Use the Texts / Library button above to access texts.
The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Translated by Fowler, H W and F G. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1905.
See note at end of piece.
You ask, young man, how you may become a rhetorician, and win yourself the imposing and reverend style of Professor. You tell me life is for you not worth living, if you cannot clothe yourself in that power of the word which shall make you invincible and irresistible, the cynosure of all men’s admiration, the desired of all Grecian ears. Your one wish is to be shown the way to that goal. And small blame, youngster, to one who in the days of his youth sets his gaze upon the things that are highest, and knowing not how he shall attain, comes as you now come to me with the privileged demand for counsel. Take then the best of it that I can give, doubting nothing but you shall speedily be a man accomplished to see the right and to give it expression, if you will henceforth abide by what you now hear from me, practise it with assiduity, and go confidently on your way till it brings you to the desired end.
The object of your pursuit is no poor one, worth but a moderate endeavour; to grasp it you might be content to toil and watch and endure to the utmost; mark how many they are who once were but cyphers, but whom words have raised to fame and opulence, ay, and to noble lineage.
Yet fear not, nor be appalled, when you contemplate the greatness of your aim, by thought of the thousand toils first to be accomplished. It is by no rough mountainous perspiring track that I shall lead you; else were I no better than those other guides who point you to the common way, long, steep, toilsome, nay, for the most part desperate. What should commend my counsel to you is even this: a road most pleasant and most brief, a carriage road of downward slope, shall bring you in all delight and ease, at what leisurely effortless pace you will, through flowery meadows and plenteous shade, to that summit which you shall mount and hold untired and there lie feasting, the while you survey from your height those panting ones who took the other track; they are yet in the first stage of their climb, forcing their slow way amid rough or slippery crags, with many a headlong fall and ma/ny a wound from those sharp rocks. But you will long have been up, and garlanded and blest; you have slept, and waked to find that Rhetoric has lavished upon you all her gifts at once.
Fine promises, these, are they not? But pray let it not stir your doubts, that I offer to make most easy that which is most sweet. It was but plucking a few leaves from Helicon, and the shepherd Hesiod was a poet, possessed of the Muses and singing the birth of Gods and Heroes; and may not a rhetorician (’tis no such proud title as that of poet) be quickly made, if one but knows the speediest way?
Let me tell you of an idea that came to nothing for want of faith, and brought no profit to the man it was offered to. Alexander had fought Arbela, deposed Darius, and was lord of Persia; his orders had to be conveyed to every part of his empire by dispatch-runners. Now from Persia to Egypt was a long journey; to make the necessary circuit round the mountains, cross Babylonia into Arabia, traverse a great desert, and so finally reach Egypt, took at the best full twenty days. And as Alexander had intelligence of disturbances in Egypt, it was an inconvenience not to be able to send instructions rapidly to his lieutenants there. A Sidonian trader came to him and offered to shorten the distance: if a man cut straight across the mountains, which could be done in three days, he would be in Egypt without more ado. This was a fact; but Alexander took the man for an impostor, and would have nothing to say to him. That is the reception any surprisingly good offer may expect from most men.
Be not like them. A trial will soon show you that you may fly over the mountains from Persia to Egypt, and in a day, in part of a day, take rank as rhetorician. But first I will be your Cebes and give you word-pictures of the two different ways leading to that Rhetoric, with which I see you so in love. Imagine her seated on a height, fair and comely; her right hand holds an Amalthea’s horn heaped high with all fruits, and at her other side you are to see Wealth standing in all his golden glamour. In attendance too are Repute and Might; and all about your lady’s person flutter and cling embodied Praises like tiny Loves. Or you may have seen a painted Nilus; he reclines himself upon a crocodile or hippopotamus, with which his stream abounds, and round him play the tiny children they call in Egypt his Cubits; so play the Praises about Rhetoric. Add yourself, the lover, who long to be straightway at the top, that you may wed her, and all that is hers be yours; for him that weds her she must endow with her worldly goods.
When you have reached the mountain, you at first despair of scaling it; you seem to have set yourself the task that Aornus presented to the Macedonians; how sheer it was on every side! it was true, they thought, even a bird could hardly soar that height; to take it would be work for a Dionysus or Heracles. Then in a little while you discern two roads; or no, one is no more than a track, narrow, thorny, rough, promising thirst and sweat. But I need say no more of it; Hesiod has described it long ago The other is broad, and fringed with flowers and well watered and — not to keep you back with vain repetitions from the prize even now within your grasp — such a road as I told you of but now.
This much, however, I must add: that rough steep way shows not many steps of travellers; a few there are, but of ancient date. It was my own ill fortune to go up by it, expending needless toil; but I could see from far off how level and direct was that other, though I did not use it; in my young days I was perverse, and put trust in the poet who told me that the Good is won by toil. He was in error; I see that the many who toil not are more richly rewarded for their fortunate choice of route and method. But the question is now of you; I know that when you come to the parting of the ways you will doubt — you doubt even now — which turn to take. What you must do, then, to find the easiest ascent, and blessedness, and your bride, and universal fame, I will tell you. Enough that I have been cheated into toil; for you let all grow unsown and unploughed as in the age of gold.
A strong severe-looking man will at once come up to you; he has a firm step, a deeply sunburnt body, a decided eye and wide-awake air; it is the guide of the rough track. This absurd person makes foolish suggestions that you should employ him, and points you out the footmarks of Demosthenes, Plato, and others; they are larger than what we make, but mostly half obliterated by time; he tells you you will attain bliss and have Rhetoric to your lawful wife, if you stick as closely to these as a rope-walker to his rope; but diverge for a moment, make a false step, or incline your weight too much either way, and farewell to your path and your bride. He will exhort you to imitate these ancients, and offer you antiquated models that lend themselves as little to imitation as old sculpture, say the clean-cut, sinewy, hard, firmly outlined productions of Hegesias, or the school of Critius and Nesiotes; and he will tell you that toil and vigilance, abstinence and perseverance, are indispensable, if you would accomplish your journey. Most mortifying of all, the time he will stipulate for is immense, years upon years; he does not so much as mention days or months; whole Olympiads are his units; you feel tired at the mere sound of them, and ready to relinquish the happiness you had set your heart upon. And as if this was not enough, he wishes to be paid handsomely for your trouble, and must have a good sum down before he will even put you in the way.
So he will talk — a conceited primitive old-world personage; for models he offers you old masters long dead and done with, and expects you to exhume rusty speeches as if they were buried treasures; you are to copy a certain cutler’s son or one who called the clerk Atrometus father; he forgets that we are at peace now, with no invading Philip or hectoring Alexander to give a temporary value to that sort of eloquence; and he has never heard of our new road to Rhetoric, short, easy, and direct. Let him not prevail with you; heed not him at all; in his charge, if you do not first break your neck, you will wear yourself into a premature old age. If you are really in love, and would enjoy Rhetoric before your prime is past, and be made much of by her, dismiss this hairy specimen of ultra-virility, and leave him to climb by himself or with what dupes he can make, panting and perspiring to his heart’s content.
Go you to the other road, where you will find much good company, but in especial one man. Is he clever? is he engaging? Mark the negligent ease of his gait, his neck’s willowy curve, his languishing glance; these words are honey, that breath perfume; was ever head scratched with so graceful a forefinger? and those locks — were there but more of them left — how hyacinthine their wavy order! he is tender as Sardanapalus or Cinyras; ’tis Agathon’s self, loveliest of tragedy-makers. Take these traits, that seeing you may know him; I would not have you miss so divine an apparition, the darling of Aphrodite and the Graces. Yet how needless! were he to come near while your eyes were closed, and unbar those Hymettian lips to the voice that dwells within, you could not want the thought that this was none of us who munch the fruits of earth, but some spirit from afar that on honeydew hath fed, and drunk the milk of Paradise. Him seek; trust yourself to him, and you shall be in a trice rhetorician and man of note, and in his own great phrase, King of Words, mounted without an effort of your own upon the chariot of discourse. For here is the lore he shall impart to his disciple.
But let him describe it himself. For one so eloquent it is absurd that I should speak; my histrionic talent is not equal to so mighty a task; I might trip, and break the heroic mask in my fall. He thus addresses you, then, with a touch of the hand to those scanty curls, and the usual charming delicate smile; you might take him — so engaging is his utterance — for a Glycera, a Malthace, or her comic and meretricious majesty, Thais herself. What has a refined bewitching orator to do with the vulgar masculine?
Listen now to his modest remarks. Dear sir, was it Apollo sent you here? did he call me best of rhetoricians, as when Chaerephon asked and was told who was wisest of his generation? If it has not been so, if you have come directed only by the amazement and applause, the wonder and despair, that attend my achievements, then shall you soon learn whether there is divinity or no in him whom you have sought. Look not for a greatness that may find its parallel in this man or that; a Tityus, an Otus, an Ephialtes there may have been; but here is a portent and a marvel greater far than they. You are to hear a voice that puts to silence all others, as the trumpet the flute, as the cicala the bee, as the choir the tuning-fork.
But you wish to be a rhetorician yourself; well, you could have applied in no better quarter; my dear young friend, you have only to follow my instructions and example, and keep carefully in mind the rules I lay down for your guidance. Indeed you may start this moment without a tremor; never let it disturb you that you have not been through the laborious preliminaries with which the ordinary system besets the path of fools; they are quite unnecessary. Stay not to find your slippers, as the song has it; your naked feet will do as well; writing is a not uncommon accomplishment, but I do not insist upon it; it is one thing, and rhetoric is another.
I will first give you a list of the equipment and supplies for your journey that you must bring with you from home, with a view to making your way rapidly. After that, I will show you as we go along some practical illustrations, add a few verbal precepts, and before set of sun you shall be as superior a rhetorician as myself, the absolute microcosm of your profession. Bring then above all ignorance, to which add confidence, audacity, and effrontery; as for diffidence, equity, moderation, and shame, you will please leave them at home; they are not merely needless, they are encumbrances. The loudest voice you can come by, please, a ready falsetto, and a gait modelled on my own. That exhausts the real necessaries; very often there would be no occasion for anything further. But I recommend bright colours or white for your clothes; the Tarentine stuff that lets the body show through is best; for shoes, wear either the Attic woman’s shape with the open network, or else the Sicyonians that show white lining. Always have a train of attendants, and a book in your hand.
The rest you will take in with your eyes and ears as we go. I will tell you the rules you must observe, if Rhetoric is to recognize and admit you; otherwise she will turn from you and drive you away as an uninitiated intruder upon her mysteries. You must first be exceedingly careful about your appearance; your clothes must be quite the thing. Next, you must scrape up some fifteen old Attic words — say twenty for an outside estimate; and these you must rehearse diligently till you have them at the tip of your tongue; let us say sundry, whereupon, say you so, in some wise, my masters; that is the sort of thing; these are for general garnish, you understand; and you need not concern yourself about any little dissimilarity, repulsion, discord, between them and the rest; so long as your upper garment is fair and bright, what matter if there is coarse serge beneath it?
Next, fill your quiver with queer mysterious words used once or twice by the ancients, ready to be discharged at a moment’s notice in conversation. This will attract the attention of the common herd, who will take you for a wonder, so much better educated than themselves. Put on your clothes? of course not; invest yourself. Will you sit in the porch, when there is a parvys to hand? No earnest-money for us; let it be an arles-penny. And no breakfast-time, pray, but undern. You may also do a little word-formation of your own on occasion, and enact that a person good, at exposition shall be known as a clarifier, a sensible one as a cogitant, or a pantomime as a manuactor. If you commit a blunder or provincialism, you have only to carry it off boldly with an instant reference to the authority of some poet or historian, who need not exist or ever have existed; your phrase has his approval, and he was a wise man and a past master in language. As for your reading, leave the ancients alone; never mind a foolish Isocrates, a tasteless Demosthenes, a frigid Plato; study the works of the last generation; you will find the declamations, as they call them, a plenteous store on which to draw at need.
When the time comes for you to perform, and the audience have proposed subjects and invented cases for discussion, you should get rid of the difficult ones by calling them trivial, and complain that there is nothing in this selection that can really test a man’s powers. When they have chosen, do not hesitate a moment, but start; the tongue is an unruly member; do not attempt to rule it; never care whether your firstly is logics firstly, or your secondly and thirdly in the right order; just say what comes; you may greave your head and helmet your legs, but whatever you do, move, keep going, never pause. If your subject is assault or adultery in Athens, cite the Indians and Medes. Always have your Marathon and your Cynaegirus handy; they are indispensable. Hardly less so are a fleet crossing Mount Athos, an army treading the Hellespont, a sun eclipsed by Persian arrows, a flying Xerxes, an admired Leonidas, an inscriptive Othryades. Salamis, Artemisium, and Plataea, should also be in constant use. All this dressed as usual with our seasoning-garnish aforesaid — that persuasive flavour of sundry and methinks; do not wait till these seem to be called for; they are pretty words, quite apart from their relevancy.
If a fancy for impassioned recitative comes over you, indulge it as long as you will, and air your falsetto. If your matter is not of the right poetic sort, you may consider yourself to have met the requirements if you run over the names of the jury in a rhythmic manner. Appeal constantly to the pathetic instinct, smite your thigh, mouth your words well, punctuate with loud sighs, and let your very back be eloquent as you pace to and fro. If the audience fails to applaud, take offence, and give your offence words; if they get up and prepare to go out in disgust, tell them to sit down again; discipline must be maintained.
It will win you credit for copiousness, if you start with the Trojan War — you may if you like go right hack to the nuptials of Deucalion and Pyrrha — and thence trace your subject down to today. People of sense, remember, are rare, and they will probably hold their tongues out of charity; or if they do comment, it will be put down to jealousy. The rest are awed by your costume, your voice, gait, motions, falsetto, shoes, and sundry; when they see how you perspire and pant, they cannot admit a moment’s doubt of your being a very fine rhetorical performer. With them, your mere rapidity is a miracle quite sufficient to establish your character. Never prepare notes, then, nor think out a subject beforehand; that shows one up at once.
Your friends’ feet will be loud on the floor, in payment for the dinners you give them; if they observe you in difficulties, they will come to the rescue, and give you a chance, in the relief afforded by rounds of applause, of thinking how to go on. A devoted claque of your own, by the way, is among your requirements. Its use while you are performing I have given; and as you walk home afterwards, discussing the points you made, you should be absolutely surrounded by them as a bodyguard. If you meet acquaintances on the way, talk very big about yourself, put a good value on your merits, and never mind about their feelings. Ask them, Where is Demosthenes now? Or wonder which of the ancients comes nearest you.
But dear me, I had very nearly passed over the most important and effectual of all aids to reputation: the pouring of ridicule upon your rivals. If a man has a fine style, its beauties are borrowed; if a sober one, it is bad altogether. When you go to a recitation, arrive late, which makes you conspicuous; and when all are listening intently, interject some inappropriate commendation that will distract and annoy the audience; they will be so sickened with your offensive words that they cannot listen. And then do not wave your hand too much — warm approval is rather low; and as to jumping up, never do it more than once or twice. A slight smile is your best expression; make it clear that you do not think much of the thing. Only let your ears be critical, and you are sure of finding plenty to condemn. In fact, all the qualities needed are easily come by — audacity, effrontery, ready lying, indifference to perjury, impartial jealousy, hatred, abuse, and skilful slander — that is all you want to win you speedy credit and renown. So much for your visible public life.
And in private you need draw the line at nothing, gambling, drink, fornication, nor adultery; the last you should boast of, whether truly or not; make no secret of it, but exhibit your notes from real or imaginary frail ones. One of your aims should be to pass for a pretty fellow, in much favour with the ladies; the report will be professionally useful to you, your influence with the sex being accounted for by your rhetorical eminence.
Master these instructions, young man — they are surely simple enough not to overtax your powers —, and I confidently promise that you shall soon be a first-class rhetorician like myself; after which I need not tell you what great and what rapid advancement Rhetoric will put in your way. You have but to look at me. My father was an obscure person barely above a slave; he had in fact been one south of Xois and Thmuis; my mother a common sempstress. I was myself not without pretensions to beauty in my youth, which earned me a bare living from a miserly ill-conditioned admirer; but I discovered this easy short-cut, made my way to the top — for I had, if I may be bold to say it, all the qualifications I told you of, confidence, ignorance, and effrontery —, and at once found myself in a position to change my name of Pothinus to one that levels me with the children of Zeus and Leda. I then established myself in an old dame’s house, where I earned my keep by professing a passion for her seventy years and her half-dozen remaining teeth, dentist’s gold and all. However, poverty reconciled me to my task; even for those cold coffin kisses, fames was condimentum optimum. And it was by the merest ill luck that I missed inheriting her wealth — that damned slave who peached about the poison I had bought!
I was turned out neck and crop, but even so I did not starve. I have my professional position and am well known in the courts — especially for collusion and the corruption-agency which I keep for credulous litigants. My cases generally go against me; but the palms at my door are fresh and flower-crowned — springes to catch woodcocks, you know. Then, to be the object of universal detestation, to be distinguished only less for the badness of one’s character than for that of one’s speeches, to be pointed at by every finger as the famous champion of all-round villany — this seems to me no inconsiderable attainment. And now you have my advice; take it with the blessing of the great Goddess Lubricity. It is the same that I gave myself long ago; and very thankful I have been to myself for it.
Ah! our admirable friend seems to have done. If you decide to take his advice, you may regard yourself as practically arrived at your goal. Keep his rules, and your path is clear; you may dominate the courts, triumph in the lecture-room, be smiled on by the fair; your bride shall be not, like your lawgiver and teacher’s, an old woman off the comic stage, but lovely dame Rhetoric. Plato told of Zeus sweeping on in his winged car; you shall use the figure as fitly of yourself. And I? why, I lack spirit and courage; I will stand out of your way. I will resign — nay, I have resigned — my high place about our lady’s person to you; for I cannot pay my court to her like the new school. Do your walk over, then, hear your name announced, take your plaudits; I ask you only to remember that you owe the victory not to your speed, but to your discovery of the easy down-hill route.