero, in one passage of his writings, says the best style is that which the hearer thinks he can easily imitate but cannot, and in another place that his goal was not to speak so that everyone would feel confident of being able to speak as such, but that no one would. 93. One of these positions may appear to contradict the other, but both are praised and with good reason: for differences in style arise from difference in the nature of subjects, since simplicity and the negligence, as it were, of an unaffected manner are extremely suitable to inferior causes, while a grander species of oratory is better adapted to those of more importance. Cicero excels in both. The inexperienced may think that they can easily acquire one of them; the experienced will despair of acquiring either.

Previous Chapter
Lee Honeycutt (honeycuttlee@gmail.com) Last modified:7/18/06
Next Chapter