On the Sophists
(1) Since certain so-called Sophists are vainglorious and puffed up with pride because they have practised the writing of speeches and through books have revealed their own wisdom, although they have neglected learning and discipline and are as inexpert as laymen in the faculty of speaking, and since they claim to be masters of the whole of the art of rhetoric, although they possess only the smallest share of ability therein-- since this is the case, I shall essay to bring formal accusation against written discourses.
(2) This I shall do, not because I think they possess an ability which I myself have not, but for the reason that I pride myself more on other matters; I believe that writing should be practised as an ancillary pursuit. I am, therefore, of opinion that those who devote their lives to writing are woefully deficient in rhetoric and philosophy; these men, with far more justice, may be called poets rather than Sophists.
(3) In the first place, one may condemn the written word because it may be readily assailed, and because it may be easily and readily practiced by any one of ordinary ability. To speak extemporaneously, and appropriately to the occasion, to be quick with arguments, and not to be at a loss for a word, to meet the situation successfully, and to fulfil the eager anticipation of the audience and to say what is fitting to be said, such ability is rare, and is the result of no ordinary training.
(4) On the contrary, to write after long premeditation, and to revise at leisure, comparing the writings of previous Sophists, and from many sources to assemble thoughts on the same subject, and to imitate felicities cleverly spoken, to revise privately some matters on the advice of laymen and to alter and expunge other parts as a result of repeated and careful excogitation, verily, this is an easy matter even for the untutored.
(5) Whatsoever things are good and fair are ever rare and difficult to acquire, and are the fruits of painful endeavor; but the attainment of the cheap and trivial is easy. Thus it is that, since writing is easier than speaking, we should rightly consider the ability to compose a meaner accomplishment.
(6) Further, every sensible person will admit that the clever speaker, by changing somewhat his natural point of view, will be able to write well, but no one would believe that it follows that this same power will make the clever writer a clever speaker; for it is reasonable to suppose that, when those who can accomplish difficult tasks devote their attention to the easy, they will readily perform them. On the other hand, the pursuit of the difficult is an arduous and repellent undertaking for those who have been subjected to gentle training. This may be seen from the following examples.
(7) He who can lift a heavy burden has no difficulty in raising a light one, but the man of feeble powers cannot carry a heavy load. Again, the speedy runner easily distances his slower competitor, while the sluggish runner cannot keep pace with his speedier antagonist. Furthermore, the javelin-thrower or the archer who can accurately hit the distant mark easily strikes the one near at hand, while the athlete of feeble powers falls short of the remote target.
(8) The analogy holds true in speeches, namely, that the master of extempore speaking, if given time and leisure for the written word, will excel therein, but it is evident that the practised writer when he turns to extemporaneous speaking will suffer mental embarrassments, wanderings, and confusion.
(9) I think, too, that in human life the ability to speak is always a more useful accomplishment, but the writing of speeches is seldom of opportune value. Every one knows that the ability to speak on the spur of the moment is necessary in harangues, in the courtroom, and in private conversation. It often happens that unexpected crises occur when those who can say nothing seem contemptible, while the speakers are seen to be honored by the listeners as possessors of god-like minds.
(10) Whenever the need arises to admonish the erring, to console the unfortunate, to mollify the exasperated, to refute sudden accusations, then it is that the ability to speak can be man's helpful ally. Written composition, however, demands leisure and consequently gives aid too late to save the day. Immediate help is demanded in trials, but the written word is perfected leisurely and slowly. What sensible man, therefore, is envious of this ability to compose speeches--an ability which fails so completely at the critical moment.