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I will frankly admit to you that I can hardly keep from laughing at some of the ancients, and from falling asleep at others. I do not single out any of the common herd, as Canutius, or Arrius, and others in the same sick-room, so to say, who are content with mere skin and bones. Even Calvus, although he has left, I think, one-and-twenty volumes, scarcely satisfies me in one or two short speeches. The rest of the world, I see, does not differ from my opinion about him; for how few read his speeches against Asitius or Drusus! Certainly his impeachment of Vatinius, as it is entitled, is in the hands of students, especially the second of the orations. This, indeed, has a finish about the phrases and the periods, and suits the ear of the critic, whence you may infer that even Calvus understood what a better style is, but that he lacked genius and power rather than the will to speak with more dignity and grace. What again from the speeches of Caelius do we admire? Why, we like of these the whole, or at least parts, in which we recognise the polish and elevation of our own day; but, as for those mean expressions, those gaps in the structure of the sentences, and uncouth sentiments, they savour of antiquity. No one, I suppose, is so thoroughly antique as to praise Caelius simply on the side of his antiqueness. We may, indeed, make allowance for Caius Julius Cæsar, on account of his vast schemes and many occupations, for having achieved less in eloquence than his divine genius demanded from him, and leave him indeed, just as we leave Brutus to his philosophy. Undoubtedly in his speeches he fell short of his reputation, even by the admission of his admirers. I hardly suppose that any one reads Cæsar's speech for Decius the Samnite, or that of Brutus for King Deiotarus, or other works equally dull and cold, unless it is some one who also admires their poems. For they did write poems, and sent them to libraries, with no better success than Cicero, but with better luck, because fewer people know that they wrote them.

Asinius too, though born in a time nearer our own, seems to have studied with the Menenii and Appii. At any rate he imitated Pacuvius and Accius, not only in his tragedies but also in his speeches; he is so harsh and dry. Style, like the human body, is then specially beautiful when, so to say, the veins are not prominent, and the bones cannot be counted, but when a healthy and sound blood fills the limbs, and shows itself in the muscles, and the very sinews become beautiful under a ruddy glow and graceful outline. I will not attack Corvinus, for it was not indeed his own fault that he did not exhibit the luxuriance and brightness of our own day. Rather let us note how far the vigour of his intellect or of his imagination satisfied his critical faculty.

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  • Commentary references to this page (2):
    • E. T. Merrill, Commentary on Catullus, 53
    • E. T. Merrill, Commentary on Catullus, 57
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