Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
XL. To Catius Lepidus
I OFTEN tell you that there is a certain force of character about Regulus: it is wonderful how he carries through what he has set his mind to. He chose lately to be extremely concerned for the loss of his son: accordingly he mourned for him as never man mourned before. He took it into his head to have an immense number of statues and pictures of him; immediately all the artisans in Rome are set to work. Canvas, wax, brass, silver, gold, ivory, marble, all exhibit the figure of the young Regulus. Not long ago he read, before a numerous audience, a memoir of his son: a memoir of a mere boy! However, he read it. He wrote likewise a sort of circular letter to the several Decurii, desiring them to choose out one of their order who had a strong, clear voice, to read this eulogy to the people; it has been actually done. Now had his force of character, or whatever else you may call a fixed determination in obtaining whatever one has a mind for, been rightly applied, what infinite good it might have effected! The misfortune is, there is less of this quality about good people than about bad people, and as ignorance begets rashness, and thoughtfulness produces deliberation, so modesty is apt to cripple the action of virtue, whilst confidence strengthens vice. Regulus is a case in point: he has a weak voice, an awkward delivery, an indistinct utterance, a slow imagination, and no memory; in a word, he possesses nothing but a sort of frantic energy: and yet, by the assistance of a flighty turn and much impudence, he passes as an orator. Herennius Senecio admirably reversed Cato’s definition of an orator, and applied it to Regulus: “An orator,” he said, “is a bad man, unskilled in the art of speaking.” And really Cato’s definition is not a more exact description of a true orator than Senecio’s is of the character of this man. Would you make me a suitable return for this letter? Let me know if you, or any of my friends in your town, have, like a stroller in the marketplace, read this doleful production of Regulus’, “raising,” as Demosthenes says, “your voice most merrily, and straining every muscle in your throat.” For so absurd a performance must excite laughter rather than compassion; and indeed the composition is as puerile as the subject. Farewell.