Superiority of Greek to Roman oratory.
The superiority of Greek oratory to Roman, in the deliberative and forensic branches alike, has been recognised by the best critics as well as by the most
competent practical judges. Brougham, who speaks with the authority of both characters, brings this out with great force and clearness. He says:— ‘In all his (Cicero's) orations that were spoken (for, singular as it may seem, the remark applies less to those which were only written, as all the Verrine, except the first, all the Philippics, except the first and ninth, and the Pro Milone), hardly two pages can be found which a modern assembly would bear. Some admirable arguments on evidence, and the credit of witnesses, might be urged to a jury; several passages, given by him on the merits of the case, and in defence against the charge, might be spoken in mitigation of punishment after a conviction or confession of guilt; but, whether we regard the political or forensic orations, the style, both in respect
Cicero's orations utterly unfit for the modern Senate or Bar: whereas almost all the Greek orations could be adapted.
of the reasoning and the ornaments, is wholly unfit for the more severe and less trifling nature of modern affairs in the senate or at the bar. Now, it is altogether otherwise with the Greek masters; changing a few phrases, which the difference of religion and of manners might render objectionable,—moderating, in some degree, the virulence of invective, especially against private character, to suit the chivalrous courtesy of modern hostility,—there is hardly one of the political or forensic orations of the Greeks that might not be delivered in similar circumstances before our senate or tribunals1
The main reason of this decided advantage on the
Reasons of this superiority: Greek oratory is always to the point:
part of Greek practical oratory—and the epideictic oratory has a corresponding excellence relatively to that of the French Pulpit—is the business-like character already noticed. If everything is not logical, everything is at least relevant. Cicero, with all his ingenuity, brilliancy and wit, is so apt to wander into mere display, and this display is so openly artificial, that, as Brougham says, ‘nothing can be less adapted to the genius of modern elocution’. The style of modern debate comes far nearer to the Greek than to the Latin. But there are two other causes which should be remarked, one especially influential in Deliberative, the other in Forensic, oratory. The first is that, in the days of
the political inspirations of Greek oratory are nobler:
the great Roman eloquence, Rome had no political rival. Her discipline and her manners contributed with her civic security to exempt her citizens from sudden or violent emotion. What Claudian2
afterwards happily called the vitae Romana quies
already prevailed. If the paradox of Quintilian (X. 1 § 106
) be true, that Demosthenes has plus curae,
Cicero plus naturae,
it is true in this sense alone, that Cicero is an inferior artist, and indulges more freely the taste of the natural man for ornament. But that Roman oratory should be on the whole more artificial than the Greek, and more limited in its range of subjects, was inevitable. Athens, the antagonist of Sparta or
Thebes, Athens vigilant against Persia or threatened by Macedon, was a city in which the inspirations of eloquence were not only personal but national.
and the forensic motive is more genuine.
Secondly: the Roman patronus,
who pleaded his client's cause gratuitously, rewarded by the fact that all the higher paths of ambition opened directly from the forum, had, doubtless, an incentive to eloquent declamation which his Attic brother, the professional logographos, did not possess. But he had not anything like the same inducement to handle his case scientifically. He was a political aspirant, not a man settled to a calling; and, from a forensic point of view, the element of unreality in his position had a strong tendency to vitiate his performance by making it, before all things, a display.