How a Leader Should Speak

Plutarch, Precepts of Statecraft 802d-803a

“A politician’s speech should not be childish and dramatic, as if he were playing out some skit in public and weaving together a garland of sensitive and florid words. But, in turn, it should also not smell like midnight oil and academic excess, as Pytheas characterized Demosthenes’ speech, made up with sharp points and phrases marked out with a ruler and a compass.

Instead, such as musicians think that the touch on the strings should demonstrate emotion and not just technique, so too the speech of a politician, a councilperson, or a leader should not exhibit cleverness or the ability to do anything and should not be marked out for its fluency, artistry, or arrangement, but instead it should indicate a direct character, true intelligence, a paternal directness, forethought, and real concern for other people. In addition to nobility of spirit, a leader’s speech should have the charm that comes from appropriate language and decent and persuasive thoughts.”

Ὁ μέντοι λόγος ἔστω τοῦ πολιτικοῦ μήτε νεαρὸς καὶ θεατρικός, ὥσπερ πανηγυρίζοντος καὶ στεφανηπλοκοῦντος ἐξ ἁπαλῶν καὶ ἀνθηρῶν ὀνομάτων· μήτ᾿ αὖ πάλιν, ὡς ὁ Πυθέας τὸν Δημοσθένους ἔλεγεν, ἐλλυχνίων ὄζων καὶ σοφιστικῆς περιεργίας ἐνθυμήμασι πικροῖς καὶ περιόδοις πρὸς κανόνα καὶ διαβήτην ἀπηκριβωμέναις· ἀλλ᾿ ὥσπερ οἱ μουσικοὶ τὴν θίξιν ἀξιοῦσι τῶν χορδῶν ἠθικὴν καταφαίνεσθαι μὴ κρουστικήν, οὕτω τῷ λόγῳ τοῦ πολιτευομένου καὶ συμβουλεύοντος καὶ ἄρχοντος ἐπιφαινέσθω μὴ δεινότης μηδὲ πανουργία, μηδ᾿ εἰς ἔπαινον αὐτοῦ τιθέσθω τὸ ἑκτικῶς ἢ τεχνικῶς ἢ διαιρετικῶς, ἀλλ᾿ ἤθους ἀπλάστου καὶ φρονήματος ἀληθινοῦ καὶ παρρησίας πατρικῆς καὶ προνοίας καὶ συνέσεως κηδομένης ὁ λόγος ἔστω μεστός, ἐπὶ τῷ καλῷ τὸ κεχαρισμένον ἔχων καὶ ἀγωγὸν ἔκ τε σεμνῶν ὀνομάτων καὶ νοημάτων ἰδίων καὶ πιθανῶν.

Impish designs like this were common in medieval books
Image from Erik Kwakkel via twitter via

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