“There were at that time two orators, Cotta and Hortensius, who towered above all others, and incited me to rival them. The first spoke with self-restraint and moderation, clearly and easily, expressing his ideas in appropriate language. The other was magnificent and fierce; not such as you remember him, Brutus, when he was already failing, but full of life both in his words and actions. I then resolved that Hortensius should, of the two, be my model, because I felt myself like to him in his energy, and nearer to him in his age. I observed that when they were in the same causes, those for Canuleius and for our consular Dolabella, though Cotta was the senior counsel, Hortensius took the lead. A large gathering of men and the noise of the Forum require that a speaker shall be quick, on fire, active, and loud. The year after my return from Asia I undertook the charge of causes that were honorable, and in that year I was seeking to be Quæstor, Cotta to be Consul, and Hortensius to be Prætor. Then for a year I served as Quæstor in Sicily. Cotta, after his Consulship, went as governor into Gaul, and then Hortensius was, and was considered to be, first at the bar. When I had been back from Sicily twelve months I began to find that whatever there was within me had come to such perfection as it might attain. I feel that I am speaking too much of myself, but it is done, not that you may be made to own my ability or my eloquence — which is far from my thoughts — but that you may see how great was my toil and my industry. Then, when I had been employed for nearly five years in many cases, and was accounted a leading advocate, I specially concerned myself in conducting the great cause on behalf of Sicily — the trial of Verres — when I and Hortensius were Ædile and Consul designate.
“But as this discussion of ours is intended to produce not a mere catalogue of orators, but some true lessons of oratory, let us see what there was in Hortensius that we must blame. When he was out of his Consulship, seeing that among past Consuls there was no one on a par with him, and thinking but little of those who were below consular rank, he became idle in his work to which from boyhood he had devoted himself, and chose to live in the midst of his wealth, as he thought a happier life — certainly an easier one. The first two or three years took off something from him. As the gradual decay of a picture will be observed by the true critic, though it be not seen by the world at large, so was it with his decay. From day to day he became more and more unlike his old self, failing in all branches of oratory, but specially in the rapidity and continuity of his words. But for myself I never rested, struggling always to increase whatever power there was in me by practice of every kind, especially in writing. Passing over many things in the year after I was Ædile, I will come to that in which I was elected first Prætor, to the great delight of the public generally; for I had gained the good-will of men, partly by my attention to the causes which I undertook, but specially by a certain new strain of eloquence, as excellent as it was uncommon, with which I spoke.” Cicero, when he wrote this of himself, was an old man sixty-two years of age, broken hearted for the loss of his daughter, to whom it was no doubt allowed among his friends to praise himself with the garrulity of years, because it was understood that he had been unequalled in the matter of which he was speaking. It is easy for us to laugh at his boastings; but the account which he gives of his early life, and of the manner in which he attained the excellence for which he had been celebrated, is of value.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01