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The Comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero
Translated by John Dryden
These are the most memorable circumstances recorded in history of
Demosthenes and Cicero which have come to our knowledge. But omitting
an exact comparison of their respective faculties in speaking, yet
thus much seems fit to be said; that Demosthenes, to make himself
a master in rhetoric, applied all the faculties he had, natural or
acquired, wholly that way that he far surpassed in force and strength
of eloquence all his contemporaries in political and judicial speaking,
in grandeur and majesty all the panegyrical orators, and in accuracy
and science all the logicians and rhetoricians of his day; that Cicero
was highly educated, and by his diligent study became a most accomplished
general scholar in all these branches, having left behind him numerous
philosophical treatises of his own on Academic principles as, indeed,
even in his written speeches, both political and judicial, we see
him continually trying to show his learning by the way. And one may
discover the different temper of each of them in their speeches. For
Demosthenes's oratory was without all embellishment and jesting, wholly
composed for real effect and seriousness; not smelling of the lamp,
as Pytheas scoffingly said, but of the temperance, thoughtfulness,
austerity, and grave earnestness of his temper. Whereas Cicero's love
of mockery often ran him into scurrility; and in his love of laughing
away serious arguments in judicial cases by jests and facetious remarks,
with a view to the advantage of his clients, he paid too little regard
to what was decent: saying, for example, in his defence of Caelius,
that he had done no absurd thing in such plenty and affluence to indulge
himself in pleasures, it being a kind of madness not to enjoy the
things we possess, especially since the most eminent philosophers
have asserted pleasures to be the chiefest good. So also we are told
that when Cicero, being consul, undertook the defence of Murena against
Cato's prosecution, by way of bantering Cato, he made a long series
of jokes upon the absurd paradoxes, as they are called, of the Stoic
set; so that a loud laughter passing from the crowd to the judges,
Cato, with a quiet smile, said to those that sat next him, "My friends,
what an amusing consul we have."
And, indeed, Cicero was by natural temper very much disposed to mirth
and pleasantry, and always appeared with a smiling and serene countenance.
But Demosthenes had constant care and thoughtfulness in his look,
and a serious anxiety, which he seldom, if ever, laid aside; and therefore,
was accounted by his enemies, as he himself confessed, morose and
Also, it is very evident, out of their several writings, that Demosthenes
never touched upon his own praises but decently and without offence
when there was need of it and for some weightier end; but upon other
occasions modestly and sparingly. But Cicero's immeasurable boasting
of himself in his orations argues him guilty of an uncontrollable
appetite for distinction, his cry being evermore that arms should
give place to the gown, and the soldier's laurel to the tongue. And
at last we find him extolling not only his deeds and actions, but
his orations also, as well those that were only spoken, as those that
were published; as if he were engaged in a boyish trial of skill,
who should speak best, with the rhetoricians, Isocrates and Anaximenes,
not as one who could claim the task to guide and instruct the Roman
"Soldier full-armed, terrific to the foe."
It is necessary, indeed, for a political leader to be an able speaker;
but it is an ignoble thing for any man to admire and relish the glory
of his own eloquence. And, in this matter, Demosthenes had a more
than ordinary gravity and magnificence of mind, accounting his talent
in speaking nothing more than a mere accomplishment and matter of
practice, the success of which must depend greatly on the good-will
and candour of his hearers, and regarding those who pride themselves
on such accounts to be men of a low and petty disposition.
The power of persuading and governing the people did, indeed, equally
belong to both, so that those who had armies and camps at command
stood in need of their assistance; as Charas, Diopithes, and Leosthenes
of Demosthenes's, Pompey and young Caesar of Cicero's, as the latter
himself admits in his Memoirs addressed to Agrippa and Maecenas. But
what are thought and commonly said most to demonstrate and try the
tempers of men, namely, authority and place, by moving every passion,
and discovering every frailty, these are things which Demosthenes
never received; nor was he ever in a position to give such proof of
himself, having never obtained any eminent office, nor led any of
those armies into the field against Philip which he raised by his
eloquence. Cicero, on the other hand, was sent quaestor into Sicily,
and proconsul into Cilicia and Cappadocia, at a time when avarice
was at the height, and the commanders and governors who were employed
abroad, as though they thought it a mean thing to steal, set themselves
to seize by open force; so that it seemed no heinous matter to take
bribes, but he that did it most moderately was in good esteem. And
yet he, at this time, gave the most abundant proofs alike of his contempt
of riches and of his humanity and good-nature. And at Rome, when he
was created consul in name, but indeed received sovereign and dictatorial
authority against Catiline and his conspirators, he attested the truth
of Plato's prediction, that then the miseries of states would be at
an end when, by a happy fortune, supreme power, wisdom, and justice
should be united in one.
It is said, to the reproach of Demosthenes, that his eloquence was
mercenary that he privately made orations for Phormion and Apollodorus,
though adversaries in the same cause; that he was charged with moneys
received from the King of Persia, and condemned for bribes from Harpalus.
And should we grant that all those (and they are not few) who have
made these statements against him have spoken what is untrue, yet
that Demosthenes was not the character to look without desire on the
presents offered him out of respect and gratitude by royal persons,
and that one who lent money on maritime usury was likely to be thus
indifferent, is what we cannot assert. But that Cicero refused, from
the Sicilians when he was quaestor, from the King of Cappadocia when
he was proconsul, and from his friends at Rome when he was in exile,
many presents, though urged to receive them, has been said already.
Moreover, Demosthenes's banishment was infamous, upon conviction for
bribery; Cicero's very honourable, for ridding his country of a set
of villains. Therefore, when Demosthenes fled his country, no man
regarded it; for Cicero's sake the senate changed their habit, and
put on mourning, and would not be persuaded to make any act before
Cicero's return was decreed. Cicero, however, passed his exile idly
in Macedonia. But the very exile of Demosthenes made up a great part
of the services he did for his country; for he went through the cities
of Greece, and everywhere, as we have said, joined in the conflict
on behalf of the Grecians, driving out the Macedonian ambassadors,
and approving himself a much better citizen than Themistocles and
Alcibiades did in the like fortune. And, after his return, he again
devoted himself to the same public service, and continued firm to
his opposition to Antipater and the Macedonians. Whereas Laelius reproached
Cicero in the senate for sitting silent when Caesar, a beardless youth,
asked leave to come forward, contrary to the law, as a candidate for
the consulship; and Brutus, in his epistles, charges him with nursing
and rearing a greater and more heavy tyranny than that they had removed.
Finally, Cicero's death excites our pity; for an old man to be miserably
carried up and down by his servants, flying and hiding himself from
that death which was, in the course of nature, so near at hand; and
yet at last to be murdered. Demosthenes, though he seemed at first
a little to supplicate, yet, by his preparing and keeping the poison
by him, demands our admiration; and still more admirable was his using
it. When the temple of the god no longer afforded him a sanctuary,
he took refuge, as it were, at a mightier altar, freeing himself from
arms and soldiers, and laughing to scorn the cruelty of Antipater.
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