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This webpage reproduces a section of
Institutio Oratoria


published in Vol. IV
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1920

The text is in the public domain.

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(Vol. IV) Quintilian
Institutio Oratoria

Book XII

Chapters 2‑6

 p381  2 1 Since then the orator is a good man, and such goodness cannot be conceived as existing apart from  p383 virtue, virtue, despite the fact that it is in part derived from certain natural impulses, within require to be perfected by instruction. The orator must above all things devote his attention to the formation of moral character and must acquire a complete knowledge of all that is just and honourable. For without this knowledge no one can be either a good man or skilled in speaking, 2 unless indeed we agree with those who regard morality as intuitive and as owing nothing to instruction: indeed they go so far as to acknowledge that handicrafts, not excluding even those which are most despised among them, can only be acquired by the result of teaching, whereas virtue, which of all gifts to man is that which makes him most near akin to the immortal gods, comes to him without search or effort, as a natural concomitant of birth. But can the man who does not know what abstinence is, claim to be truly abstinent? 3 or brave, if he has never purged his soul of the fears of pain, death, and superstition? or just, if he has never, in language approaching that of philosophy, discussed the nature of virtue and justice, or of the laws that have been given to mankind by nature or established among individual peoples and nations? What a contempt it argues for such themes to regard them as being so easy of comprehension! 4 However, I pass this by; for I am sure that no one with the least smattering of literary culture will have the slightest hesitation in agreeing with me. I will proceed to my next point, that no one will achieve sufficient skill even in speaking, unless he makes a thorough study of all the workings of nature and forms his character on the precepts of philosophy and the dictates of reason. 5 For it is with good cause that Lucius Crassus, in the  p385 third book of the de Oratore,11 affirms that all that is said concerning equity, justice, truth and the good, and their opposites, forms part of the studies of an orator, and that the philosophers, when they exert their powers of speaking to defend these virtues, are using the weapons of rhetoric, not their own. But he also confesses that the knowledge of these subjects must be sought from the philosophers for the reason that, in his opinion, philosophy has more effective possession of them. 6 And it is for the same reason that Cicero in several of his books and letters proclaims that eloquence has its fountain-head in the most secret springs of wisdom, and that consequently for a considerable time the instructors of morals and of eloquence were identical. Accordingly this exhortation of mine must not be taken to mean that I wish the orator to be a philosopher, since there is no other way of life that is further removed from the duties of a statesman and the tasks of an orator. 7 For what philosopher has ever been a frequent speaker in the courts or won renown in public assemblies? Nay, what philosopher has ever taken a prominent part in the government of the state, which forms the most frequent theme of their instructions? None the less I desire that he, whose character I am seeking to mould, should be a "wise man" in the Roman sense, that is, one who reveals himself as a true statesman, not in the discussions of the study, but in the actual practice and experience of life. 8 But inasmuch as the study of philosophy has been deserted by those who have turned to the pursuit of eloquence, and since philosophy no longer moves in its true sphere of action and in the broad daylight of the forum, but has retired first to porches and gymnasia  p387 and finally to the gatherings of the schools, all that is essential for an orator, and yet is not taught by the professors of eloquence, must undoubtedly be sought from those persons in whose possession it has remained. The authors who have discoursed on the nature of virtue must be read through and through, that the life of the orator may be wedded to the knowledge of things human and divine. 9 But how much greater and fairer would such subjects appear if those who taught them were also those who could give them most eloquent expression! O that the day may dawn when the perfect orator of our heart's desire shall claim for his own possession that science that has lost the affection of mankind through the arrogance of its claims and the vices of some that have brought disgrace upon its virtues, and shall restore it to its place in the domain of eloquence, as though he had been victorious in a trial for the restoration of stolen goods! 10 And since philosophy falls into three divisions, physics, ethics and dialectic, which, I ask you, of these departments is not closely connected with the task of the orator?

Let us reverse the order just given and deal first with the third department which is entirely concerned with words. If it be true that to know the properties of each word, to clear away ambiguities, to unravel perplexities, to distinguish between truth and falsehood, to prove or to refute as may be desired, all form part of the functions of an orator, who is there that can doubt the truth of my contention? 11 I grant that we shall not have to employ dialectic with such minute attention to detail when we are pleading in the courts as when we are  p389 engaged in philosophical debate, since the orator's duty is not merely to instruct, but also to move and delight his audience; and to succeed in doing this he needs a strength, impetuosity and grace as well. For oratory is like a river: the current is stronger when it flows within deep banks and with a mighty flood, than when the waters are shallow and broken by the pebbles that bar their way. 12 And just as the trainers of the wrestling school do not impart the various throws to their pupils that those who have learnt them may make use of all of them in actual wrestling matches (for weight and strength and wind count for more than these), but that they may have a store from which to draw one or two of such tricks, as occasion may offer; 13 even so the science of dialectic, or if you prefer it of disputation, while it is often useful in definition, inference, differentiation, resolution of ambiguity, distinction and classification, as also in luring on or entangling our opponents, yet if it claim to assume the entire direction of the struggles of the forum, will merely stand in the way of arts superior to itself and by its very subtlety will exhaust the strength that has been pared down to suit its limitations. 14 As a result you will find that certain persons who show astonishing skill in philosophical debate, as soon as they quit the sphere of their quibbles, are as helpless in any case that demands more serious pleading as those small animals which, though nimble enough in a confined space, are easily captured in an open field.

15 Proceeding to moral philosophy or ethics, we may note that it at any rate is entirely suited to the orator. For vast as is the variety of cases (since in  p391 them, as I have pointed out in previous books, we seek to discover certain points by conjecture,12 reach our conclusions in others by means of definition,12 dispose of others on legal grounds12 or by raising the question of competence,13 while other points are established by syllogism14 and others involve contradictions15 or are diversely interpreted owing to some ambiguity of language),16 there is scarcely a single one which does not at some point or another involve the discussion of equity and virtue, while there are also, as everyone knows, not a few which turn entirely on questions of quality. 16 Again in deliberative assemblies how can we advise a policy without raising the question of what is honourable? Nay, even the third department of oratory, which is concerned with the tasks of praise and denunciation, must without a doubt deal with questions of right and wrong. 17 For the orator will assuredly have much to say on such topics as justice, fortitude, abstinence, self-control and piety. But the good man, who has come to the knowledge of these things not by mere hearsay, as though they were just words and names for his tongue to employ, but has grasped the meaning of virtue and acquired a true feeling for it, will never be perplexed when he has to think out a problem, but will speak out truly what he knows. 18 Since, however, general questions are always more important than special (for the particular is contained in the universal, while the universal is never to be regarded as something superimposed on the particular), everyone will readily admit that the studies of which we are speaking are pre-eminently concerned with general questions. 19 Further, since there are numerous points which require to be  p393 determined by appropriate and concise definitions (hence the definitive basis17 of cases), it is surely desirable that the orator should be instructed in such things by those who have devoted special attention to the subject. Again, does not every question of law turn either on the precise meaning of words, the discussion of equity, or conjecture as to the intention — subjects which in part encroach on the domain of dialectic and in part on that of ethics? 20 Consequently all oratory involves a natural admixture of all these philosophic elements — at least, that is to say, all oratory that is worthy of the name. For mere garrulity that is ignorant of all such learning must needs go astray, since its guides are either non-existent or false.

Physics18 on the other hand is far richer than the other branches of philosophy, if viewed from the standpoint of providing exercise in speaking, in proportion as a loftier inspiration is required to speak of things divine than of things human; and further it includes within its scope the whole of ethics, which as we have shown19 are essential to the very existence of oratory. 21 For, if the world is governed by providence, it will certainly be the duty of all good men to bear their part in the administration of the state. If the origin of our souls be divine, we must win our way towards virtue and abjure the service of the lusts of our earthly body. Are not these themes which the orator will frequently be called upon the handle? Again there are questions concerned with auguries and oracles or any other religious topic (all of them subjects that have often given rise to the most important debates in the senate) on which the orator will have to  p395 discourse, if he is also to be the statesman we would have him be. And finally, how can we conceive of any real eloquence at all proceeding from a man who is ignorant of all that is best in the world? 22 If our reason did not make these facts obvious, we should still be led by historical examples to believe their truth. For Pericles, whose eloquence, despite the fact that it has left no visible record for posterity, was none the less, if we may believe the historians and that free-speaking tribe, the old comic poets, endowed with almost incredible force, is known to have been a pupil of the physicist Anaxagoras, while Demosthenes, greatest of all the orators of Greece, sat at the feet of Plato. 23 As for Cicero, he has often proclaimed20 the fact that he owed less to the schools of rhetoric than to the walks of Academe: nor would he ever have developed such amazing fertility of talent, had he bounded his genius by the limits of the forum and not by the frontiers of nature herself.

But this leads me to another question as to which school of philosophy is like to prove of most service to oratory, although there are only a few that can be said to contend for this honour. 24 For in the first place Epicurus banishes us from his presence without more ado, since he bids all his followers to fly from learning in the swiftest ship that they can find.21 Nor would Aristippus, who regards the highest good as consisting in physical pleasure, be likely to exhort us to the toils entailed by our study. And what part can Pyrrho have in the work that is before us? For he will have doubts as to whether there exist judges to address, accused to defend, or a senate where he can be called upon to speak his opinion.  p397 25 Some authorities hold that the Academy will be the most useful school, on the ground that its habit of disputing on both sides of a question approaches most nearly to the actual practice of the courts. And by way of proof they add the fact that this school has produced speakers highly renowned for their eloquence. The Peripatetics also make it their boast that they have a form of study which is near akin to oratory. For it was with them in the main that originated the practice of declaiming on general questions22 by way of exercise. The Stoics, though driven to admit that, generally speaking, their teachers have been deficient both in fullness and charm of eloquence, still contend that no men can prove more acutely or draw conclusions with greater subtlety than themselves. 26 But all these arguments take place within their own circle, for, as though they were tied by some solemn oath or held fast in the bonds of some superstitious belief, they consider that it is a crime to abandon a conviction once formed. On the other hand, there is no need for an orator to swear allegiance to any one philosophic code. 27 For he has a greater and nobler aim, to which he directs all his efforts with as much zeal as if he were a candidate for office, since he is to be made perfect not only in the glory of a virtuous life, but in that of eloquence as well. He will consequently select as his models of eloquence all the greatest masters of oratory, and will choose the noblest precepts and the most direct road to virtue as the means for the formation of an upright character. He will neglect no form of exercise, but will devote special attention to those which are of the highest and fairest nature. 28 For what subject can be found more  p399 fully adapted to a rich and weighty eloquence than the topics of virtue, politics, providence, the origin of the soul and friendship? The themes which tend to elevate mind and language alike are questions such as what things are truly good, what means there are of assuaging fear, restraining the passions and lifting us and the soul that came from heaven clear of the delusions of the common herd.

29 But it is desirable that we should not restrict our study to the precepts of philosophy alone. It is still more important that we should know and ponder continually all the noblest sayings and deeds that have been handed down to us from ancient times. And assuredly we shall nowhere find a larger or more remarkable store of these than in the records of our own country. 30 Who will teach courage, justice, loyalty, self-control, simplicity, and contempt of grief and pain better than men like Fabricius, Curius, Regulus, Decius, Mucius and countless others? For if the Greeks bear away the palm for moral precepts, Rome can produce more striking examples of moral performance, which is a far greater thing. 31 But the man who does not believe that it is enough to fix his eyes merely on his own age and his own transitory life, but regards the space allotted for an honourable life and the course in which glory's race is run as conditioned solely by the memory of posterity, will not rest content with a mere knowledge of the events of history. No, it is from the thought of posterity that he must inspire his soul with justice and derive that freedom of spirit which it is his duty to display when he pleads in the courts or gives counsel in the senate. No man will ever be the consummate orator of whom we are in quest unless  p401 he has both the knowledge and the courage to speak in accordance with the promptings of honour.

3 1 Our orator will also require a knowledge of civil law and of the custom and religion of the state in whose life he is to bear his part. For how will he be able to advise either in public or in private, if he is ignorant of all the main elements that go to make the state? How can he truthfully call himself an advocate if he has to go to others to acquire that knowledge which is all-important in the courts? He will be little better than if he were a reciter of the poets. 2 For he will be a mere transmitter of the instructions that others have given him, it will be on the authority of others that he propounds what he asks the judge to believe, and he whose duty it is to succour the litigant will himself be in need of succour. It is true that at times this may be effected with but little inconvenience, if what he advances for the edification of the judge has been taught him and composed in the seclusion of his study and learnt by heart there like other elements of the case. But what will he do, when he is confronted by unexpected problems such as frequently arise in the actual course of pleading? Will he not disgrace himself by looking around and asking the junior counsel who sit on the benches behind him for advice? 3 Can he hope to get a thorough grasp of such information at the very moment when he is required to produce it in his speech? Can he make his assertions with confidence or speak with native simplicity as though his arguments were his own? Grant that he may do so in his actual speech. But what will he do in a debate, when he has continually to meet fresh points raised by his opponent and is given no time to learn  p403 up his case? What will he do, if he has no legal expert to advise him or if his prompter through insufficient knowledge of the subject provides him with information that is false? It is the most serious drawback of such ignorance, that he will always believe that his adviser knows what is talking about. 4 I am not ignorant of the generally prevailing custom, nor have I forgotten those who sit by our store-chests and provide weapons for the pleader: I know too that the Greeks did likewise: hence the name of pragmaticus which was bestowed on such persons. But I am speaking of an orator, who owes it as a duty to his case to serve it not merely by the loudness of his voice, but by all other means that may be of assistance to it. 5 Consequently I do not wish my orator to be helpless, if it so chance that he puts in an appearance for the preliminary proceedings to which the hour before the commencement of the trial23 is allotted, or to be unskilful in the preparation and production of evidence. For who, sooner than himself, should prepare the points which he wishes to be brought out when he is pleading? You might as well suppose that the qualifications of a successful general consist merely in courage and energy in the field of battle and skill in meeting all the demands of actual conflict, while suffering him to be ignorant of the methods of levying troops, mustering and equipping his forces, arranging for supplies or selecting a suitable position for his camp, despite the fact that preparation for war is an essential preliminary for its successful conduct. 6 And yet such a general would bear a very close resemblance to the advocate who leaves much of the detail that is necessary for success to  p405 the care of others, more especially in view of the fact that this, the most necessary element in the management of a case, is not as difficult as it may perhaps seem to outside observers. For every point of law, which is certain, is based either on written law or accepted custom: if, on the other hand, the point is doubtful, it must be examined in the light of equity. 7 Laws which are either written or founded on accepted custom present no difficulty, since they call merely for knowledge and make no demand on the imagination. On the other hand, the points explained in the rulings of the legal experts turn either on the interpretation of words or on the distinction between right and wrong. To understand the meaning of each word is either common to all sensible men or the special possession of the orator, while the demands of equity are known to every good man. 8 Now I regard the orator above all as being a man of virtue and good sense, who will not be seriously troubled, after having devoted himself to the study of that which is excellent by nature, if some legal expert disagrees with him; for even they are allowed to disagree among themselves. But if he further wishes to knew the views of everyone, he will require to read, and reading is the least laborious of all the tasks that fall to the student's lot. 9 Moreover, if the class of legal experts is as a rule drawn from those who, in despair of making successful pleaders, have taken refuge with the law, how easy it must be for an orator to know what those succeed in learning, who by their own confession are incapable of becoming orators! But Marcus Cato was at once a great orator and an expert lawyer, while Scaevola and Servius Sulpicius  p407 were universally allowed to be eloquent as well.24 10 And Cicero not merely possessed a sufficient supply of legal knowledge to serve his needs when pleading, but actually began to write on the subject, so that it is clear that an orator has not merely time to learn, but even to teach the law.

11 Let no one, however, regard the advice I have given as to the attention due to the development of character and the study of the law as being impugned by the fact that we are familiar with many who, because they were weary of the toil entailed on those who seek to scale the heights of eloquence, have betaken themselves to the study of law as a refuge for their indolence. Some of these transfer their attention to the praetor's edicts or the civil law,25 and have preferred to become specialists in formulae, or legalists, as Cicero26 calls them, on the pretext of choosing a more useful branch of study, whereas their real motive was its comparative easiness. 12 Others are the victims of a more arrogant form of sloth; they assume a stern air and let their beards grow, and, as though despising the precepts of oratory, sit for a while in the schools of the philosophers, that, by an assumption of a severe mien before the public gaze and by an affected contempt of others they may assert their moral superiority, while leading a life of debauchery at home. For philosophy may be counterfeited, but eloquence never.

4 1 Above all, our orator should be equipped with a rich store of examples both old and new: and he ought not merely to know those which are recorded in history or transmitted by oral tradition or occur from day to day, but should not neglect  p409 even those fictitious examples invented by the great poets. 2 For while the former have the authority of evidence or even of legal decisions, the latter also either have the warrant of antiquity or are regarded as having been invented by great men to serve as lessons to the world. He should therefore be acquainted with as many examples as possible. It is this which gives old age so much authority, since the old are believed to have a larger store of knowledge and experience, as Homer so frequently bears witness. But we must not wait till the evening of our days, since study has this advantage that, as far as knowledge of facts is concerned, it is capable of giving the impression that we have lived in ages long gone by.

5 1 Such are the instruments of which I promised27 to give account, the instruments, that is, not merely of the art, as some have held, but of the orator himself. These are the weapons that he should have ready to his hand, this the knowledge with which he must be equipped, while it must be supplemented by a ready store of words and figures, power of imagination, skill in arrangement, retentiveness of memory and grace of deliver. But of all these qualities the highest is that loftiness of soul which fear cannot dismay nor uproar terrify nor the authority of the audience getter further than the respect which is their due. 2 For although the vices which are its opposites, such as arrogance, temerity, impudence and presumption, are all positively obnoxious, still without constancy, confidence and courage, art, study and proficiency will be of no avail. You might as well put weapons into the hands of the unwarlike and the coward. It is indeed with some reluctance,  p411 as it may give rise to misunderstanding, that I say that even modesty (which, though a fault in itself, is an amiable failing which may easily be the mother of virtues) is on occasion an impediment and has frequently caused the fruits of genius and study to consume away in the mildew of obscurity merely because they have never been displayed to the public day. 3 But in case any of my readers should still lack skill to distinguish the precise meaning of each word, I would have him know that it is not honest shame that is the object of my criticism, but that excess of modesty which is really a form of fear deterring the soul from doing what is its duty to do, and resulting in confusion of mind, regret that our task was ever begun, and sudden silence. For who can hesitate to give the name of fault to a feeling that makes a man ashamed to do what is right? 4 On the other hand, I am not unwilling that the man who has got to make a speech should show signs of nervousness when he rises to his feet, should change colour and make it clear that he feels the risks of his position: indeed, if these symptoms do not occur naturally, it will be necessary to simulate them. But the feeling that stirs us should be due to the realisation of the magnitude of our task and not to fear: we should be moved, but not to the extent of collapsing. But the best remedy for such excess of modesty is confidence: however great our natural timidity of mien, we shall find strength and support in the consciousness of the nobility of our task.

5 There are also those natural instruments which, as I mentioned above,28 may be further improved by care, such as voice, lungs and grace of carriage and movement, all of which are of such importance  p413 as frequently to give a speaker the reputation for talent. Our own age has had orators of greater resource and power, but Trachalus appeared to stand out above all his contemporaries, when he was speaking. Such was the effect produced by his lofty stature, the fire of his eye, the dignity of his brow, the excellence of his gesture, coupled with a voice which was not almost a tragedian's, as Cicero29 demands that it should be, but surpassed the voice of all tragedians I have ever heard. 6 At any rate I remember that, when he was speaking in the Basilica Julia before the first tribunal, and the four panels of judges30 were assembled as usual and the whole building was full of noise, he could still be heard and understood and applauded from all four tribunals at once, a fact which was not complimentary to the other pleaders. But gifts like these are such as all may pray for and few are happy enough to attain. And if we cannot achieve such fortune, we must even be content to be heard by the court which we are addressing. Such then should the orator be, and such are the things which he should know.

6 1 The age at which the orator should begin to plead will of course depend on the development of his strength. I shall not specify it further, since it is clear that Demosthenes pleaded against his guardians while he was still a mere boy, Calvus, Caesar and Pollio31 all undertook cases of the first importance before they were old enough to be qualified for the quaestorship, others are said to have pleaded while still wearing the garb of boyhood, and Augustus Caesar delivered a funeral oration over his grandmother from the public rostra when he was only twelve years old. 2 In my opinion we should aim  p415 at a happy mean. The unripe brow of boyhood should not be prematurely robbed of its ingenuous air nor should the young speaker's powers be brought before the public while yet unformed, since such a practice leads to a contempt for study, lays the foundations of impudence and induces a fault which is pernicious in all departments of life, namely, a self-confidence that is not justified by the speaker's resources. 3 On the other hand, it is undesirable to postpone the apprenticeship of the bar till old age: for the fear of appearing in public grows daily and the magnitude of the task on which we must venture continually increases and we waste time deliberating when we should begin, till we find it is too late to begin at all. Consequently it is desirable that the fruit of our studies should be brought before the public eye while it is still fresh and sweet, while it may hope for indulgence and be secure of a kindly disposition in the audience, while boldness is not unbecoming and boyish extravagance is regarded as a sign of natural vigour. 4 Take for example the whole of the well-known passage from Cicero's defence of Sextus Roscius:32 "For what is more common than the air to the living, than the earth to the dead, than the sea to mariners or the shore to shipwrecked men?" etc. This passage was delivered at the age of twenty-six amid loud applause from the audience, but in later years33 he acknowledges that the ferment of youth has died down and his style has been clarified with age. And, indeed, however much private study may contribute to success, there is still a peculiar proficiency that the courts alone can give: for there the atmosphere is changed and the reality of the  p417 peril puts a different complexion on things, while, if it is impossible to combine the two, practice without theory is more useful than theory without practice. 5 Consequently, some who have grown old in the schools lose their heads when confronted by the novelty of the law courts and wish that it were possible to reproduce all the conditions under which they delivered their exercises. But there sits the judge in silence, their opponent bellows at them, no rash utterance passes unnoticed and all assumptions must be proved, the clock cuts short the speech that has been laboriously pieced together at the cost of hours of study both by day and night, and there are certain cases which require simplicity of language and the abandonment of the perpetual bombast of the schools, a fact which these fluent fellows completely fail to realise. 6 And so you will find some persons who regard themselves as too eloquent to speak in the courts. On the other hand, the man, whom we conducted to the forum while still young and in the charm of immaturity, should begin with as easy and favourable a case as may be (just as the cubs of wild beasts are brought up to start with on softer forms of prey), and should not proceed straight from this commencement to plead case after case without a break, or cause his talents to set and harden while they still require nourishment; on the contrary, as soon as he has come to realise the nature of the conflicts in which he will have to engage and the object to which his studies should be directed, he should take an interval of rest and refreshment. 7 Thus, at an age to which boldness is still natural, he will find it easy to get over the timidity which invariably accompanies the period of apprenticeship, and  p419 will not, on the other hand, carry his boldness so far as to lead him to despise the difficulties of his task. This was the method employed by Cicero: for when he had already won a distinguished position at the bar of his day, he took ship to Asia and there studied under a number of professors of philosophy and rhetoric, but above all under Apollonius Molon, whose lectures he had attended at Rome and to whom now at Rhodes entrusted the refashioning and recasting of his style. It is only when theory and practice are brought into a perfect harmony that the orator reaps the reward of all his study.

The Translator's Notes:

11 Chs. xx, xxvii, and xxxi.

12 See III.VI.45.

13 See III.VI.23.

14 See III.VI.15.

15 Probably an allusion to contradictory laws. See VII.VII.

16 See VII.IX.

17 See III.VI.31.

18 i.e. natural philosophy in the widest sense.

19 § 15.

20 Or. iii.12.

21 παιδείαν πᾶσαν ἀκάτιον ἀράμενος φεῦγε.

22 See II.I.9, III. v.5 and 10.

23 Ad horam constare appears to be a technical term for "appearance at the preliminary hour," the purpose of which is indicated in the paraphrase given above.

24 i.e. as well as experts on the law.

25 The praetor's edicts were displayed on a whitened board (in albo), while the headings of the civil law were written in red.

Thayer's Note: That by way of explaining the Latin, album ac rubricas; the latter from rubrum, red.

26 de Or. I.LV.236.

27 I Pr. 22 and XII Pr. 4.

28 I Pr. 27.

29 de Or. I.XXVIII.128.

30 Of the Centumviral Court. Four different cases were being tried simultaneously.

31 Demosthenes was 18, Crassus 19, Caesar 21, Asinius Pollio 22 and Calvus not much older. See Tac. Dial. 34.

32 pro Rosc. Amer. xxvi.72.

33 Orat. xxx.107.

Page updated: 2 Jun 08