Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
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Book 1 - Chapter 4

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Of grammar, § 1-6. Remarks on certain letters and derivations of words, 7-12. Changes in words, 13-17. Of the parts of speech, 18-21. Some observations on nouns and verbs, 22-29.

1. IN regard to the boy who has attained facility in reading and writing, the next object is instruction from the grammarians. Nor is it of importance whether I speak of the Greek or Latin grammarian, though I am inclined to think that the Greek should take the precedence. 2. Both have the same method. This profession, then, distinguished as it is, most compendiously, into two parts, the art of speaking correctly, and the illustration of the poets, carries more beneath the surface than it shows on its front. 3. For not only is the art of writing combined with that of speaking, but correct reading also precedes illustration, and with all these is joined the exercise of judgment, which the old grammarians, indeed, used with such severity that they not only allowed themselves to distinguish certain verses with a particular mark of censure and to remove, as spurious, certain books which had been inscribed with false titles, from their sets, but even brought some authors within their canon and excluded others altogether from classification. 4. Nor is it sufficient to have read the poets only; every class of writers must be studied, not simply for matter, but for words, which often receive their authority from writers. Nor can grammar be complete without a knowledge of music, since the grammarian has to speak of meter and rhythm; nor, if he is ignorant of astronomy, can he understand the poets, who, to say nothing of other matters, so often allude to the rising and setting of the stars in marking the seasons; nor must he be unacquainted with philosophy, both on account of numbers of passages, in almost all poems, drawn from the most abstruse subtleties of physical investigation, and also on account of Empedocles among the Greeks, and Varro and Lucretius among the Latins, who have committed the precepts of philosophy to verse. 5. The grammarian has also need of no small portion of eloquence that he may speak aptly and fluently on each of those subjects which are here mentioned. Those, therefore, are by no means to be regarded who deride this science as trifling and empty, for unless it lays a sure foundation for the future orator, whatever superstructure you raise will fall; it is a science which is necessary to the young, pleasing to the old, and an agreeable companion in retirement. Of all departments of learning, it alone has more service than show.

6. Let no man, therefore, look down on the elements of grammar as small matters, not because it requires great labor to distinguish consonants from vowels and to divide them into the proper number of semivowels and mutes, but because, to those entering the recesses, as it were, of this temple there will appear much subtlety on points, which may not only sharpen the wits of boys, but may exercise even the deepest erudition and knowledge. 7. Is it in the power of every ear to distinguish accurately the sounds of letters? No more, assuredly, than to distinguish the sounds of musical strings. But all grammarians will at least descend to the discussion of such curious points as these: whether any necessary letters be wanting to us, not indeed when we write Greek, for then we borrow two letters from the Greeks, but, properly, in Latin: 8. as in these words, servus and vulgus, the Aeolic digamma is required; and there is a certain sound of a letter between u and i, for we do not pronounce optimum like opimum; 9. in here, too, neither e nor i is distinctly heard: whether, again, other letters are redundant (besides the mark of aspiration, which, if it be necessary, requires also a contrary mark), as k, which is itself the mark of certain names, and q (similar to which in sound and shape, except that q is slightly warped by our writers, koppa now remains among the Greeks, though only in the list of numbers), as well as x, the last of our letters, which indeed we might have done without, if we had not sought it. 10. With regard to vowels, too, it is the business of the grammarian to see whether custom has taken any for consonants, since iam is written as tam, and uos as cos. But vowels which are joined, as vowels, make either one long vowel, as the ancients wrote, who used the doubling of them instead of the circumflex accent, or two; though perhaps some one may suppose that a syllable may be formed even of three vowels; but this cannot be the case, unless some of them do the duty of consonants. 11. The grammarian will also inquire how two vowels only have the power of uniting with each other, when none of the consonants can break any letter but another consonant. But the letter i unites with itself; for coniicit is from iacit, and so does u, as vulgus and servus are now written. Let the grammarian also know that Cicero was inclined to write aiio and Maiia with a double i, and, if this be done, the one i will be joined to the other as a consonant. 12. Let the boy, therefore, learn what is peculiar in letters, what is common, and what relationship each has to each, and let him not wonder why scabellum is formed from scamnum, or why bipennis, an axe with an edge each way, is formed from pinna, which means something sharp, that he may not follow the error of those, who, because they think that this word is from two wings, would have the wings of birds called pinnae.

13. Nor let him know those changes only which declension and prepositions introduce, as secat secuit, cadit excidit, caedit excīdit, calcat exculcat; (so lotus from lavare, whence also inlotus, and there are a thousand other similar derivations); but also what alterations have taken place, even in nominative cases, through lapse of time, for as Valesii and Fusii have passed into Valerii and Furii, so arbos, labos, vapos, as well as clamos and lases have had their day. 14. This very letter s, too, which has been excluded from these words, has itself, in some other words, succeeded to the place of another letter, for instead of mersare and pulsare, they once said mertare and pultare. They also said fordeum and faedus, using, instead of the aspiration, a letter similar to vau; for the Greeks, on the other hand, are accustomed to aspirate, whence Cicero, in his oration for Fundanius, laughs at a witness who could not sound the first letter of that name. 15. But we have also, at times, admitted b into the place of other letters, whence Burrus and Bruges, and Belena. The same letter moreover has made bellum out of duellum, whence some have ventured to call the Duellii, Bellii. Why need I speak of stlocus and stlites? 16.Why need I mention that there is a certain relationship of the letter t to d? Hence it is far from surprising if, on the old buildings of our city and well-known temples, is read Alexanter and Cassantra. Why should I specify that o and u are interchanged? Hecoba and notrix, Culchides and Pulyxena, were used, and, that this may not be noticed in Greek words only, dederont and probaveront. So Ὀδυσσεύς (Odusseús), whom the Aeolians made Ὀλισσέα (Olisseus), was turned into Ulysses. 17. Was not e, too, put in the place of i, as Menerva, leber, magester, and Diiove and Veiove for Diiovi and Veiovi? But it is enough for me to point to the subject; for I do not teach, but admonish those who are to teach. The attention of the learner will then be transferred to syllables, on which I shall make a few remarks under the head of orthography.

He, whom this matter shall concern, will then understand how many parts of speech there are and what they are, though as to their number, writers are by no means agreed. 18. For the more ancient, among whom were Aristotle and Theodectes, said that there were only verbs, nouns, and convinctions, because, that is to say, they judged that the force of language was in verbs, and the matter of it in nouns (since the one is what we speak, and the other that of which we speak), and that the union of words lay in convinctions, which, I know, are by most writers called conjunctions, but the other term seems to be a more exact translation of συνδεσμός (syndesmos). 19. By the philosophers, and chiefly the Stoics, the number was gradually increased; to the convinctions were first added articles, then prepositions; to nouns was added the appellation, next the pronoun, and afterwards the participle, partaking of the nature of the verb; to verbs themselves were joined adverbs. Our language does not require articles, and they are therefore divided among other parts of speech. To the parts of speech already mentioned was added the interjection. 20. Other writers, however, certainly of competent judgment, have made eight parts of speech, as Aristarchus and Palaemon in our own day, who have included the vocable, or appellation, under the name or noun, as if a species of it. But those who make the noun one, and the vocable another, reckon nine. But there were some, nevertheless, who even distinguished the vocable from the appellation, so that the vocable should signify any substance manifest to the sight and touch, as a house, a bed; the appellation, that to which one or both of these properties should be wanting, as the wind, heaven, God, virtue. They added also the asseveration, as heu, "alas!" and the attrectation, as fasceatim, "in bundles," distinctions which are not approved by me. 21. Whether προσηγορία (prosēgoria) should be translated by vocable or appellation, and whether it should be comprehended under the noun or not, are questions on which, as being of little importance, I leave it free to others to form an opinion.

22. Let boys in the first place learn to decline nouns and conjugate verbs, for otherwise they will never arrive at the understanding of what is to follow. This admonition would be superfluous to give were it not that most teachers, through ostentatious haste, begin where they ought to end, and, while they wish to show off their pupils in matters of greater display, retard their progress by attempting to shorten the road. 23. But if a teacher has sufficient learning and (what is often found not less wanting) be willing to teach what he has learned, he will not be content with stating that there are three genders in nouns, and specifying what nouns have two or all the three genders. 24. Nor shall I hastily deem that tutor diligent who shall have shown that there are irregular nouns, called epicene, in which both genders are implied under one, or nouns, which under a feminine termination, signify males or, with a neuter termination, denote females; as Muroena and Glycerium. 25. A penetrating and acute teacher will search into a thousand origins of names; derivations which have produced the names Rufus, "red," and Longus, "long," from personal peculiarities; (among which will be some of rather obscure etymology, as Sulla, Burrhus, Galba, Plancus, Pansa, Scaurus, and others of the same kind); some also from accidents of birth, as Agrippa, Opiter, Cordus, Posthumus; some from occurrences after birth, as Vopiscus; while others as Cotta, Scipio, Laenas, Seranus, spring from various causes. 26. We may also find people, places, and many other things among the origins of names. That sort of names among slaves, which was taken from their masters, whence Marcipores and Publipores, has fallen into disuse. Let the tutor consider also whether there is not among the Greeks ground for a sixth case, and among us even for a seventh; for when I say hasta percussi, "I have struck with a spear," I do not express the sense of an ablative case, nor, if I say the same thing in Greek, that of a dative.

27. As to verbs, who is so ignorant as not to know their kinds, qualities, persons, and numbers? Those things belong to the reading school and to the lower departments of instruction. But such points as are not determined by inflection will puzzle some people, for it may be doubted, as to certain words, whether they are participles or nouns formed from the verb, as lectus, sapiens. 28. Some verbs look like nouns, as fraudator, nutritor. Is not the verb in Itur in antiquam silvam of a peculiar nature, for what beginning of it can you find? Fletur is similar to it. We understand the passive sometimes in one way, as,

Panditur interea domus omnipotentis Olympi;

sometimes in another, as,

Usque adeò turbatur agris.

There is also a third way, as urbs habitatur, whence likewise campus curritur, mare navigatur. 29. Pransus also and potus have a different signification from that which their form indicates. I need hardly add that many verbs do not go through the whole course of conjugation. Some, too, undergo a change, as fero in the preterperfect; some are expressed only in the form of the third person, as licet, piget; and some bear resemblance to nouns passing into adverbs, for, as we say noctu and diu, so we say dictu and factu, since these words are indeed participial, though not like dicto and facto.

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Lee Honeycutt (honeycuttlee@gmail.com) Last modified:2/13/06
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