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The personalities of ancient oratory.

This seems the fitting place to touch for a moment on a trait of ancient forensic oratory which has sometimes been noticed with rather exaggerated emphasis, and which, it might be objected, is strangely discordant with the character just described—the disposition of Greek as well as Roman orators to indulge in personalities of a nature which would be deemed highly indecorous in modern times. Their case is scarcely, perhaps, mended by the observation that the point of honour did not then exist. A more important circumstance to observe is that the language in question, however strong, is seldom redundant. It finds its place; but it does not overflow; nor does it destroy that self-mastery in the speaker on which the unity of his utterance depends. From the artistic point of view—and from this alone it is now being regarded—it is a distressing blemish; yet not, even here, of the order to which it is referred by those whose estimate of it is purely modern, since it is not permitted to disturb the symmetry or the repose of the whole. Unquestionably, the scale of life in the Greek republics, and the dialect of the aristocracy at Rome, often imparted to the mutual criticisms of their orators a parochial character which is comparatively rare in the public discussions of the present day. Apart from this accident, however, modern analogies are, unfortunately, not wanting1. The speech against Ktesiphon and the speech against Piso certainly contain exceedingly strong phrases. Catullus, who used the ordinary language of society in his day2, is less euphemistic than Byron. But scurrility is not the measure of vituperation. Ancient invective concentrated the former. Modern invective prefers to diffuse, without diluting, the latter.

1 Specimens of the language addressed by Coke, then Attorney-General, to Raleigh, whose prosecution he was conducting, will be found in a note to Mr Forsyth's Hortensius, p. 45. The phrases are surpassed by nothing in Aeschines. Chatham's most effective retorts were personalities which might have satisfied Cicero. One or two of them will be found in the Quarterly Review, No. 132, p. 470. Those who desire further illustrations may read, or recall, the debates in the House of Commons of May 15 and June 8, 1846.

2 See H. A. J. Munro on Catullus' 29th Poem in the Journal of Philology, II. 1—34 (1869).

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