Fronto on Cicero: A Font of Eloquence with Predictable words

M. Cornelius Fronto to Marcus Aurelius (c. 139 CE) 1.3

“Up to now, you have perhaps been wondering in what number I might place Marcus Cicero who is the peak and the origin of Roman eloquence. I think that he used the most beautiful words all the time and that he was ahead of all other orators in making magnificent whatever topic he wished to illustrate. But, he seems to be to have been less than scrupulous in selecting his words—either because of the hugeness of his mind, in avoidance of extra work, or because of a trust that without even seeking it he would find present what barely appears when others search for it.

And so, as someone who has repeatedly read all of his writings most carefully, I believe that I have sensed that he managed every kind of word most effectively—direct words, metaphors, simple and compound words—and what shines through everywhere in his writings, noble words and often quite charming ones. But still, in all of his speeches you will discover very few works which are uncommon or unexpected, the types of words which cannot be hunted down without study, and concern, and work, and a great memory of old poems.

I am calling an uncommon and unexpected word one which is offered beyond the hope or expectation of those reading or listening so that, if you take it away and ask the reader to finish the meaning, he would discover no other word or at least none so well matched to what the phrase means.”

3. Hic tu fortasse iamdudum requiras quo in numero locem M. Tullium, qui caput atque fons Romanae eloquentiae cluet. Eum ego arbitror usquequaque verbis pulcherrimis elocutum et ante omnes alios oratores ad ea, quae ostentare vellet, ornanda magnificum fuisse. Verum is mihi videtur a quaerendis scrupulosius verbis procul afuisse vel magnitudine animi vel fuga laboris vel fiducia, non quaerenti etiam sibi, quae vix aliis quaerentibus subvenirent, praesto adfutura. Itaque comperisse videor, ut qui eius scripta omnia studiosissime lectitarim, cetera eum genera verborum copiosissime uberrimeque tractasse, verba propria translata simplicia composita et, quae in eius scriptis ubique dilucent, verba honesta, saepenumero etiam amoena: quom tamen in omnibus eius orationibus paucissima admodum reperias insperata atque inopinata verba, quae non nisi cum studio atque cura atque vigilia atque Vat.145multa veterum carminum memoria indagantur. | Insperatum autem atque inopinatum verbum appello, quod praeter spem atque opinionem audientium aut legentium promitur, ita ut, si subtrahas atque eum qui legat quaerere ipsum iubeas, nullum aut non ita significando adcommodatum verbum aliud reperiat.

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Saving Your Country: Vengeance and History in the Fragments of Cornelius Nepos

Cornelius Nepos, Fragments

Fragment 1.1 The following is allegedly from a letter by Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi to her remaining son

“You may say that it is a fine thing to take vengeance from your enemies. Indeed, that seems neither greater nor finer to anyone than to me, if it can be achieved while the republic is kept safe. But since this cannot happen, may our enemies not perish for a long time—may they stay as they are now—rather than our country meet ruin and destruction”

Dices pulchrum esse inimicos ulcisci. Id neque maius neque pulchrius cuiquam atque mihi esse videtur, sed si liceat re publica salva ea persequi. Sed quatenus id fieri non potest, multo tempore multisque partibus inimici nostri non peribunt, atque uti nunc sunt erunt potius quam res publica profligetur atque pereat.

 

Fragment 2.1 Eulogy for Cicero

“You should not be ignorant of the fact that this genre of Latin literature is not only the only one that did not match Greece but was left altogether simplistic and incomplete with the death of Cicero. For he was  the only one who was able and likely to endow history with a worthy voice—since, he certainly polished the rough eloquence bequeathed by our forebears. He gave Latin philosophy, which was improper before, with his own style. From this I am unsure whether or not the republic or history was aggrieved more greatly by his passing.”

Non ignorare debes unum hoc genus Latinarum litterarum adhuc non modo non respondere Graeciae, sed omnino rude atque inchoatum morte Ciceronis relictum. Ille enim fuit unus qui potuerit et etiam debuerit historiam digna voce pronuntiare, quippe qui oratoriam eloquentiam rudem a maioribus acceptam perpoliverit, philosophiam ante eum incomptam Latinam sua confirmarit oratione. Ex quo dubito, interitu eius utrum res publica an historia magis doleat.

 

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The Effect of Contact with Greek Literature

Cicero, Oratore II 14 (Cicero is not the speaker here…)

“What, then? There is something else still, I will admit, that, as when I walk in the sun—even if I am doing so for some other reason—I still grow darker by nature. Something similar happens when I eagerly read those books at Misenum—for Rome scarcely allows it. I sense that my own speaking takes own a new appearance from this contact. But, so that this does not seem too general to you, I understand only those things contained within Greek works which their very authors conceded the common people to understand.

When by chance I come upon your philosophers, led astray by the titles of their books which are titled with common and famous names—on virtue, justice, goodness, pleasure—I do not understand any word: they are so bound up in precise and abbreviated argumentation. I don’t even try to manage the Greek poets at all since they are communicated in an entirely different language. No, I lose myself, as I have said, with those who write histories or present speeches which they wrote, or who speak in a what that they don’t seem to wish that we be the most well educated men, but merely conversant.”

Quid ergo? Est, fatebor, aliquid tamen: ut, cum in sole ambulem, etiamsi aliam ob causam ambulem, fieri natura tamen, ut colorer: sic, cum istos libros ad Misenum (nam Romae vix licet) studiosius legerim, sentio illorum tactu orationem meam quasi colorari. Sed ne latius hoc vobis patere videatur, haec duntaxat in Graecis intellego, quae ipsi, qui scripserunt, voluerunt vulgo intellegi. In philosophos vestros si quando incidi, deceptus indicibus librorum, quod sunt fere inscripti de rebus notis et illustribus, de virtute, de iustitia, de honestate, de voluptate, verbum prorsus nullum intellego: ita sunt angustis et concisis disputationibus illigati. Poetas omnino, quasi alia quadam lingua locutos, non conor attingere: cum his me (ut dixi) oblecto, qui res gestas, aut qui orationes scripserunt suas, aut qui ita loquuntur, ut videantur voluisse nobis, qui non sumus eruditissimi, esse familiars…

 

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The Scandalous Emergence of Latin Professors of Rhetoric

Cicero, De oratore III 24 (Cicero is not the speaker here)

“The logic—or rather, the practice itself without logic—of which words to choose, how to order them and how to end sentences is easy—there is a great forest of subjects which, when they were no longer hoarded by the Greeks for this reason, our own youth nearly forgot them by learning them, and, if you can believe it, there are have emerged in the last two years Latin professors of speech. I applied my power as censor to abolish these teachers—not for the reason that some people are always claiming, that I did not want the youth to have a sharp intelligence—but because I did not wish for their wits to be stunted and for their arrogance to be supported.

For among the Greeks, whatever quality they are, I still uses to see a certain practice of language, a theory and knowledge worthy of humanity; these new teachers, well, I could not see that they could teach anything other than how to be daring—a quality which, even when joined with other virtues ought to be especially avoided itself. And since this is the single thing they offer and their school is one of arrogance, I believed that it was a censor’s duty to ensure it did not expand any farther.”

Verborum eligendorum et collocandorum et concludendorum facilis est vel ratio vel sine ratione ipsa exercitatio; rerum est silva magna, quam cum Graeci iam non tenerent ob eamque causam iuventus nostra dedisceret paene discendo, etiam Latini, si dis placet, hoc biennio magistri dicendi exstiterunt; quos ego censor edicto meo sustuleram, non quo, ut nescio quos dicere aiebant, acui ingenia adolescentium nollem, sed contra ingenia obtundi nolui,  corroborari impudentiam. Nam apud Graecos, cuicuimodi essent, videbam tamen esse praeter hanc exercitationem linguae doctrinam aliquam et humanitate dignam scientiam, hos vero novos magistros nihil intellegebam posse docere nisi ut auderent; quod etiam cum bonis rebus coniunctum per se ipsum est magnopere fugiendum: hoc cum unum traderetur et cum impudentiae ludus esset, putavi esse censoris ne longius id serperet providere.

 

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Changing Tack: Cicero on Ends and Means in Politics

Ep. 20 (I.9) Cicero to Lentulus Spinther

“For I do not think it is necessary to fight against such powers nor to get rid of the precedence taken by our highest citizens, even if it were possible; nor do I think it necessary to affix myself to a single opinion when situations change and the desires of good men change with them—no, one must change with the times. Remaining in an permanent opinion has never been praised among exceptional men for the governing of the state. But, as in sailing it is good to get ahead of a storm even if you will not find the harbor; yet if you can make it to safe ground by changing your approach, only a fool would risk danger to hold to the course he began rather than make his destination by changing something. Thus, while all of us running the state should seek the proposition which I have often sought—peace with dignity—we should ensure not to speak the same but always to seek the same thing.”

  1. nam neque pugnandum arbitrarer contra tantas opes neque delendum, etiam si id fieri posset, summorum civium principatum <neque> permanendum in una sententia conversis rebus ac bonorum voluntatibus mutatis, sed temporibus adsentiendum. numquam enim <in>praestantibus in re publica gubernanda viris laudata est in una sententia perpetua permansio; sed ut in navigando tempestati obsequi artis est etiam si portum tenere non queas, cum vero id possis mutata velificatione adsequi stultum est eum tenere cum periculo cursum quem coeperis potius quam eo commutato quo velis tamen pervenire, sic, cum omnibus nobis in administranda re publica propositum esse debeat, id quod a me saepissime dictum est, cum dignitate otium, non idem semper dicere sed idem semper spectare debemus.
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Burney 275

The Ideal Statesman and Pompey’s True Aims

To Atticus, Ep.  8.11 (27 Feb 49)

“I believe it is in his fifth book that Scipio says ‘Just as a favorable trip is a captain’s task, health is the doctor’s, victory is the generals, the duty of the leader of a state is the happy life of its citizens: strength for their safety, abundance for their goods, fame for their self-worth, and truth for their virtue. I wish for the accomplishment of the best men among us to be this.’

‘Our’ Gnaeus has never before thought about this, nor now in the present affair at all. Domination has been sought by both of them—nothing has been done for the happiness and honesty of the state. [Pompey] did not leave the city because he could not defend it nor Italy because he was driven away, but from the beginning he planned to attack every land and sea, to annoy foreign kings, and to bring alien peoples to Italy in arms—to raise the largest armies. He has been salivating for a long time for that type of Sullan rule—and many who follow him long for it to. Do you believe that there was no way for them to come to an agreement, that no pact was possible? It is possible today, but neither man cares whether we are happy. Both want to rule.”

nam sic quinto, ut opinor, in libro loquitur Scipio: ‘ut enim gubernatori cursus secundus, medico salus, imperatori victoria, sic huic moderatori rei publicae beata civium vita proposita est, ut opibus firma, copiis locuples, gloria ampla, virtute honesta sit; huius enim operis maximi inter homines atque optimi illum esse perfectorem volo.’ hoc Gnaeus noster cum antea numquam tum in hac causa minime cogitavit. dominatio quaesita ab utroque est, non id actum, beata et honesta civitas ut esset. nec vero ille urbem reliquit quod eam tueri non posset nec Italiam quod ea pelleretur, sed hoc a primo cogitavit, omnis terras, omnia maria movere, reges barbaros incitare, gentis feras in Italiam armatas adducere, exercitus conficere maximos. genus illud Sullani regni iam pridem appetitur, multis qui una sunt cupientibus. an censes nihil inter eos convenire, nullam pactionem fieri potuisse? hodie potest. sed neutri σκοπὸς est ille, ut nos beati simus; uterque regnare vult.

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Marcus Writes His Wife and Almost Sounds Human

Cicero to his Wife, Ep. 14.4 (29 April 58 BCE)

“You encourage me to be brave and have hope of recuperating my safety—and I wish that the situation were so that we might rightly hope. For now, when may miserable me expect your letters? Who will carry them to me? I would have awaited them at Brundisium if the sailors had allowed it, though they did not wish to await a storm.

Whatever remains, endure with all of your great dignity, my Terentia. We have lived and flourished. It was not vice but virtue which has afflicted us! Nothing has been done wrong, other than not losing life with its accessories. But if this was better for our children, that we live, we will endure what remains even if they should not be endured. And, yet, as I urge you to stand firm, I cannot convince myself.”

 

Tu quod me hortaris ut animo sim magno et spem habeam reciperandae salutis, id velim sit eius modi ut recte sperare possimus. nunc miser quando tuas iam litteras accipiam? quis ad me perferet? quas ego exspectassem Brundisi si esset licitum per nautas, qui tempestatem praetermittere noluerunt.

Quod reliquum est, sustenta te, mea Terentia, ut potes honestissime. viximus, floruimus; non vitium nostrum sed virtus nostra nos adflixit. peccatum est nullum, nisi quod non una animam cum ornamentis amisimus. sed si hoc fuit liberis nostris gratius, nos vivere, cetera, quamquam ferenda non sunt, feramus. atqui ego, qui te confirmo, ipse me non possum.

 

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