Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
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Book 1 - Chapter 8

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Of reading, § 1-4. Authors to be read, Greek and Latin, 4-12. Duty of the grammarian, 13-17. Of lectures on historical reading, 18-21.

1. READING remains to be considered. Only practice can teach a boy to know when to take breath, where to divide a verse, where the sense is concluded, where it begins, when the voice is to be raised or lowered, what is to be uttered with any particular inflection of sound, or what is to be pronounced with greater slowness or rapidity, with greater animation or gentleness than other passages. 2. There is but one direction, therefore, which I have to give in this part of my work, namely, that he may be able to do all this successfully, let him understand what he reads.

Let his mode of reading, however, be, above all, manly, uniting gravity with a certain degree of sweetness. Let not his reading of the poets be like that of prose, for it is verse, and the poets say that they sing. Yet let it not degenerate into sing-song or be rendered effeminate with unnatural softness, as is now the practice among most readers; on which sort of reading we hear that Caius Caesar, while he was still under age, observed happily to some one that was practicing it, "If you are singing, you sing badly; if you pretend to read, you nevertheless sing." 3. Nor would I have prosopopeiae pronounced, as some would wish them, after the manner of actors, though I think there should be a certain alteration of the voice by which they may be distinguished from those passages in which the poet speaks in his own person.

4. Other points demand much admonition to be given on them, and care is to be taken, above all things, that tender minds, which will imbibe deeply whatever has entered them while rude and ignorant of everything, may learn not only what is eloquent, but, still more, what is morally good. 5. It has accordingly been an excellent custom that reading should commence with Homer and Virgil, although to understand their merits, there is need of maturer judgment. But for the acquisition of judgment there is abundance of time, for they will not be read once only. In the meantime, let the mind of the pupil be exalted with the sublimity of the heroic verse, conceive ardor from the magnitude of the subjects, and be imbued with the noblest sentiments. 6. The reading of tragedies is beneficial; the lyric poets nourish the mind, provided that you select from them not merely authors, but portions of their works; for the Greeks are licentious in many of their writings, and I should be loath to interpret Horace in certain passages. As to elegy, at least that which treats of love, and hendecasyllables, and poems in which there are portions of Sotadic verses (for concerning Sotadic verses themselves no precept need even be mentioned) let them be altogether kept away, if it be possible; if not, let them at least be reserved for the greater strength of mature age. 7. Of comedy, which may contribute very much to eloquence, as it extends to all sorts of characters and passions, I will state a little further on, in the proper place, the good which I think it may do to boys; when their morals are out of danger, it will be among the subjects to be chiefly read. It is of Menander that I speak, though I would not set aside other comic writers, for the Latin authors, too, will confer some benefit. 8. But those writings should be the subjects of lectures for boys, which may best nourish the mind and enlarge the thinking powers; for reading other books, which relate merely to erudition, advanced life will afford sufficient time.

The old Latin authors, however, will be of great use, though most of them, indeed, were stronger in genius than in art. Above all they will supply a copia verborum, while in their tragedies may be found a weightiness of thought, and in their comedies elegance, and something as it were of Atticism. 9. There will be seen in them, too, a more careful regard to regularity of structure than in most of the moderns, who have considered that the merit of every kind of composition lies solely in the thoughts. Purity, certainly, and that I may so express myself, manliness, is to be gained from them, since we ourselves have fallen into all the vices of refinement, even in our manner of speaking. 10. Let us, moreover, trust to the practice of the greatest orators, who have recourse to the poems of the ancients, as well for the support of their arguments, as for the adornment of their eloquence. 11. For in Cicero, most of all, and frequently, also, in Asinius and others nearest to his times, we see verses of Ennius, Accius, Pacuvius, Lucilius, Terence, Caecilius, and other poets, introduced with the best effect, not only for showing the learning of the speakers, but for giving pleasure to the hearers, whose ears find in the charms of poetry a relief from the want of elegance in forensic pleading. 12. To this is to be added no mean advantage, as the speakers confirm what they have stated by the sentiments of the poets, as by so many testimonies. But those first observations of mine have reference rather to boys, the latter to more advanced students, for the love of letters and the benefit of reading are bounded not by the time spent at school, but by the extent of life.

13. In lecturing on the poets, the grammarian must attend also to minor points, so that after taking a verse to pieces, he may require the parts of speech to be specified, and the peculiarities of the feet, which are necessary to be known, not merely for writing poetry, but even for prose composition. He may also distinguish what words are barbarous, or misapplied, or used contrary to the rules of the language. 14. Not that the poets may thus be disparaged (to whom, as they are commonly forced to obey the meter, so much indulgence is granted, that even solecisms are designated by other names in poetry, for we call them, as I have remarked, metaplasms, schematisms, and schemata, and give to necessity the praise of merit), but that the tutor may instruct the pupil in figurative terms and exercise his memory. 15. It is likewise useful, among the first rudiments of instruction, to show in how many senses each word may be understood. About glossemata, too, that is, words not in general use, no small attention is requisite in the grammatical profession. 16. With still greater care, however, let him teach all kinds of tropes from which not only poetry, but even prose, receives the greatest ornament, as well as the two sorts of schemata or figures, called figures of speech and figures of thought. My observations on these figures, as well as those on tropes, I put off to that portion of my work in which I shall have to speak of the embellishments of composition. 17. But let the tutor, above all things, impress upon the minds of his pupils what merit there is in a just disposition of parts, and a becoming treatment of subjects; what is well suited to each character; what is to be commended in the thoughts, and what in the words; where diffuseness is appropriate, and where contraction.

18. To these duties will be added explanations of historical points, which must be sufficiently minute, but not carried into superfluous disquisitions; for it will suffice to lecture on facts which are generally admitted, or which are at least related by eminent authors. To examine, indeed, what all writers, even the most contemptible, have ever related is a proof either of extravagant laboriousness or of useless ostentation, and chains and overloads the mind, which might give its attention to other things with more advantage. 19. For he who makes researches into all sorts of writings, even such as are unworthy to be read, is capable of giving his time even to old women's tales. Yet the writings of grammarians are full of noxious matters of this kind, scarcely known even to the very men who wrote them. 20. Since it is known to have happened to Didymus, than whom no man wrote more books, that, when he denied a certain story as unworthy of belief, his own book containing it was laid before him. 21. This occurs chiefly in fabulous stories, descending even to what is ridiculous, and sometimes licentious; whence every unprincipled grammarian has the liberty of inventing many of his comments, so that he may lie with safety concerning whole books and authors, as it may occur to him, for writers that never existed cannot be produced against him. In the better known class of authors they are often exposed by the curious. Hence it shall be accounted by me among the merits of a grammarian to be ignorant of some things.


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Lee Honeycutt (honeycuttlee@gmail.com) Last modified:7/18/06
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