THE talk of empty-headed, vain and tiresome babblers, who with no foundation of solid matter let out a stream of tipsy, tottering words, has justly been thought to come from the lips and not from the heart. Moreover, men say that the tongue ought not to be unrestrained and rambling, but guided and, so to speak, steered by cords connected with the heart and inmost breast. Yet you may see some men spouting forth words with no exercise of judgment, but with such great and profound assurance that many of them in the very act of speaking are evidently unaware that they are talking. Ulysses, on the contrary, a man gifted with sagacious eloquence, spoke, not from his lips but from his heart, as Hommer says—a remark which applies less to the sound and quality of his utterance than to the depth of the thoughts inwardly conceived; and the poet went on to say, with great aptness, that the teeth form a rampart to check wanton words, in order that reckless speech may not only be restrained by that watchful sentry the heart, but also hedged in by a kind of outpost, so to speak, stationed at the lips. [p. 75] The words of Homer which I mentioned above are these: 1
When from his breast his mighty voice went forthand: 2
What a word has passed the barrier of your teeth.I have added also a passage from Marcus Tullius, in which he expresses his strong and just hatred of silly and unmeaning volubility. He says: 3 “Provided this fact be recognized, that neither should one commend the dumbness of a man who knows a subject, but is unable to give it expression in speech, nor the ignorance of one who lacks knowledge of his subject, but abounds in words; yet if one must choose one or the other alternative, I for my part would prefer tongue-tied knowledge to ignorant loquacity.” Also in the first book of the De Oratore 4 he wrote as follows: “For what is so insane as the empty sound of words, however well-chosen and elegant, if there be no foundation of sense or sagacity?” But Marcus Cato in particular is a relentless assailant of this fault. For in the speech entitled If Caelius, tribune of the commons, should have summoned him, 5 he says: “That man is never silent who is afflicted with the disease of talking, as one in a lethargy is afflicted with that of drinking and sleeping. For if you should not come together when he calls an assembly, so eager is he to talk that he would hire someone to listen. And so you hear him, but you do not listen, just as if he were a quack. For a quack's words are heard, but no one trusts himself [p. 77] to him when he is sick.” Again Cato, in the same speech, 6 upbraiding the same Marcus Caelius, tribune of the commons, for the cheapness at which not only his speech but also his silence could be bought, says: “For a crust of bread he can be hired either to keep silence or to speak.” Most deservedly too does Homer call Thersites alone of all the Greeks ἀμετροεπής, “of measureless speech,” and ἀκριτόμυθος, 7 “a reckless babbler,” declaring that his words are many and ἄκοσμα, or “disordered,” like the endless chatter of daws; 8 for what else does ἐκολώα (“he chattered” ) mean? There is also a line of Eupolis most pointedly aimed at men of that kind: 9
In chatter excellent, unable quite to speak,and our countryman Sallust, wishing to imitate this, writes: 10 “Talkative rather than eloquent.” It is for the same reason that Hesiod, wisest of poets, says 11 that the tongue should not be vulgarly exposed but hidden like a treasure, and that it is exhibited with best effect when it is modest, restrained and musical. His own words are:
The greatest of man's treasures is the tongue,The following verse of Epicharmus is also to the point: 12
Which wins most favour when it spares its words
And measured is of movement.
Thou art not skilled in speech, yet silence cannot keep,and it is from this line surely that the saying arose: “Who, though he could not speak, could not be silent.” [p. 79] I once heard Favorinus say that the familiar lines of Euripides: 13
Of unrestrained mouthought not to be understood as directed only at those who spoke impiously or lawlessly, but might even with special propriety be used also of men who prate foolishly and immoderately, whose tongues are so extravagant and unbridled that they ceaselessly flow and seethe with the foulest dregs of language, the sort of persons to whom the Greeks apply the highly significant term κατάγλωσσοι, or “given to talk.” I learned from a friend of his, a man of learning, that the famous grammarian Valerius Probus, shortly before his death, began to read Sallust's well-known saying, 14 “a certain amount of eloquence but little discretion,” as “abundant talkativeness, too little discretion,” and that he insisted that Sallust left it in that form, since the word loquentia was very characteristic of Sallust, an innovator in diction, 15 while eloquentia was not at all consistent with lack of discretion. Finally, loquacity of this kind and a disorderly mass of empty grandiloquence is scored with striking epithets by Aristophanes, wittiest of poets, in the following lines: 16
And of lawless folly
Is disaster the end,
A stubborn-creating, stubborn-pulling fellow,[p. 81] And no less pointedly did our forefathers also call men of that kind, who were drowned in words, "babblers, gabbllers and chatterboxes.
Uncurbed, unfettered, uncontrolled of speech,