Pliny, Letters 4.7
To My Friend Catius Lepidus,
I have often told you about the force of Regulus. It is a wonder how he completes whatever he dreams up. It was to his taste to mourn his son, so he mourns as no one does. It was to his taste to have as many statues and images of him made as possible. He assigned this to all the shops: he makes boy in colors, the boy in wax, the boy in bronze, the boy in silver, the boy in gold, ivory, marble.
He also recently recited a book on the life of his son to a huge audience he had summoned. It was about he life of a boy, but he read it still. And then he send that same story copied out countless times through all of Italy and the provinces. He wrote openly to the members of the town leaderships so that the most eloquent of their number would read the book in public: it is done!
If he had used this force—or by whatever other name the desire to get what we want should be called—if he had focused on better things, how much good he could have accomplished! A good person is just less forceful than a bad one, as the saying goes, “ignorance makes you bold, thought makes you hesitate. A sense of propriety weakens right thinking people; depravity encourages rash daring.”
Regulus is a good example of this. His lungs are weak, his mouth is muddled, his tongue isn’t fluent, he is really slow at composing with a worthless memory and has nothing apart from a crazy wit. But his lack of shame has won him so much passion that he is considered an orator. For this reason, Herennius Senecio has marvelously altered that Catonian comment on an oratory for him: “This orator is a bad man, untrained at speaking.” My god, Cato himself did not define an orator as well as Senecio described Regulus!
Are you at all able of making a letter equal to this one in thanks? You are if you will write about whether any of my friends in your town—even you—has been forced to read out Regulus’ mournful book like a carnival barker in the forum or, putting it the way Demosthenes does, “crying out and harmonizing his voice”. For it is so ridiculous that it is as likely to elicit laughter as sorrow. You would think it was written by a boy not about one! Goodbye!
C. Plinius Catio Lepido Suo S.
Saepe tibi dico inesse vim Regulo. Mirum est quam efficiat in quod incubuit. Placuit ei lugere filium: luget ut nemo. Placuit statuas eius et imagines quam plurimas facere: hoc omnibus officinis agit, illum coloribus illum cera illum aere illum argento illum auro ebore marmore effingit. Ipse vero nuper adhibito ingenti auditorio librum de vita eius recitavit; de vita pueri, recitavit tamen. Eundem in exemplaria mille transcriptum per totam Italiam provinciasque dimisit. Scripsit publice, ut a decurionibus eligeretur vocalissimus aliquis ex ipsis, qui legeret eum populo: factum est. Hanc ille vim, seu quo alio nomine vocanda est intentio quidquid velis optinendi, si ad potiora vertisset, quantum boni efficere potuisset! Quamquam minor vis bonis quam malis inest, ac sicut ἀμαθíα μὲν θράσoς, λoγισμòς δὲ ὄκνoν φέρει, ita recta ingenia debilitat verecundia, perversa confirmat audacia. Exemplo est Regulus. Imbecillum latus, os confusum, haesitans lingua, tardissima inventio, memoria nulla, nihil denique praeter ingenium insanum, et tamen eo impudentia ipsoque illo furore pervenit, ut orator habeatur. Itaque Herennius Senecio mirifice Catonis illud de oratore in hunc e contrario vertit: “Orator est vir malus dicendi imperitus.” Non mehercule Cato ipse tam bene verum oratorem quam hic Regulum expressit. Habesne quo tali epistulae parem gratiam referas? Habes, si scripseris num aliquis in municipio vestro ex sodalibus meis, num etiam ipse tu hunc luctuosum Reguli librum ut circulator in foro legeris, ἐπάρας scilicet, ut ait Demosthenes, τὴν φωνὴν καì γεγηθὼς καì λαρυγγíζων. Est enim tam ineptus ut risum magis possit exprimere quam gemitum: credas non de puero scriptum sed a puero. Vale.