Teachers, Destroyers of Eloquence

Petronius, Satyricon, 2

“By your leave, I need to say this: you teachers foremost have destroyed real eloquence. You create certain absurdities by by making your light and silly sounds so that the body of your speech weakens and falls.  Young men were not yet restrained by practice-speeches when Sophocles and Euripides used to be able to discover the words with which things ought to be said.

No shut-in professor had yet destroyed their geniuses when Pindar and the nine Lyric poets were afraid to sing Homer’s verses. And lest I use only poets for proof, I surely do not see that Plato or Demosthenes went through this kind of exercise. The grand style, as I may say, is a humble one—it is not uneven or inflated, but emerges thanks to its natural beauty.”

Pace vestra liceat dixisse, primi omnium eloquentiam perdidistis. Levibus enim atque inanibus sonis ludibria quaedam excitando effecistis, ut corpus orationis enervaretur et caderet. Nondum iuvenes declamationibus continebantur, cum Sophocles aut Euripides invenerunt verba quibus deberent loqui. Nondum umbraticus doctor ingenia deleverat, cum Pindarus novemque lyrici Homericis versibus canere timuerunt. Et ne poetas [quidem] ad testimonium citem, certe neque Platona neque Demosthenen ad hoc genus exercitationis accessisse video.3 Grandis et ut ita dicam pudica oratio non est maculosa nec turgida, sed naturali pulchritudine exsurgit.

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