Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
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Book 2 - Chapter 4

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Elementary exercises, § 1. Narratives, or statements of facts 2-4. Exuberance in early compositions better than sterility, 4-8. A teacher should not be without imagination or too much given to find fault with his pupil's attempts, 8-14. The pupil's compositions should be written with great care, 15-17. Exercises in confirmation and refutation, 18, 19. In commendation and censure of remarkable men, 20-21. Commonplaces, 22, 23. Theses, 24, 25. Reasons, 26. Written preparations for pleadings, 27-32. Praise and censure of particular laws, 33-40. Declamations on fictitious subjects a later invention, 41, 42.

1. I SHALL now proceed to state what I conceive to be the first duties of rhetoricians in giving instruction to their pupils, putting off for a while the consideration of what is alone called, in common language, the art of rhetoric; for to me it appears most eligible to commence with that to which the pupil has learned something similar under the grammarians.

2. Since of narrations (besides that which we use in pleadings) we understand that there are three kinds: the fable, which is the subject of tragedies and poems, and which is remote, not merely from truth, but from the appearance of truth; the argumentum, which comedies represent and which, though false, has a resemblance to truth; and the history, in which is contained a relation of facts. Since we have consigned poetic narratives to the grammarians, let the commencement of study under the rhetorician be the historical form, a kind of narrative which, as it has more of truth, has also more of substance. 3. What appears to me the best method of narrating, I will show when I treat of the judicial part of pleading. In the meantime it will suffice to intimate that it ought not to be dry and jejune (for what necessity would there be to bestow so much pains upon study if it were thought sufficient to state facts without dress or decoration?), nor ought it to be erratic and wantonly adorned with far-fetched descriptions, in which many speakers indulge with an emulation of poetic licence. 4. Both these kinds of narrative are faulty, yet that which springs from poverty is worse than that which comes from exuberance.

From boys, perfection of style can neither be required nor expected, but the fertile genius, fond of noble efforts and conceiving at times a more than reasonable degree of ardor, is greatly to be preferred. 5. Nor, if there be something of exuberance in a pupil of that age, would it at all displease me. I would even have it an object with teachers themselves to nourish minds that are still tender with more indulgence and to allow them to be satiated, as it were, with the milk of more liberal studies. The body, which mature age may afterwards nerve, may for a time be somewhat plumper than seems desirable. 6. Hence there is hope of strength, while a child that has the outline of all his limbs exact commonly portends weakness in subsequent years. Let that age be daring, invent much, and delight in what it invents, though it be often not sufficiently severe and correct. The remedy for exuberance is easy; barrenness is incurable by any labor. 7. That temper in boys will afford me little hope in which mental effort is prematurely restrained by judgment. I like what is produced to be extremely copious, profuse even beyond the limits of propriety. Years will greatly reduce superfluity; judgment will smooth away much of it; something will be worn off, as it were, by use, if there be but metal from which something may be hewn and polished off, and such metal there will be, if we do not make the plate too thin at first, so that deep cutting may break it. 8. That I hold such opinions concerning this age, he will be less likely to wonder who shall have read what Cicero says: "I wish fecundity in a young man to give itself full scope."

Above all, therefore, and especially for boys, a dry master is to be avoided no less than a dry soil, void of all moisture, for plants that are still tender. Under the influence of such a tutor, they at once become dwarfish, looking as it were towards the ground, and daring to aspire to nothing above everyday talk. To them, leanness is in place of health and weakness instead of judgment; and while they think it sufficient to be free from fault, they fall into the fault of being free from all merit. Let not even maturity itself, therefore, come too fast; let not the must, while yet in the vat, become mellow, for so it will bear years and be improved by age.

10. Nor is it improper for me, moreover, to offer this admonition: that the powers of boys sometimes sink under too great severity in correction; for they despond and grieve and at last hate their work, and, what is most prejudicial, while they fear every thing, they cease to attempt any thing. 11. There is a similar conviction in the minds of the cultivators of trees in the country, who think that the knife must not be applied to tender shoots, as they appear to shrink from the steel and to be unable as yet to bear an incision. 12. A teacher ought therefore to be as agreeable as possible, that remedies which are rough in their own nature, may be rendered soothing by gentleness of hand; he ought to praise some parts of his pupils' performances, to tolerate some, and to alter others, giving his reasons why the alterations are made, and also to make some passages clearer by adding something of his own. It will also be of service too, at times, for the master to dictate whole subjects himself which the pupil may imitate and admire for the present as his own. 13. But if a boy's composition were so faulty as not to admit of correction, I have found him benefited whenever I told him to write on the same subject again, after it had received fresh treatment from me, observing that "he could do still better," since study is cheered by nothing more than hope. 14. Different ages, however, are to be corrected in different ways, and work is to be required and amended according to the degree of the pupil's abilities. I used to say to boys when they attempted anything extravagant or verbose, that "I was satisfied with it for the present, but that a time would come when I should not allow them to produce compositions of such a character." Thus they were satisfied with their abilities, and yet not led to form a wrong judgment.

15. But that I may return to the point from which I digressed, I should wish narrations to be composed with the utmost possible care, for as it is of service to boys at an early age, when their speech is but just commenced, to repeat what they have heard in order to improve their faculty of speaking (let them accordingly be made, and with very good reason, to go over their story again, and to pursue it from the middle, either backwards or forwards; but let this be done only while they are still at the knees of their teacher, and, as they can do nothing else, are beginning to connect words and things that they may thus strengthen their memory), so when they shall have attained the command of pure and correct language, extemporary garrulity, without waiting for thought or scarcely taking time to rise, is the offspring of mere ostentatious boastfulness. 16. Hence arises empty exultation in ignorant parents, and in their children contempt of application, want of all modesty, a habit of speaking in the worst style, the practice of all kinds of faults, and what has often been fatal even to great proficiency, an arrogant conceit of their own abilities. 17. There will be a proper time for acquiring facility of speech, nor will that part of my subject be lightly passed over by me, but in the mean time it will be sufficient if a boy with all his care and with the utmost application of which that age is capable can write something tolerable. To this practice, let him accustom himself and make it natural to him. He only will succeed in attaining the eminence at which we aim, or the point next below it, who shall learn to speak correctly before he learns to speak rapidly.

18. To narrations is added, not without advantage, the task of refuting and confirming them, which is called anaskeuē and kataskeuē. This may be done not only with regard to fabulous subjects and such as are related in poetry, but with regard even to records in our own annals; as if it be inquired whether it is credible that a crow settled upon the head of Valerius when he was fighting, to annoy the face and eyes of his Gallic enemy with his beak and wings, there will be ample matter for discussion on both sides of the question; 19. as there will also be concerning the serpent, of which Scipio is said to have been born, as well as about the wolf of Romulus, and the Egeria of Numa. As to the histories of the Greeks, there is generally licence in them similar to that of the poets. Questions are often wont to arise, too, concerning the time or place at which a thing is said to have been done, sometimes even about a person, as Livy, for instance, is frequently in doubt, and other historians differ one from another.

20. The pupil will then proceed by degrees to higher efforts to praise illustrious characters and censure the immoral, an exercise of manifold advantage, for the mind is thus employed about a multiplicity and variety of matters; the understanding is formed by the contemplation of good and evil. Hence is acquired, too, an extensive knowledge of things in general, and the pupil is soon furnished with examples which are of great weight in every kind of causes and which he will use as occasion requires. 21. Next succeeds exercise in comparison, which of two characters is the better or the worse, which, though it is managed in a similar way, yet both doubles the topics and treats not only of the nature but of the degrees of virtues and of vices. But on the management of praise and the contrary, as it is the third part of rhetoric, I shall give directions in the proper place.

22. Commonplaces (I speak of those in which, without specifying persons, it is usual to declaim against vices themselves, as against those of the adulterer, the gamester, the licentious person) are of the very nature of speeches on trials and, if you add the name of an accused party, are real accusations. These, however, are usually altered from their treatment as general subjects to something specific, as when the subject of a declamation is a blind adulterer, a poor gamester, or a licentious old man. 23. Sometimes, also, they have their use in a defense, for we occasionally speak in favor of luxury or licentiousness, and a procurer or parasite is sometimes defended in such a way that we advocate, not the person, but the vice.

24. Theses, which are drawn from the comparison of things, as whether a country or city life is more desirable, and whether the merit of a lawyer or a soldier is the greater, are eminently proper and copious subjects for exercise in speaking and contribute greatly to improvement, both in the province of persuasion and in discussions on trials. The latter of the two subjects just mentioned is handled with great copiousness by Cicero in his pleading for Muraena. 25. Such theses as the following, whether a man ought to marry, and whether political offices should be sought, belong almost wholly to the deliberative species, for if persons be but added, they will be suasory.

26. My teachers were accustomed to prepare us for conjectural causes by a kind of exercise far from useless, and very pleasant to us, in which they desired us to investigate and show why Venus among the Lacedaemonians was represented armed; why Cupid was thought to be a boy, winged and armed with arrows and a torch, and questions of a similar nature, in which we endeavored to ascertain the intention, about which there is so often a question in controversies. This may be regarded as a sort of chria.

27. That such questions as those about witnesses, whether we ought always to believe them, and concerning arguments, whether we ought to put any trust in trifling ones, belong to forensic pleading is so manifest that some speakers, not undistinguished in civil offices, have kept them ready in writing and have carefully committed them to memory, so that whenever opportunity should offer, their extemporary speeches might be decorated with them, as with ornaments fitted into them. 28. By which practice (for I cannot delay to express my judgment on the point) they appeared to me to confess great weakness in themselves. For what can such men produce appropriate to particular causes of which the aspect is perpetually varied and new? How can they reply to questions propounded by the opposite party? How can they at once meet objections or interrogate a witness, when, even on topics of the commonest kind, such as are handled in most causes, they are unable to pursue the most ordinary thoughts in any words but those which they have long before prepared? 29. When they say the same things in various pleadings, their cold meat, as it were, served up over and over again, must either create loathing in the speakers themselves, or their unhappy household furniture, which, as among the ambitious poor, is worn out by being used for several different purposes, must, when detected so often by the memory of their hearers, cause a feeling of shame in them, 30. especially as there is scarcely any commonplace so common which can incorporate well with any pleading unless it be bound by some link to the peculiar question under consideration, and which will not show that it is not so much inserted as attached, 31. either because it is unlike the rest, or because it is very frequently borrowed without reason, not because it is wanted, but because it is ready, as some speakers, for the sake of sentiment, introduce the most verbose commonplaces, whereas it is from the subject itself that sentiments ought to arise. 32. Such remarks are ornamental and useful if they spring from the question, but every remark, however beautiful, unless it tends to gain the cause, is certainly superfluous and sometimes even noxious. But this digression has been sufficiently prolonged.

33. The praise or censure of laws requires more mature powers, such as may almost suffice for the very highest efforts. Whether this exercise partakes more of the nature of deliberative or controversial oratory is a point that varies according to the custom and right of particular nations. Among the Greeks the proposer of laws was called to plead before the judge; among the Romans it was customary to recommend or disparage a law before the public assembly. In either case, however, few arguments, and those almost certain, are advanced, for there are but three kinds of laws relating to sacred, public, or private rights. 31. This division has regard chiefly to the commendation of a law, as when the speaker extols it by a kind of gradation, because it is a law, because it is public, because it is made to promote the worship of the gods. 35. Points about which questions usually arise are common to all laws, for a doubt may be started, either concerning the right of him who proposes the law (as concerning that of Publius Clodius who was accused of not having been properly created tribune) or concerning the validity of the proposal itself, a doubt which may refer to a variety of matters, as for instance, whether the proposal has been published on three market days or whether the law may be said to have been proposed, or to be proposed, on an improper day, or contrary to protests, or to the auspices, or in any other way at variance with legitimate proceedings, or whether it be opposed to any law still in force. 36. But such considerations do not enter into these early exercises, which are without any allusion to persons, times, or particular causes. Other points, whether treated in real or fictitious discussions, are much the same, for the fault of any law must be either in words or in matter. 37. As to words, it is questioned whether they be sufficiently expressive, whether there is any ambiguity in them, as to matter, whether the law is consistent with itself, or whether it ought to have reference to past time or to individuals. But the most common inquiry is whether it be proper or expedient. 38. Nor am I ignorant that of this inquiry many divisions are made by most professors; but I, under the term proper, include consistency with justice, piety, religion, and other similar virtues. The consideration of justice, however, is usually discussed with reference to more than one point; for a question may either be raised about the subject of the law, as whether it be deserving of punishment or reward or about the measure of reward or punishment, to which an objection may be taken as well for being too great as too little. 39. Expediency, also, is sometimes determined by the nature of the measure, sometimes by the circumstances of the time. As to some laws, it becomes a question whether they can be enforced. Nor ought students to be ignorant that laws are sometimes censured wholly, sometimes partly, as examples of both are afforded us in highly celebrated orations. 40. Nor does it escape my recollection that there are laws which are not proposed for perpetuity, but with regard to temporary honors or commands, such as the Manilian law, about which there is an oration of Cicero. But concerning these no directions can be given in this place, for they depend upon the peculiar nature of the subjects on which the discussion is raised and not on any general consideration.

41. On such subjects did the ancients, for the most part, exercise the faculty of eloquence, borrowing their mode of argument, however, from the logicians. To speak on fictitious cases, in imitation of pleadings in the forum or in public councils, is generally allowed to have become a practice among the Greeks, about the time of Demetrius Phalereus. 42. Whether that sort of exercise was invented by him, I have not succeeded in discovering (as I have acknowledged also in another book); nor do those who affirm most positively that he did invent it rest their opinion on any writer of good authority, but that the Latin teachers of eloquence commenced this practice towards the end of the life of Lucius Crassus, Cicero tells us; the most eminent of these teachers was Plotius.

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