Comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero, 1

Plutarch  translated by Bernadotte Perrin

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1These, then, are the memorable incidents in the recorded careers of Demosthenes and Cicero which have come to our knowledge. 2And though I have renounced the comparison of their oratorical styles,[1] yet this, I think, ought not to be left unsaid, namely, that Demosthenes devoted to the rhetorical art all the powers of speech which he possessed by nature or acquired by practice, surpassing in force and effectiveness his rivals in forensic and judicial pleading, in pomp and majesty of utterance the professional declaimers, and in precision and skill the sophists; 3Cicero, on the other hand, became widely learned and had a variety of interest in the pursuit of letters, and left behind him not a few philosophical treatises of his own conforming to the fashion of the Academy; indeed, even in the speeches which he wrote for the forum and the courts he clearly desires to display by the way a considerable acquaintance with letters.

4It is possible, too, to get a glimpse of the character of each in his style of speaking. For that of Demosthenes, which had no prettiness or pleasantry, and was condensed with a view to power and earnestness, did not smell of lamp-wicks, as Pytheas scoffingly said,[2] but of water-drinking and anxious thought, and of what men called the bitterness and sullenness of his disposition; whereas Cicero was often carried away by his love of jesting into scurrility, and when, to gain his ends in his cases, he treated matters worthy of serious attention with ironical mirth and pleasantry, he was careless of propriety. Thus, in his defence of Caelius, he said that his client, surrounded as he was by great luxury and extravagance, did nothing out of the way when indulging in pleasures; for not to enjoy what is in one’s possession was madness, he said, particularly when the most eminent philosophers assert that true happiness consists in pleasure.[3] 5And we are told that when Cato prosecuted Murena, Cicero, who was then consul, defended him, and because of Cato’s beliefs made much fun of the Stoic sect, in view of the absurdities of their so-called paradoxes;[4] and when loud laughter spread from the audience to the jurors, Cato, with a quiet smile, said to those who sat by: “What a funny man we have, my friends, for consul!” 6And it would seem that Cicero was naturally prone to laughter and fond of jesting; his face, too, was smiling and peaceful. But in that of Demosthenes there was always a certain intense seriousness, and this look of thoughtfulness and anxiety he did not easily lay aside. For this reason his enemies, as he himself says,[5] called him morose and ill-mannered.

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  • [1] See the Demosthenes, iii. 1.

  • [2] Cf. the Demosthenes, viii. 3.

  • [3] Cf. Cicero, pro Caelio, 12, 28; but Plutarch's interpretation does Cicero great injustice. Cf. 17, 39 f.

  • [4] Cf. pro Murena, 29-31.

  • [5] In Phil. ii. 30.