Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory

Book 9 - Chapter 1

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Of figures often confounded with tropes, § 1-3. Difference between them, 4-6. Name not of great importance, 7-9. The word Figure is taken by some in a more extended, by others in a more confined sense, 10-14. Two kinds of figures, those of thought and those of words, 15-18. Of figures of thought, 19-21. Some make them too numerous, 22-24. Quotation from Cicero's de Oratore, 26-36. Another from Cicero's Orator, 37-45.

1. AS I have treated in the preceding book concerning tropes, there now follows that part of my work which relates to figures—they are in Greek called σχήματα (schēmata)—and which is by the nature of the subject connected with what goes before. For many have considered that figures are tropes, because whether tropes take their name from being formed in a particular way or from making changes in language (whence they are also called motus), it must be acknowledged that both those peculiarities are found equally in figures. 2. The use of them is also the same, for they add force to our thoughts and confer a grace upon them. Some authors, including Caius Artorius Proculus, have wanted to give tropes the name of figures. 3. The resemblance between them is indeed so striking that it is not easy for everyone to tell the difference. Some species of both are evidently distinct, even while there still remains a general similarity in their nature, inasmuch as they both deviate from simple and direct language for the purpose of adding to the beauties of style. Yet others are divided by a very narrow boundary, such as irony, for example, which is numbered as well among figures of thought as among tropes, while periphrasis, hyperbaton, and onomatopaeia have been called figures of speech rather than tropes by even eminent authors.

4. The difference between them, therefore, requires the more carefully to be specified. A trope, then, is an expression turned from its natural and principal signification to another, for the purpose of adorning style, or, as most of the grammarians define it, "an expression altered from the sense in which it is proper to one in which it is not proper." A figure (as is indicated by its very name) is a form of speech differing from the common and ordinary mode of expression. 5. In tropes, accordingly, some words are substituted for others, as in metaphor, metonymy, antonomasia, metalepsis, synecdoche, catachresis, allergory, and, generally, in hyperbole, which has place, however, both in matter and in words. Onomatopaeia is the coining of a word, which is then substituted for some other word or words which we should have used if we had not coined it. 6. Periphrasis, though it commonly fills up the place of the term which it replaces, employs several words for one. The ἐπίθετον (epitheton), inasmuch as it generally partakes of the antonomasia, becomes, by union with it, a trope. In the hyperbaton, there is a change of order, and many, therefore, exclude that kind of figure from among tropes. However, it does transfer a word or a part of a word from its own place to another. 7. Nothing of this sort is necessary with figures, which may consist of natural words arranged in their common order. As to how irony comes to be sometimes a trope and sometimes a figure, I shall explain in the proper place, for I allow that the two appellations are applied to it indifferently, and I am aware what complicated and subtle disputations the question about the name has originated. But they have no relation to my present object, and it is of no importance how a trope or a figure is termed, provided it be understood of what use it is in style. 8. The nature of things is not changed by a change in their appellations. Just as men, if they take a name different from that which they had, are still the same persons, so the forms of expression of which we are speaking, whether they be called tropes or figures, are still of the same efficacy, for their use does not consist in their name but in their influence. Likewise, it is of no consequence whether we call the position of a cause conjectural, or the negative, or one about fact, or the existence of a thing, provided we understand that the question is the same. 9. Therefore, in respect to forms of speech, it is best to adopt the terms generally received and to endeavor to comprehend the thing by whatever name it be called. It is to be observed, however, that the trope and the figure often meet in the same sentences, for style is diversified as well by metaphorical words, as by words in their natural sense.

10.. But there is no small disagreement among authors as to what is the exact sense of the word figure, and how many genera of figures there are, and how many and what species. We must, therefore, first of all consider what we are to understand by the word figure, for it is used in two senses. The first signifies the form of words, of whatever it may be, just as our bodies, of whatever they be composed, have a certain shape. The other, which is properly termed a figure, is any deviation, either in thought or expression, from the ordinary and simple method of speaking, just as our bodies assume different postures when we sit, lie, or look back. 11. Therefore, when a speaker or writer constantly or too frequently uses the same cases, or tenses, or numbers, or even feet, we generally admonish him to vary his figures in order to avoid uniformity. 12. In using this expression, we speak as if all language had its figure, just as when we say that cursitare is of the same figure as lectitare, that is, they are formed in the same way. If we adopt the first and general sense, then, there will be no part of language that is not figured, and if we confine ourselves to that sense, we must consider that Apollodorus (if we trust the report of Caecilius) justly thought that precepts on this head would be numberless. 13. But if particular habits and, as it were, gestures of language are to receive this designation, then a figure must be regarded here as only that which deviates, by poetical or oratorical phraseology, from the simple and ordinary modes of speaking. Thus we shall be right in saying that one sort of style is ἀσχημάτιστον (aschēmatiston), or destitute of figures (and this is no small fault), and another ἐσχηματισμένον (eschēmatismenon), or diversified with figures. 14. This sense of the word, however, Zoilus limited too narrowly, for he thought a figure only that where something is pretended to be said different than what is really said. I know that the word figure is vulgarly taken in this sense, whence certain subjects for exercise in oratory, of which I shall speak a little farther on, are called figurative. Let the definition of a figure, then, be a form of speech artfully varied from common usage.

15. Some rhetoricians have thought that there was but one kind of figures, though they were led to adopt that opinion by different considerations. Some said that all figures lay in words, because a change in the words produced a change also in the thought, while others said that they all lay in the thought, because it is to thoughts that words are adapted. 16. But with both these parties there is evident sophistry, for the same things are constantly expressed in different ways, and the thought remains the same while the language is altered. A figure of thought may be expressed in various figures of words, for the one figure lies in a conception of the mind, and the other in the expression of that conception. But they are frequently found in union, as in the sentence, Jamjam, Dolabella, neque que tui, neque tuorum liberum, etc., "Now, Dolabella, I have no pity for you, or for your children," etc. For the conversion of the address from the judge to Dolalbella lies in the thought; jamjam and liberum are figures of words.

17. It is admitted, then, as far as I know, among most authors, that there are two kinds of figures, those of διανοία (dianoia), that is, of thought, mens, sensus, or sententiae, for they are designated by all those terms, and those of λέξις (lexis), that is, of words, or diction, or expression, or language, or speech. Though they have various names, it is of no consequence by which name we call them. 18. Cornelius Celsus, however, adds to figures of speech and thought figures of complexion, allowing himself to be swayed, assuredly, by too great fondness for novelty, for who can suppose that such a man, learned in other respects, did not see that figures of complexion must be figures of thought? Figures, therefore, like every part of language, must necessarily lie either in thought or in words.

19. But as it is the order of nature that we should conceive thoughts in the mind before we enunciate them, I must accordingly speak first of those figures that relate to thought. The influence of such figures is so extensive and so various that it makes itself apparent, with the utmost conspicuousness, in every part of oratory. Though figures may seem of little importance in establishing a proof by which our arguments are advanced, they make what we say probable and penetrate imperceptibly into the mind of the judge. 20. Indeed, just as in a passage of arms, it is easy to see, parry, and ward off direct and undisguised strokes, while side-blows and feints are less observable, and just as it is a proof of art to aim at one part when you intend to hit another—so that kind of oratory which is free from artifice can fight only with its own mere weight and force, whereas that which disguises and varies its attacks can assail the flank or rear of an enemy, can turn aside his weapons, and deceive him as it were with a nod. 21. Nothing has greater power over the feelings, for if the look, the eyes, the gesture of a speaker has a powerful effect on the mind, how much more influence must the air, as it were, of his speech have, when adapted to make the impression which he desires? But the greatest power of figures is shown in rendering oratory attractive, either by giving plausibility to the character of the speaker, by securing favor to his cause, by relieving weariness with variety, or by presenting certain points in a more becoming or safe light.

22. Before I proceed, however, to show what kinds of figures are applicable to particular subjects, I must observe that they are far from being so numerous as many writers represent them, for all those names of figures, which it is so easy for the Greeks to invent, have no influence with me. 23. First of all, those are to be utterly disregarded who think there are as many figures as there are affections of the mind, not because an affection of the mind is not a certain condition of it, but because a figure (not in its general, but in its restricted sense) is not a mere expression of any condition of the mind whatever. Therefore, to demonstrate anger, grief, pity, fear, confidence, or contempt in speaking is not to use a figure, any more than to advise, threaten, entreat, or excuse. 24. But what deceives those who do not consider the question sufficiently is that they find figurative expressions in all such modes of thought and produce examples of them from speeches, a task by no means difficult, since there is no part of oratory which is not open to figures. But it is one thing to admit a figure and another to be a figure, for I shall not shun the frequent repetition of the same word for the purpose of thoroughly explaining the thing. 25. My opponents, I know, will point to figures in orators expressing anger, or pity, or entreaty; but to be angry, or to pity, or to entreat will not for that reason be a figure. Cicero, indeed, includes all the embellishments of oratory under this head, adopting, as I consider, a kind of middle course, not intimating, on the one hand, that all sorts of phrases are to be regarded as figures, nor, on the other, those only which assume a form at variance with common usage, but making all such expressions figurative as are most brilliant and most effective in impressing an audience. This judgment of his, which he has delivered in two of his works, I subjoin word for word that I may not withhold from the reader the opinion of that eminent author.

26. In the third book of De Oratore, is the following passage: "But with regard to the composition of words, when we have acquired that smoothness of junction and harmony of numbers, which I have explained, our whole style of oratory is to be distinguished and frequently interspersed with brilliant lights, as it were, of thoughts and of language. 27. For the dwelling on a single circumstance has often a considerable effect, and a clear illustration and exhibition of matters to the eye of the audience, almost as if they were transacted before them. This has wonderful influence in giving a representation of any affair, both to illustrate what is represented and to amplify it, so that the point which we magnify may appear to the audience to be really as great as the powers of our language can represent it. Opposed to this is rapid transition over a thing, which may often be practiced. There is also signification that more is to be understood than you have expressed, distinct and concise brevity, and extenuation, 28. and what borders upon this, ridicule, not very different from that which was the object of Caesar's instructions, and digression from the subject. When gratification has thus been afforded, the return to the subject ought to be happy and elegant; proposition of what you are about to say, transition from what has been said, and return to the subject; repetition; apt conclusion of reasoning; 29. exaggeration or surpassing of the truth for the sake of amplification or diminution; interrogation, and, akin to this, as it were, consideration or seeming inquiry, followed by the delivery of your own opinion; and dissimulation, the humor of saying one thing and signifying another, which steals into the minds of men in a peculiar manner, and which is extremely pleasing when it is well managed, not in a vehement strain of language, but in a conversational style; 30. also doubt, and distribution; and correction of yourself, either before or after you have said a thing, or when you repel anything from yourself; there is also premunition, with regard to what you are going to prove; there is the transference of blame to another person; there is communication or consultation, as it were with the audience before whom you are speaking; imitation of manners and character, either with names of persons or without, which is a great ornament to a speech, and adapted to conciliate the feelings even in the utmost degree, and often also to rouse them; 31. the introduction of fictitious characters, the most heightened figure of exaggeration; there is description; falling into a wilful mistake; excitement of the audience to cheerfulness; anticipation; comparison and example, two figures which have a very great effect; division; interruption; contrast; suppression; commendation; 32. a certain freedom and even uncontrolledness of language for the purpose of exaggeration; anger; reproach; promise; deprecation; beseeching; slight deviation from your intended course, but not like digression, which I mentioned before: expurgation; conciliation; attack; wishing; execration. 33. Such are the figures in which thoughts give lustre to speech.

"Of words themselves, as of arms, there is a sort of threatening and attack for use, and also a management for grace. For the reiteration of words has sometimes a peculiar force and sometimes elegance; as well as the variation or deflection of a word from its common signification; and the frequent repetition of the same word in the beginning, and recurrence to it at the end, of a period; forcible emphasis on the same words; conjunction; adjunction; progression; a sort of distinction as to some word often used; the recall of a word; the use of words also which end similarly, or have similar cadences, or which balance one another, or which correspond to one another. 34. There is also a certain gradation, a conversion, an elegant transposition of words; there is antithesis, asyndeton, declination, reprehension, exclamation, diminution; and the use of the same word in different cases; the referring of what is derived from many particulars to each particular singly; reasoning subservient to your proposition, and reasoning suited to the order of distribution; concession; 35. and again another kind of doubt; the introduction of something unexpected; enumeration; another correction; division; continuation; interruption; image; answering your own questions; immutation; disjunction; order; relation; digression; and circumscription. These are the figures, and others like these, or there may even be more, which adorn language by peculiarities in thought and in structure of style."

Most of these forms of language, though not all, are mentioned in the Orator, and with somewhat greater distinctness, for after having spoken of figures of speech and thought, he adds a third division, relating, as he says, to other virtues, as they may be called, of style:

37. "Those other illuminations, so to speak, which are derived from the arrangement of words, add great splendor to language, for they are like what are called, in the full decoration of a theater or forum, the insignia, or "most striking objects," not as being the only ornaments, but as being more remarkable than any of the others. 38. Such is the effect of what are called illuminations, and, as it were, insignia, of language, for the mind of the hearer is necessarily struck when words are repeated and reiterated, or reproduced with a slight change; or when several sentences are begun or ended, or both, with the same word; or when the same word or phrase is doubled, either in the body or at the close of a sentence; or when one word constantly recurs, but not in the same sense; or when words are used in the same cases and with the same terminations; 39. or when words of a contrary sense are in various ways opposed; or when the force of the language advances upwards step by step; or when conjunctions are omitted, and several words or phrases are uttered without connection; or when we pass over some points and explain why we do so; or when we correct ourselves, with an air of censure; or when any exclamation, of surprise or complaint, is used; or when the cases of the same word are frequently changed.

40. "But the figures of thought are of a much higher character; and, as Demosthenes uses them very frequently, there are some who think it is from them that his eloquence receives its greatest excellence, for scarcely any subject, indeed, is treated by him without the introduction of some figure of thought, and to say the truth, to speak like an orator is nothing else than to illumine all our thoughts, or at least the greater part of them, with some appearance of brilliancy. 41. But as you, Brutus, have a thorough knowledge of the varieties of thoughts, why should I give names or examples? Only let the subject be noted in your memory.

"The orator, therefore, whom we desire to see, will speak in such a way as to present one and the same thing under different aspects, and to rest and dwell upon the same thought. 42. Often, too, he will speak so as to extenuate some point; often so as to throw ridicule on something; or so as to decline and turn aside his course of thought from his object; to state what he designs to say; to pronounce a conclusive decision when he has dispatched any point; to retrace his steps occasionally and repeat what he has said; to wind up a course of argumentation with fresh proofs; to press his adversary with questions; to reply to questions put as it were by himself; to intimate that he is to be understood and regarded as meaning something different from what he says; 43. to express doubt what he should say in preference to something else, and how he should say it; to divide his matter into heads; to omit or disregard some points that he has specified; to fortify some by anticipation; to throw blame upon his adversary for the very things for which he himself is censured; to seem to consult, at times, with his audience, and occasionally even with his opponent; 44. to describe the characters and conversations of men; to introduce dumb objects as speaking; to divert the attention from the subject which is under discussion; to excite the audience, frequently, to mirth and laughter; to obviate objections that he sees likely to arise; to compare similar cases; to adduce examples; to make distinctions of persons, attributing one thing to one, and another to another; to check the interruptions of his adversary; to observe that he is silent on certain particulars; to show on what points the judge must be on his guard; to hazard at times the boldest assertions; to manifest even anger; to utter reproaches now and then; to use deprecation and entreaty; to remove unfavorable impressions; to digress a little from his subject; to utter wishes or execrations; and to assume a familiar tone towards those to whom he is speaking. 45. Let him aim also at other virtues, if I may so call them, of oratory. He will adopt brevity, for instance, if his subject require it; he will often set a thing, by his eloquence, before the eyes of his hearers; he will amplify it beyond what can possibly have taken place; what he intimates will often be more than what he says; he will often assume cheerfulness, and indulge in an imitation of life and nature. By such means (for you see as it were a forest before you) the full power of eloquence must make itself manifest."

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