Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory

Editorial Changes

The text used on this web site is an edited version of the 1856 English translation by the Rev. John Selby Watson. In editing Watson's translation, I have tried to preserve many elements of the print edition, though 19th-century punctuation and British spelling have been altered to modern American style. Additionally, numerous words originally rendered in their native Greek form were preserved through Unicode Greek lettering, but were also transliterated into Roman lettering. Additionally, Watson's copious footnotes, though quite useful, were omitted to ease onscreen reading, but may appear in future editions of the site.

Countless hours have been spent editing this text, but none of it would have been possible without the assistance of my wife Carolyn, whose persistent and patient first-pass editing of scanned pages during the summer of 2001 brought this lengthy project much closer to fruition. Thanks, Care! The previous summer, while working on other scholarly projects, I had scanned all pages of Watson's two volumes into ASCII electronic text using the optical character recognition software, OmniPage Lite. I performed final editing sporadically over the next four years in between writing projects for tenure, and in the final stages, I was assisted by the keen editorial eye of Quinton Jefferson, a master's student in theology and education at Xavier University who found numerous scanning errors and typos that had earlier escaped my exhausted attention.

In editing Watson's translation, I have tried to pay homage to the lyricism of 19th-century British style, while at the same time making it easier for 21st-century eyes to parse the text. In some cases, incredibly long sentences—stemming from Quintilian's own often elongated prose style—were divided to aid comprehension for the modern reader. In others, the order of words and phrases was slightly rearranged to make for easier reading. For example, Watson translates 7.10.4 in the following manner:

As to discussions of this kind, though directions on all points could not be given, yet it has been practicable to give some.

which has been edited as:

Though it is not possible to give directions on all points of discussions of this kind, it has been practicable to give some.

In making such changes, I used a very light hand and adhered fairly strictly to Watson's word choices and phrasings on most occassions. As my own knowledge of Latin is somewhat limited, I often triangulated my editorial choices by consulting Donald A. Russell's excellent translation of the Institutes for the Loeb Classical Library, which on occassion pointed out slight errors in Watson's translation. An example occurs in 11.3.58, where Watson translates the phrase

...sed ipsam fori sanctitatem ludorum talariorum licentia solvere?


...but violate the sanctity of the forum with the license of games at dice?

The phrase ludus talarius could be literally translated as a "game of dice," since gambling die were made from the heel (talus) of animals, but in this particular context, it clearly refers to a more popular meaning during this period of Roman history as a place of song and dance. In The Context of Ancient Drama, Eric Csapo and William J. Slater refer to the ludus talarius as "a simple and possibly vulgar dance in long dress with castanet and cymbal accompaniment, probably Etruscan in origin and sanctioned by ritual." They cite Cassiodorus' mention of the ludus talarius in his Chronica, as well as Fronto's agreement, in On Speeches, with the closing of the dances by a censor who claimed he could not walk past the places without "avoiding tapping his feet to the strains of the clappers and cymbals" (380). Because Quintilian is criticizing those who speak in a singing tone of voice, and there is clear historical reference to dance, Watson's original translation of the phrase was replaced by "a song and dance routine." Such corrections to Watson's original text were exceedingly rare and made only when confronted with overwhelming evidence that he was indeed mistaken.

If anyone, in the course of reading pages on this site, spots a typographical or editorial mistake, please feel free to contact me at the address below, and I will see that corrections are made in a timely manner. Additionally, if you have additions to the bibliography of secondary sources, please let me know.


Csapo, Eric, and William J. Slater. The Context of Ancient Drama. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1994.

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