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ca 97-108 __ « Epistulae »
Pliny the Younger (Caius Caecilius Secundus) (ca 61-114)
Comment : [...] Pliny explains his reluctance in giving a recitation of a speech, and one of the reasons given is that a reading before an invited audience lacks all the ingredients which create the atmosphere in which an oration comes to life; among these, last but not least, is the aroused interest of the spectators (diductumque in partes audientium studium), while many other factors mentioned would seem to provide a suitable setting for the spectators's sake (iudicum consessus, celebritas advocatorum, exspectatio eventus, fama non unius actoris) (Epist. 2-19). If then the audience forms an integral part of the court-romm scene it is likely that Pliny, a man most sensitive to appraisal, would take into account the opinion of these listeners.in every case the initial public appreciation of his work.and that therefore the mixture of styles would be present in the delivered speeches, even if the ornamental element may have been less noticeable than in the published versions. (Federico Gamberini.)Under such circumstances, the role of the audience necessarily looms large. For allusive language to have any effect on public opinion, for it to undetermine successfully the authoriry of those it makes its target, it must be recognized for what it is; the veiled criticism that goes unnoticed by its audience enters the public record and history itself as a sample of imperial kowtowing or as pointlessly clumsy self-expression.and not only in clearly political contexts. Without the participation of its eimmediate audience and those who recorded its occurrence, the use of allusion in literature would pass into history as, for example, pointless variations on a mythological plot; and the performancs of the stage would represent nothing but simple revivals of earlier tragedies and harmless farces, the principal forms of staged drama in the Julio-Claudian and Flavian reigns. In fact unrecognized allusion in any realm would not enter the historical record at all; why should it ? its is only when an audience registers that a given speech or verse contains a meaning other than the one dictated (in public life) by political convention or (in literature) by the additional factors of fictional context and literary precedent, that doublespeak is born. Its subversive content may result from an intentional effort on the author's part, as Pliny claims his did (Epistulae, 1.5.5 to 1.5.7); it may arise from a statement's fortuitous potential for political application, as was often the case at the theater; but in practical terms it was the audience's reaction that transformed a given statement into an act of opposition or an ad hominem slur. [...] "Schema", he says, should be used "if it is too unsafe to speak openly" (Epist. 9.2.66). In such a case, it is left to the audience to understand what cannot be said. [...] The audience's response, [...] falls into the category of applause that creates rather than reacts to doublespeak.or, in the formulation of Henri Bardon, "applause that, at the theater, underlined allusions whether intented by the author or not (1940, p. 162). [...] These considerations came into play in any situation in which a gathered audience was able to express its responses with relative impunity, whether through its own numbers, the vagueness of the lines it reponded to, the absence of informer figures, imperial indifference or tolerance, or the tendency for punishment to fall upon the author's head. (Shadi Bartsch)
Original excerpt 1 : « Letter to Maximus.You guessed correctly; I am much engaged in pleading before the Hundred. The business there is more fatiguing than pleasant. Trifling, inconsiderable cases, mostly; it is very seldom that anything worth sapeaking of, either from the importance of the question of the rank of the persons concerned, comes before them. There are very few lawyers either whom I take any pleasure in working with. The rest,a parcel of impudent young fellows, maney of whom one knows nothing whatever about, come here to get some practice in speaking, and conduct themselves so forwardly, and with such utter want of deference that my friend Attilius exactly hit it, I think, when he made the observation that “boys set out at the bar with cases in the Court of the Hundred as they do at school with Homer”, intimating that at both places they begin where they should end. But in former times (so my elders tell me) no youth, even of the best families, was allowed in unless introduced by some person of consular dignity. As things are now, since every fence of modesy and decorum is broken down, and all distinctions are levelled and confounded, the present young generation, so far from waiting to be introduced, break in of their own free will. The audience at their heels are fit attendants upon such orators; a low rabble of hired mercenaries, supplied by contract. They get together in the middle of the court, where the dole is dealt round to them as openly as if they were in a dining-rooom : and at this noble price they run from court to court. The Greeks have an appropriate name in their language for this sort of people, important that they are applauders by profession, and we stigmatize them with the opprobious title of table-flatters : yet the dirty business alluded to increases every day. [...] Upon these terms we fill as many benches as we please, and gather a crowd; this is how those rending shouts are raised, as soon as the individual standing up in the middle of the ring gives the signal. For, you must know, these honest fellows, who understand nothing of what is said, or, if they did, could not hear it, would be at a loss without a signal, and are as noisy as any of the rest. If, at any time, you should happen to be passing by when the court is sitting, and feel at all interested to know how any speaker is acquitting himself, you have no occasion to give yourself the trouble of getting up on the judge’s platform, no need to listen; it is easy enough to find out, for you may be quite sure he that gets most applause deserves it the least. [...] I am ashamed to tell you of the mincing and affected pronunciation of the speakets, adn of the shrill-voiced applause with which their effusions are received; nothing seems wanting to complete this sing-song performance except claps, or rather cymbals and tambourines. Howlings indeed (for I can call suc applause, which would be indecent even in the theatre, by no other name), abound in plenty. [...]Letter to Ariston.[...] I recite my works, it is true, and in this instance I am not sure I can support myself by their examples. They, perhaps, might be satisfied with their own judgement, but I have too humble an opinion of mine to suppose my compositions perfect, because they appear so to my own mind. My reason then for reciting are, taht, for one thing, there is a certain deference for one’s audience, which excites a somewhat more vigorous application, and then again, I have by this means an opportunity of settling any doubts I may have concerning my performance, by observing the general opinion of the audience. In a word, I have the advantage of receiving different hints form different persons : and although they should not decalre their meaning in express terms, yet the expression of the countenance, the movement of the head, the eyes, the motion of a hand, a whisper, or even silence itself will easily distinguish their real opinion from the langauge of politeness. And so if any one of my audience should have the curiosity to read over the same performance which he heard me read, he may find several things altered or omitted, and perhaps too upon his particular judgment, though he did not say a single word to me. But I am not defending my conduct in this particular, as if I had actually recited my works in public, and not in my own house before my friends, a numerous appearance of whom has upon many occasions been held an honour, but never, surely, a reproach. [...] » (Translated by William Melmoth and revised by F.C.T. Bosanquet)
Original excerpt 2 : « Livre II - Lettre XIV.Pline à Maxime.Vous l’avez deviné; je commence à me lasser des causes que le plaide devant les centumvirs. La peine passe par le plaisir. La plupart sont peu importantes. Rarement s’en présente-t-il une qui, par la qualité des personnes, ou par la grandeur du sujet, attire l’attention. D’ailleurs, il s’y trouve un très petit nombre de dignes concurrents. Le reste n’est qu’un amas de gens dont l’audace fait tout le mérite, ou d’écoliers sans talents et sans nom. Ils ne viennent là que pour déclamer, mais avec si peu de respect et de retenue, que selon moi notre ami Attilius a fort bien dit, que “les enfants commencent au barreau par plaider devant les centumvirs, comme au collège, par lire Homère”; car dans l’un et dans l’autre, on commence par ce qu’il y a de plus difficile. Mais avant que je parusse dans le monde, les personnes déjà avancées en âge plaidoient ces sortes de causes, et les jeunes gens, même les plus qualifiés, n’étoient point admis à parler devant les centumvirs, si quelque homme consulaire ne les présentoit, tant on avoit alors de vénération pour de si nobles exercices. Aujourd’hui toutes les barrières de la discrétion et de la pudeur rompues, laissent le champ ouvert à tout le monde. Ils n’attendent plus qu’on les présente, ils s’y jettent d’eux-mêmes. À leur suite marchent des auditeurs d’un semblable caractère, et que l’on achète à beaux deniers comptants. On fait sans honte son marché avec eux; ils s’assemblent dans le palais; et on en fait une salle à manger, où l’orateur régale et défraie; on les voit à ce prix courir d’une cause à l’autre. De là on les a nommés en grec assez plaisamment, “gens gagés pour applaudir”; en latin, “louangeurs pour un repas”. Cette indignité caractérisée dans les deux langues, s’établit de plus en plus. [...] À ce prix, il n’y a point de chaises et de bancs que vous ne remplissiez, point de lieux où vous ne mettiez les auditeurs en presse, point d’applaudissements que vous n’excitiez, quand il plaît à celui qui règle ce beau concert, d’en faire le signal; il faut bien un signal pour des gens qui n’entendent pas et qui même n’écoutent point. Car la plupart ne s’amusent pas à écouter, et ce sont ceux qui louent le plus haut. [...] Voici une règle sûre : celui qui reçoit plus d’applaudissements, est celui qui en mérite le moins. [...] J’ai honte de vous dire avec quelles acclamations flatteuses sont reçus les plus mauvais discours, et les plus mollement prononcés. En vérité, il ne manque à cette sorte de symphonie, que des battements de mains, ou plutôt que des cymbales et des tambours. Pour des hurlements (un autre mot seroit trop doux) nous en avons de reste; et le barreau retentit de ces acclamations, indignes du théâtre même. [...]Livre V - Lettre III.Pline à Ariston.[...] J’avoue que je lis mes ouvrages dans des assemblées d’amis; et je ne sais s’ils ont lu les leurs; mais ils pouvoient s’en reposer sur eux; et moi, je ne ne puis assez me fier à moi-même, pour croire parfait ce qui me le paroît. Je lis donc à mes amis. Voici mes raisons. Un auteur qui compose, redouble son application, quand il songe aux auditeurs qu’il doit avoir. D’ailleurs, s’il a des doutes sur son ouvrage, il les résout, comme à la pluralité des voix, Enfin, il reçoit différents avis de différentes personnes; et si on ne lui en donne point, les yeux, l’air, un geste, un signe, un bruit sourd, le silence même, parlent assez clairement à qui ne les confond pas avec le langage de la politesse. C’est pourquoi si quelqu’un de ceux qui m’ont écouté veut prendre la peine de lire ce qu’il a entendu, il trouvera que j’ai changé ou retranché des endroits qu’il avoit peut-être lui-même critiqués, quoiqu’il ne m’en ait rien dit. Prenez garde que je vous dis toutes ces choses, comme si pour m’entendre j’avois rassemblé le peuple dans une salle publique, et ne pas mes amis seulement, et dans ma chambre. Un grand nombre d’amis a souvent fait honneur, et n’a jamais attiré de reproches. » (Translated by M. Louis-Silvestre De Sacy)
Source : Pliny (97-108 AD), “Letters”, translated by William Melmoth and revised by F.C.T. Bosanquet, Echo Library (2006), pp. 27-28, p. 57.
Source : Pline le Jeune (97-108 AD), “Lettres”, traduites par M. Louis-Silvestre De Sacy, Paris : chez la Veuve Barbou Imprimeur-Libraire, rue des Mathurins, n°5, (1808), Tome Premier, French, pp. 139-143, pp. 355-357.
Source : Bartsch, Shadi (1994), “Oppositional Innuendo : Performance, Allusion and the Audience”, In “Actors in the Audience - Theatricality and Doublespeak from Nero to Hadrian”, Harvard University Press, pp. 63-97.
Source : Gamberini, Federico (1982-83), “Stylistic theory and practice in the Younger Pliny”, Altertums-Wissenchaftlichte — Texte une Studien — OLMS, George Olms Verlag, pp. 42-43.
Urls : http://secundusplinius.classicauthors.net/LettersOfPliny/ (last visited )

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