“Jurors, I can’t bring anyone before you to plead for us. Some of our relatives died in war, proving they were good men and making this city great. Others died by drinking hemlock under the tyranny of the thirty for the sake of democracy and your freedom. For these reasons, the cause of our isolation is the excellence of our relatives and the sufferings of our city. It is right, then, for you to help us eagerly, once you consider this and understand that those people should be treated well by you in the democracy when they shared a great portion of sufferings with you under the oligarchy.
I also think it is right that the superintendents here are favorable to us, remembering that time when you were expelled from your country and you lost your wealth and you believed that the best people were those who died for your sake: you prayed to the gods that you would be able to give your thanks to their descendants.
Therefore, we sons and relatives of those very people who risked everything for your freedom, we ask you to return this favor now and not to bring us to unjust ruin but instead to help us more when we have shared in these troubles. I ask you and beg you and I kneel before you as a suppliant—I believe we are worthy of getting this treatment from you. For we do not risk losing small things, this is about everything we are.”
The most famous that remains is Thucydides’ version of Perikles’ funeral oration (2.35-46).
“Many of those who have spoken here already praised the one who made this speech law, that it is a noble thing to speak over the burials of those who died in war. But honors paid in deeds for deeds performed by good men would seem to be sufficient to me—the acts which you see performed now by the public at this burial. The virtues of many should not be risked by entrusting them to the good or poor speaking of one man alone. “
Plato’s Menexenus (236dff), Socrates recites an epitaphios given by Aspasia:
“In deed, these men have what is required for them materially—now that they have obtained it, they proceed along the fated path: they have been carried out in common by the city and in private by their families. But in speech it is necessary to pay out the remaining rite which custom assigns us.
“Since it seems right to the state to bury those lying in this grave publicly because they proved themselves noble in war and it has been assigned to me to deliver the customary speech on their behalf, I immediately began to examine how others have crafted the appropriate praise. But while I was considering and examining this, I realized that speaking worthily of the dead is one of those things that is impossible for men.”
Dio recounts how the philosopher proposed dealing with, um, animal urges.
Dio Chrysostom, The Sixth Oration: On Diogenes or Tyranny (16-20)
“On behalf of that very thing which men make the most effort and waste the most money—through which many cities have been overturned and for whose sake many people have perished pitiably—for [Diogenes] this was the easiest and cheapest thing. For he didn’t have to go anywhere for sexual satisfaction, since, as he used to joke, Aphrodite was near him everywhere, and for free. He used to say that the poets slandered the goddess because of their own lack of control when they called her “all golden”. Since many did not believe this, he proved it out in the open while everyone was watching. And he used to say that if people did this, then Troy would not have fallen, nor would have Priam, the Phrygian king of the line of Zeus, bled out on Zeus’ altar.
He added that the Achaeans were so witless as to imagine that even corpses needed women and so slaughtered Polyxena on the tomb of Achilles. So he used to explain that fish proved themselves to be almost more prudent than men—for whenever they needed to expel their seed, the went out and rubbed up against something with friction. Diogenes was amazed at the unwillingness of men to spend money to have their foot, hand, or any other part of the body rubbed, and how the very rich would not waste even a drachma on this. But they [all] lavished many a talent on that single member often and that some even still endangered their lives too.
He used to joke that this kind of intercourse was Pan’s discovery: when he was lusting after Echo but couldn’t overtake her, he was wondering in the mountains night and day until that point when Hermes taught him how to do this, because he pitied his helplessness and he was his son. And, after he learned this, he got a break from his great suffering. Apparently, shepherds learned this from him.”
“If the matter allows, it is not useless to begin from some different angle or with a joke or something which you think up on the spot, the sort of thing which gets applause and shouts. You might also use something which is prepared for you, an anecdote, fable, or something else which has something funny in it.
If the gravity of the affair prohibits a sense of humor, it is not inappropriate to include something sad, unknown, or pretty dreadful right from the beginning. For, just as weariness for good can be treated with some small bite or lightened by something sweet, a mind tired of listening is reinvigorated by amazement or a laugh.”
Sin res dabit, non inutile est ab aliqua re nova aut ridicula incipere aut ex tempore quae nata sit, quod genus strepitu acclamatione; aut iam parata, quae vel apologum vel fabulam vel aliquam contineat irrisionem; aut si rei dignitas adimet iocandi facultatem, aliquid triste, novum, horribile statim non incommodum est inicere. Nam, ut cibi satietas et fastidium aut subamara aliqua re relevatur aut dulci mitigatur, sic animus defessus audiendo aut admiratione integratur aut risu novatur.
Some Examples of Ciceronian jokes:
Macrobius, Saturnalia 2.1:
“Who is there, that has taken care to read those those books of his jokes which his freedman composed, who does not know how much Cicero excelled in humor? (Though, some suspect that the freedman was the author.) Who is there, who doesn’t know that he was often called the ‘consular clown’ by his enemies? Vatinius mentioned this in his own speech. I would, if it wouldn’t take too long, recall those cases in which he represented guilty clients, which he won by joking.”
Cicero autem quantum in ea re valuerit quis ignorat qui vel liberti eius libros quos is de iocis patroni conposuit, quos quidam ipsius putant esse, legere curavit? Quis item nescit consularem eum scurram ab inimicis appellari solitum? quod in oratione etiam sua Vatinius posuit. Atque ego, ni longum esset, referrem, in quibus causis, cum nocentissimos reos tueretur, victoriam iocis adeptus sit.
Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 12.12
12 The clever response of Marcus Cicero as he defends himself against a claim of obvious lying
“This is a part of rhetorical training too—to admit criminal matters not subject to danger cleverly and with charm so that, if something foul is alleged which cannot be denied, you may defuse it with a humorous response and make the whole matter more dignified with a joke rather than an allegation, just as it is recorded that Cicero did when he tempered what could not be denied with a clever and amusing comment.
For when Cicero wanted to purchase a house on the Palatine hill and he did not have the money at hand, he accepted in private as much as two million sesterces [$100,000?] from Publius Sulla* who was then a defendant in a case. But the whole matter was made public before he bought the house and he was charged with receiving money for buying a house from an accused defendant. So then, troubled by the unanticipated criticism, Cicero denied that he had received the money and denied that he would have bought the house, saying “Indeed, If I buy the house, it is true that I took the money”.
But later, when he had bought the house and was charged with being a liar in the senate by his enemies, he laughed plenty and said while chuckling: “You are senseless men if you don’t know that it is a mark of a wise and cautious head of a family, when he wants to buy something, to deny that he wants to buy it to scare off competitors!”
*He was charged for participating in the conspiracy with Cataline.
XII Faceta responsio M. Ciceronis amolientis a se crimen manifesti mendacii.
 Haec quoque disciplina rhetorica est callide et cum astu res criminosas citra periculum confiteri, ut, si obiectum sit turpe aliquid, quod negari non queat, responsione ioculari eludas et rem facias risu magis dignam quam crimine, sicut fecisse Ciceronem scriptum est, cum id, quod infitiari non poterat, urbano facetoque dicto diluit.  Nam cum emere uellet in Palatio domum et pecuniam in praesens non haberet, a P. Sulla, qui tum reus erat, mutua sestertium uiciens tacita accepit.  Ea res tamen, priusquam emeret, prodita est et in uulgus exiuit, obiectumque ei est, quod pecuniam domus emendae causa a reo accepisset.  Tum Cicero inopinata obprobratione permotus accepisse se negauit ac domum quoque se empturum negauit atque ‘adeo’ inquit ‘uerum sit accepisse me pecuniam, si domum emero’. Sed cum postea emisset et hoc mendacium in senatu ei ab inimicis obiceretur, risit satis atque inter ridendum: ‘ἀκοινονόητοι’ inquit ‘homines estis, cum ignoratis prudentis et cauti patrisfamilias esse, quod emere uelit, empturum sese negare propter competitores emptionis.’
Macrobius, Saturnalia (II.2.3.1-4)
“I am surprised that you all have been quiet about Cicero’s jokes which prove him as eloquent as in everything else he said. If it seems right, I am prepared—like the guardian of a temple about to announce the oracles of a god—to repeat the Ciceronian jests I remember.
When everyone appeared ready to listen to him, he began: “When Marcus Cicero dined with Damasippus and his host offered him a rather middling wine and said “Drink this forty-year old Falernian,” Cicero replied “It carries its age well.” At another time when he saw his own son-in-law Lentulus, a man of short stature, girded up with a long sword, he asked “Who has attached my son-in-law to a sword?” Nor did he keep a similar bite from his brother Quintus Cicero. For, when visiting the province Quintus that was administering, he saw his brother’s portrait armed with a circular shield sculpted with much greater size near the chest in the manner of pictures (his brother was also a bit on the shorter side), he said “Half of my brother is bigger than the whole!”
Sed miror omnes vos ioca tacuisse Ciceronis, in quibus facundissimus, ut in omnibus, fuit: et, si videtur, ut aedituus responsa numinis sui praedicat ita ego quae memoria suggesserit refero dicta Ciceronis. Tum omnibus ad audiendum erectis ille sic incipit: 2 M. Cicero, cum apud Damasippum coenaret et ille mediocri vino posito diceret: Bibite Falernum hoc, annorum quadraginta est: Bene, inquit, aetatem fert. 3 Idem cum Lentulum generum suum, exiguae naturae hominem, longo gladio adcinctum vidisset: Quis, inquit, generum meum ad gladium alligavit? 4 Nec Q. Ciceroni fratri circa similem mordacitatem pepercit. Nam cum in ea provincia quam ille rexerat vidisset clypeatam imaginem eius ingentibus lineamentis usque ad pectus ex more pictam (erat autem Quintus ipse staturae parvae), ait: Frater meus dimidius maior est quam totus.
“There are many ways people are educated in private life. Most importantly, avoiding luxury and being forced to think every day about their life. Then, they have the laws which we happen to live by civically. Finally, we are educated by freedom of speech and the right given to friends to openly criticize and to enemies to attack one another’s faults.”
“I know that it is hard to stand against your opinions and that that there is no freedom of speech when there is democracy except that which is employed here among these great fools who don’t care about you and in the theater among the comic poets.
You know that is most shocking of all? You give those who let the rest of Greece know about our state’s failures so much more gratitude than those who do good things for us. And you are as annoyed to those who correct you and warn you as you are with those who contrive evil against the state!”
“Let us now examine the thing at the center of this, that very place of the ambush where they came together and for which party had an advantage. Is it still possible to have any doubt about this or to think about it any longer? Was it in front of Clodius’ home—a home where a thousand people could easily be housed because of those insanely large basements—was it there where Milo decided that he would choose this enemy on his higher ground when he was in a weaker position and for this very reason selected it as the best place for a fight?
The fact itself, sirs, is always pretty strong. If you were not listening to these matters but instead were viewing a picture it should still be clear which one of them was the aggressor…”
Videamus nunc id, quod caput est, locus ad insidias ille ipse, ubi congressi sunt, utri tandem fuerit aptior. Id vero, iudices, etiam dubitandum et diutius cogitandum est? Ante fundum Clodii, quo in fundo propter insanas illas substructiones facile hominum mille versabantur valentium, edito adversarii atque excelso loco superiorem se fore putarat Milo, et ob eam rem eum locum ad pugnam potissimum elegerat? An in eo loco est potius exspectatus ab eo, qui ipsius loci spe facere impetum cogitarat? Res loquitur ipsa, iudices, quae semper valet plurimum. Si haec non gesta audiretis, sed picta videretis, tamen appareret uter esset insidiator,
“The people were certain that their freedom was at risk. Their leaders did not agree. As far as a matter concerned the safety of the aristocrats, they were afraid of the rashness of the masses and the liberty in the vote. Tiberius Gracchus was introducing his agrarian law. It was welcomed by the people since it appeared to firm up the fortunes of the lower classes.
The aristocrats were against it because they believed it created unrest and imagined that the State would be disarmed of its greatest protectors once the rich were evicted from their long-term holdings. Gaius Gracchus was introducing a grain law. It was also welcome to the people for it provided plentiful food without labor. The Nobles were aghast because they believed that such a law disincentivized work in favor of laziness and that it would drain the treasury.”
Populus libertatem agi putabat suam. Dissentiebant principes et in salute optimatium temeritatem multitudinis et tabellae licentiam pertimescebant. Agrariam Ti. Gracchus legem ferebat. Grata erat populo; fortunae constitui tenuiorum videbantur. Nitebantur contra optimates, quod et discordiam excitari videbant et, cum locupletes possessionibus diuturnis moverentur, spoliari rem publicam propugnatoribus arbitrabantur. Frumentariam legem C. Gracchus ferebat. Iucunda res plebei; victus enim suppeditabatur large sine labore. Repugnabant boni, quod et ab industria plebem ad desidiam avocari putabant et aerarium exhauriri videbant.
Agrarian Law: Tiberius Gracchus introduced a law in 133 BCE that no holder of public land (ager publicus populi Romani) should have more than 500 iugera and that land should be re-distributed to the poor.
“These men have committed so much horror beyond their own criminal behavior that even while running a so-called democracy they turned each person’s house into a prison and put the police in our homes.”
“For such dealing with criminals, white or black, the South had no machinery, no adequate jails or reformatories; its police system was arranged to deal with blacks alone, and tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police. Thus grew up a double system of justice, which erred on the white side by undue leniency and the practical immunity of red-handed criminals, and erred on the black side by undue severity, injustice, and lack of discrimination.”
“The fact that you didn’t hear my speeches is no great loss for you. When it comes to your envy of Hirtius, well, if you did not care for him, there would be no reason for envy, unless of course you were jealous of his own eloquence rather than the fact that he got to witness mine.
On my part, my sweetest friend, I am nothing. Or, I am so dissatisfied with my speeches since I lost my old competitors as you are applauding—if I ever publish anything worthy of my reputation, I groan at this line, “these weapons strike on a feather bound body, not an armored one, and my fame has been exposed for what it is” as Philoctetes complains in Accius”
Quod declamationibus nostris cares, damni nihil facis. quod Hirtio invideres nisi eum amares, non erat causa invidendi, nisi forte ipsius eloquentiae magis quam quod me audiret invideres. nos enim plane, mi suavissime Volumni, aut nihil sumus aut nobis quidem ipsis displicemus gregalibus illis quibus te plaudente vigebamus amissis, ut etiam, si quando aliquid dignum nostro nomine emisimus, ingemiscamus quod haec ‘pinnigero, non armigero in corpore tela exerceantur,’ ut ait Philoctetes apud Accium, ‘abiecta gloria.’
“The crime was less offensive than the acquittal.”
Minus crimine quam absolutione peccatum est
Demosthenes, On the False Legation
“For your reputation, for your religion, for your safety, for every advantage you have, do not acquit this man—no, exact vengeance upon him to make him an example to everyone, to our citizens and to the rest of the world.”
“This is a domestic problem, in which sometimes it is enough to claim that there was only one crime, or it was just a mistake, or less severe than is claim for an acquittal”
Est enim domestica disceptatio, in qua et semel peccasse et per errorem et levius quam obiciatur absolutioni nonnumquam sufficit.
Dinarchus, Against Demosthenes 29
“Do not acquit this man, citizens, do not acquit and leave unpunished someone who has signed off on the misfortunes of this state and the world, a man who has been caught in corruption against the state….”
“Today you need to change your minds about what you have done. You need to refuse to keep being abused by these people. Don’t reproach those who have done wrong in private! Do not acquit the guilty when it is in your power to punish them.”
“You need to understand that it is impossible for you to acquit. If you ignore the charge when they admit that they are conspiring against the traders, then you will seem to make a judgment against the importers. If they were making up any other kind of defense, no one would criticize a vote to acquit since you can choose to believe whatever side you want. But, as things are now, you can’t imagine you are doing something amazing if you acquit unpunished those who admit that they broke the law!”