trembling

+++

The career of Socrates shows clearly how little philosophers are worth in the common business of life. Though he was called wise by the oracle of Apollo–and that wasn’t the wisest of his judgments–he tried only once to bring up a matter of public business, and then he was hooted out of the assembly. In fact, he wasn’t altogether silly, for he declined the epithet of “wise,” saying it belonged only to a god; and he also said a sensible man should keep clear of public business. But he would have done better to warn anyone aspiring to be included in the human race to avoid wisdom altogether. After all, what was it but his wisdom that led Socrates to drink the hemlock when he was under accusation? While he was philosophizing about clouds and abstractions, measuring the foot of a flea and marveling at the voice of a gnat, he failed completely to study those matters that pertain to the common life of men. But here to help out this teacher under sentence of death comes his pupil Plato, a doughty supporter, no doubt, who was so upset by the buzz of a crowd that he was hardly able to pronounce the first half of his opening sentence. That reminds me of Theophrastus, who started a speech and abruptly fell silent, as if a wolf had glared at him. Isocrates was so faint of heart that he could barely speak above a whisper in public. When Cicero started his orations he was generally all a tremble, like a timorous schoolboy. Quintilian explains his weakness as natural to a conscious orator measuring the difficulty of his task; but isn’t that excuse actually an admission that wisdom interferes with performance? What would these men do in a battle to be fought with cold steel if they’re so so frightened of a mock engagement with mere words?

-Erasmus, The Praise of Folly, 25 (Adams trans. Norton edition)

+++

“…And now, if you would know it, among my most familiar friends I will publish in simple language what I think, on which I have always kept silence and deemed silence fitting. In my view, even the best orators, those who can speak with the utmost ease and elegance, unless they are diffident in approaching a discourse and diffident in beginning it, seem to border on the shameless, although that can never come to pass. For the better the orator, the more profoundly is he frightened of the difficulty of speaking, and of the doubtful fate of a speech, and of the anticipations of an audience. On the other hand, the man who can do nothing in composition and delivery that is worthy of the occasion, worthy of the name of an orator, or of the ear of the listener, still seems to me to be with shame, be he never so agitated in his speaking; for it is not by feeling shame at what is unbecoming, but in not doing it, that we must escape the reproach of shamelessness. While as for him who is unashamed–as I see is the case with most speakers–I hold him deserving not merely of reprimand, but of punishment as well. Assuredly, just as I generally perceive it to happen to yourselves, so I very often prove it in my own experience, that I turn pale at the outset of a speech, and quake in every limb and in all my soul; in fact, as a very young man, I once so utterly lost heart in opening an indictment, that I had to thank Quintus Maximus for doing me the supreme service of promptly adjourning the hearing, the moment he saw that I was broken-down and unnerved by fear.”

-Crassus in Cicero’s De Oratore at I. xxvi. 118


+++

“…while actually speaking on this occasion … he was seized with a violent pain in the side … after which he trembled all  over, and went back home …” 
On Crassus’ early death pangs in De OratoreIII.ii.6

+++

 “I turn pale at the outset of a speech, and quake in every limb and in all my soul…” 
Crassus in De Oratore I xxvi.121

+++

“…since it appears to be your wish to know me through and through … by my whole body, I venture to include some particulars that may seem superfluous…” Cicero by his own description was a weak young man, “very slender and far from robust, my neck long and thin, that type of physique which is commonly thought of as incurring risk of life itself if subjected to the strain of … heavy demands upon the voice and lungs…” His doctors even encouraged him to give up oratory all together. Nevertheless the young Cicero continued to exercise not only his mind or his memory but his body itself: “Thus I came back after two years’ absence not only better trained, but almost transformed … My voice was no longer over-strained, my language had lost its froth, my lungs had gained strength and my body had put on weight.” 
Brutus, xci.313-16

+++

“I expose myself entire: my portrait is a cadaver on which the veins, the muscles, and the tendons appear at a glance, each part in its place. One part of what I am was produced by a cough, another by a pallor or a palpitation of the heart… It is not my deeds that I write down; it is myself; it is my essence.”    
-Montaigne, “Of Practice” 

+++