And so now the forum,
which is all that our speakers 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 redress.
Could a community be found in which no one did wrong, an orator would be as
superfluous among its inno-
cent 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 particularly 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 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 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.