Proofs that a knowledge of the civil law is necessary to an orator.
1. A knowledge of the civil law and of the manners and religion of that state, whatever it be, over which he shall endeavor to exert any influence will be necessary for such an orator. What sort of an adviser, in public or private deliberations, would he be if he is ignorant of things by which a state is principally held together? How will he not falsely call himself a defender of causes if has to seek from another that which is of most importance to the pleading of his causes, almost like those who recite the writings of poets? 2. He will resemble in a manner a person carrying messages. What he desires the judge to believe he will have to advance on the faith of another, and while he professes to aid parties going to law, he will stand in need of aid himself. This may indeed sometimes be done with little inconvenience, when he brings before the judge what he has taught himself and arranged at home and which he has learned by heart like other component parts of the cause. But how will he fare with regard to those questions which often arise suddenly in the middle of a case? 3. Will he not look about him, covered with shame, and ask questions of the inferior advocates on the benches? Even if he receives an answer, will he be able to fully comprehend what he hears, when he has to deliver it on an instant? Will he be able to assert anything with confidence or speak with any appearance of sincerity for his clients? Perhaps he may in a set speech, but what will he do in altercations where he must reply to the opposite party at once, with no time allowed him for gaining information? Or what if a person skilled in the law is not at hand to prompt him? What if a person but imperfectly acquainted with the subject suggests to him something incorrect? For it is one of the greatest misfortunes of ignorance to fancy that whoever offers instruction is a man of knowledge.
4. I am not indeed forgetful of our practice or unmindful of those who sit, as it were, by the store chests to furnish weapons for forensic combatants. Nor am I unaware that the Greeks also had the same custom, from whom the name of pragmatici, bestowed upon these gentlemen, was derived. But I am speaking of a genuine orator who is to bring to the support of his cause not only his voice, but everything that can possibly be of service to it. 5. Therefore, I would not think him useless if he stood for his hour [of preliminary preparation] or unskillful in establishing evidence. For who better than himself could prepare the matter he wants to appear in the cause when he pleads it? Unless, indeed, we consider a general to be able who is active and brave in the field and skilled in everything an engagement requires, but does not know how to levy troops, muster or equip forces, provide secure provisions, or select a position for a camp, though it is surely of more importance to make preparations for success in a fight than to have the command in it. 6. But an orator would very greatly resemble such a general if he should leave much that would promote his success to the management of others, especially as this knowledge of the civil law, which is of the utmost importance to him, is not so difficult to be acquired as it may perhaps appear to those who contemplate it from a distance. For every point of law which is certain rests upon something written or upon custom; whatever is doubtful must be decided on grounds of equity. 7. What is written or dependent on the custom of a country is attended with no difficulty, for it is a matter of knowledge, not of invention, and points which are explained by the comments of lawyers reside either in interpretations of words or in distinctions between right and wrong. To understand the sense of every word in a law is either common to all men of education or peculiar to the orator; equity is understood by every honest man. 8. Moreover, we are supposing our orator to be a man eminently good and sensible, a man who, when he has devoted himself to the study of what is excellent in its nature, will not be greatly troubled if a lawyer differs from him in opinion, since lawyers themselves are allowed to hold various opinions on the same points.
9. But if he desires to know what lawyers in general have thought of any matter, he has only to apply himself to reading, which is less laborious than anything in his course of study. If many who despaired of acquiring the necessary qualifications for speaking in public have consequently taken up the study of law, how easy it is for the orator to learn that which is learned by those who, according to their own confession, cannot become orators! But Marcus Cato was both highly distinguished for eloquence and eminent for his knowledge of law, and the merit of eloquence was also allowed to Scaevola and Servius Sulpicius. 10. In pleading, Cicero, too, was not only never at a loss for a knowledge of law, but had even begun to write on it, whence it appears that an orator may not only have time for learning law, but also for teaching it.
11. But let no man suppose that the precepts I have offered respecting the necessity of attention to moral character and to the study of law need not be regarded simply because we have known many who, from dislike of the labor necessary in aspiring to eloquence, have resigned themselves to employments better suited to their indolence. Some of these have given themselves up to the white [jus praetorium, or praetors' edicts] and red [civil law], or have preferred to become formularii, or as Cicero terms them, leguleii, on pretense of choosing what was more useful, when in reality they sought only what was easier. 12. There have been others, of equal indolence but greater arrogance, who suddenly settled their countenance with affected gravity and let their beards grow. Looking as if they had contempt for the study of oratory, they sat for a time in the schools of the philosophers, in order that, by assumed solemnity in public, while they are abandoned to licentiousness at home, they may assume authority to themselves by setting others at nought.