Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory

Watson's Life of Quintilian
with Critical Notes

MARCUS FABIUS QUINTILIANUS was born at Calagurris, now called Calahorra, a town of Spain on the Ebro. The time of his birth is uncertain, but as he was, while still young, a hearer of Domitius Afer at Rome, who died A.D. 59, we may reasonably suppose him to have been born about A.D. 40.

What his father was is unknown. He alludes to him once, in the ninth book, where Spalding suggests that he may have been the pleader mentioned by Seneca the rhetorician in the preface to the fifth book of his Controversies; but for this supposition there is no foundation.

The scholiast on Juvenal says that he studied under the grammarian Palaemon.

He appears to have returned to Spain and to have been brought again from thence by the emperor Galba, A.D. 68, to Rome, where he distinguished himself in the two professions of pleader and teacher of eloquence. Among his pupils was Pliny the younger. His scholars seem to have been numerous, according to Martial,

Quintiliane, vagoe moderator summe juventoe,
Gloria Romanoe Quintiliane togoe,

the first of which verses, says Gesner, refers to his teaching and the second to his pleading. It would appear from St. Jerome's Chronicon that he first opened a public school or college for rhetoric at Rome in the eighth year of the reign of Domitian, receiving a salary from the public treasury. The salaries for Greek and Latin rhetoricians had previously been fixed by Vespasian at a hundred thousand sesterces, or about eight hundred pounds of our money. He himself speaks of his oratorical efforts and of the memory which he exhibited in them.

He published, however, only one of his orations, which was delivered on behalf of a certain Naevius Apronianus, who was accused of having killed his wife. Other speeches of his were in circulation, but they had been made public without his sanction, by short-hand writers who had taken them down to make profit of them. He complains of the negligence and incorrectness with which they had been given to the world.

He pleaded, on some occasion, before queen Berenice, and on her behalf, but the subject of the pleading is not known.

After spending twenty years in the forum and in his school, he seems to have retired, partially or wholly, from public employment, and to have devoted his leisure, at the request of his friends, to the composition of his Institutiones Oratorioe; a work which he was rather induced to undertake by the circumstance that two books on rhetoric had been published in his name by some of his pupils, who had taken notes of his lectures and had sent them into the world with more zeal than discretion. He dedicated the work to Marcellus Victorius, the same to whom Statius inscribes the fourth book of his Silvae. About the time that he was finishing the third book, he was intrusted with the education of two grand-nephews of Domitian, the sons of Flavius Clemens, Domitilla, the grand-daughter of Vespasian.

As he was about to commence his sixth book, he was afflicted with the loss of his son, aged ten years, of whom he had formed high expectations and who had been adopted by some person of consular dignity. He had previously lost another son at the age of five, and his wife, whose amiable qualities he highly extols, at the age of nineteen. He represents himself as almost in despair, and weary of life; but he resolved on seeking consolation from literature and proceeded vith his work.

One of Pliny's Letters, the thirty-second of the sixth book, is addressed to a person named Quintilian, who had a daughter, to whom Pliny offers to present fifty thousand sesterces, or about four hundred pounds, on her marriage. This Quintilian is generally supposed to be the author of the Institutes, and, if so, the daughter, as Quintilian does not mention her in speaking of his first wife and family, was probably the offspring of a second marriage, to the daughter, as Pliny intimates, of a certain Tutilius. Dodwell thinks that this second marriage took place about A.D. 94, when Quintilian was past fifty.

Quintilian was invested by Domitian with the name and insignia of consul, at the request, according to Ausonius, of Clemens, doubtless the Flavius Clemens to whose children he had been appointed preceptor; but "the honor," adds Ausonius, "was rather a titular distinction than an indication of authority." It is to this exaltation that Juvenal alludes, in the verse,

Si Fortuna volet, fies de rhetore consul,
Thou from a rhetorician mayst become,
If fortune will, a consul.

It appears, from the same passage of Juvenal, that Quintilian, though parents were unwilling to pay liberally for the education of their sons, was a rich man,

Unde igitur tot
Quintilianus habet saltus?
Whence has Quintilian gained
Such large estates?
and the satirist attributes his wealth to the favor of fortune.

When be died, is uncertain. Dodwell supposes that he was alive in A.D.118, when he was probably seventy-five years old.

His character, as a man, appears to have stood fair in the estimation of his contemporaries. The tendency of what Juvenal says of him is to make us look upon him in a favorable light. Gesner supposes that in the verses

Felix et pulcher et acer,
Felix et sapiens et noblis et generosus,

every epithet is to be literally applied to Quintilian; that the word pulcher proves him to have been of a handsome person; and that the words in the sixth satire,

An expectas ut Quintilianus ametur?

show that he was free from the vices into which the handsome were frequently enticed. It is not, however, clear that every one of Juvenal's characteristics was meant to apply strictly to Quintilian; yet there is nothing to prevent us from entertaining as good an opinion of Quintilian's moral character as Gesner entertained.

In his professional capacity, he shows, with great strength and felicity of argument, that a great orator must be a good man, and he recommends the strictest abstinence from all licentiousness or immorality in language. Yet he never forgot that he was a pleader, or that a pleader thinks himself justified in resorting to every possible means for the establishment of his case. He thought, with Cicero and the Stoic Panaetius, that a good orator, and a good man, may sometimes tell a lie, if it be told with a good motive; that the ignorant may be misled with a view to their benefit; that the mind of a judge may be drawn away from the contemplation of truth; that we may sometimes speak in favor of vice to promote a virtuous object; that if a dishonorable course appear advisable, it may be advocated in plausible terms; and that vices may sometimes be honored with the names of the proximate virtues. But his worst offense against morality is that he sanctions the subornation of witnesses to declare what they know to be false. He seems to have thought, indeed, that a pleader might do all manner of evil if he could but persuade himself that good would come of it.

His flattery of Domitian is gross; he calls him the most upright of moral censors, a master in eloquence, the greatest of poets, and a deity; but such adulation was sanctioned by the usage of the time and was not much worse than that offered to the same emperor by Valerius Flaceus, or that of Lucan to Nero, except that poets are allowed more liberty in such respects than prose writers. That given by Velleius Paterculus to Tiberius is of an equally extravagant description.

Assessment of Quintilian's Work

The great merit of Quintilian's treatise on oratory, above all works of the kind that had preceded it, was its superior copiousness of matter and felicity of embellishment. It does not offer a mere dry list of rules, but illustrates them with an abundance of examples from writers of all kinds, interspersed with observations that must interest not only the orator, but readers of every class. It embraces a far wider field than the De Oratore of Cicero and treats of all that concerns eloquence with far greater minuteness. The orator conducts his pupil from the cradle to the utmost heights of the oratorical art. He speaks of the books that he must read in his boyhood and in his maturer years. He gives him precepts on study, on morals, on preparing and stating causes, on arranging and enforcing arguments, on the attainment of style, on elocution and gesture, and on everything that can be supposed conducive to the formation of an able public speaker.

In the delivery of these precepts he manifests great judgment, extensive reading, and the utmost anxiety to do his work well. His style is so studiedly elegant and graceful that the reader will sometimes be disposed to think that it would be improved by the appearance of occasional negligence. His Latinity, considering the age in which he lived, deserves the highest praise for its purity. His figurative embellishments are in general extremely happy; and it is justly observed by Dr. Warton that "No author ever adorned a scientifical treatise with so many beautiful metaphors." It must however be observed that he allows himself, in his illustrations, to use the conjunctions quasi and velut with rather too great frequency. In his phraseology, also, he is sometimes too fond of brevity. His quotations, as Spalding shows, are not always in the exact words of the authors, being apparently given from memory.

The parts which have most attractions for the general reader are the first and second books, which relate to elementary education, and the last three, especially the tenth, which contains criticisms, of great spirit and justice, on a long series of Greek and Latin authors in all departments of literature. His characters of Homer, Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca, and his comparisons between Demosthenes and Cicero, Thucydides and Herodotus, are fine specimens of critical acuteness and discrimination. "I have often perused with pleasure," says Gibbon, "a chapter of Quintilian in which that judicious critic enumerates and appreciates the series of Greek and Latin classics."

We learn from Quintilian himself that he wrote a book On the Causes of the Corruption of Eloquence, and it has consequently been inquired whether the anonymous Dialogus de Oratoribus, which is also entitled in some copies, Sive de Causis Corruptae Eloquentiae, may not be the work to which he alludes. But the phraseology of that Dialogue bears much less resemblance to the style of Quintilian than to that of Tacitus, to whom, accordingly, it is generally attributed. A coincidence between two passages of the Dialogue, and one of Pliny's Epistles, strengthens the presumption that Tacitus was the author. The writer of the Dialogue, c. 9, says,

Adjice quod poetis, si modo dignum aliquid elaborare et effingere velint, relinquenda conversatio amicorum, et jucunditas urbis, deserenda cetera officia, atque, ut ipsi dicunt, in nemora et lucos, id est, in solitudinem, recedendum est:

and in c. 12.

Nemora vero et luci, et secretum iter,--tantam mihi afferunt voluptatem, ut inter praecipuos carminum fructus enumerem:

and Pliny, in a letter to Tacitus, has,

Itaque poemata quiescunt, quae tu inter nemora et lucos commodissinme perfici putas.

This coincidence was first noticed by Dr. Stock in his edition of Tacitus printed at Dublin in 1788.

Attached to the editions of Quintilian are one hundred and sixty-four Declamations, which remain out of a collection that originally consisted of three hundred and eighty-eight. Nineteen of these are of considerable length and are entitled, in Burmann's and other editions, Quintiliani Declamationes; the other one hundred and forty-five are called Excerpta ex Quintiliano. But Burmann did not suppose that any of them were really the work of Quintilian; he regarded them as having proceeded from various hands at different periods and as of little utility either for promoting eloquence or illustrating law, and adds that, though he had spent much labor, of no very pleasant kind, in correcting them, he should willingly consign them all to oblivion to recover one of the lost books of Livy or Tacitus.

Editions of the Institutes of Oratory

Quintilian was first brought to light, on the revival of learning, by Poggio the Florentine, who found a manuscript of the Institutions in the monastery of St. Gall, near Constance, and made a transcript from it with his own hand, as he states in a letter to Guarini, dated December, 1417. This manuscript is supposed to be the same with that which is now preserved at Florence under the name of the Codex Laurentianus.

The Editio Princeps of the Institutions appeared at Rome in 1470 from the press of J. P. de Lignamine, and the second edition came forth in the same year from that of Sweynheim and Pannartz. In the following year was published that of Jenson at Venice. All these were in folio, as was also that of Raphael Regius, Venice, 1493, who was the first that attempted to correct the numerous errors in Quintilian's text. He was a very acute editor and considering the state of learning in his age, very successful in his emendations.

Nine or ten more editions, all of little account, appeared between this and that of Badius Ascensius, Paris, 1516, who followed the text of Regius, but improved it by introducing some emendations from a manuscript of Laurentius Valla.

The nineteen longer Declamations were first published, with the Institutions, at Treviso in 1482, and one hundred and thirty-six of the shorter ones at Paris in 1509. The other nine were added from an old manuscript by Peter Pithou, Paris, 1580.

The next editions, after that of Badius Ascensius, that did much for the improvement of the text were those of Mosellanus, 4to., 1527, and Colinaeus, 8vo., 1531. The Gryphii, Sebastian, Francis, and Antonius produced several editions, the first of which was that of Sebastian, Paris, 1534, but all those that had the charge of them, whoever they were, left the text nearly the same as they found it.

In 1543 appeared the edition of Camerarius aud Sichardus,with the Castigationes of Philander, which, according to Gesner, had been published eight years before, in a separate volume, at Basil. These three contributed something to the emendation and illustration of the text.

In 1553 there was published an edition at Paris by Thomas Richardus, who republished it in 1556, with notes which were said to be written by Turnebus, but which cannot be proved to have been his, and have been generally regarded as inferior to what have been expected from him. Burmann and Spalding call the writer Pseudo-Turnebus. Many of these annotations, however, illustrate passages very happily, and I have frequently cited them, appending the name "Turnebus."

The Variorum edition of 1665, commenced by Schrevelius and finished after his death by Frederic Gronovius, is useful, but of no great estimation. Burmann charges the editor or editors with supine negligence.

Passing over a variety of minor editions, we come to the first English edition, published by Edmund Gibson, 4to., Oxford, 1693. Gibson seems to have been but a young man when he brought out this edition. He professed to have collated three manuscripts, two at Oxford and one at Cambridge, but both Burmann and Spalding accuse him of not having made his collations with sufficient care.

In 1698 appeared at Strasburg, in 4to, the edition of Ulric Obrecht, with various emendations in the text, many of them very judicious, but without notes. He had intended to publish a separate volume of annotations, with the reasons for his corrections, but was prevented by death from executing his design.

In 1715 Rollin published what we may call a selection from the Institutions of Quintilian, for he omitted all such parts as he thought not necessary to be read by youth in modern times. His text is tolerably correct, but he is too sparing of illustration.

Five years afterwards, 1720, followed the well-known edition of Burmann, containing the principal annotations of all preceding commentators, and some of Burmann's own. What Burmann himself did, however, was less than might have been expected from him; he neglected many passages that required both correction and illustration. When he attempted emendation, he was extremely timid and not always happy.

What Burmann had omitted, Capperonier, Paris, 1725, attempted in some degree to supply. But he wanted judgment to direct his good intentions. Burmann had neglected to explain any of the legal or rhetorical terms used by Quintilian; Capperonier resolved to explain them all with the utmost minuteness. He accordingly extracted, from various sources, but especially from the Greek rhetoricians, all that he could possibly bring to bear on the technicalities of his author; but from not having divided his texts into sections, to which he might refer, he has been under the necessity of repeating scores of times illustrations which it would have been sufficient to have given once. His pages are accordingly encumbered with superfluous matter, and he himself, from the way in which he speaks of his doings, seems proud of the petty erudition which he has so industriously accumulated. Burmann thought himself insulted in the preface and took ample revenge in a pamphlet addressed Ad Claudium Capperonnerium, Theologum Licentiatum, Diaconum Ambianensem et Graecae Linguoe Professorem, de nova ejus Quintiliani editione, a pamphlet which consists of one hundred and two pages, and of which the index refers to "Capperonnerii calumnioe, obtrectationes, ignorantiae, furta, ineptiae, errores, p. 1-102." Yet it must be allowed, as Spalding justly observes, that "notwithstanding Burnmann's strictures and ridicule, a knowledge of the technical terms of rhetoric, such as Capperonier possessed in no small degree, is necessary, not only for the interpretation of Quintilian, but for estimating the value of various readings." In capacity for judging of readings, however, Capperonier was deficient; and Gesner, in speaking of his notes, intimates that such of them as are not on rhetorical or legal points are undeserving of notice.

Capperonier was followed by Gesner, 1738, whose text is on the whole rather more correct than Burmann's, but who quietly passed over many passages that demanded correction and explanation.

But all preceding editors were far surpassed by George Lewis Spalding, whose first volume appeared in 1798. He commenced his work with an ample store of critical materials and the aid of all that had been done by his predecessors; but what was of far more consequence, he devoted himself to his undertaking with a resolution to leave no apparent corruptions in the text unamended and no obscurity unelucidated. As he was well qualified, by learning and perspicacity for his task, he has produced a work of the highest excellence, both for correctness and for illustration. If he deserves censure on any account, it is for having paid occasionally too much attention to worthless readings and for having been rather too fastidious about the Latin of his notes, which, had they been more concise and spirited, would, even if less elegant, have pleased the reader better. He did not live to complete his work, but died suddenly when he was near the end, and the conclusion was committed to the able management of Buttmann, who, to one of Spalding's notes on the third chapter of the twelfth book, makes the following addition:

Haec mane quum scripsisset Georgius Ludovicus Spalding, vespere ereptus est Quintiliano, et his literis universis, et si quid in quocunque genere boni aut re aut humanissimo guadio plausuque juvandum erat.

"The translations of Quintilian," says Ernesti, "are but few; for his Institutions are more difficult to render into our modern tongues than other works of antiquity." Experience has enabled me to form some opinion of the justice of this remark.

Four versions have, however, appeared in French; one by Michael de Pures, published in 1663; another by the Abbé Nicolas Gedoyn, which appeared first in 1718 and has been several times reprinted. Gedoyn's performance deserves great praise; he seems to have been extremely anxious to express the sense of his author and is said to have spent ten years over his task. But the version is in some places, as Ernesti remarks, fallacious. The French translation published by Nisard, 1853, in his "Collection des Auteurs Latins," is modelled on that of Gedoyn, and supplies a few short passages which he had omitted. The French version of C. V. Ouizille, Paris, 1829, I have not seen.

In English we have had two versions. The earlier was that of Guthrie, printed first, I believe, in 1756. The quality most remarkable in Guthrie is his audacity; he was resolved to give some English for Quintilian's sentences, and when he could not see the sense, either by the light of his own scanty learning or of Gedoyn's French, he boldly excogitated something and thrust on his reader the offspring of his own mind for that of Quintilian's. Of his travesties, that I may not seem to do him injustice, I will give a few specimens. In the fourteenth chapter of the fifth book Quintilian says,

Hae [quaestiones] primam habent propositionem. Sacrilegium commisisti: Non quisquis hominem occidit, coedis tenetur.

For which Guthrie gives,

In all such matters a leading proposition is laid down, which is the subject-matter of contest. Says one party, "You have been guilty of sacrilege, for you have killed a man." Says the other, "If I have killed a man, it does not therefore follow that I have been guilty of sacrilege."

In the third chapter of the sixth book Quintilian records the following jest:

Servus Dolabellæ, quum interrogaretur, an dominus ejus auctionem proposuisset, Domum, inquit, vendidit.

This Guthrie metamorphoses into

When Dolabella was about to purchase a slave, who offered himself to sale, he asked him whether he had his master's leave to be sold; He has, replied the slave, sold his house.

Quintilian remarks, on the collocation of phrases,

Cavendum ne decrescat oratio, et fortiori subjungatur aliquid infirmius, ut sacrilego fur, aut latroni petulans.

Guthrie presents us with

We are to avoid a dwindling of style; for whatever is weak ought to be subjected to what is strong: Thus sacrilege is a higher crime than theft, and robbery than impudence.

What he conceived himself to mean, when he was writing that "whatever is weak ought to be subjected to what is strong," it is not easy to conjecture.

Quintilian observes of definition,

Opus est aliquando finitione obscurioribus et ignotioribus verbis, ut quid sit clarigato, proletarius. Erit et interim notis nomine verbis, ut quid sit penus, quid litus. Quae varietas efficit, ut eam quidam conjecturae, quidam qualitati, quidam legitimis quaestionibus subjecerint.

What Guthrie offers, is,

There is no way of defining some things, but in terms more obscure than the term that is defined. Other things are so clear in their sense, they require no definition as to the term. This variety has occasioned a great deal of logical jargon, which ia very unprofitble to the business of an orator.

If the reader choose to follow him a few sentences further, he may see a little more of strange metamorphosis.

In the fifth chapter of the eighth book Quintilian says,

Est et quod appellatur a novis noema, qua voce omnis intellectus accipi potest, sed hoc nomine donarunt ea quae non dicunt. verum intelligi volunt; ut in eum, quem saepius a ludo redemerat soror, agentem cum ea talionis, quod ei pollicem dormienti recidisset, etc.

Guthrie gives,

The word understanding may be indifferently applied to all operations of the intellects. But when we say that a thing is understood, we suppose it to be suppressed. Thus a fellow whose sister had several times redeemed him from the profession of prize-fighting, sued her, upon the statute of Talio, for cutting off his thumb, etc.

At the end of the tenth book Quintilian observes of the note-books left behind him by Cicero,

Nam Ciceronis ad praesens modo tempus aptatos libertus Tiro contraxit; quos non ideo excuso, quia non probem, sed ut sint magis admirabiles.

Which Guthrie transforms thus:

The notes Cicero left behind him were only for his own private use and were abridged by his freedman Tiro; an action which I do not approve of; but I mention it, that we may admire them the more.

Quintilian, at the end of the ninth chapter of the twelfth book, says that the orator is to study his cause well before he ventures to speak upon it, premeditation being safer than writing:

Licet tamen praecogitare plura, et animum ad omnes casus componere; idque est tutius stilo, quo facilius et omittitur cogitatio, et transfertur.

Guthrie makes him say,

Upon the whole we ought to consider and premeditate every circumstance, and to be prepared against all events and objections. This is most safely done by writing. For thereby we can most readily admit or transpose a thought.

Yet he has the confidence to say, in a note on the second chapter of the sixth book, that "the reader who is acquainted with the original of this chapter, will not be surprised at my being obliged now and then to throw in a word that is not in the original;" and adds that "the Abbé Gedoyn, though he takes much greater liberties of that sort than I do, has in this chapter several times mistaken or obscured our author's sense." Gedoyn is closeness and accuracy itself compared with Guthrie and would have shuddered at the thought of "throwing in" such words as Guthrie forces on "our author." It would be easy to find dozens of similar instances.

Patsall, who followed Guthrie in 1774, is better on the whole; perhaps he has not more than half as many faults as Guthrie, but many of what he has are very gross. He translates Mithridates corpore inqenti, perinde armatus, "Mithridates having likewise the advantage of a huge body," from which single specimen the reader may fully estimate his ability to exhibit in another language the niceties of Quintilian's diction. It is to be observed that neither Guthrie's version, nor Patsall's, is complete; for whole chapters, and large portions of chapters, are omitted in each of them.

There are two Italian versions of the Institutes, by Orazio Toscanella, 4to., Venice, 1568, and by Garilli, Vercelli, 1780. There is one in German, by H. P. C. Hencke, 3 vols. 8vo., 1775, which was republished in an improved form by Billerbeck, in 1825.

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