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On the Sophists   


(20) Furthermore, in extemporaneous speaking forgetting involves no disgrace, since the flow of speech runs smoothly on, as the fixed and precise order of the words is not essential; if the speaker forgets a topic he can easily pass it by, and proceed to the next in order, and so avoid embarrassment; later on, if the omitted topic be recalled, it can then easily be elucidated.

(21) But it is different with the speakers of prepared discourse, since, if the slightest detail be omitted or spoken out of place, perturbation, confusion, and a search for the lost word inevitably follow, and there ensues loss of time--sometimes, indeed, abrupt silence and infelicitous, ludicrous and irremediable embarrassment.

(22) I believe, too, that extemporaneous speakers exercise a greater sway over their hearers than those who deliver set speeches; for the latter, who have laboriously composed their discourses long before the occasion, often miss their opportunity. It happens that they either weary their listeners by speaking at too great length, or stop speaking while their audience is fain to hear more.

(23) Indeed, it is difficult, if not impossible, for human foresight accurately to estimate the disposition of an audience as to the length of a speech. But the extemporaneous speaker has the advantage of being able to adapt his discourse to his audience; he can abbreviate or extend at will.

(24) Aside from these considerations, extemporaneous speakers and those who deliver set speeches can not, in the same way, handle arguments which arise in the course of lawsuits. The former, if they get a point from their opponents, or themselves think of one while intently considering the situation, may easily introduce it; since extemporaneous speech is used exclusively, elaboration does not involve them in inconsistency or confusion.

(25) It is otherwise as regards those who contend with prepared discourses in suits, for, if any argument not previously thought of occurs to them, it is a difficult matter to fit it in and make appropriate use of it; for the finished nature of their precise diction does not permit improvised interpolations, so that either the new arguments which fortune gives them cannot be used at all, or, if they are used, the elaborate edifice of their speech falls to pieces and crashes to the ground. And, since part of the speech is delivered after careful preparation, and part is spoken at random, a confused and discordant style results.

(26) What sensible person, then, would approve of a practice which militates against the use of the help which fortune gives, and is at times a meaner ally to contestants than luck itself? Other arts are wont to be helpful coadjutors to man; this one stands in the way of advantages that come of themselves.

(27) Written discourses, in my opinion, certainly ought not to be called real speeches, but they are as wraiths, semblances, and imitations. It would be reasonable for us to think of them as we do of bronze statues, and images of stone, and pictures of living beings; just as these last mentioned are but the semblances of corporeal bodies, giving pleasure to the eye alone, and are of no practical value,

(28) so, in the same way, the written speech, which employs one hard and fast form and arrangement, if privately read, makes an impression, but in crises, because of its rigidity, confers no aid on its possessor. And, just as the living human body has far less comeliness than a beautiful statue, yet manifold practical service, so also the speech which comes directly from the mind, on the spur of the moment, is full of life and action, and keeps pace with the events like a real person, while the written discourse, a mere semblance of the living speech, is devoid of all efficacy.

(29) It may, perhaps, be alleged that it is illogical for one to condemn written discourse who himself employs it in the present written essay, and to disparage a pursuit through the employment of which he is preparing to win fame among the Greeks. Furthermore, it may be thought inconsistent for a philosopher to commend extemporaneous discourses, thereby deeming chance to be of more worth than forethought, and careless speakers to possess greater wisdom than careful writers.

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