Ibi, ut ex pristino sermone relaxarentur animi omnium, solebat Cotta narrare, Crassum sermonem quendam de studio dicendi intulisse. qui cum ita esset exorsus, non sibi cohortandum Sulpicium et Cottam, sed magis utrumque collaudandum videri, quod tantam iam essent facultatem adepti, ut non aequalibus suis solum anteponerentur, sed cum maioribus natu compararentur, “neque vero mihi quicquam” inquit “praestabilius videtur, quam posse dicendo tenere hominum coetus, mentes allicere, voluntates impellere quo velit; unde autem velit, deducere. haec una res in omni libero populo, maximeque in pacatis tranquillisque civitatibus, praecipue semper floruit, semperque dominata est. quid enim est aut tam admirabile, quam ex infinita multitudine hominum exsistere unum, qui id, quod omnibus natura sit datum, vel solus vel cum paucis facere possit? aut tam iucundum cognitu atque auditu, quam sapientibus sententiis gravibusque verbis ornata oratio et polita? aut tam potens tamque magnificum, quam populi motus, iudicum religiones, senatus gravitatem unius oratione converti? quid tam porro regium, tam liberale, tam munificum, quam opem ferre supplicibus, excitare adflictos, dare salutem, liberare periculis, retinere homines in civitate? quid autem tam necessarium, quam tenere semper arma, quibus vel tectus ipse esse possis vel provocare integer vel te ulcisci lacessitus? age vero, ne semper forum, subsellia, rostra curiamque meditere, quid esse potest in otio aut iucundius aut magis proprium humanitatis, quam sermo facetus ac nulla in re rudis? hoc enim uno praestamus vel maxime feris, quod colloquimur inter nos, et quod exprimere dicendo sensa possumus. quam ob rem quis hoc non iure miretur, summeque in eo elaborandum esse arbitretur, ut, quo uno homines maxime bestiis praestent, in hoc hominibus ipsis antecellat? ut vero iam ad illa summa veniamus; quae vis alia potuit aut dispersos homines unum in locum congregare, aut a fera agrestique vita ad hunc humanum cultum civilemque deducere, aut, iam constitutis civitatibus, leges, iudicia, iura describere? ac, ne plura, quae sunt paene innumerabilia, consecter, comprehendam brevi; sic enim statuo, perfecti oratoris moderatione et sapientia non solum ipsius dignitatem, sed et privatorum plurimorum et universae rei publicae salutem maxime contineri. quam ob rem pergite, ut facitis, adulescentes, atque in id studium, in quo estis, incumbite, ut et vobis honori et amicis utilitati et rei publicae emolumento esse possitis.”
(Cicero, De Oratore 1.29-34)

In that place, as Cotta was fond of relating, Crassus introduced a conversation on the pursuit of oratory, with a view to relieving all minds from the discourse of the day before. He began by saying that Sulpicius and Cotta seemed not to need exhortation from him but rather commendation, seeing that thus early they had acquired such skill as not merely to be ranked above their equals in age, but to be comparable with their elders. “Moreover,” he continued, “there is to my mind no more excellent thing than the power, by means of oratory, to get a hold on assemblies of men, win their good will, direct their inclinations wherever the speaker wishes, or divert them from whatever he wishes. In every free nation, and most of all in communities which have attained the enjoyment of peace and tranquillity, this one art has always flourished above the rest and ever reigned supreme. For what is so marvellous as that, out of the innumerable company of mankind, a single being should arise, who either alone or with a few others can make effective a faculty bestowed by nature upon every man? Or what so pleasing to the understanding and the ear as a speech adorned and polished with wise reflections and dignified language ? Or what achievement so mighty and glorious as that the impulses of the crowd, the consciences of the judges, the austerity of the Senate, should suffer transformation through the eloquence of one man? What function again is so kingly, so worthy of the free, so generous, as to bring help to the suppliant, to raise up those that are cast down, to bestow security, to set free from peril, to maintain men in their civil rights ? What too is so indispensable as to have always in your grasp weapons wherewith you can defend yourself, or challenge the wicked man, or when provoked take your revenge?” Nay more (not to have you for ever contemplating public affairs, the bench, the platform, and the Senate-house), what in hours of ease can be a pleasanter thing or one more characteristic of culture, than discourse that is graceful and nowhere uninstructed? For the one point in which we have our very greatest advantage over the brute creation is that we hold converse one with another, and can reproduce our thought in word. Who therefore would not rightly admire this faculty, and deem it his duty to exert himself to the utmost in this field, that by so doing he may surpass men themselves in that particular respect wherein chiefly men are superior to animals? To come, however, at length to the highest achievements of eloquence, what other power could have been strong enough either to gather scattered humanity into one place, or to lead it out of its brutish existence in the wilderness up to our present condition of civilization as men and as citizens, or, after the establishment of social communities, to give shape to laws, tribunals, and civic rights? And not to pursue any further instances—wellnigh countless as they are—I will conclude the whole matter in a few words, for my assertion is this: that the wise control of the complete orator is that which chiefly upholds not only his own dignity, but the safety of countless individuals and of the entire State. Go forward therefore, my young friends, in your present course, and bend your energies to that study which engages you, that so it may be in your power to become a glory to yourselves, a source of service to your friends, and profitable members of the Republic.” (tr. Edward William Sutton)

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