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Orators of Greece and Rome
HE history of oratory is as old as the written
history of the human race. But for examples
of actual discourses we must come down to
the literature of the classic age, the period of Greece and Rome. And of the orators of this age, the public utterances of very few have been preserved in their original form. Of the speeches of Pericles, the earliest famous orator of Athens, we have only the version to be found in the works of Thucydides; while the dying speech of Socrates, as given by Plato, was probably invented by Plato himself. It is the same in Roman literature, most of the speeches we possess being the versions given in historical works, such as those of Livy, Sallust and Tacitus, who either invented or modified them to suit their own tastes. Those were not the days of stenographic reporters, and only those orations had a fair chance of future existence which were written out carefully by the orators themselves. Of extemporaneous speakers, the historical recorders may have given the burden of what they said, but scarcely the verbal form. In the case of the most famous orators, however,-including Lysias, Isocrates, Demosthenes, Æschines, and some others of Greece, and Cicero of Rome, -the orations were written before they were spoken, and were heedfully preserved as part of the literary productions of their authors. Many of these have come down, in their original form to the present time, and translations of them have been made which closely preserve the spirit of the original. Our selections are made from these translations.
PERICLES (495-429 B. C.)
IRST in time and one of the foremost in ability of the great
orators of Athens stands the famous Pericles, whose silver
voice and rare eloquence gave him the mastery of the Athenian populace during his life. Under his hands Athens reached its height of splendor in architecture and art, the unrivaled Parthenon, adorned as it was by the sculptures of Phidias, being the noblest example of his conceptions. As an orator he had no rival in the Athens of his day, his graceful figure, mellifluous voice, and complete self-command enabling him to sway his audiences at will. Supreme as was his power, he used it solely for the benefit of the city and its populace, being sober and recluse in habit, “ while the tenderest domestic attachment bound him to the engaging and cultivated Aspasia.”
THE DEAD WHO FELL FOR ATHENS [Of the oratory of Pericles we possess only the famous example which Thucydides, the historian, has preserved for us, the long funeral oration over those who died in battle in 431 B. C., the first year of the destructive Peloponnesian War. How closely this repeats the words of the orator it is now impossible to tell. The speech opens with a laudation of the glory and progress of Athens, for which the soldiers are given credit, and continues with an culogy of their inerits. ]
We are happy in a form of government which cannot envy the laws of our neighbors--for it has served as a model to others, but is original at Athens. And this our form, as committed not to the few, but to the whole body of the people, is called a democracy. How different soever in a private capacity, we all enjoy the same general equality our laws are fitted to preserve; and superior honors just as we excel. The public admiration is not confined to a particular family, but is attainable only by merit. Poverty is not a hindrance, since whoever is able to serve his country meets with no obstacle to preferment from his first obscurity.
DEMOSTHENES (382-322 B.C.)
THE PARAGON OF ORATORS
HEN Greece, as a land of independent states, the nursery of
liberty and freedom of speech, was on the verge of falling
before the arts and arms of Philip of Macedon, Demosthenes, a native of Athens, arose, and in a succession of orations of unequalled eloquence exposed the designs of the enemy of Grecian liberty, and sought to arouse his countrymen to meet their new foeman as they had met the Persians of old. Several other orators of Athens were bribed by Philip's gold, but the patriotism of Demosthenes was proof against venality. With watchful sagacity he penetrated the designs of the cunning Macedonian, and if the generals of Athens had been equal in ability to their orator, the freedom of Greece would have been preserved. There were eleven or twelve of these great patriotic orations; of which four are especially known as “ Philippics.” The persistent opposition of Demosthenes against the foes of Greece, in the end led to his death. His last effort for liberty failing, he was pursued by his enemies and sought an asylum in the temple of Neptune on the island of Calaurea. There, still followed, he took poison and died.
As an orator Demosthenes was superb. Yet his first effort at public speaking was an utter failure. Feeble in frame, weak in voice, shy and awkward in manner, and ungraceful in gesture, he seemed strikingly ill-fitted for success upon the forum. . But he had industry, intelligence and determination, and success came to him. He strengthened his lungs and his voice by declaiming while climbing steep hills or seeking to raise his voice above the roar of the sea. His natural defect in delivery was overcome by the practice of speaking with pebbles in his mouth. He learned the art of graceful gesture by practicing before a mirror. Constant study, composition of orations, and
memorizing made him ready and fluent in speech. Never trusting to facility in extemporaneous delivery, he carefully prepared all his orations, and then delivered them with the utmost force and effertiveness. They remain to-day models of oratory, closely studied by all who would excel in the art. “ His style,” says Hume,"is rapid harmony exactly adjusted to the sense; it is vehement reasoning without any appearance of art; it is disdain, anger, boldness, freedom, involved in a continued stream of argument; and of all human productions his orations present the models which approach the nearest to perfection.” Fenelon says: “We think not of his words; we think only of the things he says. He lightens, he thunders, he is a torrent which sweeps everything before it. We can neither criticise nor admire, because we have not the command of our own faculties." Lord Brougham says: “ There is not any long or close train of reasoning in Demosthenes; still less any profound observations or ingenious allusions; but a constant succession of remarks bearing immediately upon the matter in hand, perfectly plain, and as readily admitted as easily understood. These are intermingled with most striking appeals : some to feelings which we are all conscious of and deeply agitated by, though ashamed to own ; some to sentiments, which every man was panting to utter, and delighted to hear thundered forth; bursts of oratory, therefore, which either overwhelmed or delighted the audience. Such hits, if we may use a homely phrase, are the principal glory of the great combatant.”
PHILIP THE ENEMY OF ATHENS [As an example of the Philippics we offer the following brief extract, in which the orator strongly points out the position of Athens, as affected by the designs of its artful enemy.]
There are persons among you, O Athenians, who think to confound a speaker by asking, “What, then, is to be done?” To which I might answer: "Nothing that you are doing everything that you leave undone !” And it would be a just and a true reply. But I will be more explicit; and may these men, so ready to question, be equally ready to act ! In the first place, Athenians, admit the incontestable fact, that Philip has broken your treaties, that he has declared war against you. Let us have no more crimination and recrimination on this point! And, then, recognize the fact that he is the mortal enerny of Athens, -of its very soil, of all within its walls, ay, of those even who most flatter themselves that they are high in his good graces.