Cicero, De Oratore

-   Book 2 , 231-297

Translated by J.S.Watson (1860), with some minor alterations. Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each section. Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.

Previous sections (146-230)

{57.} [231] L   Sulpicius soon after said, "Shall we, then, suffer Caesar, who, though he allows wit to Crassus, is yet himself far more intent on acquiring a character for it, to exempt himself from explaining to us the whole subject of humour, what is the nature of it, and from where it is derived; especially as he owns that there is so much efficacy and advantage in wit and jesting?"   "What if I agree with Antonius," replied Caesar, "in thinking that art has no concern with wit?" [232] As Sulpicius made no remark, "As if," said Crassus, "art could at all assist in acquiring those talents of which Antonius has been so long speaking. There is a certain observation to be paid, as he remarked, to those particulars which are most effective in oratory; but if such observation could make men eloquent, who would not be so? For who could not learn these particulars, if not with ease, at least in some way? But I think that of such precepts, the use and advantage is, not that we may be directed by art to find out what we are to say, but that we may either feel certain as to what we attain by natural parts, by study, or by exercise, that it is right, or understand that it is wrong, having been instructed to what rule the several particulars are to be referred. [233] I, therefore, also join in the petition to you, Caesar, that you would, if it is agreeable to you, tell us what you think on humour in general, lest, by accident, any part of eloquence, since that is your object, should appear to have been passed over in so learned an assembly, and such a studied conversation."   "Well, then, Crassus," replied Caesar, "since you require payment from a guest, I will, by refusing it, furnish you with a pretext for refusing to entertain us again; though I am often astonished at the impudence of those who act upon the stage while Roscius is a spectator of their attitudes; for who can make the least motion without Roscius seeing his imperfections? So I shall now have to speak first on wit in the hearing of Crassus, and to teach like a swine, ** as they say, that orator of whom Catulus said, when he heard him lately, that other speakers ought to be fed upon hay." ** [234] "Ah!" said Crassus, "Catulus was joking, especially as he speaks himself in such a manner that he seems to deserve to be fed on ambrosia. But let us hear you, Caesar, that we may afterwards return to the remainder of the discourse of Antonius."   "There is little remaining for me to say," replied Antonius; "but as I am wearied with the labour and the length of what I have said, I shall relax during the discourse of Caesar as in some opportune place of entertainment." {58.} "But," said Caesar, "you will not pronounce my entertainment very liberal; for as soon as you have tasted a little I shall thrust you out, and turn you into the road again. [235] However, not to detain you any longer, I will deliver my sentiments very briefly on this department of eloquence in general.

"Concerning laughter, there are five things which are subjects of consideration: one, 'What it is;' another, 'Whence it originates;' a third, 'Whether it becomes the orator to wish to excite laughter;' a fourth, 'To what degree;' a fifth, 'What are the several kinds of the ridiculous?' As to the first, 'What laughter itself is,' by what means it is excited, where it lies, how it arises, and bursts forth so suddenly that we are unable, though we desire, to restrain it, and how it affects at once the sides, the face, the veins, the countenance, the eyes, let Democritus consider; for all this has nothing to do with my remarks, and if it had to do with them, I should not be ashamed to say that I am ignorant of that which not even they understand who profess to explain it. [236] But the seat and as it were province of what is laughed at, (for that is the next point of inquiry,) lies in a certain offensiveness and deformity; for those sayings are laughed at solely or chiefly which point out and designate something offensive in an inoffensive manner. But, to come to the third point, it certainly becomes the orator to excite laughter; either because mirth itself attracts favour to him by whom it is raised; or because all admire wit, which is often comprised in a single word, especially in him who replies, and sometimes in him who attacks; or because it overthrows the adversary, or hampers him, or makes light of him, or discourages, or refutes him; or because it proves the orator himself to be a man of taste, or learning, or polish; but chiefly because it mitigates and relaxes gravity and severity, and often, by a joke or a laugh, breaks the force of offensive remarks, which cannot easily be overthrown by arguments. [237] But to what degree the laughable should be carried by the orator requires very diligent consideration; a point which we placed as the fourth subject of inquiry; for neither great vice, such as is united with crime, nor great misery, is a subject for ridicule and laughter; since people will have those guilty of enormous crimes attacked with more forcible weapons than ridicule; and do not like the miserable to be derided, unless perhaps when they are insolent; and you must be considerate, too, of the feelings of mankind, lest you rashly speak against those who are personally beloved.

{59.} [238] L   "Such is the caution that must be principally observed in joking. Those subjects accordingly are most readily jested upon which are neither provocative of violent aversion, nor of extreme compassion. All matter for ridicule is therefore found to lie in such defects as are to be observed in the characters of men not in universal esteem, nor in calamitous circumstances, and who do not appear deserving to be dragged to punishment for their crimes; such topics nicely managed create laughter. [239] In deformity, also, and bodily defects, is found fair enough matter for ridicule; but we have to ask the same question here as is asked on other points, 'How far the ridicule may be carried?' In this respect it is not only directed that the orator should say nothing impertinently, but also that, even if he can say anything very ridiculously, he should avoid both errors, lest his jokes become either buffoonery or mimicry; qualities of which we shall better understand the nature when we come to consider the different types of the ridiculous.

"There are two sorts of jokes, one of which is excited by things, the other by words. [240] By things, whenever any matter is told in the way of a story; as you, Crassus, formerly stated in a speech against Memmius, ** that he had eaten a piece of Largius's arm, because he had had a quarrel with him at Tarracina about a courtesan; it was a witty story, but wholly of your own invention. You added this particular, that throughout Tarracina these letters were inscribed on every wall, M M, LLL; and that when you inquired what they meant, an old man of the town replied, Mordacious Memmius Lacerates Largius's Limb. ** [241] You perceive clearly how facetious this mode of joking may be, how elegant, how suitable? to an orator; whether you have any true story to tell, (which, however must be interspersed with fictitious circumstances,) or whether you merely invent. The excellence of such jesting is, that you can describe things as occurring in such a way, that the manners, the language, and every look of the person of whom you speak, may be represented, so that the occurrence may seem to the audience to pass and take place at the very time when you address them. [242] Another kind of jest taken from things, is that which is derived from a depraved sort of imitation, or mimicry; as when Crassus also exclaimed, 'By your nobility, by your family,' what else was there at which the assembly could laugh but that mimicry of look and tone? But when he said, by your statues, and added something of gesture by extending his arm, we all laughed immoderately. ** Of this species is Roscius's imitation of an old man; when he says,

          For you, my Antipho, I plant these trees, **

it is old age itself that seems to speak while I listen to him. But all this department of ridicule is of such a nature that it must be attempted with the greatest caution. For if the imitation is too extravagant, it becomes, like indecency, the part of players in pantomime and farce; the orator should be moderate in imitation, that the audience may conceive more than they can see represented by him; he ought also to give proof of ingenuousness and modesty, by avoiding everything offensive or unbecoming in word or act.

{60.} [243] L   "These, therefore, are the two kinds of the ridiculous which is drawn from things; and they suit well with continuous pieces of humour, in which the manners of mankind are so described and expressed, that, either by means of some narrative, their character is exactly understood, or, by throwing in a little mimicry, they may be convicted of some impropriety remarkable enough for ridicule. [244] But in words, the ridiculous is that which is excited by the point of a particular expression or thought: but as, in the former kind, both in narration and imitation, all resemblance to the players of pantomime should be avoided, so, in this, all scurrilous buffoonery is to be studiously shunned by the orator. How, then, shall we distinguish from Crassus, from Catulus, and from others, your acquaintance Granius, or my friend Vargula? No proper distinction really occurs to me; for they are both witty; no man has more of verbal witticism than Granius. However the first point to be observed is, I think, that we should not fancy ourselves obliged to utter a jest whenever one may be uttered. A very little witness was produced. [245] 'May I question him?' says Philippus. The judge who presided, ** being in a hurry, replied, 'Yes, if he is short.'   'You shall have no fault to find,' said Philippus, 'for I shall question him very short.' This was ridiculous enough; but Lucius Amifex was sitting as judge in the case, who was shorter than the witness himself; so that all the laughter was turned upon the judge, and hence the joke appeared scurrilous. Those good things, therefore, which hit those whom you do not mean to hit, however witty they are, are yet in their nature scurrilous; [246] as when Appius, who liked to be thought witty, and indeed is so, but sometimes slides into this fault of scurrility, said to Gaius Sextius, an acquaintance of mine, who is blind of an eye, I will sup with you tonight, for I see that there is a vacancy for one. This was a scurrilous joke, both because he attacked Sextius without provocation, and said what was equally applicable to all one-eyed persons. Such jokes, as they are thought premeditated, excite less laughter; but the reply of Sextius was excellent and extempore: 'Wash your hands' ** said he, 'and come to supper.' [247] A regard, therefore, to proper times, moderation and forbearance in jesting, and a limitation in the number of jokes, will distinguish the orator from the buffoon; and the circumstance, besides, that we joke with an object, not that we may appear to be jesters, but that we may gain some advantage, while they joke all day without any purpose whatever. For what did Vargula gain by saying, when Aulus Sempronius, then a candidate for office, and his brother Marcus, saluted him, 'Boy, drive away the flies?' His aim was to raise a laugh, which is, in my opinion, a very poor effect of wit. The proper season, then, for jesting, we must determine by our own prudence and judgment; in the exercise of which I wish that we had some body of rules to direct us; but nature is the sovereign guide.

{61.} [248] L   "Let us now consider briefly the sorts of jests that chiefly excite laughter. Let this, then, be our first division, that whatever is expressed wittily, consists sometimes in a thought, sometimes in the mere language, but that men are most delighted with a joke when the laugh is raised by the thought and the language in conjunction. But remember this, that whatever topics I shall touch upon, from which ridicule may be drawn, from almost the same topics serious thoughts may be derived: there is only this difference, that seriousness is used on dignified subjects with gravity, joking on such as are in some degree unbecoming, and as it were grotesque; for instance, we may with the very same words commend a thrifty servant, and jest upon one that is extravagant. That old saying of Nero ** about a thieving servant is humorous enough, that he was the only one from whom nothing in the house was sealed or locked up; a thing which is not only said of a good servant, but in the very same words. [249] From the same sources spring all kinds of sayings. What his mother said to Spurius Carvilius, who limped grievously from a wound received in the public service, and was on that account ashamed to go out of doors, 'Go, my Spurius,' that as often as you take a step you may be reminded of your merits, was a noble and serious thought; but what Glaucia said to Calvinus, when he limped, 'Where is the old proverb - does he claudicate? no; but he clodicates,' ** is ridiculous; and yet both are derived from what may be observed with regard to lameness. 'What is more ignave than this Naevius?' ** said Scipio with severity; but Philippus, with some humour, to one who had a strong smell, 'I perceive that I am circumvented by you;' ** yet it is the resemblance of words, with the change only of a letter, that constitutes both jokes.

"[250] "Those smart sayings which spring from some ambiguity are thought extremely ingenious; but they are not always employed to express jests, but often even grave thoughts. What Publius Licinus Varus said to Africanus the elder, when he was endeavouring to fit a chaplet to his head at an entertainment, and it broke several times, 'Do not wonder if it does not fit you, for you have a great head,' was a fine and noble thought; but 'He is bald enough, for he says but little,' ** is of the same sort. Not to be tedious, there is no subject for jest from which serious and grave reflections may not be drawn. [251] It is also to be observed that everything which is ridiculous is not witty; for what can be so ridiculous as a buffoon? ** But it is by his face, his appearance, his look, his mimicry, his voice, and, in fine, by his whole figure, that he excites laughter. I might, indeed, call him witty, but not in such a way that I would have an orator, but an actor in pantomime, to be witty.

{62.} "This kind of jesting, above all, then, though it powerfully excites laughter, is not suited to us; it represents the morose, the superstitious, the suspicious, the vainglorious, the foolish; habits of mind which are in themselves ridiculous; and such kind of characters we are to expose, not to assume. [252] There is another kind of jesting which is extremely ludicrous, namely mimicry; but it is allowable only in us to attempt it cautiously, if ever we do attempt it, and but for a moment, otherwise it is far from becoming to a man of education. A third is distortion of features, utterly unworthy of us. A fourth is indecency in language, a disgrace not only to the forum, but to any company of well-bred people. So many things, then, being deducted from this part of oratory, the kinds of jesting which remain are (as I distinguished them before) such as consist in thought or in expression. That which, in whatever terms you express it, is still wit, consists in the thought; that which by a change of words loses its spirit, has no wit but what depends on expression.

[253] "Plays on ambiguous words are extremely ingenious, but depend wholly on the expression, not on the matter. They seldom, however, excite much laughter, but are rather commended as jests of elegance and scholarship; as that about Titius, whom, being a great ball-player, and at the same time suspected of having broken the sacred images by night, Terentius Vespa excused, when his companions inquired for him, as he did not come to the Campus Martius, by saying that he had broken an arm. Or as that of Africanus, which is in Lucilius,

           Quid? Decius, nuculam an confixum vis facere? inquit. **

"Or, as your friend Granius, Crassus, said of somebody, that he was not worth the sixth part of an as. ** [254] And if you were to ask me, I should say that he who is called a jester, excels chiefly in jokes of this kind; but that other jests excite laughter in a greater degree. The ambiguous gains great admiration, as I observed before, from its nature, for it appears the part of a wit to be able to turn the force of a word to quite another sense than that in which other people take it; but it excites surprise rather than laughter, unless when it happens to be joined with some other sorts of jesting.

{63.} [255] L   "Some of these sorts of jesting I will now run over: but you are aware that the most common kind of joke is when we expect one thing and another is said; in which case our own disappointed expectation makes us laugh. But if something of the ambiguous is thrown in with it, the wit is heightened; as in Naevius, a man seems to be moved with compassion who, seeing another, that was sentenced for debt, being led away, inquires, 'For how much is he adjudged?' He is answered, 'A thousand sestertii.' If he had then added only, 'You may take him away,' it would have been a type of joke that takes you by surprise; but as he said, 'I add no more; you may take him away,' (thus introducing the ambiguous, another kind of jest,) the repartee, as it seems to me, is rendered witty in the highest degree. Such equivocation is most happy, when, in any dispute, a word is caught from your adversary, and thence something severe is turned upon the very person who gave the provocation, as by Catulus upon Philippus. ** [256] But as there are several sorts of ambiguity, with regard to which accurate study is necessary, we should be attentive and on the watch for words; and thus, though we may avoid frigid witticisms, (for we must be cautious that a jest be not thought far-fetched,) we shall hit upon many acute sayings. Another kind is that which consists in a slight change in a word, which, when produced by the alteration of a letter, the Greeks call paronomasia, as Cato called Nobilior ** Mobilior; or as, when he had said to a certain person, 'Eamus deambulatum,' and the other asked, 'Quid opus fuit DE?' Cato replied, 'Imo vero, quid opus fuit TE?' ** Or that repartee of the same Cato, 'If you are both adverse and averse in your shameless practices.' [257] The interpretation of a name also has wit in it, when you assign a ridiculous reason why a person is so called; as I lately said of Nummius, who distributed money ** at elections, that he had found a name in the Campus Martius as Neoptolemus found one at Troy.

{64.} "All such jokes lie in a single word. Often too a verse is humorously introduced, either just as it is, or with some little alteration; or some part of a verse, as Statius said to Scaurus when in a violent passion: (whence some say, Crassus, that your law ** on citizenship had its rise:)
          Hush! Silence! what is all this noise? Have you,
          Who neither have a father nor a mother,
          Such confidence? Away with all that pride.

"In the case of Caelius, that joke of yours, Antonius, was assuredly of advantage to your case; when, appearing as a witness, he had admitted that a great deal of money had gone from him, and as he had a son who was a man of pleasure, you, as he was going away, said,

          See you the old man, touched for thirty minae?

[258] "To the same purpose proverbs may be applied; as in the joke of Scipio, when Asellus was boasting that while he had served in the army, he had marched through all the provinces, 'Drive an ass, etc.' ** Such jokes, as they cannot, if any change is made in the words of them, retain the same grace, are necessarily considered as depending, not on the matter, but on the mere expression.

[259] "There is also a kind of joke, not at all absurd, which lies in expression, when you seem to understand a thing literally, and not in its obvious meaning; in which kind it was that Tutor, ** the old mimic, an exceedingly laughable actor, exclusively distinguished himself. But I have nothing to do with actors; I only wished this kind of jesting to be illustrated by some notable example. Of this kind was your answer lately, Crassus, to one who asked you whether he should be troublesome if he came to you some time before it was light: and you said, 'You will not be troublesome;' when he responded, 'You will order yourself to be woken then?' to which you replied, 'Surely I said that you would not be troublesome.' [260] Of the same sort was that old joke which they say that Marcus Scipio Maluginensis made, when he had to report from his century that Acidinus was voted consul, and the officer cried out, 'Declare as to Lucius Manlius,' he said, 'I declare him to be a worthy man, and an excellent member of the commonwealth.' The answer of Lucius [Porcius] ** Nasica to Cato the censor was humorous enough, when Cato said to him, 'Are you truly satisfied that you have taken a wife?'   'No, indeed, replied Nasica, I am not truly satisfied.' ** Such jests are insipid, or witty only when another answer is expected; for our surprise (as I observed before **) naturally amuses us; and thus, when we are deceived, as it were, in our expectation, we laugh.

{65.} [261] L   "Those jests also lie in words, which spring from some allegorical phraseology, or from a metaphorical use of some one word, or from using words ironically. From allegorical phraseology: as when Rusca, in old times, proposed the law to fix the ages of candidates for offices, and Marcus Servilius, who opposed the law, said to him: 'Tell me, Marcus Pinarius Rusca, if I speak against you, will you speak ill of me as you have spoken of others?'   'As you shall sow,' replied he, 'so you shall reap.' [262] From the use of a single word in a metaphorical sense: as when the elder Scipio said to the Corinthians, who offered to put up a statue of him in the place where those of other commanders were, that he did not like such comrades. From the ironical use of words: as when Crassus spoke for Aculeo before Marcus Perperna as judge, and Lucius Aelius Lamia appeared for Gratidianus against Aculeo, and Lamia, who was deformed, as you know, offered impertinent interruptions, Crassus said, 'Let us hear this beautiful youth.' When a laugh followed, 'I could not form my own shape,' said Lamia, 'but I could form my understanding.'   'Then,' said Crassus, 'let us hear this able orator;' when a greater laugh than before ensued. Such jests are agreeable as well in grave as in humorous speeches. For I observed, a little while ago, ** that the subjects for jest and for gravity are distinct; but that the same form of expression will serve for grave remarks, as for jokes. [263] Words antithetically used ** are a great ornament to language; and the same mode of using them is often also humorous; thus, when the well-known Servius Galba carried to Lucius Scribonius the tribune a list of his own intimates to be appointed as judges, and Libo said, 'What, Galba, will you never go out of your own dining-room?'   'Yes,' replied Galba, 'when you go out of other men's bedchambers.' To this kind of joke the saying of Glaucia to Metellus is not very dissimilar: 'You have your villa at Tibur, but your court on Mount Palatine.' **

{66.} [264] L   "Such kinds of jokes as lie in words I think that I have now sufficiently discussed; but such as relate to things are more numerous, and excite more laughter, as I observed before. ** Among them is narrative, a matter of exceeding difficulty; for such things are to be described and set before the eyes, as may seem to be probable, which is the excellence of narration, and such also as are grotesque, which is the peculiar province of the ridiculous; for an example, as the shortest that I recollect, let that serve which I mentioned before, the story of Crassus about Memmius. ** To this head we may assign the narratives given in fables. [265] Allusions are also drawn from history; as when Sextus Titius ** said he was a Cassandra, 'I can name,' said Antonius, 'many of your Ajaxes.' ** Such jests are also derived from similitudes, which include either comparison or something of bodily representation. A comparison, as when Gallus, that was once a witness against Piso, said that a countless sum of money had been given to Magius ** the governor, and Scaurus tried to rebut him, by alleging the poverty of Magius, 'You mistake me, Scaurus,' said he, 'for I do not say that Magius has saved it, but that, like a man gathering nuts without his clothes, he has put it into his belly.' Or, as when Marcus Cicero ** the elder, the father of that excellent man our friend, said, that the men of our times were like the Syrian slaves; the more Greek they knew, the greater knaves they were. [266] Representations also create much laughter, and these commonly bear upon some deformity, or bodily defect, with a comparison to something still more deformed: as my own saying on Helvius Mancia, 'I will now show,' said I, 'what sort of man you are;' when he exclaimed, 'Show us, I pray you;' and I pointed with my finger to a Gaul represented upon the Cimbrian shield of Marius under the new shops ** in the forum, with his body distorted, his tongue lolling out, and his cheeks flabby. A general laugh ensued; for nothing was ever seen to resemble Mancia so much. Or as I said to the witness Titus Pinarius, who twisted his chin about while he was speaking, that he might speak, if he pleased, if he had finished cracking his nut. [267] There are jokes, too, from things being extenuated or exaggerated hyperbolically, and to astonish; as you, Crassus, said in a speech to the people, that Memmius fancied himself so great a man, that as he came into the forum he stooped his head at the arch of Fabius. Of which kind is the saying also, that Scipio is reported to have uttered at Numantia when he was angry with Metellus, that if his mother were to produce a fifth son, she would bring forth an ass. ** [268] There is also frequently acuteness shown, when something obscure and not commonly known is illustrated by a slight circumstance, and often by a single word; as when Publius Cornelius, a man, as was suspected, of a covetous and rapacious disposition, but of great courage and an able commander, thanked Gaius Fabricius for having, though he was his enemy, made him consul, especially during a difficult and important war, 'You have no reason to thank me,' replied Fabricius, 'if I had rather be pillaged than sold for a slave.' Or, as Africanus said to Asellus, who objected to him that an unfortunate lustration occurred in his censorship, 'Do not wonder; for he who restored you to the rights of a citizen, completed the lustration and sacrificed the bull.' There was a tacit suspicion, that Mummius seemed to have laid the state under the necessity of expiation by removing the mark of ignominy from Asellus.

{67.} [269] L   "Ironical dissimulation has also an agreeable effect, when you say something different from what you think; not after the manner to which I alluded before, when you say the exact reverse of what you mean, as Crassus said to Lamia, but when through the whole course of a speech you are seriously witty, your thoughts being different from your words; as our friend Scaevola said to Septumuleius of Anagnia, ( to whom its weight in gold was paid for the head of Gaius Gracchus, ) when he petitioned that he would take him as his praefectus into Asia, 'What would you have, foolish man? there is such a multitude of bad citizens that, I warrant you, if you stay at Rome, you will in a few years make a vast fortune.' [270] Fannius, in his Annals, says that Africanus the younger, who was named Aemilianus, was remarkable for this kind of jests; and calls him by a Greek term eiron, an ironical jester; but, according to what those say who know these matters better than myself, I conceive that Socrates, for irony and dissimulation, far excelled all other men in the wit and genius which he displayed. It is an elegant kind of humour, satirical with a mixture of gravity, and adapted to oratory as well as to polite conversation. [271] Indeed all the kinds of humour of which I have spoken, are seasonings not more appropriate to law-pleadings in the forum, than to any other kind of discourse. For that which is mentioned by Cato, (who has reported many aphorisms, several of which have been produced by me as examples,) seems to me a very happy saying, that Gaius Publicius used to observe that Publius Mummius was a man for all occasions; so it certainly is with regard to our present subject, that there is no time of life in which wit and urbane humour may not very properly be exercised.

"[272] "But I will pursue the remainder of my subject. It is a kind of joking similar to a sort of dissimulation, when anything disgraceful is designated by an honourable term; as when Africanus the censor removed from his tribe that centurion who absented himself from the battle in which Paulus commanded; the centurion alleged that he had remained in the camp to guard it, and inquired why he had such a mark of ignominy set upon him, to which Africanus replied, 'I do not like over-vigilant people.' [273] It is an excellent joke, too, when you take any part of another person's words in a different sense from that which he intended; as Fabius Maximus did with Livius Salinator, ** when, on Tarentum being lost, Livius had still preserved the citadel, and had made many successful sallies from it, and Fabius, some years afterwards, having retaken the town, Livius begged him to remember that it was owing to him that Tarentum was retaken. 'How can I do otherwise than remember,' said Fabius, 'for I should never have retaken it if you had not lost it.' [274] Such jokes as the following, too, are, though rather absurd, often en that very account extremely amusing, and very apposite, not only to characters in plays, but also to us orators:

                    The foolish man!
          As soon as he had come to wealth, he died.

                    That woman, what is she to you?
          My wife. Like you, by Hercules! **

                    As long as he was living at the waters
          He never ** died.

{68.} "This kind of joke is rather trifling, and, as I said, fit for actors in farces; but sometimes it finds a proper place with us, as even one who is not a fool may express himself like a fool in a humorous way, as Mancia congratulated you, Antonius, when he heard that you were accused by Marcus Duronius of bribery in your censorship: At length, said he, you will have an opportunity of attending to your own business. [275] Such jests excite great laughter, and in truth all sayings that are uttered by men of sense with a degree of absurdity and sarcasm, under the pretence of not understanding what is said to them. A joke of this kind is not to seem to comprehend what you comprehend very well; as when Pontidius, being asked, 'What do you think of him who is taken in adultery?' replied, 'That he is slow.' Or such as was my reply to Metellus, when, at a time of levying troops, he would not excuse me from serving for the weakness of my eyes, and said to me, 'What! can you see nothing?' [276] 'Yes truly,' answered I, 'I can see your villa from the Esquiline Gate. ' ** Or as the repartee of Nasica, who, having called at the house of the poet Ennius, and the maid-servant having told him, on his inquiring at the door, that Ennius was not at home, saw that she had said so by her master's order, and that he was really within: and when, a few days afterwards, Ennius called at Nasica's house, and inquired for him at the gate, Nasica cried out that he was not at home. 'What?' says Ennius, 'do I not know your voice?'   'You are an impudent fellow,' replied Nasica; 'when I inquired for you, I believed your servant when she told me that you were not at home, and will not you believe me when I tell you that I am not at home?' [277] It is delightful, too, when he who has uttered a sarcasm is jested upon in the same strain in which he has attacked another: as when Quintus Opimius, a man of consular dignity, who had the report of having been licentious in his youth, said to Egilius, a man of wit, who seemed to be an effeminate person, but was in reality not so, 'How do you do, my Egilia? when will you pay me a visit with your distaff and spindle?' and Egilius replied, 'I certainly dare not; for my mother forbade me to visit women of bad character.'

{69.} [278] L   "There are witty sayings also which carry a concealed suspicion of ridicule; of which sort is that of the Sicilian, who, when a friend of his made lamentation to him, saying, that his wife had hanged herself upon a fig-tree, said, 'I beseech you give me some shoots of that tree, that I may plant them.' Of the same sort is what Catulus said to a certain bad orator, who, when he imagined that he had excited compassion at the close of a speech, asked our friend here, after he had sat down, whether he appeared to have raised pity in the audience: Very great pity, replied Catulus, for I believe there is no one here so hard-hearted but that your speech seemed pitiable to him. [279] Those jests amuse me extremely, which are expressed in passion and as it were with moroseness; not when they are uttered by a person really morose, for in that case it is not the wit, but the natural temper that is laughed at. Of this kind of jest there is a very humorous example, as it appears to me, in Naevius:

                    Why mourn you, father?
          Strange that I do not sing! I am condemned.

"Contrasted with this there is a patient and cool species of the humorous: as when Cato received a stroke from a man carrying a trunk, who afterwards called to him to take care, he asked him, whether he carried anything else besides the trunk? [280] There is also a witty mode of exposing folly; as when the Sicilian to whom Scipio as praetor assigned, to be his advocate in some case, his host, who was a man of rank but extremely stupid, said, 'I beseech you, praetor, give this advocate to my adversary, and give me none.' Explanations of things; too, are amusing, which are given from conjecture in a sense far different from that which they are intended to convey, but with ingenuity and aptness. As when Scaurus accused Rutilius of bribery, (at the time when he himself was made consul, and Rutilius was rejected,) and showed these letters in Rutilius's books, ** A. F. P. R., and said that they signified, Actum Fide Publii Rutilii, 'transacted on the faith of Publius Rutilius;' while Rutilius declared that they meant, Ante Factum, Post Relatum, 'done before, entered after;' but Gaius Canius, being on the side of Rufus, observed that neither of those senses was intended by the letters: 'What then is the meaning?' inquired Scaurus. Aemilius fecit, plectitur Rutilius, replied Canius; 'Aemilius is guilty, Rutilius is punished.'

{70.} [281] L   "A union of discordant particulars is laughable: as, What is wanting to him, except fortune and virtue? A familiar reproof of a person, as if he were in error, is also amusing; as when Albucius taunted Granius, because, when something appeared to be proved by Albucius from Granius's writing, Granius rejoiced extremely that Scaevola ** was acquitted, and did not understand that judgment was given against the credit of his own writing. [282] Similar to this is friendly admonition by way of giving advice: as when Granius persuaded a bad pleader, who had made himself hoarse with speaking, to drink a cold mixture of honey and wine as soon as he got home: I shall ruin my voice, said he, if I do so. [283] It will be better, said Granius, than to ruin your clients. It is a delightful, too, when something is said that is peculiarly applicable to the character of some particular person; as when Scaurus had incurred some unpopularity for having taken possession of the effects of Phrygio Pompeius, a rich man who died without a will, and was sitting as counsel for Bestia, then under impeachment, Gaius Memmius the accuser, as a funeral procession passed by, said, 'Look, Scaurus, a dead body is going by, if you can but get possession!' [284] But of all jokes none create greater laughter than something said contrary to expectation; of which there are examples without number. Such was the saying of Appius the elder, ** who, when the matter about the public lands, and the law of Thorius, was in agitation in the senate, and Lucilius was hard pressed by those who asserted that the public pastures were grazed by his cattle, said, 'They are not the cattle of Lucilius; you mistake;' (he seemed to be going to defend Lucilius;) 'I look upon them as free, for they feed where they please.' [285] That saying also of the Scipio who slew Tiberius Gracchus amuses me. When, after many charges were made against him, Marcus Flaccus proposed Publius Mucius as one of his judges, 'I object to him,' said he, 'he is unjust;' and when this occasioned a general murmur, 'Ah!' said he, 'I do not except against him, conscript fathers, as unjust to me, but to everybody.' But nothing could be more witty than the joke of our friend Crassus. When Silus, a witness, was injuring the case of Piso, by something that he said he had heard against him, 'It is possible,' said he, 'Silus, that the person from whom you heard this said it in anger.' Silus assented. 'It is possible, too, that you did not rightly understand him.' To this also he assented with the lowest of bows, expressing entire agreement with Crassus. 'It is also possible,' continued Crassus, 'that what you say you have heard you never heard at all.' This was so different from what was expected, that the witness was overwhelmed by a general laugh. Naevius is full of this kind of humour, and it is a familiar joke, 'Wise man, if you are cold you will shake;' and there are many other such sayings.

{71.} [286] L   "You may often also humorously grant to your adversary what he wishes to detract from you; as Gaius Laelius, when a man of disreputable family told him that he was unworthy of his ancestors, replied, 'But, by Hercules, you are worthy of yours.' Jokes, too, are frequently uttered in a sententious manner; as Marcus Cincius, on the day when he proposed his law about gifts and presents, and Gaius Cento stood forth and asked him with some scorn, he 'What are you proposing, little Cincius?' replied, 'That you, Gaius, may pay for what you wish to use.' ** [287] Things also which are impossible are often wished for with much wit; as Marcus Lepidus, when he lay down upon the grass, while others were taking their exercise in the Campus Martius, exclaimed, I wish this were labour. ** It is an excellent joke also to give inquisitive people who tease you as it were, a calm answer, of such a nature as they do not expect; as Lepidus the censor, when he deprived Antistius of Pyrgi of his horse; ** and his friends called out to him, and inquired what reason Antistius could give his father why his horse was taken from him, when he was ** an excellent, industrious, modest, frugal member of the colony, replied, 'That I believe not a word of it.' [288] Some other sorts of jests are enumerated by the Greeks, as execrations, expressions of admiration, threats. But I think that I have divided these matters into too many heads already; for such as lie in the force and meaning of a word, are commonly easy to settle and define; but in general, as I observed before, they are heard rather with approbation than laughter. [289] Jokes, however, which lie in the subject and thought, are, though infinite in their varieties, reducible under a very few general heads; for it is by deceiving expectation, by satirising the tempers of others, by playing humorously on our own, by comparing a thing with something worse, by dissembling, by uttering apparent absurdities, and by reproving folly, that laughter is excited; and he who would be a facetious speaker, must be endowed with a natural genius for such kinds of wit, as well as with personal qualifications, so that his very look may adapt itself to every species of the ridiculous; and the graver and more serious such a person is, as is the case with you, Crassus, so much more humorous do the sayings which fall from him generally appear.

[290] L   "But now I think that you, Antonius, who said ** that you would relax during my discourse, as in some place of refreshment, will, as if you had stopped in the Pomptine Marsh, neither a pleasant nor a wholesome region, consider that you have rested long enough, and will proceed to complete the remainder of your journey." 'I will," said Antonius, "having been very pleasantly entertained by you, and having also acquired instruction, as well as encouragement, to indulge in jesting; for I am no longer afraid lest any one should charge me with levity in that respect, since you have produced such authorities as the Fabricii, the Africani, the Maximi, the Catos, and the Lepidi, in its favour. [291] But you have heard what you desired from me, at least such points as it was necessary to consider and detail with particular accuracy; the rest are more easy, and arise wholly from what has been already said.

{72.} ** "For when I have entered upon a case, and traced out all its bearings in my mind, as far as I could possibly do so; when I have ascertained and contemplated the proper arguments for the case, and those particulars by which the feelings of the judges maybe conciliated or excited, I then consider what strong or weak points the case contains; for hardly any subject can be called into question and controversy in pleading, which has not both; but to what degree is the chief concern. [292] In pleading, my usual method is, to fix on whatever strong points a case has, and to illustrate and make the most of them, dwelling on them, insisting on them, clinging to them; but to hold back from the weak and defective points, in such a way that I may not appear to shun them, but that their whole force may be dissembled and overwhelmed ** by the ornament and amplification of the strong parts. If the case turn upon arguments, I maintain chiefly such as are the strongest, whether they are several or whether there be but one; but if the case depend on the conciliation or excitement of the feelings of the judges, I apply myself chiefly to that part which is best adapted to move men's minds. [293] Finally, the principal point for consideration on this head is, that if my speech can be made more effective by refuting my adversary, than by supporting my own side of the question, I employ all my weapons against him; but if my own case can be more easily supported, than that on the other side can be disproved, I endeavour to withdraw the attention of the judges from the opposite party's defence, and to fix it on my own. [294] In conclusion, I adopt, on my own responsibility, two courses which appear to me most easy (since I cannot attempt what is more difficult): one, that I make, sometimes, no reply at all to a troublesome or difficult argument or point; (and at such forbearance perhaps somebody may reasonably laugh; for who is there that cannot practise it? but I am now speaking of my own abilities, not those of others; and I confess that, if any particular press very hard upon me, I usually retreat from it, but in such a manner as not only not to appear to flee with my shield thrown away, but even with it thrown over my shoulders; adopting, at the same time, a certain pomp and parade of language, and a mode of flight that resembles fighting; and keeping upon my guard in such a way, that I seem to have retired, not to avoid my enemy, but to choose more advantageous ground;) [295] the other is one which I think most of all worthy of the orator's precaution and foresight, and which generally causes me very great anxiety: I usually attempt not so much to benefit the cases which I undertake, as not to injure them; not but that an orator must aim at both objects; but it is however a much greater disgrace to him to be thought to have damaged a case, than not to have profited it.

{73.} "But what are you saying among yourselves on this subject, Catulus ? Do you slight what I say, as indeed it deserves to be slighted?"   "By no means," replied Catulus; "but Caesar seemed to want to say something on the point."   "Let him say it, then, with all my heart," continued Antonius, "whether he wish to contradict, or to question me." [296] "Indeed, Antonius," said Caesar, "I have always been the man to say of you as an orator, that you appeared to me in your speeches the most guarded of all men, and that it was your peculiar merit, that nothing was ever spoken by you that could injure him for whom you spoke. And I well remember, that, on entering into a conversation with Crassus here concerning you, in the hearing of a large company, and Crassus having largely extolled your eloquence, I said, that amongst your other merits this was even the principal, that you not only said all that ought to be said, but also never said anything that ought not to be said; [297] and I recollect that he then observed to me, that your other qualities deserved the highest degree of praise, but that to speak what was not to the purpose, and to injure one's own client, was the conduct of an unprincipled and perfidious person; and, consequently, that he did not appear to him to be a good pleader, who avoided doing so, though he who did so was certainly dishonourable. Now, if you please, Antonius, I would wish you to show why you think it a matter of such importance, to do no harm to a case; so much so, that nothing in an orator appears to you of greater consequence."

Following sections (298-367)


(1)   An allusion to the proverb Sus Minervam.

(2)   He signified that other pleaders were mere brute animals in comparison with Crassus, and therefore to be fed upon hay. Turnebus.

(3)   The same that is mentioned by Sallust, as having accused Calpurniua Bestia.

(4)   Lacerat Lacertum Largi Mordax Memmius. The writer of the article 'Memmius' in Dr. Smith's Biog. Dict. thinks that Memmius had from some cause the nickname of Mordax. The story of his having eaten or bitten Largius's arm, appears, from what Cicero says, to have been a mere invention of Crassus. We do not half understand the joke.

(5)   This jest is from a speech of Crassus against Domitius. The gens Domitia, a family of great nobility, had produced many patricians remarkable, as well for other vices, as for vanity. Ellendt.

(6)   These words are from some play now lost.

(7)   Quaesitor. The magistrate who presided at a quaestio capitalis, whether the praetor or any other. See Cic. Verr. i. 10; Vatin. 14; Sall. Jug. 40. Henrichsen.

(8)   Whether the joke was directed against him as being unclean, or as being dishonest, is uncertain. Ellendt.

(9)   Probably taken from the apophthegms of Cato, and probably, also, a saying of Gaius Claudius Nero, who was consul with Marcus Livius, 207 B.C., and defeated Hannibal at Sena. Liv. xxvii. 34. Ellendt.

(10)   The original is, Num claudicat? at hic clodicat. 'What, is he lame? No; but he favours Clodius.' The reader easily sees that the force of the pun, which is bad enough at the first hand, is entirely lost by a literal translation. I have been forced to coin two English words from the Latin to convey some idea of it. Had Clodius lived in this country, and his name been Greville, I had been as happy as Glaucia; for then I could have said, 'Where is the old proverb, What, is he gravelled? No; but he is Grevilled.' B. Num claudicat is thought by Strebaeus to have been a common question with regard to a man suspected of want of judgment or honesty.

(11)   Quid hoc Naevio ignavius? It is thought to have been a joke of Publius Africanus Major, who, according to some, was accused by the Petilii, tribunes of the people, or, according to others, by a certain Marcus Naevius. See Liv. xxxviii. 50, 56; Val. Max. iii. 7; A. Gell. iv. 18. But it might have been said by Africanus the younger in reference to some other man. Ellendt.

(12)   Video me a te circumveniri. Toup, in his Appendix to Theocritus, suggests that we should read Video me a te non circum, sed hircumveniri, referring to a similar joke of Aristophanes, Acharn. 850.

(13)   Calvus satis est, quod dicit parum. The meaning is by no means clear, and no change in the punctuation elucidates it . . . Pearce supposes that it is said of a bad orator: 'If he were to say more, he would give less satisfaction; what he has said is so far satisfactory, as it is brief.' . . . Henrichsen thinks that calvus might be used metaphorically, as calva oratio for ieiuna; and that the joke is on the ambiguity of the word. To me the passage seems inexplicable. Ellendt. Whether calvus in the text be a proper name or not, is a matter of uncertainty; Turnebus thinks it is not.

(14)   Sannio. The sanniones were so called from sanna, a grimace, and personated ridiculous characters, like the Arlecchini or Pulcinelli of the Italians. Ellendt.

(15)   This verse of Lucilius would be unintelligible to us, even if we were certain that the reading of it is sound. Heusinger thinks that Lucilius referred to the game played with nuts, which the author of the elegy entitled 'Nux' mentions: Quas puer aut rectus certo dilaminat ictu. Others think that confixum facere signifies merely configere. Ernesti supposes that a sort of dish, made of pieces of flesh, fricasee, is meant. Schutz suggests that, if this be the meaning of confixum, some kind of eatable must be intended by nucula. But this profits us nothing. Ellendt.

(16)   Non esse sextantis. A phrase applied either to anything worth more than a sextans, and therefore perhaps of great value, or to anything worth less than a sextans, or of no value at all. Turnebus.

(17)   See c. 54.

(18)   Marcus Fulvius Nobilior. Cato had accused him of having taken poets with him into his province, and called him Mobilior, to denote his levity, which, among the Romans, who were fond of gravity and steadiness, was a great crime. Turnebus. See Cic. Tusc. Quaest. i. 2. He had also built a temple to the Muses. Cic. ib. et Arch. c. 11; Brut. c. 20; Plin. H. N. xxxv. 36. Ellendt.

(19)   This appears to us moderns a very poor joke. No translation can make it intelligible to those who do not understand the original.

(20)   Divisorem. Divisores were those who distributed money among the tribes, in the name of the candidates, as bribes for their votes. See Cic. Verr. i. 8; Planc. 19. Ellendt.

(21)   The Lex Licinia Mucia de civibus regendis, 95 B.C., by which it was provided that no one should be accounted a citizen who was not really a citizen. Cic. Off. iii. 11. Ellendt.

(22)   Turnebus thinks that the reference is to the Greek proverb, Ei mē dunaio boun, elaune onon, 'If you cannot drive an ox, drive an ass,' (see Apostol. Prov. vii. 53; Zenob. iii. 54; ) but that proverb seems inapplicable to this passage. Talaeus and Lambinus suppose, with more probability, that something like this must be understood: Agas asellum, cursum non docebitur. Asellus is again mentioned in c. 66. Ellendt.

(23)   Nothing is recorded of that actor in pantomime. Ellendt.

(24)   This passage is corrupt, but as no emendation of it can be trusted, it will be sufficient to enclose Porcius in brackets. Orellius.

(25)   Ex tui animi sententia tu uxorem habes? The words ex animi sententia had two significations: they were used by the censors in putting questions in the sense of 'truly, sincerely;' but they were used in common conversation in the sense of 'to a person's satisfaction.' From the ambiguity of the phrase proceeds the joke.

(26)   C. 63.

(27)   C. 61.

(28)   Verba relata contrarie. Which the Greeks call antitheta, when contrariis opponuntur contraria. Cic. Or. 50.

(29)   Villam in Tiburte habes, cortem in Palatio. Cors or chors meant a coop, pen, or moveable sheep-fold. Schutz and Strebaeus, therefore, suppose that Glaucia intended to designate the companions of Metellus as cattle, for which he had a pen on the Palatine.

(30)   C. 61.

(31)   C. 59.

(32)   C. 11.

(33)   Antonius impudicos hominis mores insectatur, cum Cassandrae ab Aiace post expugnatam Troiam vim illatam fuisse constet. Ellendt.

(34)   Of Magius nothing is known. Ellendt.

(35)   The grandfather of the orator, as is clearly shown by Corradus in Quaest. Ernesti.

(36)   Sub Novis. Understand Tabernis argentariis. See P. Fabr. ad Quaest. Acad. iv. 22; Drakenborch ad Liv. xxvi. 27; xliv. 17. Ernesti.

(37)   Quintus Metellus Macedonicus, as Plutarch relates in his treatise De Fortuna Romanorum, had four sons, whose abilities were in proportion to their ages, the youngest being the least gifted. Proust.

(38)   The same anecdote is noticed by Cicero, De Senect. c. 4; and Livy speaks of the occurrence at some length, xxvi. 25. But that the Marcus Livius there mentioned had not the cognomen of Salinator, but of Macatus, is shown by P. Wesseling, Obss. ii. 5; and there seems little doubt that Cicero made a mistake here, as in some other places. Ellendt.

(39)   We may suppose, says Strebaeus, the woman to have been deformed, and some one to have asked the man, 'What relation is that woman to you? your sister?' When the man answered, 'My wife,' the questioner would exclaim, 'And yet, how like you she is! I should have taken her for your sister;' wittily indicating the deformity of the man.

(40)   The joke, says Schutz, is in the word never, as if it were possible that a man might die several times.

(41)   A reflection, says Turnebus, on the extraordinary size and magnificence of the building.

(42)   Which Scaurus required to be produced on the trial.

(43)   Texts vary greatly in this passage. I adhere strictly to that of Orellius. 'It appears,' says Pearce, 'that Scaevola was accused of extortion, as Cicero says in his Brutus, and in the first book De Finibus, and that Albucius, to prove the accusation, brought forward some writing of Granius, who, when judgment was given in favour of Scaevola, did not understand that it was at the same time given against his own writing.'

(44)   He is called the elder, because he had a brother of the same name, the father of Publius Clodius, the enemy of Cicero. Proust.

(45)   A species of ridicule expressed in a pithy sentence. The example produced requires that we should explain the Cincian law. This cannot be done better than in the words of Dr. Middleton. The business of pleading, says he, though a profession of all others the most laborious, yet was not among the Romans mercenary, or undertaken for any pay; for it was illegal to take money, or to accept even a present for it; but the richest, the greatest, and the noblest of Rome freely offered their talents to the service of their citizens, as the common guardians and protectors of the innocent and distressed. This was an institution as old as Romulus, who assigned the patronage of the people to the patricians or senators, without fee or reward; but in succeeding ages, when, through the avarice of the nobles, it had become a custom for all clients to make annual presents to their patrons, by which the body of the citizens was made tributary as it were to the senate, M. Cincius, a tribune, published a law prohibiting all senators to take money or gifts on any account, and especially for pleading causes. This Cincian law was made in the year of Rome 549 {205 B.C.}; and recommended to the people, as Cicero tells us, (De Senect. 4,) by Quintus Fabius Maximus, in the extremity of his age. Gaius Cento was one of the orators who opposed it. Livy, xxxiv. 4, gives us the reason for passing this law, 'Quid legem Cinciam de donis et muneribus, nisi quia vectigalis iam et stipendiaria plebs esse senatui caeperat?' It is also mentioned by Tacitus, Annal. xi. 5: 'Consurgunt patres legemque Cinciam flagitant, qua cavetur antiquitus ne quis ob causam orandam pecuniam donumve accipiat.' We also find from the same author, (xi. 7,) that this law was not well observed in Cicero's time: 'prompta sibi exempla quantis mercedibus P. Clodius aut C. Curio concionari soliti sint;' so the emperor Claudius confined the fees to be allowed not to exceed a certain sum, which amounted to 80. 14s. 7d. of our money, 'Capiendia pecuniis posuit modum usque ad dena sestertia, quem egressi repetundarum tenerentur.' The Cincian law, says Dr. Taylor, has been well commented upon by several of the moderns, as Ranchinus ii.; Var. vii.; Burgius i.; Elect, xviii.; and Brummerus. B. Turnebus understands the sense of the repartee to be, that patrons were not to expect thenceforward to live upon gifts from their clients, but must buy whatever they wished to have.

(46)   He wishes that labour were as easy as ease.

(47)   Excluding him from the number of the knights, to whom a horse was given at the public expense.

(48)   That is says Proust, was so reported by those who wished to favour him.

(49)   C. 57.

(50)   Antonius returns to the point from which he had digressed at c. 57.

(51)   Dissimulatum . . . obruatur. The word ante, which is retained by Orellius, but is wanting in several manuscripts, I leave untranslated.

Following sections (298-367)

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