Quatenus autem sint ridicula tractanda oratori, perquam diligenter videndum est, id quod in quarto loco quaerendi posueramus. nam nec insignis improbitas, et scelere iuncta, nec rursus miseria insignis agitata ridetur: facinorosos enim maiore quadam vi quam ridiculi vulnerari volunt; miseros illudi nolunt nisi se forte iactant. parcendum est autem maxime caritati hominum, ne temere in eos dicas qui diliguntur. haec igitur adhibenda est primum in iocando moderatio.
(Cicero, De Oratore 2.237-238)

But the limits within which things laughable are to be handled by the orator, that fourth question we put to ourselves, is one calling for most careful consideration. For neither outstanding wickedness, such as involves crime, nor, on the other hand, outstanding wretchedness is assailed by ridicule, for the public would have the villainous hurt by a weapon rather more formidable than ridicule; while they dislike mockery of the wretched, except perhaps if these bear themselves arrogantly. And you must be especially tender of popular esteem, so that you do not inconsiderately speak ill of the well-beloved. Such then is the restraint that, above all else, must be practised in jesting. (tr. Edward William Sutton)



Ἄκουε δὴ λόγου ἀτόπου μέν, ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς δὲ Ἑλλήνων πεπραγμένου. Ἰσθμοῖ γὰρ νόμου κειμένου μήτε κωμῳδίαν ἀγωνίζεσθαι μήτε τραγῳδίαν, ἐδόκει Νέρωνι τραγῳδοὺς νικᾶν. καὶ παρῆλθον εἰς τὴν ἀγωνίαν ταύτην πλείους μέν, ὁ δ’ Ἠπειρώτης ἄριστα φωνῆς ἔχων, εὐδοκιμῶν δ’ ἐπ’ αὐτῇ καὶ θαυμαζόμενος λαμπρότερα τοῦ εἰωθότος ἐπλάττετο καὶ τοῦ στεφάνου ἐρᾶν καὶ μηδ’ ἀνήσειν τῆς νίκης. ὁ δ’ ἠγρίαινέ τε καὶ μανικῶς εἶχε· καὶ γὰρ δὴ καὶ ἠκροᾶτο ὑπὸ τῇ σκηνῇ ἐπ’ αὐτῷ δὴ τἀγῶνι. βοώντων δὲ τῶν Ἑλλήνων ἐπὶ τῷ Ἠπειρώτῃ, πέμπει τὸν γραμματέα κελεύων ὑφεῖναι αὐτῷ τοῦτον. αὐτοῦ δὲ ὑπεραίροντος τὸ φθέγμα καὶ δημοτικῶς ἐρίζοντος εἰσπέμπει Νέρων ἐπ’ ὀκριβάντων τοὺς ἑαυτοῦ ὑποκριτὰς οἷον προσήκοντάς τι τῷ πράγματι· καὶ γὰρ δὴ καὶ δέλτους ἐλεφαντίνους καὶ διθύρους προβεβλημένοι αὐτὰς ὥσπερ ἐγχειρίδια καὶ τὸν Ἠπειρώτην ἀναστήσαντες πρὸς τὸν ἀγχοῦ κίονα κατέαξαν αὐτοῦ τὴν φάρυγγα παίοντες ὀρθαῖς ταῖς δέλτοις.
(Philostratus (?), Nero 8-9)

Listen then to a tale that may be extraordinary but yet took place before the eyes of Greeks. Although custom ordains that there should be no comic or tragic contests at the Isthmus, Nero resolved to win a tragic victory. This contest was entered by several including the man from Epirus*, who, having an excellent voice which had won him fame and admiration, was unusually ostentatious in pretending that he had set his heart on the crown of victory and wouldn’t give it up before Nero gave him ten talents as the price of victory. Nero was mad with rage; for he had been listening under the stage during the actual contest. When the Greeks shouted in applause of the Epirote, Nero sent his secretary to bid him yield to him. But he raised his voice and went on competing as if they were all free and equal, till Nero sent his own actors on to the platform as though they belonged to the act. For they held writing tablets of ivory and double ones indeed poised before them like daggers and, forcing the Epirote against the pillar near-by, they smashed his throat in with the edge of their tablets.

* Alternatively Epirotes may be the man’s name.

(tr. Matthew D. MacLeod, with his note)



Tyrannus, suspicatus sibi venenum datum ab eo medico quem in arce habebat, torsit eum. ille pernegavit. misit ad medicum civitatis. dixit datum illi ab illo venenum, sed se remedium daturum. dedit poculum, quo exhausto statim periit tyrannus. contendunt de praemio.
absit, sanctissimi iudices, ut hanc vos fidem tyrannicidii detrahatis quam et medicus confirmaverit et tyrannus. confingunt nocendi voluntatem postquam sanandi rationem perdiderunt. poenas meas hinc cogitate in quibus nec ira nec natura cessavit. tolerabilis vis est ubi ad consuetudinem mali causa necessitatis emergit. ultio quidem illa, non quaestio. tyrannus venenum non quaesivit; se vindicavit! praemium consequitur qui ausus est et confirmare meum venenum et suum remedium polliceri? o quam facile † regunt persuasiones illecebrae, verumque in contrarium tranferunt! † virus serpebat interius et artus omnes longa poenarum dilatione languebant. veneficium iam tyrannus agnoverat. quia instantem interitum sentiebat, festinans medicum flagitabat. unde venenum tam celeriter praeparasti? dicis forte, “maior mihi dandi veneni fiebat occasio quae ex ipsius voluntate veniebat.” nativum hoc genus timoris est, ut ex sensu priore ad cuncta cautior sollicitudo procedat. nonne iam apud tyrannum cuncta suspecta praesens formido faciebat? medicum tota arce clamabat quasi ego de tyrannicidio non negassem. in arce me nec animus deseruit nec venenum. (Calpurnius Flaccus, Decl. 13)

The Doctor Who Killed a Tyrant

The Law: There is a reward for slaying a tyrant.

The Situation: Suspecting that he had been given poison by a particular doctor whom he kept on call in his castle, a tyrant tortured the man, but he steadfastly denied it. The tyrant sent for the city’s doctor. He told the tyrant that he had been given poison by the other doctor, but that he would administer an antidote. He gave the tyrant a cupful, and, after draining it, he immediately died. They dispute over the reward.

(Speech of the castle doctor)

August members of this tribunal, God forbid that you should impugn this convincing evidence of the tyrannicide which both a doctor and a tyrant have corroborated. They are fabricating the intent to harm him, after they lost the means of curing him. Consider my punishment at this man’s hands, in the course of which neither his rage nor his inborn bent relented. Violence is endurable when the reason of its inevitability emerges to deal with the continued suffering of pain. That was indeed his revenge, not an interrogation. The tyrant did not interrogate me about the poison; no, he vented his vengeance! Does the man who dared both to corroborate my own act of poisoning and to promise his own antidote now aim at the reward? Oh, how easily + the enticements carry within them the capacity to convince and shift the truth into its opposite! + The poisonous brew kept slowly spreading more deeply during the lengthy delay caused by my punishment. At this stage the tyrant became fully aware of the poison. Since he began to realize that death was imminent, pressed for time, he began to clamor for a doctor. By what means did you prepare a poison so quickly? Perhaps you are saying, “I had a more favorable opportunity for administering the poison since it arose from his own free choice.” Well, there exists this naturally occurring type of <fear>, with the result that a more cautious concern would arise from his previous experience in regard to all the circumstances. Didn’t his immediate sense of alarm now begin to render everything as suspicious in the tyrant’s eyes? The tyrant kept shouting for a doctor throughout the entire castle as if I hadn’t denied anything about my attempt on his life. In that castle neither my courage – nor my poison – failed me. (tr. Lewis A. Sussman)



Post illum* successit Hely filius eius: regnumque quadraginta annis tractavit. hic tres generavit filios: Lud, Cassibellaunum, Nennium: quorum primogenitus, videlicet Lud, regnum post obitum patris suscepit. exin gloriosus aedificator urbium existens, renovavit muros Trinovanti et innumerabilibus turribus eam circumcinxit. praecepit etiam civibus ut domus et aedificia sua in eadem construerent, ita ut non esset in longe positis regnis civitas quae pulchriora palatia contineret. fuit ipse bellicosus homo et in dandis epulis profusus. et cum plures civitates possideret, hanc prae omnibus amabat: et in illa maiori parte totius anni commanebat: unde nominata fuit postmodum Kaerlud. et deinde per corruptionem nominis Kaerlondon. succedente vero tempore per commutationem linguarum dicta fuit Londoniae: et postea Londres applicantibus alienigenis, qui patriam sibi submittebant.

* illum = Cligueillum

(Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae 20.3)

Next to him succeeded his son Heli, who reigned forty years. He had three sons, Lud, Cassibellaun, and Nennius; of whom Lud, being the eldest, succeeded to the kingdom after his father’s death. He became famous for the building of cities, and for rebuilding the walls of Trinovantum, which he also surrounded with innumerable towers. He likewise commanded the citizens to build houses, and all other kinds of structures in it, so that no city in all foreign countries to a great distance round could show more beautiful palaces. He was withal a warlike man, and very magnificent in his feasts and public entertainments. And though he had many other cities, yet he loved this above them all, and resided in it the greater part of the year; for which reason it was afterwards called Kaerlud, and by the corruption of the word, Kaer-london; and again by change of languages, in process of time, London; as also by foreigners who arrived here, and reduced this country under their subjection, it was called Londres. (tr. Aaron Thompson & J.A. Giles)


Tune, cum te ac tuam vitam nosses, in Siciliam tecum grandem praetextatum filium ducebas, ut, etiamsi natura puerum a paternis vitiis atque a generis similitudine abduceret, consuetudo tamen eum et disciplina degenerare non sineret? fac enim fuisse in eo C. Laelii aut M. Catonis materiem atque indolem: quid ex eo boni sperari atque effici potest, qui in patris luxurie sic vixerit ut nullum umquam pudicum neque sobrium convivium viderit, qui in epulis cotidianis adulta aetate per triennium inter impudicas mulieres et intemperantes viros versatus sit, nihil umquam audierit a patre quo pudentior aut melior esset, nihil umquam patrem facere viderit quod cum imitatus esset non, id quod turpissimum est, patris similis putaretur?
(Cicero, In Verrem 2.3.159-160)

How could you, Verres, knowing yourself and the life you lead, take with you to Sicily a young son who was no longer a child, so that, even if his natural bent tended to wean him from his father’s vices and make him unlike his family, habit and training might nevertheless keep him true to type? Suppose there had been in him the stuff and the disposition to make a Laelius or a Cato of him, what good could be hoped for, or produced from, a boy living amid his father’s debaucheries, so that he never set eyes on one decent or sober dinner-party; a boy who day by day for three years spent his adolescence feasting with unchaste women and intoxicated men, who never heard his father say anything that could make him more modest or virtuous, or do anything that he could copy without incurring the foul disgrace of being recognized as his father’s son? (tr. Leonard Hugh Graham Greenwood)


Justus Sustermans, The Family of Darius in Front of Alexander

Ταῦτα μὲν Πτολεμαῖος καὶ Ἀριστόβουλος λέγουσι· λόγος δὲ ἔχει καὶ αὐτὸν Ἀλέξανδρον τῇ ὑστεραίᾳ ἐλθεῖν εἴσω ξὺν Ἡφαιστίωνι μόνῳ τῶν ἑταίρων· καὶ τὴν μητέρα τὴν Δαρείου ἀμφιγνοήσασαν ὅστις ὁ βασιλεὺς εἴη αὐτοῖν, ἐστάλθαι γὰρ ἄμφω τῷ αὐτῷ κόσμῳ, τὴν δὲ Ἡφαιστίωνι προσελθεῖν καὶ προσκυνῆσαι, ὅτι μείζων ἐφάνη ἐκεῖνος. ὡς δὲ ὁ Ἡφαιστίων τε ὀπίσω ὑπεχώρησε καί τις τῶν ἀμφ’ αὐτήν, τὸν Ἀλέξανδρον δείξας, ἐκεῖνον ἔφη εἶναι Ἀλέξανδρον, τὴν μὲν καταιδεισθεῖσαν τῇ διαμαρτίᾳ ὑποχωρεῖν, Ἀλέξανδρον δὲ οὐ φάναι αὐτὴν ἁμαρτεῖν· καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνον εἶναι Ἀλέξανδρον. καὶ ταῦτα ἐγὼ οὔθ’ ὡς ἀληθῆ οὔτε ὡς πάντῃ ἄπιστα ἀνέγραψα. ἀλλ’ εἴτε οὕτως ἐπράχθη, ἐπαινῶ Ἀλέξανδρον τῆς τε ἐς τὰς γυναῖκας κατοικτίσεως καἱ τῆς ἐς τὸν ἑταῖρον πίστεως καὶ τιμῆς· εἴτε πιθανὸς δοκεῖ τοῖς συγγράψασιν Ἀλέξανδρος ὡς καὶ ταῦτα ἂν πράξας καὶ εἰπών, καὶ ἐπὶ τῷδε ἐπαινῶ Ἀλέξανδρον.
(Arrian, Anabasis Alexandrou 2.12.6-7)

This is the account of Ptolemaeus and Aristobulus; there is, however, a story that next day Alexander himself visited the tent with Hephaestion and no other companion; and Darius’ mother, not knowing which of the two was the king, as both were dressed alike, approached Hephaestion and did him obeisance, since he appeared the taller. Hephaestion drew back, and one of her attendants pointed to Alexander and said he was the king; she drew back in confusion at her mistake, but Alexander remarked that she had made no mistake, for Hephaestion was also an Alexander. I have written this down without asserting its truth or total incredibility. If it really happened, I approve of Alexander’s compassion for the women and of the trust and honour bestowed on his companion. If the historians of Alexander think it plausible that he would have acted and spoken in this way, I approve of Alexander on that ground too. (tr. Peter Astbury Brunt)



Σκοπεῖτε δέ· καλεῖν κελεύω τοὺς νέους ἐπ’ ἀκρόασιν, δραμὼν ὁ παῖς τοῦτο ποιεῖ, οἱ δ’ οὐ μιμοῦνται τὸν ἐκείνου δρόμον, ὃν ἔδει τῷ παρ’ αὑτῶν καὶ νικᾶν, ἀλλ’ οἱ μὲν ἐν ταῖς ᾠδαῖς μένουσιν ἃς ἴσασιν ἅπαντες, οἱ δ’ ἐν φλυαρίαις, οἱ δ’ ἐν γέλωσι· τῆς δὲ ἐν τούτοις βραδυτῆτος παρὰ τῶν ὁρώντων κατηγορουμένης, εἴ ποτε καὶ γνοῖεν εἰσελθεῖν, κατὰ τὰς νύμφας βαδίζουσιν ἤ, τό γε ἀληθέστερον, κατὰ τοὺς ἐπὶ τῶν καλῶν ἰόντας, πρίν τε εἴσω θυρῶν εἶναι καὶ εἰσελθόντες, ὥστ’ εἶναι τοῖς καθημένοις ἀγανακτεῖν οὕτω βλακεύοντας ἀναμένουσι νέους. καὶ τοιαῦτα μὲν τὰ πρὸ τοῦ λόγου, λεγομένου δὲ ἤδη καὶ δεικνυμένου πολλὰ μὲν νεύματα πρὸς ἀλλήλους ὑπὲρ ἡνιόχων καὶ μίμων καὶ ἵππων καὶ ὀρχηστῶν, πολλὰ δὲ ὑπὲρ μάχης ἢ γενομένης ἢ μελλούσης. ἔτι τοίνυν οἱ μὲν ἑστᾶσι, λιθίνοις ἐοικότες, καρπῷ καρπὸν ἐπιβάλλοντες, οἱ δ’ ἑκατέρᾳ χειρὶ τὰς ῥῖνας ἐνοχλοῦσιν, οἱ δὲ κάθηνται τοσούτων ὄντων τῶν κινούντων, οἱ δὲ βίᾳ καθίζουσι τὸν κεκινημένον, οἱ δ’ ἀριθμοῦσι τοὺς ἐπεισερχομένους, τοῖς δ’ ἀρκεῖ πρὸς τὰ φύλλα βλέπειν, τοῖς δὲ λαλεῖν ὅ τι τύχοιεν ἥδιον ἢ παρέχειν αὑτοὺς τῷ ῥήτορι. τὰ δ’ αὖ νεανικώτερα, τὸν γνήσιον τῷ νόθῳ βλάψαι κρότον, καὶ βοὴν κωλύσαι προελθεῖν, καὶ διὰ τοῦ θεάτρου πορευθῆναι παντὸς ἀφέλκοντα τῶν λόγων ὁπόσους οἷόν τε, νῦν μὲν ἀγγελίαις ἐψευσμέναις, νῦν δ’ ἐπὶ λουτρὸν κλήσει τὸ πρὸ ἀρίστου· δαπανῶνται γὰρ δὴ καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτά τινες. οὔτ’ οὖν ὑμῖν, ὦ κακοὶ νέοι, κέρδος οὐδέν, ὥσπερ οὐδὲ τοῖς ἀποῦσιν, οὔτε τῷ λέγοντι τό γε ἐφ’ ὑμᾶς ἧκον, ὅταν ὃς μόνος ἐστὶ μισθὸς ἐπιδείξεων, τοῦτον οὐκ ἔχῃ.
(Libanius, Or. 3.11-14)

Just consider. I tell my slave to invite the students to a lecture. Off he runs and does my bidding, but they don’t match his speed, though it should be even outdone by their own: some of them dilly-dally over popular songs, or horse-play, or joking, and if ever they do condescend to put in an appearance, when the onlookers object to their slowness on such occasions, they mince along like brides or, with more truth perhaps, like tight-rope walkers, both before and after entering the door, so that they annoy those already seated and awaiting the arrival of such idle young good-for-nothings. That is what happens before the speech; but when I am speaking and developing any theme, there is much nodding of heads to one another about drivers, actors, horses, dancers or some fight that has happened or is due to happen. What is more, some stand there with arms folded like graven images, or fidget with their noses with either hand, or sit stock still, though there is so much to excite them, or they force an excited listener to sit down, or count the number of the newcomers, or content themselves with looking at the leaves or chattering about anything that comes into their heads – anything rather than attend to the speaker. And the horse-play, too! – spoiling genuine applause with the slow hand-clap, preventing the utterance of an approving cheer, walking through the middle of the whole theatre and diverting as many as they can away from the speech, sometimes by a faked message, sometimes by an invitation to bathe before dinner – yes! There are people who waste their money even on things like that! You wretched students, there is no more profit in it for you, any more than for absentees, nor for the speaker, at least as far as you are concerned, when he fails to get the one real reward for declamations. (tr. Albert Francis Norman)