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Book II chapters 1-3

I.SOME men of Crotona, when they were rich in all kinds of resources, and when they were considered among the most prosperous people in Italy, were desirous to enrich the temple of Juno, which they regarded with the most religious veneration, with splendid pictures. Therefore they hired Zeuxis of Heraclea at a vast price, who was at that time considered to be far superior to all other painters, and employed him in that business. He painted many other pictures, of which some portion, on account of the great respect in which the temple is held, has remained to within our recollection; and in order that one of his mute representations might contain the preeminent beauty of the female form, he said that he wished to paint a likeness of Helen. And the men of Crotona, who had frequently heard that he exceeded all other men in painting women, were very glad to hear this; for they thought that if he took the greatest pains in that class of work in which he had the greatest skill, he would leave them a most noble work in that temple.

Nor were they deceived in that expectation: for Zeuxis immediately asked of them what beautiful virgins they had; and they immediately led him into the palaestra, and there showed him numbers of boys of the highest birth and of the greatest beauty. For indeed, there was a time when the people of Crotona were far superior to all other cities in the strength and beauty of their persons; and they brought home the most honourable victories from the gymnastic contests, with the greatest credit. While, therefore, he was admiring the figures of the boys and their personal perfection very greatly; "The sisters," say they, "of these boys are virgins in our city, so that how great their beauty is you may infer from these boys." "Give me, then," said he, "I beg you, the most beautiful of these virgins, while I paint the picture which I promised you, so that the reality may be transferred from the breathing model to the mute likeness." Then the citizens of Crotona, in accordance with a public vote, collected the virgins into one place, and gave the painter the opportunity of selecting whom he chose. But he selected five, whose names many poets have handed down to tradition, because they had been approved by the judgment of the man who was bound to have the most accurate judgment respecting beauty. For he did not think that he could find all the component parts of perfect beauty in one person, because nature has made nothing of any class absolutely perfect in every part. Therefore, as if nature would not have enough to give to everybody if it had given everything to one, it balances one advantage bestowed upon a person by another disadvantage.

II. But since the inclination has arisen in my mind to write a treatise on the art of speaking, we have not put forth any single model of which every portion was necessarily to be copied by us, of whatever sort they might be; but, having collected together all the writers on the subject into one place, we have selected what each appears to have recommended which may be most serviceable, and we have thus culled the flower from various geniuses. For of those who are worthy of fame or recollection, there is no one who appears either to have said nothing well, or everything admirably. So that it seemed folly either to forsake the sensible maxims brought forward by any one, merely because we are offended at some other blunder of his, or, on the other hand, to embrace his faults because we have been tempted by some sensible precept which he has also delivered.

But if in other pursuits also men would select all that was found most sensible from many sources, instead of devoting themselves to one fixed leader, they would err less on the side of arrogance; they would not persist so much in error, and they would make less enormous mistakes through ignorance. And if we had as deep an acquaintance with this art as he had with that of painting, perhaps this work of ours might appear as admirable in its kind as his picture did. For we have had an opportunity of selecting from a much more copious store of models than he had. He was able to make his selection from one city, and from that number of virgins only which existed at that time and place; but we have had opportunity of making one selection from all the men who have ever lived from the very first beginning of this science, being reduced to a system up to the present day, and taking whatever we thought worth while from all the stores which lay open before us.

And Aristotle, indeed, has collected together all the ancient writers on this art, from the first writer on the subject and inventor of it, Tisias, and has compiled with great perspicuity the precepts of each of them, mentioning them by name, after having sought them out with exceeding care; and he has disentangled them with great diligence and explained their difficulties; and he has so greatly excelled the original writers themselves in suavity and brevity of diction, that no one is acquainted with their precepts from their own writings, but all who wish to know what maxims they have laid down come back to him as to a far more agreeable expounder of their meaning.

And he himself has set before us himself and those too who had lived before his time, in order that we might be acquainted with the method of others, and with his own. And those who have followed him, although they have expended a great deal of labour on the most profound and important portions of philosophy, as he himself also, whose example they were following, had done, have still left us many precepts on the subject of speaking. And other masters of this science have also come forward, taking their rise, as it were, in other springs, who have also been of great assistance in eloquence, as far at least as artificial rules can do any good. For there lived at the same time as Aristotle, a great and illustrious rhetorician, named Isocrates; though we have not entirely discovered what his system was.

But we have found many lessons respecting their art from his pupils and from those who proceeded immediately afterwards from this school.

III. From these two different families, as it were, the one of which, while it was chiefly occupied with philosophy, still devoted some portion of its attention to the rhetorical science; and the other was wholly absorbed in the study and teaching of eloquence; but both kinds of study were united by their successors, who brought to the aid of their own pursuits those things which appeared to have been profitably said by either of them; and those and the others their predecessors are the men whom we and all our countrymen have proposed to ourselves as models, as far as we were able to make them so; and we have also contributed something from our own stores to the common stock.

But if the things which are set forth in these books deserved to be selected with such great eagerness and care as they were, then certainly, neither we ourselves nor others will repent of our industry. But if we appear either rashly to have passed over some doctrine of some one worth noticing, or to have adopted it without sufficient elegance, in that case when we are taught better by some one, we will easily and cheerfully change our opinion. For what is discreditable is, not the knowing little, but the persisting foolishly and long in what one does not understand; because the one thing is attributed to the common infirmity of man, but the other to the especial fault of the individual.

Wherefore we, without affirming anything positively, but making inquiry at the same time, will advance each position with some doubt, lest while we gain this trifling point of being supposed to have written this treatise with tolerable neatness, we should lose that which is of the greatest importance, the credit, namely, of not adopting any idea rashly and arrogantly. But this we shall endeavour to gain both at present and during the whole course of our life with great care, as far as our abilities will enable us to do so. But at present, lest we should appear to be too prolix, we will speak of the other points which it seems desirable to insist on.

Therefore, while we were explaining the proper classification of this art, and its duties, and its object, and its subject matter, and its divisions, the first book contained an account of the different kinds of disputes, and inventions, and statements of cases, and decisions. After that, the parts of a speech were described, and all necessary precepts for all of them were laid down. So that we not only discussed other topics in that book with tolerable distinctness, we spoke at that same time in a more scattered manner of the topics of confirmation and reprehension; and at present we think it best to give certain topics for confirming and reprehending, suited to every class of causes. And because it has been explained with some diligence in the former book, in what manner argumentations ought to be handled, in this book it will be sufficient to set forth the arguments which have been discovered for each kind of subject simply, and without any embellishment, so that, in this book, the arguments themselves may be found, and in the former, the proper method of polishing them. So that the reader must refer the precepts which are now laid down, to the topics of confirmation and reprehension.


Cicero, tr. C.D. Yonge

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