Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
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Book 2 - Chapter 21

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Opinions as to the subject of rhetoric, § 1-4. That of Quintilian, which agrees with those of Plato and Cicero, 5, 6. Objections to it noticed, 7-11. No dispute between rhetoric and philosophy about their respective subjects, 12, 13. The orator not obliged to know everything, 14, 15. He will often speak better on arts than the artists themselves, 16-19. The opinion of Quintilian supported by those of other authors, 20-23.

1. AS to the material of oratory, some have said that it is speech, an opinion which Gorgias in Plato is represented as holding. If this be understood in such a way that a discourse, composed on any subject, is to be termed a speech, it is not the material, but the work, as the statue is the work of a statuary, for speeches, like statues, are produced by art. But if by this term we understand mere words, words are of no effect without matter. 2. Some have said that the material of oratory is persuasive arguments, which indeed are part of its business and are the produce of art, but require material for their composition. Others say that its material is questions of civil administration, an opinion which is wrong, not as to the quality of the matter, but in the restriction attached, for such questions are the subject of oratory, but not the only subject. 3. Some, as oratory is a virtue, say that the subject of it is the whole of human life. Others, as no part of human life is affected by every virtue, but most virtues are concerned only with particular portions of life (as justice, fortitude, and temperance are regarded as confined to their proper duties and their own limits), say that oratory is to be restricted to one special part, and assign to it the pragmatic department of ethics or that which relates to the transactions of civil life.

4. For my part, I consider, and not without authorities to support me, that the material of oratory is everything that may come before an orator for discussion. For Socrates in Plato seems to say to Gorgias that the matter of oratory is not in words but in things. In the Phaedrus, he plainly shows that oratory has place not only in judicial proceedings and political deliberations, but also in private and domestic matters. Hence it is manifest that this was the opinion of Plato himself. 5. Cicero, too, in one passage, calls the material of oratory the topics which are submitted to it for discussion, but supposes that particular topics only are submitted to it. But in another passage, he gives his opinion that an orator has to speak upon all subjects, expressing himself in the following words: "The art of the orator, however, and his very profession of speaking well, seems to undertake and promise that he will speak elegantly and copiously on whatever subject may be proposed to him." 6. In a third passage, also, he says: "But by an orator, whatever occurs in human life (since it is on human life that an orator's attention is to be fixed, as the matter that comes under his consideration) ought to have been examined, heard of, read, discussed, handled, and managed."

7. But this material of oratory, as we define it, that is, the subjects that come before it, some have at one time stigmatized as indefinite, at another as not belonging to oratory, and have called it, as thus characterized, an ars circumcurrens, an infinitely discursive art, as discoursing on any kind of subject. 8. With those who make these observations I have no great quarrel, for they allow that oratory speaks on all matters, though they deny that it has any pecular material because its material is manifold. 9. But though the material be manifold, it is not infinite, and other arts, of less consideration, deal with manifold material, as architecture, for instance, for it has to do with everything that is of use for building, and the art of engraving, which works with gold, silver, brass, and iron. As to sculpture, it extends itself, besides the metals which I have just named, to wood, ivory, marble, glass, and jewels. 10. Nor will a topic cease to belong to the orator because the professor of another art may treat of it, for if I should ask what is the material of the statuary, the answer will be "brass," or if I should ask what is the material of the founder of vases, that is, the worker in the art which the Greeks call χαλκευτική (chalkeutikē), the reply would also be "brass," though vases differ very much from statues. 11. Nor ought medicine to lose the name of an art because anointing and exercise are common to it with the palaestra or because a knowledge of the quality of meats is common to it with cookery.

12. As to the objection which some make, that it is the business of philosophy to discourse of what is good, useful, and just, it makes nothing against me, for when they say a philosopher, they mean a good man; and why then should I be surprised that an orator, whom I consider to be also a good man, should discourse upon the same subjects? 13. This is especially true when I have shown, in the preceding book, that philosophers have taken possession of this province because it was abandoned by the orators, a province which had always belonged to oratory, so that the philosophers are rather trespassing upon our ground. Since it is the business of logic, too, to discuss whatever comes before it, and logic is uncontinuous oratory, why may not the business of continuous oratory be thought the same?

14.It is a remark constantly made by some that an orator must be skilled in all arts if he is to speak upon all subjects. I might reply to this in the words of Cicero, in whom I find this passage: "In my opinion, no man can become a thoroughly accomplished orator unless he shall have attained a knowledge of every subject of importance and of all the liberal arts," but for my argument, it is sufficient that an orator be acquainted with the subject on which he has to speak. 15. He has not a knowledge of all causes, and yet he ought to be able to speak upon all. On what causes, then, will he speak? On such as he has learned. The same will be the case also with regard to the arts and sciences; those on which he shall have to speak he will study for the occasion, and on those which he has studied he will speak.

16. What then, it may be said, will not a builder speak of building, or a musician of music, better than an orator? Assuredly he will speak better, if the orator does not know what the subject of inquiry in the case before him, with regard to matters connected with those sciences. An ignorant and illiterate person, appearing before a court, will plead his own cause better than an orator who does not know what the subject of dispute is; but an orator will express what he has learned from the builder, or the musician, or from his client better than the person who has instructed him. 17. But the builder will speak well on building, or the musician on music, if any point in those arts shall require to be established by his opinion. He will not be an orator, but he will perform his part like an orator, as when an unprofessional person binds up a wound, he will not be a surgeon, yet he will act as a surgeon.

18. Do subjects of this kind never come to be mentioned in panegyrical, or deliberative, or judicial oratory? When it was under deliberation, whether a harbor should be constructed at Ostia, were not orators called to deliver opinions on the subject? Yet what was wanted was the professional knowledge of the architect. 19. Does not the orator enter on the question whether discolorations and tumors of the body are symptoms of ill health or of poison? Yet such inquiries belong to the profession of medicine? Will an orator never have to speak of dimensions and numbers? Yet we may say that such matters belong to mathematics; for my part, I believe that any subject whatever may, by some chance, come under the cognizance of the orator. If a matter does not come under his cognizance, he will have no concern with it.

20. Thus I have justly said that the material of oratory is everything that is brought under its notice for discussion, an assertion which even our daily conversation supports, for whenever we have any subject on which to speak, we often signify by some prefatory remark that the matter is laid before us. 21. So much was Gorgias of opinion that an orator must speak of everything that he allowed himself to be questioned, by the people in his lecture room, upon any subject on which any one of them chose to interrogate him. Hermagoras, also, by saying that "the matter of oratory lies in the cause and the questions connected with it," comprehends under it every subject that can possibly come before it for discussion. 22. If indeed he supposed that the questions do not belong to oratory, he is of a different opinion from me, but if they do belong to oratory, I am supported by his authority, for there is no subject that may not form part of a cause or the questions connected with it. 23. Aristotle, too, by making three kinds of oratory, the judicial, the deliberative, and the demonstrative, has put almost everything into the hands of the orator, for there is no subject that may not enter into one of the three kinds.

21. An inquiry has been also started, though by a very few writers, concerning the instrument of oratory. The instrument I call that without which material cannot be fashioned and adapted to the object which we wish to effect. But I consider that it is not the art that requires the instrument, but the artificer. Professional knowledge needs no tool, as it may be complete though it produces nothing, but the artist must have his tool, as the engraver his graving-instrument, and the painter his pencils. I shall therefore reserve the consideration of this point for that part of my work in which I intend to speak of the orator.

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Lee Honeycutt (honeycuttlee@gmail.com) Last modified:1/15/07
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