previous next

THE speech of Gaius Gracchus Against Publius Popilius 1 was read before Titus Castricius, a teacher of the art of rhetoric and a man of sound and solid judgment. At the beginning of that speech the sentences were constructed with more care and regard for rhythm than was customary with the early orators. The words, arranged as I have said, are as follows: “If you now reject rashly the things which all these years you have earnestly sought and longed for, it must be said either that you formerly sought them earnestly, or now have rejected them without consideration.”

Well then, the flow and rhythm of this well-rounded and smooth-flowing sentence pleased us to a remarkable and unparalleled degree, and still more the evidence that composition of that kind appealed even in those early days to Gaius Gracchus, a man of distinction and dignity. But when those very same words were read again and again at our request, we [p. 329] were admonished by Castricius to consider what the force and value of the thought was, and not to allow our ears to be charmed by the rhythm of a well-turned sentence and through mere pleasure to confuse our judgment as well.

And when by this admonition he had made us more alert, “Look deeply,” said he, “into the meaning of these words, and tell me pray, some of you, whether there is any weight or elegance in this sentence: 'If you rashly reject the things which all these years you have earnestly sought and longed for, it must be said either that you formerly sought them earnestly or now reject them without consideration.' For to whom of all men does it not occur, that it is certainly natural that you should be said earnestly to have sought what you earnestly sought, and to have rejected without consideration what you rejected without consideration? But I think,” said he, “if it had been written thus: ' If you now reject what you have sought and longed for these many years, it must be said that you formerly sought it earnestly or that you now reject it without consideration'; if,” said he, “it were spoken thus, the sentence would be weightier and more solid and would arouse some reasonable expectation in the hearer; but as it is, these words 'earnestly' and 'without consideration,' on which the whole effect of the sentence rests, are not only spoken at the end of the sentence, but are also put earlier where they are not needed, so that what ought to arise and spring from the very conception of the subject is spoken wholly before the subject demands it. For one who says: ' If you do this, you will be said to have done it earnestly,' says something that is composed and [p. 331] arranged with some regard to sense; but one who says: 'If you do it earnestly, you will be said to have done it earnestly,' speaks in much the same way as if he should say: 'If you do it earnestly, you will do it earnestly.' I have warned you of this,” said he, “not with the idea of censuring Gaius Gracchus—may the gods give me a wiser mind! for if any fault or error can be mentioned in a man of such powerful eloquence, it is wholly excused by his authority and overlooked in view of his antiquity—but in order that you might be on your guard lest the rhythmic sound of any flowing eloquence should easily dazzle you, and that you might first balance the actual weight of the substance against the high quality of the diction; so that if any sentence was uttered that was weighty, honest and sound, then, if you thought best, you might praise also the mere flow of the language and the delivery; that if, on the contrary, thoughts that were cold, trifling and futile should be conveyed in words neatly and rhythmically arranged, they might have the same effect upon you as when men conspicuous for their deformity and their ludicrous appearance imitate actors and play the buffoon.”

1 0. R. F., p. 238, Meyer.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: