Francesco Filelfo, Letter to Lorenzo Medici (Part 3)
“But literary speech was rarer among the Romans, and though it was familiar to learned people, it was less known to the uneducated.
This is clear from Cicero’s Cato on Old Age. For he says, speaking of Quintus Fabius Maximus, ‘He was not great just in the light and eyes of his citizens, but was remarkable even inside at home; what speech, what advice, what attention to antiquity and knowledge of law and augury! He even possessed a fair stock of literature, a rare thing in a Roman.
If anyone wants to know more about that, they should consult the third book of de Oratore which that same Cicero wrote to his brother Quintus, in which Lucius Crassus is depicted saying, ‘Our people study literature less than Latinity; yet from those city people, whom you know, and in whom there is only the smallest amount of literature, there is no one in a toga who could easily conquer Quintus Valerius Soranus in softness of voice, expression of the mouth, and sound.’ From this it is clearly shown that the Romans were not that literate.”
At litteralis sermo rarior erat apud Romanos, et doctis familiaris hominibus, indoctis autem minus notus.
Id quod apud Ciceronem patet, in Catone quem scripsit de senectute. Hic enim, de Quinto Fabio Maximo loquens, ita ait: “Nec vero ille in luce modo atque in oculis civium magnus, sed intus domique praestantior; qui sermo, quae praecepta, quanta noticia antiquitatis, scientia iuris et augurii! Multae etiam, ut in homine romano, litterae”.
Quod si quis ea de re quaerat apertius nosse, audiat ex tertio libro de Oratore ad Quintum fratrem, apud eundem Ciceronem, L. Crassum talia disserentem: “Nostri minus student litteris quam latinitati; tamen ex istis, quos nosti, urbanis, in quibus minimum est litterarum, nemo est qui litteratissimum togatorum omnium, Q. Valerium Soranum, lenitate vocis atque ipso oris pressu et sono facile vincat”. Ex quibus verbis non obscure ostenditur fuisse Romanos non admodum litteratos.