Oratory said by some to be a pernicious art, because it may be perverted to bad ends, § 1-4. We might say the same of other things that are allowed to be beneficial, 5, 6. Its excellences, 7-16. The abundant return that it makes for cultivation, 17-19.
1. NEXT comes the question whether oratory is useful, for some are accustomed to declaim violently against it and, what is most ungenerous, to make use of the power of oratory to lay accusations against oratory. 2. They say that eloquence is that which saves the wicked from punishment, by the dishonesty of which the innocent are at times condemned, by which deliberations are influenced to the worse, by which not only popular seditions and tumults, but even inexpiable wars are excited, and of which the efficacy is the greatest when it exerts itself for falsehood against truth. 3. Even to Socrates, the comic writers make it a reproach that he taught how to make the worse reason appear the better, and Plato on his part says that Tisias and Gorgias professed the same art. 4. To these they add examples from Greek and Roman history and give a list of persons who, by exerting such eloquence as was mischievous, not only to individuals but to communities, have disturbed or overthrown the constitutions of whole states, asserting that eloquence on that account was banished from the state of Lacedaemon, and that even at Athens, where the orator was forbidden to move the passions, the powers of eloquence were in a manner curtailed.
5. Under such a mode of reasoning, neither will generals, nor magistrates, nor medicine, nor even wisdom itself, be of any utility, for Flaminius was a general, and the Gracchi, Saturnini, and Glauciae were magistrates; in the hands of physicians poisons have been found, and among those who abuse the name of philosophers have been occasionally detected the most horrible crimes. 6. We must reject food, for it has often given rise to ill health; we must never go under roofs, for they sometimes fall upon those who dwell beneath them; a sword must not be forged for a soldier, for a robber may use the same weapon. Who does not know that fire and water, without which life cannot exist, and (that I may not confine myself to things of earth) that the sun and moon, the chief of the celestial luminaries, sometimes produce hurtful effects?
7. Will it be denied, however, that the blind Appius, by the force of his eloquence, broke off a dishonorable treaty of peace about to be concluded with Pyrrhus? Was not the divine eloquence of Cicero, in opposition to the agrarian laws, even popular? Did it not quell the daring of Catiline and gain, in the toga, the honor of thanksgivings, the highest that is given to generals victorious in the field? 8. Does not oratory often free the alarmed minds of soldiers from fear and persuade them, when they are going to face so many perils in battle, that glory is better than life? Nor indeed would the Lacedaemonians and Athenians influence me more than the people of Rome, among whom the highest respect has always been paid to orators. 9. Nor do I think that founders of cities would have induced their unsettled multitudes to form themselves into communities by any other means than by the influence of the art of speaking; nor would legislators, without the utmost power of oratory have prevailed on men to bind themselves to submit to the dominion of law. 10. Even the very rules for the conduct of life, beautiful as they are by nature, have yet greater power in forming the mind when the radiance of eloquence illumines the beauty of the precepts. Though the weapons of eloquence, therefore, have effect in both directions, it is not just that that should be accounted an evil which we may use to a good purpose.
11. But these points may perhaps be left to the consideration of those who think that the substance of eloquence lies in the power to persuade. But if eloquence be the art of speaking well (the definition which I adopt), so that a true orator must be, above all, a good man, it must assuredly be acknowledged that it is a useful art. 12. In truth, the sovereign deity, the parent of all things, the architect of the world, has distinguished man from other beings, such at least as were to be mortal, by nothing more than by the faculty of speech 13. Bodily frames superior in size, in strength, in firmness, in endurance, in activity, we see among dumb creatures and observe, too, that they have less need than we have of external assistance. To walk, to feed themselves, to swim over water, they learn in less time than we can, from nature herself, without the aid of any other teacher. 14. Most of them, also, are equipped against cold by the produce of their own bodies, weapons for their defense are born with them, and their food lies before their faces; to supply all which wants mankind have the greatest difficulty. The divinity has therefore given us reason, superior to all other qualities, and appointed us to be sharers of it with the immortal gods. 15. But reason could neither profit us so much, nor manifest itself so plainly within us, if we could not express by speech what we have conceived in our minds, a faculty which we see wanting in other animals far more than, to a certain degree, understanding and reflection. 16. For to contrive habitations, to construct nests, to bring up their young, to hatch them, to lay up provision for the winter, to produce works inimitable by us (as those of wax and honey) is perhaps a proof of some portion of reason; but as they who do such things are without the faculty of speech, they are called dumb and irrational. 17. Even to men to whom speech has been denied, of how little avail is divine reason! If, therefore we have received from the gods nothing more valuable than speech, what can we consider more deserving of cultivation and exercise? Or in what can we more strongly desire to be superior to other men than in that by which man himself is superior to other animals, especially as in no kind of exertion does labor more plentifully bring its reward? 18. This will be so much the more evident if we reflect from what origin, and to what extent, the art of eloquence has advanced and how far it may still be improved. 19. For not to mention how beneficial it is and how becoming in a man of virtue, to defend his friends, to direct a senate or people by his counsels, or to lead an army to whatever enterprise he may desire, is it not extremely honorable to attain, by the common understanding and words which all men use, so high a degree of esteem and glory as to appear not to speak or plead, but as was the case with Pericles, to hurl forth lightning and thunder?