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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Of the Offices of Literature and Poetry
By Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 B.C.)
 
From the ‘Oration for the Poet Archias’

YOU ask us, O Gratius, why we are so exceedingly attached to this man. Because he supplies us with food whereby our mind is refreshed after this noise in the Forum, and with rest for our ears after they have been wearied with bad language. Do you think it possible that we could find a supply for our daily speeches, when discussing such a variety of matters, unless we were to cultivate our minds by the study of literature? or that our minds could bear being kept so constantly on the stretch if we did not relax them by that same study? But I confess that I am devoted to those studies; let others be ashamed of them if they have buried themselves in books without being able to produce anything out of them for the common advantage, or anything which may bear the eyes of men and the light. But why need I be ashamed, who for many years have lived in such a manner as never to allow my own love of tranquillity to deny me to the necessity or advantage of another, or my fondness for pleasure to distract, or even sleep to delay, my attention to such claims? Who then can reproach me, or who has any right to be angry with me, if I allow myself as much time for the cultivation of these studies as some take for the performance of their own business; or for celebrating days of festival and games; or for other pleasures; or even for the rest and refreshment of mind and body; or as others devote to early banquets, to playing at dice, or at ball? And this ought to be permitted to me, because by these studies my power of speaking and those faculties are improved, which as far as they do exist in me have never been denied to my friends when they have been in peril. And if that ability appears to any one to be but moderate, at all events I know whence I derive those principles which are of the greatest value. For if I had not persuaded myself from my youth upwards, both by the precepts of many masters and by much reading, that there is nothing in life greatly to be desired except praise and honor, and that while pursuing those things all tortures of the body, all dangers of death and banishment are to be considered but of small importance, I should never have exposed myself in defense of your safety to such numerous and arduous contests, and to these daily attacks of profligate men. But all books are full of such precepts, and all the sayings of philosophers, and all antiquity, are full of precedents teaching the same lesson; but all these things would lie buried in darkness if the light of literature and learning were not applied to them. How many images of the bravest men, carefully elaborated, have both the Greek and Latin writers bequeathed to us, not merely for us to look at and gaze upon, but also for our imitation! And I, always keeping them before my eyes as examples for my own public conduct, have endeavored to model my mind and views by continually thinking of those excellent men.  1
  Some one will ask “What! were those identical great men, whose virtues have been recorded in books, accomplished in all that learning which you are extolling so highly?” It is difficult to assert this of all of them; but still I know what answer I can make to that question: I admit that many men have existed of admirable disposition and virtue, who without learning, by the almost divine instinct of their own mere nature, have been, of their own accord as it were, moderate and wise men. I even add this, that very often nature without learning has had more to do with leading men to credit and to virtue, than learning when not assisted by a good natural disposition. And I also contend that when to an excellent and admirable natural disposition there is added a certain system and training of education, then from that combination arises an extraordinary perfection of character: such as is seen in that godlike man whom our fathers saw in their time—Africanus; and in Caius Lælius and Lucius Furius, most virtuous and moderate men; and in that most excellent man, the most learned man of his time, Marcus Cato the elder: and all these men, if they had been to derive no assistance from literature in the cultivation and practice of virtue, would never have applied themselves to the study of it. Though even if there were no such great advantage to be reaped from it, and if it were only pleasure that is sought from these studies, still I imagine you would consider it a most reasonable and liberal employment of the mind: for other occupations are not suited to every time, nor to every age or place; but these studies are the food of youth, the delight of old age; the ornament of prosperity, the refuge and comfort of adversity; a delight at home, and no hindrance abroad; they are companions by night, and in travel, and in the country.  2
  And if we ourselves were not able to arrive at these advantages, nor even taste them with our senses, still we ought to admire them even when we saw them in others…. And indeed, we have constantly heard from men of the greatest eminence and learning that the study of other sciences was made up of learning, and rules, and regular method; but that a poet was such by the unassisted work of nature, and was moved by the vigor of his own mind, and was inspired as it were by some divine wrath. Wherefore rightly does our own great Ennius call poets holy; because they seem to be recommended to us by some especial gift, as it were, and liberality of the gods. Let then, judges, this name of poet, this name which no barbarians even have ever disregarded, be holy in your eyes, men of cultivated minds as you all are. Rocks and deserts reply to the poet’s voice; savage beasts are often moved and arrested by song; and shall we who have been trained in the pursuit of the most virtuous acts refuse to be swayed by the voice of poets? The Colophonians say that Homer was their citizen; the Chians claim him as theirs; the Salaminians assert their right to him; but the men of Smyrna loudly assert him to be a citizen of Smyrna, and they have even raised a temple to him in their city. Many other places also fight with one another for the honor of being his birthplace.  3
  They then claim a stranger, even after his death, because he was a poet: shall we reject this man while he is alive, a man who by his own inclination and by our laws does actually belong to us? especially when Archias has employed all his genius with the utmost zeal in celebrating the glory and renown of the Roman people? For when a young man, he touched on our wars against the Cimbri and gained the favor even of Caius Marius himself, a man who was tolerably proof against this sort of study. For there was no one so disinclined to the Muses as not willingly to endure that the praise of his labors should be made immortal by means of verse. They say that the great Themistocles, the greatest man that Athens produced, said when some one asked him what sound or whose voice he took the greatest delight in hearing, “The voice of that by whom his own exploits were best celebrated.” Therefore, the great Marius was also exceedingly attached to Lucius Plotius, because he thought that the achievement which he had performed could be celebrated by his genius. And the whole Mithridatic war, great and difficult as it was, and carried on with so much diversity of fortune by land and sea, has been related at length by him; and the books in which that is sung of, not only make illustrious Lucius Lucullus, that most gallant and celebrated man, but they do honor also to the Roman people. For while Lucullus was general, the Roman people opened Pontus, though it was defended both by the resources of the king and by the character of the country itself. Under the same general the army of the Roman people, with no very great numbers, routed the countless hosts of the Armenians. It is the glory of the Roman people that by the wisdom of that same general, the city of the Cyzicenes, most friendly to us, was delivered and preserved from all the attacks of the kind, and from the very jaws as it were of the whole war. Ours is the glory which will be for ever celebrated, which is derived from the fleet of the enemy which was sunk after its admirals had been slain, and from the marvelous naval battle off Tenedos: those trophies belong to us, those monuments are ours, those triumphs are ours. Therefore I say that the men by whose genius these exploits are celebrated make illustrious at the same time the glory of the Roman people. Our countryman Ennius was dear to the elder Africanus; and even on the tomb of the Scipios his effigy is believed to be visible, carved in the marble. But undoubtedly it is not only the men who are themselves praised who are done honor to by those praises, but the name of the Roman people also is adorned by them. Cato, the ancestor of this Cato, is extolled to the skies. Great honor is paid to the exploits of the Roman people. Lastly, all those great men, the Maximi, the Marcelli, and the Fulvii, are done honor to, not without all of us having also a share in the panegyric….  4
  Certainly, if the mind had no anticipations of posterity, and if it were to confine all its thoughts within the same limits as those by which the space of our lives is bounded, it would neither break itself with such severe labors, nor would it be tormented with such cares and sleepless anxiety, nor would it so often have to fight for its very life. At present there is a certain virtue in every good man, which night and day stirs up the mind with the stimulus of glory, and reminds it that all mention of our name will not cease at the same time with our lives, but that our fame will endure to all posterity.  5
  Do we all who are occupied in the affairs of the State, and who are surrounded by such perils and dangers in life, appear to be so narrow-minded as, though to the last moment of our lives we have never passed one tranquil or easy moment, to think that everything will perish at the same time as ourselves? Ought we not, when many most illustrious men have with great care collected and left behind them statues and images, representations not of their minds but of their bodies, much more to desire to leave behind us a copy of our counsels and of our virtues, wrought and elaborated by the greatest genius? I thought, at the very moment of performing them, that I was scattering and disseminating all the deeds which I was performing, all over the world for the eternal recollection of nations. And whether that delight is to be denied to my soul after death, or whether, as the wisest men have thought, it will affect some portion of my spirit, at all events I am at present delighted with some such idea and hope.  6
 
 
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