Thursday, January 31, 2008

Augustine-on Cicero and Vanity

In 410 A.D., Dioscorus was taking a trip, apparently to Rome. He was nervous about what the Romans might ask him concerning their illustrious orators of the past, as well as the famous Greeks, but particularly Cicero. In order to prep himself, he wrote a hurried letter to St. Augustine with a long list of questions regarding Cicero's dialogues. He knew Augustine could help him save face in Rome.

Instead of answering Diascorus's question and relieving his fear of finding himself a fool for not knowing the knowledge of the Greeks and Romans, Augustine brutally takes him to task.

He says, "My question is: Why did you not say, "Any one who can make no reply ( about Cicero) will be proved to be illiterate and stupid, " but prefer to say, "He will be regarded as illiterate and stupid? Why, if not for this reason, that you yourself already understand well enough that the person who fails to answer such question is not in reality, but only in the opinion of some, illiterate and stupid?"

And here's the zinger!

"But I warn you that he who fears to be subjected to the edge of the pruning-hook by the tongues of such men is a sapless log, and is therefore not only regarded as illiterate and stupid, but is actually such, and proved to be so."

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