Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
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Book 10 - Chapter 1

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Of reading for improvement, § 1-4. We have to acquire matter and words, 5-7. Facility in speaking is attained by exercise in it, and by reading, hearing, and writing, 8-15. Advantages of hearing and reading, 16-19. What authors should be read, and how, 20, 21. Improvement from reading speeches on both sides of a question, 22, 23. We are not to think even the greatest authors infallible, yet we must not be hasty in finding fault with them, 24-26. Of reading poets, 27-30. Historians, 31-34. Philosophers, 35, 36. Some benefit to be gained from the perusal of almost all authors, 37-42. General observations respecting ancient and modern writers, 43-45. Homer, 46-51. Hesiod, 52. Antimachus, 53. Panyasis, Apollonius Rhodius, 54. Aratus, Theocritus, 55. Pisander, Nicander, Tyrtaeus, and others, 56. Of the elegiac poets, Callimachus, Philetas, Archilochus, 57-60. Of the lyric poets; Pindar, 61. Stesichorus, 62. Alcaeus, 63. Simonides, 64. Of the old comedy, Aristophanes, Eupolis, Cratinus, 65. Of tragedy, aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, 66-68. Menander, Philemon, 69-72. Of history; Thucydides, Herodotus, Theopompus, and others, 73-75. Of orators; Demosthenes, Aeschines, Lysias, Isocrates, Demetrius Phalereus, 76-80. Of the philosophers; Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle, Theophrastus, 81-84. Of the Roman poets, Virgil, Lucretius, Varro, Ennius, Ovid, and others, 85-90. Flattery of Domitian, 91, 92. Of Tibullus, Propertius, Ovid, Lucilius, Horace, Persius, Catullus, and others, 93-96. Latin writers of Tragedy, 97, 98. Of Comedy, 99, 100. Of History, 101-104. Of Latin Orators; Cicero, Asinius, Pollio, Messala, and others, 105-122. Of Latin writers on Philosophy, especially Seneca, 123-131.

1. BUT these precepts of oratory, though necessary to know, are yet insufficient to produce the full power of eloquence unless they are united with a certain efficient readiness that among the Greeks is called hexis, " habit." I know it is an ordinary subject of inquiry whether more is contributed by writing, reading, or speaking. This question we should have to examine with careful attention, if we could confine ourselves to any one of those exercises. 2. But they are all so connected, so inseparably linked with one another that if any one of them is neglected, we labor in vain in the other two, for our speech will never become forcible and energetic unless it acquires strength from great practice in writing. The labor of writing, if left destitute of models from reading, passes away without effect, as having no director. He who knows how everything ought to be said, but does not have his eloquence ready and prepared for all emergencies, will merely brood, as it were, over locked up treasure.

3. Again, though some one quality may be requisite above others, it will not necessarily, for that purpose, be chief in importance for forming the orator. To speak is doubtless necessary to him before anything else, since the business of the orator lies in speaking, and it is evident that commencement of the art arose from speaking, followed by imitation, and, last of all, diligent exercise in writing. 4. But as we cannot arrive at the highest excellence other than by initial efforts, so those things which initially are of the greatest importance begin to appear of the least as our work proceeds.

But I am not here saying how the orator is to be trained (for that has been told already, if not satisfactorily, at least as well as I could), but by what kind of discipline an athlete, who has already learned all his exercises from his master, is to be prepared for real contests. Therefore, let me instruct the student who knows how to invent and arrange his matter, and who has also acquired the art of selecting and disposing his words, regarding what means he may be able to practise, in the best and easiest possible manner, that which he has learned.

5. Can it then be doubted that he must secure certain resources which he may use whenever it shall be necessary? Those resources will consist in supplies of matter and of words. 6. But every cause has its own peculiar matter, or matter common to it with but few others; words are to be prepared for all kinds of causes. If there were a single word for every single thing, words would require less care, for all would then at once present themselves with the things to be expressed. However, as some are more appropriate, or more elegant, or more significant, or more euphonious, than others, they should all not only be known, but be kept in readiness and, if I may so express myself, in sight so that when they present themselves to the judgment of the speaker, the choice of the best of them may be easily made. 7. I know that some make a practice of learning by heart lists of synonyms so that one word out of several may more readily occur to them, and that when they have used one word, they may, if it should be wanted again within a short space of time, substitute for it, to avoid repetition, another word of the same meaning. But this is a childish practice, attended with miserable labor and productive of very little profit, for the learner merely musters a crowd of words from which the speaker may snatch, without distinction, whichsoever first presents itself.

8. On the contrary, our stock of words must be prepared by us with judgment, as we have a view to the proper force of oratory and not to the volubility of the charlatan. But this object we shall effect by reading and listening to the best language, for by such exercise, we shall not only learn words expressive of things, but shall learn for what place each word is best adapted. 9. Indeed, almost all words, except a few that are of indecent character, find a place in oratorical composition, and the writers of iambics, and of the old comedy, are often commended for the use of words of that description. But at present, it is sufficient for us to look to our own work. All sorts of words, then, except those to which I have alluded, may be excellently employed in some place or other, for we sometimes have occasion for low and coarse words, and those that would seem mean in the more elegant parts of a speech, are, when the subject requires them, adopted with propriety.

10. To understand words thoroughly, to learn not only their signification, but their forms and measures, and to be able to judge whether they are adapted to the places to which they are assigned, are branches of knowledge that we cannot acquire but by assiduous reading and hearing, since we receive all language first of all by the ear. Hence infants brought up, at the command of princes, by dumb nurses and in solitude, were destitute of the faculty of speech, though they are said to have uttered some unconnected words.

11. However, there are some words of such a nature that they express the same thing so exactly, but by different sounds that it makes no difference to the sense which we use in preference to another, such as ensis and gladius. There are others, again, which, though properly belonging to distinct objects, are yet by a trope, as it were, used for conveying the same idea, as ferrum and mucro. 12. Thus, too, by a catachresis, we call all assassins sicarii, regardless of the weapon used to commit slaughter. Some things, moreover, we indicate by a circumlocution, as pressi copia lactis. By a change of words, we also express many things figuratively, as for "I know," we say "I am not ignorant" or "It does not escape me" or "It does not fail to attract my attention," or "Who is not aware?" or "No man doubts." 13. We may likewise profit by the near import of words, for "I understand," "I perceive," and "I see" have often just the same meaning as "I know." Reading will furnish us with copious supplies of such synonyms so that we may use them not only as they present themselves, but as they ought to be adopted. 14. For such terms do not always express exactly the same things, and though I may properly say "I see" in reference to the perception of the mind, I cannot say "I understand" in reference to the sight of the eyes, nor, though mucro indicates gladius, does gladius indicate mucro. 15. But though a copious stock of words is thus acquired, we are not to read or hear merely for the sake of words, for in all that we teach, examples are more powerful even than the rules which are taught (I mean when the learner is so far advanced that he can enter into the subjects without a guide and pursue them with his own unassisted efforts), inasmuch as what the master teaches, the orator exhibits.

16. Some speeches contribute more to our improvement when we hear them delivered, others when we peruse them. He who speaks to us rouses us by his animation and excites us, not by an artificial representation and account of things, but by the things themselves. Every thing seems to live and move before us, and we catch the new ideas, as it were, at their birth, with partiality and affection. We feel interested not only in the event of the cause, but in the perilous efforts of those who plead it. 17. In addition to this, a becoming tone and action, a mode of delivery adapted to what particular passages require (which is perhaps the most powerful element in oratory), and, in a word, all excellent qualities in combination teach us at the same time. In reading, on the other hand, the judgment is applied with more certainty, for when a person is listening to speeches, his own partiality for any particular speaker, or the ordinary applause of approving auditors, often deprives him of the free exercise of his judgment. 18. We are ashamed to express dissent from others and are prevented, by a sort of secret modesty, from trusting too much to ourselves, though what is faulty sometimes pleases the majority, and even what does not please is applauded by those who are engaged to applaud. 19. On the contrary, too, it sometimes happens that the bad taste of the audience does not do justice to the finest passages. But reading is free and does not escape us with the rapidity of oral delivery, but allows us to go over the same passages more than once, whether we have any doubt of their meaning or desire to fix them in our memory. Let us review, then, and reconsider the subject of our reading, and just as we consign our food to our stomach only when it is masticated and almost dissolved, in order that it may be easier to digest, so let what we read be committed to memory and reserved for imitation, not when it is in a crude state, but after being softened and, as it were, triturated by frequent repetition.

20. For a long time, too, none but the best authors must be read, and such as are least likely to mislead him who trusts them. They must be read with attention and, indeed, with almost as much care as if we were transcribing them. Every portion must be examined, not merely partially. A whole book, when read through, must be taken up afresh, especially any excellent oration, the merits of which are often concealed by design. 21. A speaker frequently prepares his audience for what is to follow, dissembles with them, places ambuscades, and states in the first part of his pleading what is to have its full effect at the conclusion. Hence, what is advanced in its proper place often pleases us less than it ought, since we are not aware why it is advanced. Accordingly, all such passages should be perused again after we have read the whole. 22. But one of the most useful exercises is to learn the history of those causes of which we have taken the pleadings in hand for perusal, and, whenever opportunity shall offer, to read speeches delivered on both sides of the same question, such as those of Demosthenes and Aeschines in opposition to each other; those of Servius Sulpicius and Messala, of whom one spoke for Aufidia and the other against her; those of Pollio and Cassius when Asprenas was accused; and many others. 23. Even if the pleaders seem unequally matched, some of the speeches may be reasonably consulted in order to ascertain the question for decision, as the orations of Tubero against Ligarius and of Hortensius on behalf of Verres, in opposition to those of Cicero. It will also be of advantage to know how different orators pleaded the same causes, for Calidius delivered a speech concerning the house of Cicero, and Brutus, merely as an exercise, wrote an oration in defense of Milo (Cornelius Celsus, indeed, thinks that Brutus spoke it, but he is mistaken). 24. Pollio and Messala, too, defended the same persons, and when I was a boy, there were in circulation celebrated speeches, all in defense of Volusenus Catulus, by Domitius Afer, Crispus Passienus, and Decimus Laelius.

Nor must he who reads feel immediately convinced that everything that great authors have said is necessarily perfect, for they sometimes make a false step, sink under their burden, or give way to the inclination of their genius. Nor do they always equally apply their minds, but sometimes grow weary, just as Cicero believed Demosthenes sometimes seemed to nod, and Horace felt the same about Homer himself. 25. They are great men, indeed, but men nevertheless. It often happens to those who think that whatever is found in such authors is a law for eloquence, that they imitate what is inferior in them (for it is easier to copy their faults than their excellences) and fancy that they fully resemble great men when they have adopted great men's defects.

26. Yet students must pronounce with diffidence and circumspection on the merits of such illustrious characters, lest, as is the case with many, they condemn what they do not understand. If they must err on one side or the other, I should prefer that every part of them should please youthful readers rather than that many parts should displease them.

27. Theophrastus says that the reading of the poets is of the greatest use to the orator. Many others adopt his opinion, and not without reason, for from the poets is derived animation in relating facts, sublimity in expression, the greatest power in exciting the feelings, and gracefulness in personifying character. But of the utmost service, the faculties of the orator—worn out, as it were, by daily pleading in the forum—are best recruited by the charms of such authors. Accordingly, Cicero thinks that relaxation should be sought in that sort of reading. 28. But we must remember that poets are not to be imitated by the orator in every respect, not, for instance, in freedom of language or unrestrained use of figures. The style of poets is adapted for display, and besides that, it aims merely at giving pleasure and pursues its object by inventing not only what is false, but even sometimes what is incredible; 29. It also enjoys certain privileges, inasmuch as being confined to the regular requirements of feet, it cannot always use proper terms, but, being driven from the straight road, must necessarily have recourse to certain bye-paths of eloquence. Poetry is obliged not only to change words, but to lengthen, shorten, transpose, and divide them. But we orators stand in arms in a field of battle, contending for concerns of the highest moment and struggling only for victory. 30. Yet I would not wish that the arms of the orator should be squalid from foulness and rust, but that there should be a brightness on them like that of steel, which may dismay opponents, and by which the mind and the eye may at once be dazzled—not like that of gold or silver, which is unwarlike and more dangerous to the wearer than to the enemy.

31. History also may nourish oratory with a kind of fertilizing and grateful aliment. But it must be read with the conviction that most of its very excellences are to be avoided by the orator, for it borders closely on poetry and may be said, indeed, to be a poem unfettered by the restraints of meter. It is written to relate, not to prove, and its whole nature is suited not to the pleading of causes or to instant debate, but to the transmission of events to posterity and to gain the reputation of ability for its author. For this reason, it relieves the tediousness of narrative by words more remote from common usage and by a more bold employment of figures. 32. Accordingly, as I observed, neither is the brevity of Sallust—though nothing can be more perfectly pleasing to the unoccupied and learned ear—to be studied by us in addressing a judge who is engaged with various thoughts and often destitute of literature, nor will the milky exuberance of Livy satisfactorily instruct a hearer who looks not for beauty of statement, but for proof of fact. 33. Besides, Cicero thinks that not even Thucydides and Xenophon are of any use to the orator, though he allows that the one sounds the trumpet of war, and the muses spoke by the mouth of the other. In digressions, however, we may at times adopt the polished elegance of history, provided we remember that in the parts of our speech on which the question depends, there is need not of the showy muscles of the athlete, but of the nervous arms of the soldier; and that the variegated robe which Demetrius Phalereus is said to have worn is not adapted to the dust of the forum. 34. There is also, indeed, another advantage to be gained from history, and an advantage of the greatest value, though of no concern with the present part of my subject. I mean that which is to be derived from the knowledge of facts and precedents, with which the orator ought to be extremely well acquainted so he does not have to seek all his arguments from the parties going to law, but may avail himself of many drawn from an accurate knowledge of antiquity, arguments more weighty as they alone are exempt from the charges of prejudice and partiality.

35. That we have much to derive from the study of the philosophers has been occasioned by another fault in orators, who have given up to them the better part of their duty, for the philosophers speak copiously of what is just, honorable, and useful, and of what is of a contrary nature, and of divine subjects, and reason upon all these topics with the utmost acuteness. The followers of Socrates excellently qualify the future orator for debates and examinations of witnesses. 36. But in studying these writers also we must use similar judgment too, and though we may have to speak on the same subjects with them, we must bear in mind that the same manner is not suited for lawsuits as for philosophical disputations, for the forum as for the lecture-room, and for exercises on rules as for actual trials.

37. I expect that because I consider there is so much advantage in reading, most of my friends will expect me to insert in my work some remarks on the authors that ought to be read and the peculiar excellence of each. But to go through authors one by one would be an endless task. 38. For when Cicero, in his Brutus, employs so many thousands of lines in speaking of the Roman orators only, and yet observes silence concerning all of his own age among whom he lived, except Caesar and Marcellus, what limit would there be to my task if I should undertake to review not only all those, but those who succeeded them, and all the Greek philosophers and poets? 39. Therefore, it would be safest for me to observe that brevity adopted by Livy in a letter addressed to his son—that Demosthenes and Cicero should first be read, and afterwards every writer according as he most resembles Demosthenes and Cicero. 40. Yet the conclusions to which my judgment has led me must not be withheld. I think that among all the authors who have stood the test of time, few, or indeed, scarcely a single one, can be found who would not contribute some profit to those who read them with judgment. For Cicero himself acknowledges that he benefited greatly from even the most ancient writers, who had plenty of ability, though they were destitute of art. 41. Nor do I entertain a very different opinion with regard to the moderns, for how few can be found so utterly devoid of sense as not to hope, from some small confidence in at least some part of their work, to secure a hold on the memory of posterity? If there is any such writer, he will be detected in his very first lines and will quickly release us before the trial of his work wastes too much of our time. 42. But not everything in an author that relates to any department of knowledge whatever is adapted to produce the copiousness of diction of which we are speaking.

Before I proceed to speak of authors individually, however, a few general remarks must be premised in regard to the diversity of opinions concerning them. 43. Some think that only the ancients deserve to be read and that natural eloquence and manly force are to be found in no others. On the contrary, the floridness and affectation of the moderns, and all the blandishments intended to charm the ear of the ignorant multitude, delight others. 44. Even among those who would adopt a right sort of style, some think that no language is sound and truly Attic unless it is concise and simple and departs as little as possible from common conversation. Others are attracted by more sublime efforts of genius, more animated, more full of lofty conceptions, and there are many lovers of a quiet, neat, and subdued style. I shall speak more at large about such differences in taste, when I come to consider the species of style most proper for the orator. 45. In the meantime, I shall briefly touch on the advantages of reading for those who wish to increase their facility in speaking, and show by what kind of reading they may be most benefited. I intend to select a few of the authors who are most distinguished, and it will be easy for the studious to judge who are most similar to them. This I mention, lest any one should complain that their favorite writers have been omitted, for I admit that more ought to be read than those whom I shall here specify.

But I shall now merely go through the various sorts of reading which I consider peculiarly suitable for those who aim at becoming orators.

46. As Aratus, then, thinks that we ought to begin with Jupiter, so I think that I shall very properly commence with Homer, for as he says that the might of rivers and the courses of springs take their rise from the ocean, so has he himself given a model and an origin for every species of eloquence. No man has excelled him in sublimity on great subjects, no man in propriety on small ones. He is at once copious and concise, pleasing and forcible; admirable at one time for exuberance, and at another for brevity; eminent not only for poetic, but for oratorical excellence. 47. To say nothing of his laudatory, exhortatory, and consolatory speeches, does not the ninth book of the Iliad, in which the deputation sent to Achilles is comprised, or the contention between the chiefs in the first book, or the opinions delivered in the second, display all the arts of legal pleadings and of councils? 48. As to the feelings, the gentle as well as the more impetuous, there is no one so ignorant as to deny that he had them wholly under his control. Has he not, at the commencement of both his works, I will not say observed, but established, the laws of oratorical exordia? He renders his reader well-affected towards him by an invocation of the goddesses who have been supposed to preside over poets, he makes him attentive by setting forth the grandeur of his subjects, and desirous of information by giving a brief and comprehensive view of them. 49. Who can state facts more concisely than he who relates the death of Patroclus, or more forcibly than he who describes the combat of the Curetes and Aetolians? As to similes, amplifications, illustrations, digressions, indications and proofs of things, and all other modes of establishment and refutation, examples of them are so numerous in him that even most of those who have written on the rules of rhetoric produce from him illustrations of their precepts. 50. What peroration of a speech will ever be thought equal to the entreaties of Priam beseeching Achilles for the body of his son? Does he not, indeed, in words, thoughts, figures, and the arrangement of his whole work, exceed the ordinary bounds of human genius? So much, indeed, that it requires a great man even to follow his excellences, not with rivalry (for rivalry is impossible), but with a just conception of them. 51. But he has doubtless left all authors, in every kind of eloquence, far behind him, especially the epic poets, as the comparison is most striking in similar subjects.

52. As for Hesiod, he rarely rises above the general level, and a great part of his poetry is occupied with mere names, yet his sententious manner is useful in delivering precepts, and the easy flow of his words and style merits approbation. In that middle kind of writing, the palm is allowed to be his.

53. In Antimachus, on the other hand, there is energy and force, and his manner of expression, which is by no means common, has great merit. But although the unanimous consent of critics assigns him the second place, he is so deficient in power over the feelings, in ability to please, in the arrangement of his matter, and in every requisite of the poetic art, that he affords us convincing proof of how different a thing it is to be near to another writer, and to be second to him.

54. Panyasis they consider as compounded of both, as far as his style is concerned, but as reaching, on the whole, the excellences of neither. Yet they allow that the one is surpassed by him in the nature of his materials, and the other in the arrangement of them.

Apollonius is not included in the catalogue given by the critics, since Aristarchus and Aristophanes, those great judges of the poets, inserted no one of their own age in their list. Yet he produced a work, in a style of evenly sustained mediocrity, which is by no means to be despised.

55. Aratus' subject is destitute of animation, as it has no variety, no action on the feelings, no portraiture of character, no speech from any person. But he is equal to the work to which he thought himself equal.

Theocritus is admirable in his peculiar style, but his rustic and pastoral muse shrinks not only from appearing in the forum, but even from approaching the city.

56. I seem to hear my readers collecting together from all sides the names of a vast number of poets. What, they say, has not Pisander sung, with great effect, the achievements of Hercules? Have Macer and Virgil without reason imitated Nicander? Shall we pass over Euphorion, when, if Virgil had not admired him, he would certainly never have made mention, in his Bucolics, of poems composed in Chalcidian verse? Does Horace, without reason, name Tyrataeus next to Homer? 57. No one, assuredly, is so void of all knowledge of those authors that he might not transfer into his book a catalogue of them taken from some library. Nor am I, for my part, ignorant of the writers whom I omit, and, certainly, I do not condemn them as worthless, having already said that there is some good in all of them. 58. But we shall return to them when our strength is matured and confirmed, as it often happens to us at great banquets, that after we have satisfied ourselves with the best dishes, the variety of plainer food is still agreeable to us. Then we shall have time, too, to take in hand the elegiac poets, of whom Callimachus is considered the chief, while Philetas, in the opinion of most critics, has made good his claim to second place. 59. But while we are acquiring that efficient readiness, as I termed it, we must devote ourselves to the perusal of the best authors, and the character of our mind must be formed, and a complexion given to our oratory, by much reading in good writers, rather than by reading many.

Of the three writers of Iambics sanctioned by the judgment of Aristarchus, only Archilochus will have any great influence in helping us attain facility of style. 60. There is in him the utmost vigor of language, thoughts forcible, concise, and lively, and abundance of life and energy, insomuch that some think it owing to his subjects, not to his genius, that he is inferior to any writer whatever.

61. But of the nine Lyric poets, Pindar is by far the chief in nobleness of spirit, grandeur of thought, beauty of figures, and a most happy exuberance of matter and words, spreading forth, as it were, in a flood of eloquence. On account of all these qualities, Horace justly thinks him inimitable.

62. As to Stesichorus, the very subjects that he has chosen show how powerful he is in genius, when he sings of the greatest wars and most illustrious leaders, and supports on his lyre all the weight of the epic song. For he assigns to his characters due dignity in acting and speaking, and if he had kept a just control over himself, he seems likely to have proved Homer's nearest rival. But he is redundant and overflowing, a fault which, though deserving of censure, is yet that of an exuberant genius.

63. Alcaeus is deservedly complimented with a golden quill for that part of his works in which he inveighs against tyrants and contributes much to the improvement of morals. In his language, also, he is concise, magnificent, and careful, and in many passages resembles Homer. But he descends to sportive and amorous subjects, though better qualified for those of a higher nature.

64. Simonides, though in other respects of no very high genius, may be commended for a propriety of language and a pleasing kind of sweetness. But his chief excellence is in exciting pity, so that some prefer him, in that particular, to all other writers of the kind.

65. The old comedy retains, almost alone, the pure grace of Attic diction, and the charm of a most eloquent freedom of language. Though it is chiefly employed in attacking follies, it has great force in other departments, for it is sublime, elegant, and graceful. Next to Homer's (whom it is always right to except, as he himself excepts Achilles), I know of no poetry that has either a greater resemblance to oratory or is better adapted for forming orators. 66. The authors of it are numerous, but Aristophanes, Eupolis, and Cratinus are the principal.

The first to bring Tragedy before the world, Aeschylus is an author of great sublimity and power, and grandiloquent even to a fault, but in many parts rough and unpolished. For this reason, the Athenians permitted the poets who succeeded him to exhibit his plays, when corrected, in competition for the prize, and by that means, many obtained the crown. 67. But Sophocles and Euripides throw a brighter luster on that kind of composition. Their styles are very different, and many question which is the better poet. For my own part, I shall leave this point undecided, since it has no relation to my present subject. 68. But everyone must acknowledge that for those who are preparing themselves for pleading, Euripides will be by far the more serviceable, for in his style (which those to whom the gravity, and dignified step, and lofty tone of Sophocles, appear to have an air of greater sublimity, think proper to censure), he approaches nearer to the language of oratory. He abounds with fine thoughts, and in precepts of morality such as those delivered by the philosophers, he is almost equal to the philosophers themselves. In addresses and replies, he is comparable to any of those who have been distinguished as eloquent speakers in the forum. In touching every kind of feeling, he has remarkable power, but in exciting that of pity, he holds undisputed preeminence.

69. Menander, as he himself often testifies, admired Euripides greatly, and even imitated him, though in a different department of the drama. In my judgment, Menander alone would, if diligently read, suffice to generate in the student of oratory all those qualities for which I am an advocate, so exactly does he represent all the phases of human life, such is his fertility of invention and easy grace of expression, and so readily does he adapt himself to all circumstances, persons, and feelings. 70. Nor are those, assuredly, destitute of penetration who think that the orations circulated under the name of Charisius were written by Menander. But to me he seems to prove himself a far greater orator in his own province, unless it be said that those trials, which the Epitrepontes, the Epicleros, and the Locrians contain, are absurd, and that the speeches in the Psophodees, the Nomothetes, and the Hypobolimaeus, are not finished off with all the perfections of oratory. 71. But to declaimers, I think he may contribute still greater service, since it is necessary for them, according to the nature of the cases which they attempt, to assume various characters, as those of fathers, sons, soldiers, countrymen, rich and poor men, of persons angry and persons beseeching, of persons of mild and persons of savage dispositions. In all such characters, propriety is wonderfully observed by Menander, who indeed has left other authors in that species of writing scarcely a name, having, by the splendor of his reputation, thrown over them a veil of darkness. 72. Other comic writers, however, if they be read with indulgence, have some good passages that we may select, and especially Philemon, who, preferred as he frequently was to Menander by the bad taste of his age, deserves in the opinion of all critics to be regarded as second to him.

73. History many have written with eminent reputation, but nobody doubts that two writers of it are greatly to be preferred to all others, two whose opposite excellences have gained nearly equal praise. Thucydides is pithy, concise, and ever hastening forward; Herodotus pleasing, clear, and diffuse. The one excels in the expression of animated, the other in that of milder sentiments; the one in speeches, the other in narrative; the one in force, the other in agreeableness.

74. Next to these stands Theopompus, who, though inferior to them as an historian, bears more resemblance to the orator, since before he was induced to apply to historical composition, he had been for some time a public speaker. Philistus, too, deserves to be distinguished from the crowd of good authors next to these; he is an imitator of Thucydides, and though much less forcible, he is somewhat more perspicuous. Ephorus, as Isocrates thought, needed the spur. The ability of Clitarchus is admired, but his veracity is impeached. 75. Timagenes, born a long time afterwards, deserves commendation at least on this account—that he revived with fresh luster the pursuit of writing history which had begun to be neglected. Xenophon I have not forgotten, but he is to be noticed among the philosophers.

76. A numerous band of orators follows, since one age produced ten living at the same time at Athens, of whom Demosthenes was by far the most eminent and has been almost the sole model for oratory. Such is his energy, so compact is his whole language, so tense, as it were, with nerves, so free from anything superfluous, and such the general character of his eloquence, that we can neither find anything wanting in it, nor anything superfluous. 77. Aeschines is more copious and diffuse in style, and, as being less confined in scope, has more appearance of magnitude, but he has only more flesh and less muscle. Hyperides is extremely agreeable and acute, but better qualified, not to say more serviceable, for causes of minor importance. 78. Lysias, an orator that preceded these in time, is refined and elegant, and if it be enough for an orator to inform his hearers, we need not seek anything more excellent than he is, for there is nothing unmeaning, nothing far-fetched, in his sentences. But he is more like a clear spring than a great river. 79. Isocrates, in a different style of oratory, is neat and polished, but better fitted for the fencing school than for actual combat. He assiduously courts every beauty of diction, and not without reason, for he had qualified himself for lecture rooms, and not for courts of justice. He is ready in invention, constantly aiming at embellishment, and so careful in composition that his care is even censured.

80. I do not consider that these are the only, but the chief excellences, in those authors of whom I have spoken. Nor do I think the others, whom I have omitted to name, had not a high degree of merit. I even admit that the famous Demetrius Phalereus, though he is said to have been the first to cause the decline of eloquence, had much talent and command of language. If for no other reason, he deserves to be remembered as almost the last of the Athenians that could be called an orator. Cicero, however, prefers him to all other orators in the middle kind of eloquence.

81. Of the Philosophers, from whom Cicero acknowledges that he derived a large portion of his eloquence, who can doubt that Plato is the chief, as well in acuteness of reasoning, as in a certain divine and Homer-like power of language? For he rises far above ordinary prose, and what the Greeks call oratio pedestris, so that he appears to me to be animated, not with mere human genius, but with the inspiration as it were of the Delphic oracle. 82. Why need I dwell on the sweetness of Xenophon, a sweetness which is unaffected, but which no affectation could attain? The Graces themselves are said to have formed his style, and the testimony of the Old Comedy concerning Pericles may justly be applied to him, that the goddess of persuasion was seated on his lips. 83. Why need I expatiate on the elegance of the rest of the Socratic school? Why need I speak of the merits of Aristotle, of whom I am in doubt whether I should deem him more admirable for his knowledge of things, for the multitude of his writings, for the agreeableness of his language, the penetration shown in his discoveries, or the variety exhibited in his works? As to Theophrastus, there is such a divine beauty in his language that he may be said even to have derived his name from it. 84. The old Stoics indulged little in eloquence, but they recommended what was virtuous and had great power in reasoning and in enforcing what they taught. They were, however, rather more acute in discussing their subjects than lofty in their style, an excellence at which they certainly did not aim.

85. I also intend to observe the same order in proceeding through the Roman authors.

As Homer among the Greeks, so Virgil, among our own countrymen, presents the most auspicious commencement. Of all poets of that class, Greek or Roman, he approaches doubtless nearest to Homer. 86. I will here repeat the very words I heard as a young man from Domitius Afer, who, when I asked him what poet he thought came nearest to Homer, replied, "Virgil is second to him, but nearer the first than the third." Indeed, though we must give place to the divine and immortal genius of Homer, in Virgil there is more care and exactness, for the very reason that he was obliged to take more pains. What we lose in the higher qualities, we perhaps compensate in equability of excellence.

87. All our other poets will follow at a great distance, Macer and Lucretius should be read indeed, but not in order to form such a style as constitutes the fabric of eloquence. Each is an elegant writer on his own subject, but the one is tame, and the other difficult. Varro Atacinus, in those writings in which he has gained a name, as the interpreter of another man's work, is not indeed to be despised, but is not rich enough in diction to increase the power of the orator. 88. Ennius we may venerate, as we venerate groves whose antiquity has made them sacred and whose gigantic and aged oaks affect us not so much by their beauty, as by the religious awe with which they inspire us.

There are other poets nearer to our own times and better suited to promote the object of which we are speaking. Ovid allows his imagination to wanton, even in his heroic verse, and is too much a lover of his own conceits, but deserves praise in certain passages. 89. Cornelius Severus, though a better versifier than poet, would justly have claimed the second place in epic poetry if he had finished his Sicilian War, as has been observed, in the manner of his first book. An immature death prevented his powers from being brought to perfection, yet his youthful compositions display very great ability and a devotion to a judicious mode of writing which was wonderful, especially at such an age. 90. In Valerius Flaccus we have lately had a great loss. The genius of Saleius Bassus was ardent, highly poetical, and had not reached maturity even in his old age. Rabirius and Pedo are not unworthy of the orator's acquaintance, if he has time to read them. Lucan is fiery and spirited, sublime in sentiment, and, to say what I think, deserving to be numbered with orators rather than poets.

91. These authors we have named, since the government of the world has diverted Germanicus Augustus. from the studies which he had commenced, and it did not seem sufficient to the gods that he should be the greatest of poets. Yet what can be more sublime, more learned, more excellent in all respects, than the works on which he had entered in his youth, when he gave up his military command? Who could sing of wars more ably than he who so ably conducts them? To whom would the goddesses that preside over liberal studies listen more propitiously? To whom would Minerva, his familiar deity, more willingly communicate her accomplishments? 92. Future ages will speak of these matters more fully; at present, the merit of the poet is obscured by the dazzling brightness of other great qualities. Yet you will bear with us, Caesar, if, while we are celebrating the sacred rites of literature, we do not pass over your genius in silence, but testify, at least by citing a verse from Virgil, that

Inter victrices hederam tibi serpere lauros,

The ivy spreads amidst thy conquering bays.

93. In elegy, also, we challenge equality with the Greeks; and Tibullus seems to me the most terse and elegant writer of it. There are some that prefer Propertius. Ovid is more luxuriant in style than either, and Gallus more harsh.

Satire is certainly wholly our own, and Lucilius, who first obtained eminent distinction in it, has still admirers so devoted to him that they do not hesitate to prefer him, not only to all writers in the same kind of composition, but to all other poets whatever. 94. For my own part, I differ from them as much as I do from Horace, who thinks that Lucilius runs muddy, and that there is always something in him which you might remove, for there is in him wonderful learning, spirit, causticity resulting from it, and an abundance of wit. Horace is far more terse and pure in his style, and eminently happy in remarking on the characters of mankind. Persius has gained much, and indeed just, reputation, though only by one book. There are also excellent writers in that department in our day, whose names will hereafter be celebrated. 95. In that other and older kind of satire, but diversified not with varieties of verse only, Terentius Varro wrote, a man who of all the Romans was the most learned. He composed a vast number of works of very great erudition, having a thorough acquaintance with the Latin tongue, with all antiquity, and with the events of Grecian and Roman history. Yet he is an author who will add more to our knowledge than to our eloquence.

96. Iambic verse has not been cultivated by any writer among the Romans as his peculiar province, though it has been interspersed with some other kinds of verse. Its bitterness is to be seen in Catullus, Bibaculus, and Horace, though in Horace the epode is found introduced between the iambics.

Of our Lyric poets, Horace is almost the only one that deserves to be read, for he soars occasionally, is full of agreeableness and grace, and shows a most happy daring in certain figures and expressions. If the student should wish to add any other, there is Caesius Bassus, whom we lately saw among us, but the genius of some that are living far excels his.

97. Among the ancients, the writers of tragedy most celebrated for their force of thought, weight of language, and the dignity of their personages are Accius and Pacuvius. Neatness and finish in the polishing of their works seems to have been wanting in them rather through the fault of their age than through their own. To Accius, however, is attributed the greater share of energy. Those who affect to be learned themselves would have Pacuvius thought the more learned of the two. 98. The Thyestes of Varius is comparable to any of the Greek tragedies. Ovid's Medea appears to me to show how much that great man could have done if he had been willing to control rather than indulge his genius. Of those whom I have myself seen, Pomponius Secundus is by far the most eminent, a writer whom the oldest men of the day thought not quite tragic enough, but acknowledged that he excelled in learning and elegance of style.

99. In Comedy we are extremely deficient, though Varro says that the muses, in the opinion of Aelius Stilo, would, if they had wished to speak Latin, have spoken in the language of Plautus. Also, the ancients extol Caecilius and the writings of Terence have been ascribed to Scipio Africanus ( indeed, they are extremely elegant in their kind, though they would have had still more gracefulness if they had been strictly confined to trimeter iambic verse). 100. Nevertheless, we scarcely attain a faint image of the Greek comedy, so that the Latin language itself seems to me not susceptible of that beauty which has hitherto been granted to the Attics only, since not even the Greeks themselves have attained it in any other dialect of their language. Afranius excels in comedies purely Latin, and I wish that he had not polluted his plays with offensive amors, betraying his own character.

101. In history, however, I cannot allow superiority to the Greeks. I should neither fear to match Sallust against Thucydides, nor should Herodotus feel indignant if Livy is thought equal to him. Livy is an author of wonderful agreeableness and remarkable perspicuity in his narrative, while in his speeches, he is eloquent beyond expression, so admirably is all that is said in his pages adapted to particular circumstances and characters. As to the feelings, especially those of the softer kind, no historian (to speak but with mere justice) has succeeded better in describing them. 102. Hence, by his varied excellences, he has equalled in merit the immortal rapidity of Sallust, for Servilius Nonianus seems to me to have remarked with great happiness that they were rather equal than like. A writer to whom I have listened while he was reading his own histories, Servilus was a man of great ability and wrote in a sententious style, but with less conciseness than the dignity of history demands. 103. That dignity Bassus Aufidius, who had rather the precedence of him in time, supported with admirable effect, at least in his books on the German war. In his own style of composition, he is everywhere deserving of praise, but falls in some parts below his own powers. 104. But there still survives, and adds luster to the glory of our age, a man worthy to be remembered by the latest posterity, whose name will hereafter be celebrated with honor, and is now well understood. He has admirers, but no imitators, since the freedom of his writings, though some of his expressions have been pruned, has been injurious to him. Even in what remains, however, we may see his lofty spirit and boldness of thought. There are also other good writers, but we touch only on particular departments of composition and do not review whole libraries.


[NOTE: According to Russell, Quintilian's reference above is to Cremutius Cordus, who got into political trouble "under Tiberius for praising Brutus and Cassius; his books were burned, and he starved himself to death in AD. 25. Q. here shows that the books survived, but in an expurgatated form" (n. 139).

However, Watson's note to this reference gives the following: "Lipsisus, in his review of the Testimonia de Tacito, is inclined to think that Tacitus is here meant by Quintilian. Gesner, and some other critics, supposed that Pliny the Elder is the person intended. What follows seems more applicable to Tacitus."]


105. But our orators may, above all, set the Latin eloquence on an equality with that of Greece, for I would confidently match Cicero against any one of the Greek orators. Nor am I unaware how great an opposition I am raising against myself, especially when it is no part of my design at present to compare him with Demosthenes, for it is not at all necessary, since I think that Demosthenes ought to be read above all other orators, or rather learned by heart. 106. Of their great excellences, I consider that most are similar—their method, their order of partition, their manner of preparing the minds of their audience, their mode of proof, and, in a word, everything that depends on invention. In their style of speaking, there is some difference. Demosthenes is more compact, Cicero more verbose; Demosthenes argues more closely, Cicero with a wider sweep; Demosthenes always attacks with a sharp-pointed weapon, Cicero often with a weapon both sharp and weighty; from Demosthenes nothing can be taken away, to Cicero nothing can be added; in the one there is more study, in the other more nature. 107. In wit, certainly, and pathos, two stimulants of the mind which have great influence in oratory, we have the advantage. Perhaps the custom of his country did not allow Demosthenes pathetic perorations. But on the other hand, the different genius of the Latin tongue did not grant to us those beauties which the Attics so much admire. In the epistolary style, indeed, though there are letters written by both, and in that of dialogue, in which Demosthenes wrote nothing, there is no comparison. 108. We must yield the superiority, however, on one point—that Demosthenes lived before Cicero and made him, in a great measure, the able orator that he was, for Cicero appears to me, after he devoted himself wholly to imitate the Greeks, to have embodied in his style the energy of Demosthenes, the copiousness of Plato, and the sweetness of Isocrates. 109. Nor did he, by zealous effort, attain only what was excellent in each of these, but drew most or rather all excellences from himself, by the felicitous exuberance of his immortal genius. He does not, as Pindar says, collect rain water, but overflows from a living fountain, having been so endowed at his birth, by the special kindness of Providence, that in him eloquence might make trial of her whole strength. For who can instruct a judge with more exactness or excite him with more vehemence? What orator had ever so pleasing a manner? 110. The very points which he wrests from you by force, you would think that he gained from you by entreaty, and when he carries away the judge by his impetuosity, he yet does not seem to be hurried along, but imagines that he is following of his own accord. 111. In all that he says, indeed, there is so much authority that we are ashamed to dissent from him. He does not bring to a cause the mere zeal of an advocate, but the support of a witness or a judge. At the same time, all these excellences—a single one of which any other man could scarcely attain with the utmost exertion—flow from him without effort, and that stream of language, than which nothing is more pleasing to the ear, carries with it the appearance of the happiest facility. 112. It was not without justice, therefore, that he was said by his contemporaries to reign supreme in the courts, and he has gained such esteem among his posterity that Cicero is now less the name of a man than that of eloquence itself. Let us look to him, let us keep him in view as our great example, and let that student to whom Cicero has become an object of admiration know that he has made some progress.

113. In Asinius Pollio there is much invention and the greatest accuracy, so great, indeed, that by some it is regarded as excessive. There is also sufficient method and spirit, but he is so far from having the polish or agreeableness of Cicero that be may be thought to have preceded him by a century. Messala, again, is elegant and perspicuous, and gives proof in his style of the nobleness of his birth, but is deficient in energy. 114. As for Julius Caesar, if he had devoted himself wholly to the forum, no other of our countrymen would have been named as a rival to Cicero. There is in him such force, such perspicuity, such fire, that he evidently spoke with the same spirit with which he fought. All these qualities, too, he sets off with a remarkable elegance of diction, of which he was peculiarly studious. 115. In Caelius there is much ability and much pleasant wit, especially in bringing an accusation, and he was a man worthy to have had wiser thoughts and a longer life. I have found some critics that preferred Calvus to all other orators. I have found some who agreed with Cicero that Calvus, by too severe criticism on himself, had diminished his natural energy, yet his language is chaste, forcible, correct, and often also spirited. But he is an imitator of the Attics, and his untimely death was an injury to him, if he intended to add anything to what he had done, but not if he intended to take from it. 116. Servius Sulpicius, also, has gained a distinguished reputation, and not undeservedly, by three speeches. Cassius Severus, if he is read with judgment, will offer us much that is worthy of imitation. If, in addition to his other excellences, he had given coloring and body to his language, he might have been ranked among the most eminent orators. 117. For there is great ability in him, and extraordinary power of sarcasm, as well as abundance of wit; but he allowed more influence to his passion than to his judgment. Besides, while his jokes are bitter, their bitterness often becomes ridiculous.

118. There have been also many other eloquent speakers, whom it would be tedious to particularize. Of those whom I have seen, Domitius Afer and Julius Africanus were by far the most eminent. Domitius deserved the preference for skill and for his general manner of speaking, and we need not fear to rank him with the ancient orators. Africanus had more animation, but was too fastidious in his choice of words, tedious, at times, in his phraseology, and too lavish in his use of metaphors.

There were also men of ability in recent times. 119. Trachalus was generally elevated and sufficiently perspicuous, and we might have supposed that he aimed at the highest excellence. Yet he was greater when heard than when read, for he had such a fine tone of voice as I never knew in any other person, a delivery that would have sufficed for the stage, gracefulness of action, and every external advantage even to excess. Vibius Crispus was succinct and agreeable in his style and naturally qualified to please, but he was better in pleading private than public causes. 120. If longer life had been granted to Julius Secundus, his name as an orator would doubtless have been highly renowned among posterity, for he would have added, and was indeed continually adding, whatever was wanting to his other excellences. What he wanted was to be more energetic in debate and to turn his attention more frequently from his delivery to his matter. 121. But even though cut off prematurely, he claims a high place for himself, such is his eloquence, such his gracefulness in expressing whatever he pleased, such is the perspicuity, smoothness, and attraction of his style, such his felicity in the use of words, even those that are pressed into his service, and such his force of expression in some that he boldly hazarded. 122. But they who shall write of orators after me will have ample reason for praising those that are now at the height of reputation, for there are in the present day men of eminent ability by whom the forum is highly adorned. Our finished advocates rival the ancients, and the efforts of our youth, aiming at the highest excellence, imitate them and follow in their footsteps.

123. There remain to be noticed those who have written on philosophy, in which department Roman literature has as yet produced but few eloquent writers. Yet Cicero, who distinguishes himself on all subjects, stands forth in this as a rival to Plato. But Brutus, a noble writer, and of more excellence in philosophy than in oratory, has ably supported the weight of such subjects, for his reader may feel sure that he says what he thinks. 124. Cornelius Celsus, too, has written no small number of works, following in the track of the Sextii, and not without grace and elegance. Among the Stoics, Plancus may be read with profit, from the knowledge which he displays of his subject. Among the Epicureans, Catius is a light, but not unpleasing author.

125. In reference to any department of eloquence, I have purposely delayed speaking of Seneca because of a false report that has been circulated about my supposedly condemning and even hating him. This happened to me while I was striving to bring back our style of speaking, spoiled and enervated by every kind of fault, to a more severe standard of taste. 126. At that time, Seneca was almost the only writer in the hands of the young. For my own art, I was not desirous to set him aside altogether, but I could not allow him to be preferred to those better authors whom he never ceased to attack, since, being conscious that he had adopted a different style from theirs, he distrusted his power of pleasing those by whom they were admired. But his partisans rather admired than succeeded in imitating him, and fell as far below him as he had fallen below the older writers. 127. Yet it had been desirable that his followers should have been equal to him, or at least have made near approaches to him. But he attracted them only by his faults, and each of them set himself to copy in him what he could, and then when they began to boast that they wrote like him, they brought dishonor on his name. 128. Still, he had many and great merits—a ready and fertile wit, extraordinary application, and extensive knowledge on various subjects, though he was sometimes deceived by those whom he had employed to make researches for him. 129. He has written on almost every department of learning, for there are in circulation orations of his, as well as poems, letters, and dialogues. In philosophy, he was not sufficiently accurate, though an admirable assailant of vices. There are many bright thoughts in him, and much that may be read for moral improvement, but most of his phraseology is in a vitiated taste and most hurtful to students for the very reason that it abounds in pleasing faults. 130. We could wish that he had written from his own mind and under the control of another person's judgment, for if he had rejected some of his thoughts, if he had not fixed his affections on small beauties, if he had not been in love with everything that he conceived, if he had not weakened the force of his matter by petty attempts at sententiousness, he would have been honored with the unanimous consent of the learned rather than the admiration of boys. 131. Such as he is, he ought to be read by those whose judgment is matured and whose minds have been strengthened by a severer manner of writing, if with no other object than that the reader may exercise his judgment for and against him. For as I said, there is much in him worthy of approval and much deserving of admiration. Only it must be our care to choose judiciously, as I wish that he himself had done, since natural powers that could accomplish whatever they pleased were worthy of having better objects to accomplish.


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Lee Honeycutt (honeycuttlee@gmail.com) Last modified:10/20/06
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