Style as Substance in Ancient Philosophy

Fronto, to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus 162 AD?

“When it comes to poets, who is ignorant that Lucilius has some grace, Albucius to rather dry, Lucretius is sublime, and Pacuvius just average, while Accius’ work is uneven and Ennius is protean? Sallust has also written history in a structured way while Pictor is random, Claudius writes charmingly, and Antias is unpleasant; Sisenna writes too long, Cato has many words in tandem and Caelius leaves them unconnected. When it comes to polemic, Cato rages, Cicero chortles, Gracchus attacks, Calbus picks fights.

Perhaps you don’t think much of these examples. Why? Don’t philosophers use different manners of speaking? Zeno is the most expansive in illustration; Socrates is the most contrary in his arguments; Diogenes is super fast at criticizing; Heraclitus was obscure to the point of clouding up everything; Pythagoras was amazing at making everything sacred with mysterious symbols; Clitomachus so agnostic as to doubt everything. What would these wisest of wise guys do if they were forced away from their individual style and method? What if Socrates could’t argue, if Zeno wouldn’t expatiate, if Diogenes couldn’t carp, if Pythagoras couldn’t make anything sacred, if Heraclitus was forbidden to obfuscate and Clitomachus had to make up his mind?”

In poetis autem quis ignorat ut gracilis sit Lucilius, Albucius aridus, sublimis Lucretius, mediocris Pacuvius, inaequalis Accius, Ennius multiformis? Historiam quoque scripsere Sallustius structe Pictor incondite, Claudius lepide Antias invenuste, Sisenna longinque, verbis Cato multiiugis Caelius singulis. Contionatur autem Cato infeste, Gracchus turbulente, Tullius copiose. Iam in iudiciis saevit idem Cato, triumphat Cicero, tumultuatur Gracchus, Calvus rixatur.

Sed haec exempla fortasse contemnas. Quid? philosophi ipsi nonne diverso genere orationis usi sunt? Zeno ad docendum plenissimus, Socrates ad coarguendum captiosissimus, Diogenes ad | exprobrandum promptissimus, Heraclitus obscurus involvere omnia, Pythagoras mirificus clandestinis signis sancire omnia, Clitomachus anceps in dubium vocare omnia. Quidnam igitur agerent isti ipsi sapientissimi viri, si de suo quisque more atque instituto deducerentur? Socrates ne coargueret, Zeno ne disceptaret, Diogenes ne increparet, ne quid Pythagoras sanciret, ne quid Heraclitus absconderet, ne quid Clitomachus ambigeret?

“This means something”.  from Raphael’s “School of Athens”

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