Life of Cicero, 5

Plutarch  translated by Bernadotte Perrin

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5However, though Cicero, full of hope, was being borne on towards a political career, a certain oracle took the edge from his eager desire. When he inquired, namely, of the god at Delphi how he could become most illustrious, the Pythian priestess enjoined upon him to make his own nature, and not the opinion of the multitude, his guide in life. 2And so during the first part of his time at Rome[11] he conducted himself with caution, was reluctant to sue for office, and was therefore neglected, being called “Greek” and “Scholar,” those names which the low and ignorant classes at Rome were wont to give so readily. But he was naturally ambitious and was urged on by his father and his friends, and so when he gave himself in earnest to the work of an advocate, he did not advance slowly to the primacy, but his fame shone forth at once, and he far surpassed those who strove with him for distinction in the forum.

3But it is said that he too, no less than Demosthenes, was weak in his delivery, and therefore sought with care to imitate now Roscius the comedian, and now Aesop the tragedian. This Aesop, they tell us, was once acting in a theatre the part of Atreus planning to take vengeance on Thyestes, when one of the assistants suddenly ran across the scene, and the actor, losing control of himself in the intensity of his passion, smote him with his sceptre and laid him dead. 4Now, Cicero’s delivery contributed not a little to his persuasive power. Moreover, of those orators who were given to loud shouting he used to say jestingly that they were led by their weakness to resort to clamour as cripples were to mount upon a horse. And his readiness to indulge in such jests and pleasantry was thought indeed to be a pleasant characteristic of a pleader; but he carried it to excess and so annoyed many and got the reputation of being malicious.

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  • [11] Cicero returned to Rome in 77 B.C., being in his thirtieth year.

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