Judging on Aspiration not Failure

Aelius Aristedes, Reply to Plato 259-260

“Some of them certainly corrupted people while others blasphemed the gods; there were those who gave speeches which would have been better unsaid and others who produced more audacity than good sense. But it may not be the best to say that if some people use the excuse of philosophy and become scoundrels who are no better than most people or, by Zeus, even more clever at doing evil, then we should dishonor philosophy, provided that philosophy is not doing these sorts of things. Instead, we must use these things as evidence against them, that they have failed at philosophy.

In the same way, it does not make oratory worse if some people use blandishment or abuse, but we must recognize in this that they are bad at rhetoric just as the other people fail at philosophy, they all use the excuse of the noblest action to furnish themselves with the opportunity to do evil.

It would be odd if we were to judge actions of cobblers and carpenters not from their mistakes but instead from examples where they did as well as humanly possible, but we evaluate oratory not just from its greatest accomplishments, but instead according to those who do the opposite of what oratory intends.”

ὧν οἱ μὲν διέφθειραν δήπου τινάς, οἱ δ’ ἐβλασφήμησαν περὶ θεούς, οἱ δὲ λόγους ἄλλους τινὰς εἶπον, οὓς οὐκ ἄμεινον ἦν ὅλως, οἱ δὲ αὐθαδείας πλέον ἢ φρονήσεως εἰσηνέγκαντο. ἀλλὰ μὴ οὕτω βέλτιον ᾖ λέγειν, ὅτι οὐκ, εἴ τινες φιλοσοφίας προβλήματι χρώμενοι φαῦλοι καὶ μηδὲν βελτίους τῶν πολλῶν γεγόνασιν, ἢ νὴ Δία καὶ δεινότεροι κακουργεῖν, οὐ διὰ ταῦτα ἀτιμαστέον φιλοσοφίαν, ἕως ἂν φιλοσοφία μὴ τὸ τὰ τοιαῦτα ποιεῖν ᾖ, ἀλλ’ αὐτοῖς τούτοις τεκμηρίοις χρηστέον κατ’ ἐκείνων, ὅτι διημαρτήκασι φιλοσοφίας. οὐδὲ εἴ τινες, οἶμαι, κολακεύουσιν ἢ συκοφαντοῦσιν, χείρω τοῦτο ποιεῖ ῥητορικήν, ἀλλ’ ἡμαρτηκότας αὐτοὺς ῥητορικῆς ταύτῃ γε ταῦτα δεῖ δοκεῖν, ὥσπερ ἐκείνους φιλοσοφίας, ἐπὶ τῷ τοῦ καλλίστου προσχήματι τὴν τοῦ κακουργεῖν ἄδειαν ἑαυτοῖς ἐκπορίζοντας. ἄτοπον δ’ ἂν εἴη, εἰ τὰ μὲν τῶν σκυτοτόμων καὶ τῶν τεκτόνων ἔργα μὴ ἐξ ὧν ἂν διαμάρτωσι κρινοῦμεν, ἀλλ’ ἐξ ὧν ἂν ὡς δυνατὸν μάλιστα τύχωσιν, ῥητορικὴν δ’ οὐ μόνον οὐκ ἐκ τῶν κάλλιστα αὐτὴν ἀποτελεσάντων κρινοῦμεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐκ τῶν αὐτὰ τἀναντία πραττόντων οἷς ἡ ῥητορικὴ βούλεται.


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Ott Norlinger (1476) from the Hausbuch of the Mendelschen Zwolfbruderstiftung (Neurenberg, Germany). Folio 96 recto

On Socrates’ Jokes and Homer’s Lions

Dio Chrysostom, Oration 55.10 On Homer and Socrates

“Dear Friend, if we compare the fox with [Homer’s] lions and leopards and we claim that it either not at all or a just a little different. But, perhaps, you approve of those kinds of things in Homer, when he brings up starlings, or jackdaws, or ashes, or beans, lentals, or when he depicts people winnowing or these portions seem to you to be the worst part of Homer’s poems. So you admire only lions, eagles, Skyllas and Kyklopes, the things he used to enchant dumb people, just as nurses tell children about the Lamia. Truly, just as Homer tries to teach people who are really hard to teach through myths and history, so Sokrates often uses a similar technique, at times he feigns joking because he might help people this way. Perhaps he also butted heads with myth-tellers and historians.”

Δ. Εἴπερ γε, ὦ μακάριε, καὶ τὴν Ἀρχιλόχου ἀλώπεκα τοῖς λέουσι καὶ ταῖς παρδάλεσι παραβάλλομεν καὶ οὐδὲν ἢ μὴ πολὺ ἀποδεῖν φαμεν. ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἴσως καὶ τῶν Ὁμήρου τὰ τοιαῦτα ἀποδοκιμάζεις, ὅπου μέμνηται ψαρῶν ἢ κολοιῶν ἢ ἀκρίδων ἢ δαλοῦ ἢ τέφρας ἢ κυάμων τε καὶ ἐρεβίνθων ἢ λικμῶντας ἀνθρώπους πεποίηκεν, ἀλλὰ ταῦτά σοι δοκεῖ τὰ φαυλότατα εἶναι τῶν Ὁμήρου· μόνους δὲ θαυμάζεις τοὺς λέοντας καὶ τοὺς ἀετοὺς καὶ τὰς Σκύλλας καὶ τοὺς Κύκλωπας, οἷς ἐκεῖνος ἐκήλει τοὺς ἀναισθήτους, ὥσπερ αἱ τίτθαι τὰ παιδία διηγούμεναι τὴν Λάμιαν. καὶ μὴν ὥσπερ Ὅμηρος διά τε μύθων καὶ ἱστορίας ἐπεχείρησε τοὺς ἀνθρώπους παιδεύειν, σφόδρα ἐργώδεις ὄντας παιδευθῆναι, καὶ Σωκράτης πολλάκις ἐχρῆτο τῷ τοιούτῳ, ποτὲ μὲν σπουδάζειν ὁμολογῶν, ποτὲ δὲ παίζειν προσποιούμενος, τούτου ἕνεκεν ἵν᾿ ἀνθρώπους ὠφελοῖ· ἴσως δὲ προσέκρουσε τοῖς μυθολόγοις καὶ τοῖς συγγραφεῦσιν.


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This means something.

Describing Cicero (and His Style)

Longinus, On the Sublime, 1

“Cicero also departs from Demosthenes in the size of his constructions. For Demosthenes impresses more in his chunks of sublimity, while Cicero does it more generally. Our orator most clearly burns thanks to his violence, speed, and strength, and he leaves a path of destruction like a lightning strike or a thunderbolt.

Cicero, I think, is more like a large wildfire, consuming everything and laying waste around him. He has a strong fire, always burning, and it is allotted evenly from one place to another, rekindled by steady refueling. You [Romans] may be able to judge these matters better, but the real power of Demosthenes’ sublimity and tension arises in his terrifying and earnest emotions where it is necessary that he surprises his audience; diffusion is when you need to overwhelm [the audience] at length. The latter is most harmonious for general topics, going on at length, description and performance pieces, as well as for history, scientific writing, and many other kinds.”

καὶ ὁ Κικέρων τοῦ Δημοσθένους ἐν τοῖς μεγέθεσι παραλλάττει. ὁ μὲν γὰρ ἐν ὕψει τὸ πλέον ἀποτόμῳ, ὁ δὲ Κικέρων ἐν χύσει· καὶ ὁ μὲν ἡμέτερος διὰ τὸ μετὰ βίας ἕκαστα ἔτι δὲ τάχους ῥώμης δεινότητος οἷον καίειν τε ἅμα καὶ διαρπάζειν σκηπρῷ τινι παρεικάζοιτ᾿ ἂν ἢ κεραυνῷ· ὁ δὲ Κικέρων ὡς ἀμφιλαφής τις ἐμπρησμὸς οἶμαι πάντη νέμεται καὶ ἀνειλεῖται, πολὺ ἔχων καὶ ἐπίμονον ἀεὶ τὸ καῖον καὶ διακληρονομούμενον ἄλλοτ᾿ ἀλλοίως ἐν αὐτῷ καὶ κατὰ διαδοχὰς ἀνατρεφόμενον. ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μὲν ὑμεῖς ἂν ἄμεινον ἐπικρίνοιτε, καιρὸς δὲ τοῦ Δημοσθενικοῦ μὲν ὕψους καὶ ὑπερτεταμένου ἔν τε ταῖς δεινώσεσι καὶ τοῖς σφοδροῖς πάθεσι καὶ ἔνθα δεῖ τον ἀκροατὴν τὸ σύνολον ἐκπλῆξαι, τῆς δὲ χύσεως ὅπου χρὴ καταντλῆσαι· τοπηγορίαις τε γὰρ καὶ ἐπιλόγοις κατὰ τὸ πλέον καὶ παρεκβάσεσι καὶ τοῖς φραστικοῖς ἅπασι καὶ ἐπιδεικτικοῖς, ἱστορίαις τε καὶ φυσιολογίαις, καὶ οὐκ ὀλίγοις ἄλλοις μέρεσιν ἁρμόδιος.


Julian, Misopogon 339C

“I would tell you if I had a wart like Cicero”

εἶπόν γ᾿ ἂν ὑμῖν, εἴ τις ἦν μοι καὶ ἀκροχορδὼν ὥσπερ τῷ Κικέρωνι·

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On Roman Imitations in Comparison to Greek Models (Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights II.23)

“I have been reading the comedies by our poets which are based on and translated from Greek poets like Menander, Posidippus, Apollodorus or Alexis (and some comic writers as well). They do not at all displease while I read them—no, they seem written cleverly and attractively to the extent that you might believe that they cannot be made better. But if you take them and compare them to the Greek originals upon which they are based and consider the individual passages both together and separately with clear focus: the Latin texts immediately seem to be vulgar and simple: they are eclipsed by the wit and brilliance of the Greek texts which they are incapable of rivaling.”

Comoedias lectitamus nostrorum poetarum sumptas ac versas de Graecis Menandro aut Posidippo aut Apollodoro aut Alexide et quibusdam item aliis comicis. 2 Neque, cum legimus eas, nimium sane displicent, quin lepide quoque et venuste scriptae videantur, prorsus ut melius posse fieri nihil censeas. 3 Sed enim si conferas et componas Graeca ipsa, unde illa venerunt, ac singula considerate atque apte iunctis et alternis lectionibus committas, oppido quam iacere atque sordere incipiunt, quae Latina sunt; ita Graecarum, quas aemulari nequiverunt, facetiis atque luminibus obsolescunt.