Sunday, 28 May 2017

Cicero, De oratore: an expert speaking?

With dozens of volumes of the Loeb Classical Library and the Tusculum and Artemis Greek/Latin – German editions within reach, it is easy to think that Classical Antiquity was a culture of the written word.  Of course this is to some extant true, but the spoken word was dominant: reading was done aloud and poets and would-be poets recited there latest poems at street corners – not always to everyone’s delight. No wonder that the art of speaking held an important position within the school curriculum, as power over the spoken word was indispensable for politicians, magistrates, lawyers or anyone with ambition.
In his De oratore (ca 55 BC) Cicero explains what the conditions are for becoming a good orator. The work is composed as a dialogue and in Book 2 Marcus Antonius Orator (143-97 BC), a famous orator, and Quintus Catulus (149-87 BC), Roman general and also orator, are the main speakers. The question is whether an orator should himself be an expert in the subjects he is teaching schoolboys to speak about. Take for instance that orator Phormio, who in front of Hannibal held a speech about military matters. Hannibal had so his ideas about the `expertise’ of this orator. I am afraid there are still a lot of such `experts’ walking around.
Catulus is speaking:

Cicero, de Oratore, 2, 75-76

[75] Nec mihi opus est Graeco aliquo doctore, qui mihi pervulgata praecepta decantet, cum ipse numquam forum, numquam ullum iudicium aspexerit; ut Peripateticus ille dicitur Phormio, cum Hannibal Karthagine expulsus Ephesum ad Antiochum venisset exsul proque eo, quod eius nomen erat magna apud omnis gloria, invitatus esset ab hospitibus suis, ut eum, quem dixi, si vellet, audiret; cumque is se non nolle dixisset, locutus esse dicitur homo copiosus aliquot horas de imperatoris officio et de [omni] re militari. Tum, cum ceteri, qui illum audierant, vehementer essent delectati, quaerebant ab Hannibale, quidnam ipse de illo philosopho iudicaret: hic Poenus non optime Graece, sed tamen libere respondisse fertur, multos se deliros senes saepe vidisse, sed qui magis quam Phormio deliraret vidisse neminem. [76] Neque me hercule iniuria; quid enim aut adrogantius aut loquacius fieri potuit quam Hannibali, qui tot annis de imperio cum populo Romano omnium gentium victore certasset, Graecum hominem, qui numquam hostem, numquam castra vidisset, numquam denique minimam partem ullius publici muneris attigisset, praecepta de re militari dare?

opus est (+ abl.): there is need for
aliquo Graeco doctore: note the derogative tone
pervulgatus: very usual, very common
decanto (-are): to repeat in a singing manner, say the same thing over and again
forum: court
iudicium: trial
praeceptum: precept, instruction
Antiochus: Antiochus Magnus (c. 241 – 187 BC), Seleucid king of Syria
ille dicitur Phormio: as that Phormio is said = as they say about that Phormio
Peripateticus: adherent of the philosophy of Aristotle
exsul: as exile
proque eo, quod: and for this, because = and for the reason that his name (as general) etc.
magna gloria: apposition to nomen eius
ut eum: i.e. Phormio
non nolle dixisset: a double negative is used to emphasise the positive (litotes) `he said he would like to come.’
copiosus: abounding (in words)
delecto (-are): to delight
Graece: in the Greek language
libere: freely
fertur: is said to
delirus: silly, crazy
deliro (-are): to be crazy, deranged
iniuria (verba)
loquacius: more verbosely
Hannibali…Graecum hominen…praecepta de re mlitari dare
Populo Romano, victore
certo (-are): to struggle
minimam partem: even the slightest part
attingo attigi attactum: to come in contact with

E. W. SUTTON, B.C.L., M.A. (1949)

75 Nor do I need any Greek professor to chant at me
a series of hackneyed axioms, when he himself never
had a glimpse of a law-court or judicial proceeding,
as the tale goes of Phormio the well-known Peri-
patetic ; for when Hannibal, banished from Carthage,
had come in exile to Antiochus at Ephesus and, inas-
much as his name was highly honoured all the world
over, had been invited by his hosts to hear the
philosopher in question, if he so pleased, and he had
intimated his willingness to do so, that wordy in-
dividual is said to have held forth for several hours
upon the functions of a commander-in-chief and
military matters in general. Then, when the other
listeners, vastly delighted, asked Hannibal for his
opinion of the eminent teacher, the Carthaginian is
reported to have thereupon replied, in no very good
Greek, but at any rate candidly, that time and again
he had seen many old madmen but never one madder
than Phormio. And upon my word he was right, for
what better example of prating insolence could there
be than for a Greek, who had never seen a foeman or
a camp, or even had the slightest connexion with any
public employment, to lecture on military matters to
Hannibal, who all those years had been disputing
empire with the Roman people, the conquerors of the
world ?

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