The History, 30.4

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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4These were the events which took place in Gaul and the northern countries. But in the east, while all our foreign affairs were quiet, great domestic evils were increasing in consequence of the conduct of the friends and relations of Valens, who had more regard to expediency than honesty; for they laboured with the utmost diligence to bring about the recall from his post a judge of rigid probity, who was fond of deciding lawsuits equitably, out of a fear lest, as in the times of Julian, when Innocence was allowed a fair opportunity of defending itself, the pride of the powerful nobles, which was accustomed to roam at large with unrestrained licence, might again be broken down.

2With these and similar objects a great number of persons conspired together, being led by Modestus, the prefect of the prætorium, who was a complete slave to the wishes of the emperor’s eunuchs, and who, under a specious countenance, concealed a rough disposition which had never been polished by any study of ancient virtue or literature, and who was continually asserting that to look into the minute details of private actions was beneath the dignity of the emperor. He thinking, as he said, that the examination of such matters had been imposed on the nobles to lower their dignity, abstained from all such matters himself, and opened the doors to plunder; which doors are now daily more and more opened by the depravity of the judges and advocates, who are all of the same mind, and who sell the interests of the poor to the military commanders, or the persons of influence within the palace, by which conduct they themselves have gained riches and high rank.

3This profession of forensic oratory the wisdom of Plato defines to be πολιτικῆς μορίου εἴδωλον, “the shadow of a fraction of the art of government,” or a fourth part of the art of flattery. But Epicurus calls it κακοτεχνία, reckoning it among the wicked arts. Tisias, who has Gorgias of Leontinum on his side, calls the orator an artist of persuasion.

4And while such has been the opinion formed of this art by the ancients, the craft of some of the Eastern people has put it forward so as to make it an object of hatred to good men, on which account an orator it is sometimes restricted to a limited time for speaking. Therefore, after saying a few words about its unworthy character, as I found by experience while in those countries, I will return to my original subject.

5The tribunals, in former times, when good taste prevailed, were greatly adorned by our advocates, when orators of spirited eloquence—laborious and accomplished scholars—shone pre-eminent in genius, honesty, fluency, and every kind of embellishment of language. As Demosthenes, who, as we learn from the Athenian records, whenever he was going to speak, drew together a vast concourse of people from the whole of Greece, who assembled for the sake of hearing him; and Callistratus, who, when summing up his noble pleading on the subject of Oropus in Eubœa, produced such an impression that that same Demosthenes quitted the academy, at the time when Plato was at its head, to become his follower. And Hyperides, and Æschines, and Andocides, and Dinarchus, and Antiphon the Rhamnusian, who is the first man spoken of in ancient history as having received a fee for pleading a cause.

6And similarly among the Romans, the Rutilii, and Galbæ, and Scauri, men of eminent reputation for purity of life and manners, and for frugality; and in the succeeding generations, many men of censorian and consular rank, and even many who had celebrated triumphs, such as the Crassi, the Antonii, the Philipii, the Scævolæ, and numbers of others, after having commanded armies with glory, gained victories, and raised trophies, became eminent also for their civil services to the State, and won fresh laurels by their noble contests at the bar, thus reaping the highest honour and glory.

7And after them Cicero, the most excellent of them all, who repeatedly saved many who were in distress from the scorching flames of judgment by the stream of his imperious eloquence, used to affirm “that if men could not be defended without their advocate incurring blame, they certainly could not be carelessly defended without his being guilty of crime.”

8But now throughout all the regions of the East one may see the most violent and rapacious classes of men hovering about the courts of law, and besieging the houses of the rich like Spartan or Cretan hounds, cunningly pursuing different traces, in order to create the occasion of a lawsuit.

9Of these the chief is that tribe of men who, sowing every variety of strife and contest in thousands of actions, wear out the doorposts of widows and the thresholds of orphans, and create bitter hatred among friends, relations, or connections, who have any disagreement, if they can only find the least pretext for a quarrel. And in these men, the progress of age does not cool their vices as it does those of others, but only hardens and strengthens them. And amid all their plunder they are insatiable and yet poor, whetting the edge of their genius in order by their crafty orations to catch the ear of the judges, though the very title of those magistrates is derived from the name of Justice.

10In the pertinacity of these men rashness assumes the disguise of freedom—headlong audacity seeks to be taken for constancy, and an empty fluency of language usurps the name of eloquence—by which perverse arts, as Cicero tells us, it is a shame for the holy gravity of a judge to be deceived. For he says, “And as nothing in a republic ought to be so incorruptible as a suffrage or a sentence, I do not understand why the man who corrupts such things with money is to be esteemed worthy of punishment, while he who perverts them by eloquence receives commendation. In fact, the latter appears to me to do the most harm, it being worse to corrupt a judge by a speech than by a bribe, inasmuch as no one can corrupt a wise man with a bribe, though it is possible that he may with eloquence.”

11There is a second class of those men who, professing the science of the law, especially the interpretation of conflicting and obsolete statutes, as if they had a bridle placed in their mouths, keep a resolute silence, in which they rather resemble their shadows than themselves. These, like those men who cast nativities or interpret the oracles of the sibyl, compose their countenances to a sort of gravity, and then make money of their supine drowsiness.

12And that they may appear to have a more profound knowledge of the laws, they speak of Trebatius, and Cascellius, and Alfenus, and of the laws of the Aurunci and Sicani, which have long become obsolete, and have been buried ages ago with the mother of Evander. And if you should pretend to have deliberately murdered your mother, they will promise you that there are many cases recorded in abstruse works which will secure your acquittal, if you are rich enough to pay for it.

13There is a third class of these men, who, to arrive at distinction in a turbulent profession, sharpen their mercenary mouths to mystify the truth, and by prostituting their countenances and their vile barking, work their way with the public. These men, whenever the judge is embarrassed and perplexed, entangle the matter before him with further difficulties, and take pains to prevent any arrangement, carefully involving every suit in knotty subtleties. When these courts, however, go on rightly, they are temples of equity; but when they are perverted they are hidden and treacherous pitfalls, and if any person falls into them, he will not escape till after many years have elapsed, and till he himself has been sucked dry to his very marrow.

14There is a fourth and last class, impudent, saucy, and ignorant, consisting of those men who, having left school too early, run about the corners of cities, giving more time to farces than to the study of actions and defences, wearing out the doors of the rich, and hunting for the luxuries of banquets and rich food.

15And when they have given themselves up to gains, and to the task of hunting for money by every means, they incite men, on any small pretence whatever, to go to law; and if they are permitted to defend a cause, which but seldom happens, it is not till they are before the judge, while the pleadings are being recited, that they begin to inquire into the cause of the client, or even into his name; and then they so overflow with a heap of unarranged phrases and circumlocutions, that from the noise and jabber of the vile medley you would fancy you were listening to Thersites.

16But when it happens that they have no single allegation they can establish, they then resort to an unbridled licence of abuse; for which conduct they are continually brought to trial themselves, and convicted, when they have poured ceaseless abuse upon people of honour; and some of these men are so ignorant that they do not appear ever to have read any books.

17And if in a company of learned men the name of any ancient author is ever mentioned, they fancy it to be some foreign name of a fish or other eatable. And if any stranger asks (we will say) for Marcianus, as one with whom he is as yet unacquainted, they all at once pretend that their name is Marcianus.

18Nor do they pay the slightest attention to what is right; but as if they had been sold to and become the property of Avarice, they know nothing but a boundless licence in asking. And if they catch any one in their toils, they entangle him in a thousand meshes, pretending sickness by way of protracting the consultations. And to produce an useless recital of some well-known law, they prepare seven costly methods of introducing it, thus weaving infinite complications and delays.

19And when at last days and months and years have been passed in these proceedings, and the parties to the suit are exhausted, and the whole matter in dispute is worn out with age, then these men, as if they were the very heads of their profession, often introduce sham advocates along with themselves. And when they have arrived within the bar, and the fortune or safety of some one is at stake, and they ought to labour to ward off the sword of the executioner from some innocent man, or calamity and ruin, then, with wrinkled brows, and arms thrown about with actor-like gestures, so that they want nothing but the flute of Gracchus at their back, then they keep silence for some time on both sides; and at last, after a scene of premeditated collusion, some plausible preamble is pronounced by that one of them who is most confident in his power of speaking, and who promises an oration which shall rival the beauties of the oration for Cluentius or for Ctesiphon. And then, when all are eager for him to make an end, he concludes his preamble with a statement that the chief advocates have as yet only had three years since the commencement of the suit to prepare themselves to conduct it; and so obtains an adjournment, as if they had to wrestle with the ancient Antæus, while still they resolutely demand the pay due for their arduous labours.

20And yet, in spite of all these things, advocates are not without some inconveniences, which are hard to be endured by one who would live uprightly. For being allured by small gains, they quarrel bitterly among themselves, and offend numbers by the insane ferocity of their evil speaking, which they pour forth when they are unable to maintain the weakness of the case intrusted to them by any sound reasoning.

21And sometimes the judges prefer persons who have been instructed in the quibbles of Philistion or Æsop, to those who come from the school of Aristides the Just, or of Cato—men who, having bought public offices for large sums of money, proceed like troublesome creditors to hunt out every one’s fortune, and so shake booty for themselves out of the laps of others.

22Finally, the profession of a lawyer, besides other things, has in it this, which is most especially formidable and serious (and this quality is almost innate in all litigants), namely that when, through one or other out of a thousand accidents, they have lost their action, they fancy that everything which turned out wrong was owing to the conduct of their counsel, and they usually attribute the loss of every suit to him, and are angry, not with the weakness of their case or (as they often might be) with the partiality of the judge, but only with their advocate. Let us now return to the affairs from which we have thus digressed.

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