Cornelius Tacitus.

The Agricola and Germany of Tacitus, and The dialogue on oratory online

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that quarter is steadier, and its growth surer. Un-
doubtedly it was under such teachers that the youth
of whom I am speaking, the disciple of orators, the
listener in the forum, the student in the law-courts,
was trained and practised by the experiences of others.
The laws he learnt by daily hearing ; the faces of
the judges were familiar to him ; the ways of popu-
lar assemblies were continually before his eyes ; he



CHAP, had frequent experience of the ear of the people, and
whether he undertook a prosecution or a defence,
he was at once singly and alone equal to any case.
We still read with admiration the speeches in which
Lucius Crassus in his nineteenth, Csesar and Asinius
Pollio in their twenty-first year, Calvus, when very
little older, denounced, respectively, Carbo, Dolabella,
Cato, and Vatinius.

CHAP. But in these days we have our youths taken to

the professors' theatre, the rhetoricians, as we call
them. The class made its appearance a little before
Cicero's time, and was not liked by our ancestors,
as is evident from the fact that, when Crassus and
Domitius were censors, they were ordered, as Cicero
says, to close "the school of impudence." However,
as I was just saying, the boys are taken to schools
in which it is hard to tell whether the place itself,
or their fellow-scholars, or the character of their
studies, do their minds most harm. As for the place,
there is no such thing as reverence, for no one enters
it who is not as ignorant as the rest. As for the
scholars, there can be no improvement, when boys
and striplings with equal assurance address, and are
addressed by, other boys and striplings. As for the
mental exercises themselves, they are the reverse of
beneficial. Two kinds of subject-matter are dealt
with before the rhetoricians, the persuasive and the
controversial. The persuasive, as being comparatively
easy and requiring less skill, is given to boys. The
controversial is assigned to riper scholars, and, good
heavens! what strange and astonishing productions


are the result ! It comes to pass that subjects re- 9^-^^
mote from all reality are actually used for declama-
tion. Thus the reward of a tyrannicide, or the choice
of an outraged maiden, or a remedy for a pestilence,
or a mother's incest, anything, in short, daily dis-
cussed in our schools, never, or but very rarely in the
courts, is dwelt on in grand language.

[The rest of Messala's speech is lost. Maternus is
now again the speaker.]

Great eloquence, like fire, grows with its material ; chap.


it becomes fiercer with movement, and brighter as
it burns. On this same principle was developed in
our state too the eloquence of antiquity. Although
even the modern orator has attained all that the
circumstances of a settled, quiet, and prosperous com-
munity allow, still in the disorder and licence of the
past more seemed to be within the reach of the
speaker, when, amid a universal confusion that needed
one guiding hand, he exactly adapted his wisdom to
the bewildered people's capacity of conviction. Hence,
laws without end and consequent popularity ; hence,
speeches of magistrates who, I may say, passed
nights on the Rostra; hence, prosecutions of influ-
ential citizens brought to trial, and feuds transmitted
to whole families ; hence, factions among the nobles,
and incessant strife between the senate and the people.
In each case the state was torn asunder, but the
eloquence of the age was exercised and, as it seemed,
was loaded with great rewards. For the more power-
ful a man was as a speaker, the more easily did he


CHAP, obtain office, the more decisively superior was he to
XXXVI. , . „ ' ^ ^

his coheagues in office, the more influence did he

acquire with the leaders of the state, the more weight
in the senate, the more notoriety and fame with the
people. Such men had a host of clients, even among"
foreign nations ; the magistrates, when leaving Rome
for the provinces, showed them respect, and courted
their favour as soon as they returned. The praetor-
ship and the consulship seemed to offer themselves
to them, and even when they were out of office, they
were not out of power, for they swayed both people
and senate with their counsels and influence. Indeed,
they had quite convinced themselves that without
eloquence no one could win or retain a distinguished
and eminent position in the state. And no wonder.
Even against their own wish they had to show them-
selves before the people. It was little good for them
to give a brief vote in the senate without supporting
their opinion with ability and eloquence. If brought
into popular odium, or under some charge, they had
to reply in their own words. Again, they were under
the necessity of giving evidence in the public courts,
not in their absence by affidavit, but of being present
and of speaking it openly. There was thus a strong
stimulus to win the great prizes of eloquence, and
as the reputation of a good speaker was considered
an honour and a glory, so it was thought a disgrace
to seem mute and speechless. Shame therefore quite
as much as hope of reward prompted men not to
take the place of a pitiful client rather than that of a
patron, or to see hereditary connections transferred to
others, or to seem spiritless and incapable of office



from either failing to obtain it or from holding it
weakly when obtained.

Perhaps you have had in your hands the old re-
cords, still to be found in the libraries of antiquaries,
which Mucianus is just now collecting, and which
have already been brought together and published
in, I think, eleven books of Transactions, and three
of Letters. From these we may gather that Cneius
Pompeius and Marcus Crassus rose to power as much
by force of intellect and by speaking as by their
might in arms ; that the Lentuli, Metelli, Luculli,
and Curios, and the rest of our nobles, bestowed
great labour and pains on these studies, and that, in
fact, no one in those days acquired much influence
without some eloquence. We must consider too the
eminence of the men accused, and the vast issues
involved. These of themselves do very much for
eloquence. There is, indeed, a wide difference be-
tween having to speak on a theft, a technical point,
a judicial decision, and on bribery at elections, the
plundering of the allies, and the massacre of citizens.
Though it is better that these evils should not befall
us, and the best condition of the state is that in which
we are spared such sufferings, still, when they did
occur, they supplied a grand material for the orator.
His mental powers rise with the dignity of his sub-
ject, and no one can produce a noble and brilliant
speech unless he has got an adequate case. Demos-
thenes, I take it, does not owe his fame to his speeches
against his guardians, and it is not his defence of
Publius Quintius, or of Licinius Archias, which make
Cicero a great orator ; it is his Catiline, his Milo,






his Verres, and Antonius, which have shed over him
this lustre. Not indeed that it was worth the state's
while to endure bad citizens that orators might have
plenty of matter for their speeches, but, as I now
and then remind you, we must remember the point,
and understand that we are speaking of an art which
arose more easily in stormy and unquiet tirties. Who
knows not that it is better and more profitable to
enjoy peace than to be harassed by war? Yet war
produces more good soldiers than peace. Eloquence
is on the same footing. The oftener she has stood,
so to say, in the battle-field, the more wounds she
has inflicted and received, the mightier her antago-
nist, the sharper the conflicts she has freely chosen,
the higher and more splendid has been her rise, and
ennobled by these contests she lives in the praises of


I pass now to the forms and character of procedure
in the old courts. As they exist now, they are indeed
more favourable to truth, but the forum in those days
was a better training for eloquence. There no speaker
•was under the necessity of concluding within a very
few hours ; there was freedom of adjournment, and
every one fixed for himself the limits of his speech,
and there was no prescribed number of days or of
counsel. It was Cneius Pompcius who, in his third con-
sulship, first restricted all this, and put a bridle, so to
say, on eloquence, intending, however, that all business
should be transacted in the forum according to law,
and before the prjetors. Here is a stronger proof of
the greater importance of the cases tried before these


judges than in the fact that causes in the Court of the chap.


Hundred, causes which now hold the first place, were
then so eclipsed by the fame of other trials that not
a speech of Cicero, or Caesar, or Brutus, or Caelius,
or Calvus, or, in short, any great orator is now
read, that was delivered in that Court, except only
the orations of Asinius Pollio for the heirs of Urbinia,
as they are entitled, and even Pollio delivered these in
the middle of the reign of Augustus, a period of
long rest, of unbroken repose for the people and
tranquillity for the senate, when the emperor's perfect
discipline had put its restraints on eloquence as well
as on all else.

Perhaps what I am going to say will be thought chap
trifling and ridiculous ; but I will say it even to be '
laughed at. What contempt (so I think at least) has
been brought on eloquence by those little overcoats
into which we squeeze, and, so to say, box ourselves
up, when we chat with the judges ! How much
force may we suppose has been taken from our
speeches by the little rooms and offices in which
nearly all cases have to be set forth. Just as a spacious
course tests a fine horse, so the orator has his field,
and unless he can move in it freely and at ease, his
eloquence grows feeble and breaks down. Nay more ;
we find the pains and labour of careful composition
out of place, for the judge keeps asking when you
are going to open the case, and you must begin from
his question. Frequently he imposes silence on the
advocate to hear proofs and witnesses. Meanwhile
only one or two persons stand by you as you are



CHAR speaking and the whole business is transacted almost
in solitude. But the orator wants shouts and applause,
and something hke a theatre, all which and the like
were the every day lot of the orators of antiquity,
when both numbers and nobility pressed into the
forum,when gatherings of clients and the people in their
tribes and deputations from the towns and indeed a
great part of Italy stood by the accused in his peril,
and Rome's citizens felt in a multitude of trials
that they themselves had an interest in the decision.
We know that there was a universal rush of the
people to hear the accusation and the defence of
Cornelius, Scaurus, Milo, Bestia, and Vatinius, so that
even the coldest speaker might have been stirred and
kindled by the mere enthusiasm of the citizens in
their strife. And therefore indeed such pleadings are
still extant, and thus the men too who pleaded, owe
their fame to no other speeches more than these.

CHAP. XL. Again, what stimulus to genius and what fire to the
orator was furnished by incessant popular assemblies,
by the privilege of attacking the most influential men,
and by the very glory of such feuds when most of the
good speakers did not spare even a Publius Scipio, or
a Sulla, or a Cneius Pompeius, and following the
common impulse of envy availed themselves of the
popular ear for invective against eminent citizens.
I am not speaking of a quiet and peaceful accom-
plishment, which delights in what is virtuous and well
regulated. No ; the great and famous eloquence of
old is the nursling of the licence which fools called
freedom ; it is the companion of sedition, the


stimulant of an unruly people, a stranger to obedience chap, xl
and subjection, a defiant, reckless, presumptuous thing
which does not show itself in a well-governed state.
What orator have we ever heard of at Sparta or at
Crete ? A very strict discipline and very strict laws
prevailed, tradition says, in both those states. Nor do
we know of the existence of eloquence among the
Macedonians or Persians, or in any people content
with a settled government. There were some orators
at Rhodes and a host of them at Athens, but there
the people, there any ignorant follow, anybody, in short,
could do anything. So too our own state, while it
went astray and wore out its strength in factious
strife and discord, with neither peace in the forum,
unity in the senate, order in the courts, respect
for merit, or seemly behaviour in the magistrates,
produced beyond all question a more vigorous elo-
quence, just as an untilled field yields certain herbage
in special plenty. Still the eloquence of the Gracchi
was not an equivalent to Rome for having to endure
their legislation, and Cicero's fame as an orator was
a poor compensation for the death he died.

And so now the forum, which is all that our speakers ^-J^Y'
have left them of antiquity, is an evidence of a
state not thoroughly reformed or as orderly as we
could wish. Who but the guilty or unfortunate apply
to us .-• What town puts itself under our protection
but one harassed by its neighbours or by strife at
home .'' When we plead for a province, is it not one
that has been plundered and ill-treated .'' Surely it
would be better not to complain than to have to seek

O 2


CHAP redress. Could a community be found in which no
one did wrong, an orator would be as superfluous
among its innocent people as a physician among the
healthy. As the healing art is of very little use and
makes very little progress in nations which enjoy par-
ticularly robust constitutions and vigorous frames, so
the orator gets an inferior and less splendid renown
where a sound morality and willing obedience to
authority prevail. What need there of long speeches in
the senate, when the best men are soon of one mind,
or of endless harangues to the people, when political
questions are decided not by an ignorant multitude,
but by one man of pre-eminent wisdom ? What need
of voluntary prosecutions, when crimes are so rare

m. and slight, or of defences full of spiteful insinuation

"^ and exceeding proper bounds, when the clemency of

the judge offers itself to the accused in his peril ?

Be assured, my most excellent, and, as far as the
age requires, most eloquent friends, that had you been
born in the past, and the men we admire in our own
day, had some god in fact suddenly changed your
lives and your age, the highest fame and glory of
eloquence would have been yours, and they too would
not have lacked moderation and self-control. As it
is, seeing that no one can at the same time enjoy
great renown and great tranquillity, let everybody
make the best of the blessings of his own age without
disparaging other periods.

Maternus had now finished. There were, replied
Messala, some points I should controvert, some on
which I should like to hear more, if the day were
not almost spent. It shall be, said Maternus, as you


wish, on a future occasion, and anything you have chap
thought obscure in my argument, we will again discuss.
Then he rose and embraced Aper, I mean, he
said, to accuse you before the poets, and so will
Messala before the antiquarians. And I, rejoined Aper,
will accuse you before the rhetoricians and professors.
They laughed good-humouredly, and we parted.


CHAP. V. Saleius Bassus. — Mentioned again in 9 and 10.
He was a poet of the Flavian age, of whom
Ouintilian (x. i. 90) speaks favourably, as pos-
sessed of a vehemens et poeticimi ingenmm. Juvenal
(vii. 80) gives him the epithet tenuis, in allusion, it would
seem, to his poverty. There is extant a panegyrical
poem of 261 lines on a Calpurnius Piso, and this has
been attributed to Bassus, it being also supposed that
this Piso was one of the chief authors of the famous
conspiracy against Nero, described in the Annals
XV. 48 to end. The conjecture is a plausible one, but
that is all that can be said of it. There were many
other poets who may have written it, as, for example
Statius or Lucan.

CHAP. VII. Ministers of the crown {procuratores principntn).
— The procurator CcBsaris, as he was styled was
commonly the emperor's confidential adviser as well
as his steward. He could have a province if he
wished it, as a matter of course. When impeached,
it would usually be for extortion or maladministra-
tion, lie was often a frcedman, and his class with


its peculiar influence was one of the most marked chap. vii.
features of the imperial age.

Mandate [codicillis). — Compare Agricola 40, where
the same word codicilli is used of a dispatch or
missive from the emperor to Agricola. This indeed
seems to have become one of the special meanings of
the word, which properly, of course, is simply a dimi-
nutive form of codex.

J\Ien with the tunic (tunicatus populus). — Compare
Horace Epist. i. 7, 65, tnnicato popcllo. A respectable
Roman citizen always wore the toga in public ; to be
without this and have only the tunica implied that
a man belonged to the poorest and lowest class. The
tunica was worn under the toga.

Eprius Marcellus. — First mentioned in Annals chap,

. vm

xii. 4. He rose from obscurity by the abuse of con-
siderable natural eloquence to be one of the fore-
most dtiatores of Nero's time, during which he was
particularly formidable. He lost influence after Nero's
death, but reappears in Hist. ii. 53 ; iv. 6. and was an
important personage under Vitellius and Vespasian.

Vibius Ci'ispus. — He is again mentioned in 13. He
had successfully defended his brother in Nero's reign on
a charge of provincial maladministration. See Annals
xiv. 28. Quintilian (x. i, 1 19) speaks of him z.sjucundus
el delcctationi natus. See also Hist. ii. 10; iv. 41, 43.

Programmes (Jibellos). — Perhaps, cards of invitation chap, ix
with a programme. Juvenal (vii. 35 — 97), describes
at length the process of getting up a reading and
drawing an audience.

Vatinius. — See Annals xv. 34, from which it


CHAP. IX. appears that from having been a shoemaker's appren-
tice he had pushed himself into Nero's favour by-
vulgar wit and buffoonery. How Maternus " broke
his power" and drove him from the court we cannot
say, as Tacitus tells us nothing about it. It hardly
seems likely that he won a victory over him in a
tragedy contest, as Gronovius conjectured. Such
solemn contests would not have been very congenial
to Nero's taste or to that of the people, nor was
Vatinius the sort of man to write a tragedy. Ritter
discusses this passage in a long excursus, in which he
throws out the conjecture that Maternus's tragedy of
Domitius, mentioned in 3, was identical with that
referred to in the present passage. It was, he thinks,
a tragedy based on an incident said to have occurred
to Nero in his infancy, which Tacitus glances at in
Annals xi. 11. ("It was commonly reported that
snakes had been seen by his cradle which they seemed
zo guard.") Nero's name indeed was Domitius, but
it is not easy to see why Maternus should have so
called him, as after his adoption in early years by the
Emperor Claudius he was known as Claudius Nero.
He would too have been much too young to have been
the leading character of a tragedy. There remains
something in this passage which cannot be cleared up.
We know nothing of the circumstances under which
Vatinius lost the Emperor's favour ; we may infer per-
haps from Hist. i. 37 that in Otho's time he was dead,

CHAP. T/ie pallors of fame {faniavt pallcnteni). — A pale

face goes with fame, as it docs with study. The
man who has it, fears for himself as much as he is
feared by others.


Julius Asiaticns. — Probably the same man as the chap.
Asiaticus mentioned Hist. ii. 94 ; if so, he had taken
a leading part in the insurrection of V^index. He was
a Gaul, or born in Gaul, and this explains the fact
that Julius Secundus, himself of Gallic origin, had
written his life.

Nicetes. — A rhetoric-professor in the time of chap, xv
Claudius and Nero. He taught both at Rome and
at Smyrna, his native city. The younger Pliny (vi. 6)
had attended his lectures, and speaks of him as a
particularly earnest student {stitdioruin ainantisshmts).

Africanus. — A son probably of the Julius Africanus
mentioned in the Annals vi. 7. He lived in Nero's
time. Quintilian couples him with Afer as a distin-
guished orator.

Meneiiiiis Aprippa. — He led the famous secession chap.

, . . XVII.

of theplebs to Mons Sacer in 492 B.C. See Livy ii. '^2.

Caeliiis. — Marcus Caelius Rufus, a friend of Cicero
and defended him in the famous speech Pro Caelio.

Calviis. — Caius Licinius Calvus, alsoa contemporary
of Cicero, both a poet and orator. As the first he
ranked with Catullus ; as the latter with Cicero. He
had also the name of Macer, and it is not unlikely
that he was the Licinius Macer so often referred
to by Livy. Of his works only the merest scraps

Hirtius and Pansa. — They were consuls in 43 B.C.,
and both fell in that year, which came to be henceforth
regarded as marking the end of the common-


xvm Appins Cacc2is. — His speech on the subject of

a treaty with Pyrrhus in 280 B.C. was, it appears,
extant in Cicero's time (see the Brutus, 16), and may
have been known to Tacitus.

CHAP. Cassius Scverus. — His career is briefly sketched in


Annals iv. 21.

:hap. XX. Roscuis or Ambiviiis. — The first was a highly
accomplished tragic actor, and was a particular
favourite with Sulla and with Cicero. One of Cicero's
speeches is in his defence. Ambivius was a comic
actor in the time of Terence, and had a great

cf^'^P- Caniitiiis. — Mentioned by Cicero in his speech for
Cluentius (10) and in the Brutus (56) as a very good

Vatiniiis. — One of Caesar's most active adherents
and, as such, a conspicuous figure in the strife between
Caesar and Pompeius.

CHAP. Aufidiiis Bassus. — A writer in the time of Augustus

XXIll .

and Tiberius. He wrote a history of the German war.

Serviliiis Nonianus. — See Annals xiv. 19, from
which it appears that he was eminent as a counsel and
as a historian.

Sisenna. — Mentioned by Cicero (Brutus 64), as a
clever but not sufficiently careful writer. He wrote a
history of Sulla's times.

Varro. — The learned writer and student of antiquity
whose great work was known as De vita populi Romani
et de antiquitatibiis rerum Jiunianarum et divinarum


Maecenas. — Horace and Virfjil's patron. Tacitus chai-


here describes his style of eloquence by a phrase
borrowed from Cicero's Brutus (75), calaniistri (curling-

Gallio. — Lucius Junius Gallio, Seneca's adopted
father, who lived in the time of Augustus.

Qidntus Jllnciiis. — Surnamed Scaevola pontifex chap.
maximus, and a famous jurist, a man whom Cicero
greatly and deservedly admired. His merit was that
he first treated Roman law scientifically. He was
nmrdered B.C. 82, by the order of the younger Marius.

Philo. — He was at the head of the academy in
Cicero's time. Cicero says (Tusc. ii. 3) that he had
often heard him.

Diodotus. — He was a personal friend of Cicero, by
whom he was very much esteemed. In fact, he had
taught Cicero as a boy. See Tusc, v. 39 ; Epist. ad
Fam. xiii. 16.

Asia. — We must understand Asia Minor, not merely
the Roman province so called.

Good and evil, &c. {donis ac malis, honesto et tiirpi^. chap,
— These are here pJiilosopJiicUl terms, as in Cicero's De
Finibiis Bonormn et Alalorum. The same applies to
several expressions in this chapter.

Human nature. — This has quite a modern tone,
which deserves to be noted. It would be difficult to
find a passage in which hnmana natura answered so
closely to its English equivalent.

TJie biassed {cupidos). — This is probably the meaning,
aipidits being specially used to denote undue favour
or partiality in a hearer or a judge.

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