CHAPTER VII. ROMAN LITERATURE.
But all the orators of Greece - and Greece was the land of orators - gave way to Demosthenes, born B.C. 385. He received a good education, and is said to have been instructed in philosophy by Plato, and in eloquence by Isocrates. But it is more probable that he privately prepared himself for his brilliant career. As soon as he attained his majority, he brought suits against the men whom his father had appointed his guardians for their waste of property, and was, after two years, successful, conducting the prosecution himself. It was not until the age of thirty that he appeared as a speaker in the public assembly on political matters, and he enjoyed universal respect, and became one of the leading statesmen of Athens, and henceforth he took an active part in every question that concerned the state. He especially distinguished himself in his speeches against Macedonian aggrandizements, and his Philippics are, perhaps, the most brilliant of his orations. But the cause which he advocated was unfortunate. The battle of Cheronea, B.C. 338, put an end to the independence of Greece, and Philip of Macedon was all-powerful. For this catastrophe Demosthenes was somewhat responsible, but his motives were pure and his patriotism lofty, and he retained the confidence of his countrymen. Accused by Aeschines, he delivered his famous Oration on the Crown. Afterwards, during the supremacy of Alexander, he was again accused, and suffered exile. Recalled from exile, on the death of Alexander, he roused himself for the deliverance of Greece, without success, and, hunted by his enemies, he took poison in the sixty-third year of his age, having vainly contended for the freedom of his country, - one of the noblest spirits of antiquity, spotless in his public career, and lofty in his private life. As an orator, he has not probably been equaled by any man of any country. By his contemporaries he was regarded as faultless as a public speaker, and when it is remembered that he struggled against physical difficulties which, in the early part of his career, would have utterly discouraged any ordinary man, we feel that he deserves the highest commendation. He never spoke without preparation, and most of his orations were severely elaborated. He never trusted to the impulse of the occasion. And all his orations exhibit him as a pure and noble patriot, and are full of the loftiest sentiments. He was a great artist, and his oratorical successes were greatly owing to the arrangement of his speeches and the application of the strongest arguments in their proper places. Added to this moral and intellectual superiority was the "magic power of his language, majestic and simple at the same time, rich yet not bombastic, strange and yet familiar, solemn without being ornamented, grave and yet pleasing, concise and yet fluent, sweet and yet impressive, which altogether carried away the minds of his hearers." [Footnote: Leonhard Schmitz.] His orations were most highly prized by the ancients, who wrote innumerable commentaries on them, but most of these criticisms are lost. Sixty, however, of these great productions of genius have come down to us, and are contained in the various collections of the Attic orators by Aldus, Stephens, Taylor, Reiske, Dukas, Bekker, Dobson, and Sauppe. Demosthenes, like other orators, first became known as the composer of speeches for litigants; but his great fame was based on the orations he pronounced in great political emergencies. His rival was Aeschines, but he was vastly inferior to Demosthenes, although bold, vigorous, and brilliant. Indeed, the opinions of mankind, for two thousand years, have been unanimous in ascribing to Demosthenes the highest position as an orator of all the men of ancient and modern times. David Hume says of him, "that, could his manner be copied, its success would be infallible over a modern audience." "It 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 continual stream of argument; so that, of all human productions, his orations present to us the models which approach the nearest to perfection." [Footnote: Dissertation of Lord Brougham on the Eloquence of the Ancients.]
It is probable that the Romans were behind the Athenians in all the arts of rhetoric; and yet in the days of the republic celebrated orators arose, called out by the practice of the law and political meetings. It was, in fact, in forensic eloquence that Latin prose first appears as a cultivated language; for the forum was to the Romans what libraries are to us. And the art of public speaking was very early developed. Cato, Laelius, Carbo, and the Gracchi are said to have been majestic and harmonious in speech. Their merits were eclipsed by Antonius, Crassus, Cotta, Sulpitius, and Hortensius. The last had a very brilliant career as an orator, although his orations were too florid to be read. Caesar was also distinguished for his eloquence, the characteristics of which were force and purity. Caelius was noted for lofty sentiment; Brutus for philosophical wisdom; Callidus for a delicate and harmonious style, and Calvus for sententious force.
But all the Roman orators yielded to Cicero, as the Greeks did to Demosthenes. These two men are always coupled together when allusion is made to eloquence. They were preeminent in the ancient world, and have never been equaled in the modern.