Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory


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addressed to

Marcellus Victorius

The object and intention of the work, § 1-3. To whom dedicated, 6. Unauthorized publications under the name of Quintilian, 7. The professions of the rhetorician and philosopher were formerly united, 9-10. The perfect orator, 17. Partition of the work, 21, 22. Further observations on teaching and speaking, 23-27.

1.WHEN certain persons, after I had secured rest from my labors, which for twenty years I had devoted to the instruction of youth, requested of me, in a friendly manner, to write something on the art of speaking, I certainly resisted their solicitation for a long time because I was not ignorant that authors of the greatest celebrity in both languages had bequeathed to posterity many treatises having reference to this subject, written with the greatest care. 2. But by the very plea on which I thought that excuse for my refusal would be more readily admitted, my friends were rendered still more urgent "since," they said, "amidst the various opinions of former writers, some of them contradicting each other, choice vas difficult;" so that they appeared, not unjustifiably, to press upon me the task, if not of inventing new precepts, at least of pronouncing judgment concerning the old. 3. Although, however, it was not so much the confidence of accomplishing what was required of me as the shame of refusing, that prevailed with me, yet, as the subject opened itself more widely, I voluntarily undertook a heavier duty than was laid upon me, not only that I might oblige my best friends by fuller compliance, but also that while pursuing a common road, I might not tread merely in other men's footsteps.

4. Other authors who have committed to writing the art of oratory have in general commenced in such a manner, as if they were to put the last hand of eloquence to those who were accomplished in every other kind of learning, whether from despising the branches of knowledge which we previously learn as insignificant, or from supposing that they did not fall under their province, the duties of the professions being distinct; or what is more probable, from expecting no credit to their ability in treating of subjects, which, however necessary, are yet far removed from display, as the pinnacles of buildings are seen while the foundations are hid. 5. For myself, as I consider that nothing is unnecessary to the art of oratory, without which it must be confessed that an orator cannot be formed and that there is no possibility of arriving at the summit of anything without previous initiatory efforts, I shall not shrink from stooping to those lesser matters, the neglect of which leaves no place for greater, and shall proceed to regulate the studies of the orator from his infancy, just as if he were entrusted to me to be brought up.

6. This work, Marcellus Victorius, I dedicate to you, whom, being most friendly to me and animated with an extraordinary love of letters, I deemed most worthy of such a pledge of our mutual affection, and not indeed on these considerations alone, though these are of great weight, but because my treatise seemed likely to be of use for the instruction of your son, whose early age shows his way clear to the full splendor of genius; a treatise which I have resolved to conduct, from the very cradle as it were of oratory, through all the studies which can at all assist the future speaker to the summit of that art. 7. This I rather designed, because two books on the Art of Rhetoric were already in circulation under my name, though neither published by me nor composed for that object, for after holding two days' discourse with me, some youths, to whom that time was devoted, had caught up the first by heart; the other, which was learned indeed in a greater number of days (as far as they could learn by taking notes), some of my young pupils, of excellent disposition, but of too great fondness for me, had made known through the indiscreet honor of publication. 8. In these books, accordingly, there will be some things the same, many altered, very many added, but all better arranged, and rendered, as far as I shall be able, complete.

9. We are to form, then, the perfect orator, who cannot exist unless as a good man, and we require in him, therefore, not only consummate ability in speaking, but every excellence of mind. 10. For I cannot admit that the principles of moral and honorable conduct are, as some have thought, to be left to the philosophers; since the man who can duly sustain his character as a citizen, who is qualified for the management of public and private affairs, and who can govern communities by his counsels, settle them by means of laws, and improve them by judicial enactments, can certainly be nothing else but an orator. 11. Although I acknowledge, therefore, that I shall adopt some precepts which are contained in the writings of the philosophers, yet I shall maintain, with justice and truth, that they belong to my subject and have a peculiar relation to the art of oratory. 12. If we have constantly occasion to discourse of justice, fortitude, temperance, and other similar topics, so that a cause can scarce be found in which some such discussion does not occur and if all such subjects are to be illustrated by invention and elocution, can it be doubted that wherever power of intellect and copiousness of language are required, the art of the orator is to be there pre-eminently exerted? 13. These two accomplishments, as Cicero very plainly proves, were, as they are joined by nature, so also united in practice, so that the same persons were thought at once wise and eloquent. Subsequently, the study divided itself, and through want of art, it came to pass that the arts were considered to be diverse, for as soon as the tongue became an instrument of gain, and it was made a practice to abuse the gifts of eloquence, those who were esteemed as eloquent abandoned the care of morals, which, when thus neglected, became as it were the prize of the less robust intellects. 14. Some, disliking the toil of cultivating eloquence, afterwards returned to the discipline of the mind and the establishment of rules of life, retaining to themselves the better part, if it could be divided into two, but assuming, at the same time, the most presumptuous of titles, so as to be called the only cultivators of wisdom, a distinction which neither the most iminent commanders, nor men who were engaged with the utmost distinction in the direction of the greatest affairs, and in the management of whole commonwealths, ever ventured claim for themselves, for they preferred rather to practice excellence of conduct than to profess it. 15. That many of the ancient professors of wisdom, indeed, both delivered virtuous precepts and even lived as they directed others to live, I will readily admit, but in our own times, the greatest vices have been hid under this name in many of the professors, for they did not strive, by virtue and study, to be esteemed philosophers, but adopted a peculiarity of look, austerity of demeanor, and a dress different from that of other men, as cloaks for the vilest immoralities.

16. But those topics, which are claimed as peculiar to philosophy, we all everywhere discuss, for what person (if he be not an utterly corrupt character) does not sometimes speak of justice, equity, and goodness, who even among rustics does not make some inquiries about the causes of the operations of nature? As to the proper use and distinction of words, it ought to be common to all who make their language at all an object of care. 17. But it will be the orator that will understand and express those matters best, and if he should ever arrive at perfection, the precepts of virtue would not have to be sought from the schools of the philosophers. At present it is necessary to have recourse, at times, to those authors who have, as I said, adopted the deserted, but pre-eminently better part of philosophy and to reclaim as it were what is our own, not that we may appropriate their discoveries, but that we may show them that they have usurped what belonged to others.

18. Let the orator, therefore, be such a man as may be called truly wise, not blameless in morals only (for that, in my opinion, though some disagree with me, is not enough) but accomplished also in science and in every qualification for speaking, a character such as, perhaps, no man ever was. 19. But we are not the less, for that reason, to aim at perfection, for which most of the ancients strove, who, though they thought that no wise man had yet been found, nevertheless laid down directions for gaining wisdom. 20. For the perfection of eloquence is assuredly something, nor does the nature of the human mind forbid us to reach it, but if to reach it be not granted us, yet those who shall strive to gain the summit will make higher advances than those who, prematurely conceiving a despair of attaining the point at which they aim, shall at once sink down at the foot of the ascent.

21. Indulgence will so much the more then be granted me if I shall not even pass over those lesser matters, which yet are necessary to the work which I have undertaken. The first book will, therefore, contain those particulars which are antecedent to the duties of the teacher of rhetoric. In the second we shall consider the first elements of instruction under the hands of the professor of rhetoric and the questions which are asked concerning the subject of rhetoric itself. 22. The five next will be devoted to invention (for under this head will also be included arrangement), and the four following to elocution, within the scope of which fall memory and pronunciation. One will be added in which the orator himself will be completely formed by us, since we shall consider, as far as our weakness shall be able, what his morals ought to be, what should be his practice in undertaking, studying, and pleading causes, what should be his style of eloquence, what termination there should be to his pleading, and what may be his employments after its termination.

23. Among all these discussions shall be introduced, as occasion shall require, the Art of Speaking, which will not only instruct students in the knowledge of those things to which alone some have given the name of art and interpret (so to express myself) the law of rhetoric, but may serve to nourish the faculty of speech and strengthen the power of eloquence, 24. for, in general, those bare treatises on art, through too much affectation of subtilty, break and cut down whatever is noble in eloquence, drink up as it were all the blood of thought, and lay bare the bones, which, while they ought to exist and to be united by their ligaments, ought still to be covered with flesh. 25. We therefore have not, like most authors, included in our books that small part merely, but whatever we thought useful for the education of the orator, explaining every point with brevity. for if we should say, on every particular, as much as might be said, no end would be found to our work.

26. It is to be stated, however, in the first place, that precepts and treatises on art are of no avail without the assistance of nature, and these instructions, therefore, are not written for him to whom talent is venting any more than treatises on agriculture for barren ground.

27. There are also certain other natural aids, as power of voice, a constitution capable of labor, health, courage, gracefulness, qualities which, if they fall to our lot in a moderate degree, may be improved by practice, but which are often so far wanting that their deficiency renders abortive the benefits of understanding and study; and these very qualities, likewise, are of no profit in themselves without a skilful teacher, persevering study, and great and continued exercise in writing, reading, and speaking.

Lee Honeycutt (honeycuttlee@gmail.com) Last modified:7/6/06
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