The Development of Eloquence

Cicero, Brutus 26-29:

“Greece is a witness to this fact: although it was inflamed by the pursuit of eloquence and has long established its excellence and precedence in that art, yet it considers all other arts more ancient, and they were all not only discovered but even perfected long before the strength and facility of speaking was worked out. When I look at Greece, Atticus, your city of Athens occurs and even shines forth to me the most; in that city, the public speaker first shone forth, and it was the first place in which oration first came to be committed to monuments and literature.

Yet, before Pericles (to whom some writings are attributed) and Thucydides, who lived not during the birth of Athens but at its maturity, there was no writing which had ornamentation or would appear to have been that of an orator. There was, however, the opinion that Pisistratus (who lived many years before them), and even the slightly-older Solon and later Cleisthenes had tremendous power of speech for those times.

After this age, as one can readily see from the monuments of Atticus, there was Themistocles, who is universally agreed to have excelled in both wisdom and eloquence. Later Pericles, although he possessed the bloom of every type of virtue, was most famous in this respect. It is even agreed that Cleon, a factious citizen at the time to be sure, was nevertheless an eloquent speaker.

Nearly equal at this time were Alcibiades, Critias, and Theramenes. The type of speaking which then prevailed may readily be gleaned from the writings of Thucydides, who was himself alive at the time. They were grand in their words, thick in sententious utterance, brief by tight compression of the facts; and for that very reason they were on occasion terribly obscure.”

Philipp Foltz, ‘Perikles hält die Leichenrede’

[26] Testis est Graecia, quae cum eloquentiae studio sit incensa iamdiuque excellat in ea praestetque ceteris, tamen omnis artes vetustiores habet et multo ante non inventas solum, sed etiam perfectas, quam haec est a Graecis elaborata dicendi vis atque copia. in quam cum intueor, maxime mihi occurrunt, Attice, et quasi lucent Athenae tuae, qua in urbe primum se orator extulit primumque etiam monumentis et litteris oratio est coepta mandari.

[27] Tamen ante Periclem, cuius scripta quaedam feruntur, et Thucydidem, qui non nascentibus Athenis sed iam adultis fuerunt, littera nulla est, quae quidem ornatum aliquem habeat et oratoris esse videatur. quamquam opinio est et eum, qui multis annis ante hos fuerit, Pisistratum et paulo seniorem etiam Solonem posteaque Clisthenem multum, ut temporibus illis, valuisse dicendo.

[28] Post hanc aetatem aliquot annis, ut ex Attici monumentis potest perspici, Themistocles fuit, quem constat cum prudentia tum etiam eloquentia praestitisse; post Pericles, qui cum floreret omni genere virtutis, hac tamen fuit laude clarissumus. Cleonem etiam temporibus illis turbulentum illum quidem civem, sed tamen eloquentem constat fuisse.

[29] Huic aetati suppares Alcibiades Critias Theramenes; quibus temporibus quod dicendi genus viguerit ex Thucydidi scriptis, qui ipse tum fuit, intellegi maxume potest. grandes erant verbis, crebri sententiis, compressione rerum breves et ob eam ipsam causam interdum subobscuri.

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