Aurea Gemma <Gallica> 1.10-11
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[1.10] In letters which contain complaints, the topics of complaint should be used, which are fully contained in the rhetorical Summae.1 Those topics shall be used, I say, which will fit the business at hand. In those letters wherein we seek to obtain something for ourselves or for others, the suspicion of adulation should be avoided. For, as Cicero said, "No one fails to see the obvious adulator."2 One should beware of superlative names, lest we use them too often. Sometimes they may be used to express an affect of the mind. Just as when a friend writes to a friend, he will write To his most sweet associate and friend or to express a quality of his person, through which goodwill is easily obtained, as when writing to the pope, we say 'Most blessed' or 'Most saintly'; to an emperor or king 'Most serene' or 'Most pious'; to a duke or to a count 'Most noble' or 'Most exalted' or 'Most illustrious'.

[1.11] Thus the composer of letters should diligently consider the character of individuals: their classes, fortunes, sensibilities, gender, habits, conditions and offices.3 Then the composer should consider what may be fitting to each person according to the above-listed qualities and attribute the appropriate words to each. For mercy is obtained differently from an enraged prince than from a genial one. The composer should also consider whether his petition has a shameful part as well as an honorable one,4 so that the shameful component may be diluted by the honorable one and overshadowed by honorable titles. Indeed, if the mind has been alienated of that person whom he petitions, an oblique entreaty should also be introduced in the salutation.


1 Cicero De inventione 1.55 (106-109), listing 14 topics of complaint. In Cicero's scheme, complaint is one of three species of conclusion. Complaint is also touched on below, Aurea Gemma <Gallica> 1.5-6.

2 Cicero Laelius de amicitia 99.

3 Cicero De inventione 1.24-25 (34-36).

4 On the causae variable according to the degree of justifiableness: Cicero, De inventione 1.15 (20-21).

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© Steven M. Wight, Los Angeles 1998
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