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Bill Thayer

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Quintilian: Institutio Oratoria

[image ALT: A statue of a boy dressed in a toga, with a round box at his feet. It is ancient Roman statue, now in the Vatican Museums, of a boy in training to be an orator.]

The Roman schoolboy, or rather the teacher of rhetoric who would be instructing him, was Quintilian's audience. The statue is one of a pair now in the Octagonal Court of the Vatican Palace; for the other, including a good detail of his book-box, see this page.

  The Text on LacusCurtius and Elsewhere

The Latin text will be that of the Loeb edition, 1920‑1922, which in fact is that of Halm, Leipzig, 1868 with essentially cosmetic changes. Those wishing to consult a version of the Latin original will find one, unidentified, here.


The English translation is that by H[arold] E[dgeworth] Butler, first published in 1920‑1922 as part of the Loeb Classical Library. It is in the public domain. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)

As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

The transcription is being minutely proofread. In the table of contents below, the Books that I have completely proofread are shown on blue backgrounds; any red backgrounds indicate that the proofreading is still incomplete. The header bar at the top of each webpage will remind you with the same color scheme. In either case of course, should you spot an error, please do report it.

The Author

Enough is known about Quintilian for a brief biographical sketch to be assembled; Prof. Butler's Introduction provides one. The Loeb edition also includes a brief bibliography with a summary section on the MSS.



Efflagitasti cotidiano convicio, ut libros, quos ad Marcellum meum de Institutione oratoria scripseram iam emittere inciperem. Nam ipse eos nondum opinabar satis maturuisse, quibus componendis, ut scis, paulo plus quam biennium tot alioqui negotiis districtus impendi; quod tempus non tam stilo quam inquisitioni instituti operis prope infiniti et legendis auctoribus, qui sunt innumerabiles, datum est. 2 Usus deinde Horatii consilio, qui in arte poëtica suadet, ne praecipitetur editio nonumque prematur in annum, dabam iis otium, ut, refrigerato inventionis amore, diligentius repetitos tanquam lector perpenderem. 3 Sed si tanto opere efflagitantur quam tu adfirmas, permittamus vela ventis et oram solventibus bene precemur. Multum autem in tua quoque fide ac diligentia positum est, ut in manus hominum quam emendatissimi veniant.

You have daily importuned me with the request that I should at length take steps to publish the book on the Education of an Orator which I dedicated to my friend Marcellus. For my own view was that it was not yet ripe for publication. As you know I have spent little more than two years on its composition, during which time moreover I have been distracted by a multitude of other affairs. These two years have been devoted not so much to actual writing as to the research demanded by a task to which practically no limits can be set and to the reading of innumerable authors. 2 Further, following the precept of Horace who in his Art of Poetry deprecates hasty publication and urges the would‑be author

                                              "To withhold
His work till nine long years have passed away,"

I proposed to give them time, in order that the ardour of creation might cool and that I might revise them with all the consideration of a dispassionate reader. 3 But if there is such a demand for their publication as you assert, why then let us spread our canvas to the gale and offer up a fervent prayer to heaven as we put out to sea. But remember I rely on your loyal care to see that they reach the public in as correct a form as possible.

Latin original
English translation


Preface. Ch. 1: Elementary Education. — Ch. 2: The merits of public and private education compared. — Ch. 3: General reflections on the capacity and treatment of pupils. — Ch. 4: Grammar. — Ch. 5: Correctness; barbarisms; pronunciation: the aspirate; accents; solecisms; words, foreign, compound, metaphorical, new, etc. — Ch. 6: Language; analogy; etymology; old words; authority; usage. — Ch. 7: Orthography; difference between spelling and pronunciation. — Ch. 8: Reading; authors to be read; methods of teaching; value of history. — Ch. 9: Composition. — Ch. 10: Other studies necessary to rhetoric; music, geometry, astronomy. — Ch. 11: Instruction to be derived from the stage. — Ch. 12: Boys capable of studying a number of subjects at once.


Ch. 1: Rhetoric not begun early enough; relations between rhetor and grammaticus. — Ch. 2: Choice of a teacher; mutual duties of teacher and pupil. — Ch. 3: Necessity of avoiding inferior teachers. — Ch. 4: Elementary rhetorical exercises; narratives; proof and refutation; panegyric and denunciation; commonplaces; theses; reasons; preparations for pleadings; praise and blame of particular laws; fictitious declamations. — Ch. 5: Assistance to be given to pupils. — Ch. 6: Declamation. — Ch. 7: Orthography. — Ch. 8: Different methods required for different pupils. — Ch. 9: Pupils to regard teachers as in loco parentis. Ch. 10: Themes for declamation; criticism of existing practice. — Ch. 11: Criticism of those who think instruction in rhetoric unnecessary; necessity of thoroughness of method. — Ch. 12: Merits and defects of untrained speakers. — Ch. 13: No rigid rules possible; necessity of adaptability; value of rules. — Ch. 14: The term rhetoric or oratory; heads under which it is to be considered. — Ch. 15: What is oratory? Various definitions; Quintilian's definition. — Ch. 16: Oratory denounced by some because of its capacity for harm; its excellences and value. — Ch. 17: Oratory an art; critics of this view; critics of its morality; relation to truth. — Ch. 18: Arts or sciences of three kinds; rhetoric a practical art or science, though partaking of the nature of theoretic and productive arts. — Ch. 19: Nature and art. — Ch. 20: Is rhetoric a virtue? — Ch. 21: The subject of rhetoric; Quintilian's view; criticism thereof; relation between oratory and philosophy; range of the orator's knowledge.


Ch. 1: Apology for dryness and detail of the more technical portion of the work; writers on rhetoric; Greeks; Romans. — Ch. 2: Origin of oratory. — Ch. 3: Divisions of the art; their order; their nature. — Ch. 4: Are there three sorts of oratory or more? Various views. — Ch. 5: Distinction between things and words; questions; definition of a cause. — Ch. 6: The status or basis of a cause; a highly technical chapter. — Ch. 7: Panegyric. — Ch. 8: Deliberative oratory. — Ch. 9: Forensic oratory; the parts of a forensic speech. — Ch. 10: A cause may turn on one controversial point or more; nature of the cause to be first determined. — Ch. 11: Next points to be determined; the question, the mode of defence, the point for decision, the foundation of the case; various views.


Preface. Ch. 1: The prooemium or exordium. — Ch. 2: The narratio or statement of facts. — Ch. 3: Digressions. — Ch. 4: Propositions preparatory to proof. — Ch. 5: Partition.


Preface. Ch. 1: Proofs, artificial and unartificial. — Ch. 2: Previous decisions. — Ch. 3: Public report or opinion. — Ch. 4: Evidence extracted by torture. — Ch. 5: Refutation of documentary evidence. — Ch. 6: Reasons for and against offering to take an oath. — Ch. 7: Documentary evidence; oral evidence; production of witnesses; attitude to be adopted toward witnesses; examination; conflict between documentary and oral evidence; supernatural evidence. — Ch. 8: Artificial proofs. — Ch. 9: Signs, indications, circumstantial evidence, their difference from proofs; appearances; prognostics. — Ch. 10: Arguments. — Ch. 11: Examples and instances. — Ch. 12: Arguments again. — Ch. 13: Refutation and proof. — Ch. 14: The enthymeme, epicheireme, and syllogism.


Preface; the death of Quintilian's son. — Ch. 1: Peroration. — Ch. 2: Necessity of studying the temper of the judges; pathos, ethos, and emotional appeal. — Ch. 3: Laughter, wit, and humour. — Ch. 4: Altercatio or debate. — Ch. 5: Judgment and sagacity.


Preface. Ch. 1: Arrangement. — Ch. 2: Conjecture. — Ch. 3: Definition. — Ch. 4: Quality. — Ch. 5: Points of law. — Ch. 6: The letter of the law and intention. — Ch. 7: Contradictory laws. — Ch. 8: Syllogism. — Ch. 9: Ambiguity. — Ch. 10: Relation of various status or bases. Each case must be considered on its merits. Rules not possible for every case.


Preface. Ch. 1: Style. — Ch. 2: Propriety of words. — Ch. 3: Stylistic ornament; merits and faults. — Ch. 4: Amplification and diminution. — Ch. 5: General reflexions and their value in oratory. — Ch. 6: Tropes.


Ch. 1: Figures of thought and speech. — Ch. 2: Figures of thought considered in detail. — Ch. 3: Figures of speech considered in detail. — Ch. 4: Artistic structure and rhythm; metrical feet and their appropriate employment.


Ch. 1: Value of reading; authors to be studied; poets; historians; orators; philosophers; brief review of Greek and Roman literature considered from standpoint of rhetoric. — Ch. 2: Imitation. — Ch. 3: Writing. — Ch. 4: Correction. — Ch. 5: Various forms of composition; translation; paraphrase, theses, commonplaces, declamations. — Ch. 6: Thought and premeditation. — Ch. 7: Speaking extempore.


Ch. 1: The necessity of speaking appropriately to the circumstances. — Ch. 2: Memory and memory systems. — Ch. 3: Delivery gesture and dress.


Preface. Ch. 1: A great orator must be a good man. — Ch. 2: How to strengthen character; study of philosophy. — Ch. 3: Necessity of study of civil law. — Ch. 4: The orator must be well equipped with examples and precedents. — Ch. 5: Necessity of firmness and presence of mind; cultivation of natural advantages. — Ch. 6: Age at which the orator should begin to plead. — Ch. 7: Causes which he should undertake; remuneration for services. — Ch. 8: The orator must not make applause his predominant aim; sparing use of invective; relative importance of preparation in writing and speaking extempore. — Ch. 9: Necessity of careful study of each case. — Ch. 10: The different styles of oratory; analogy of the arts of sculpture and painting; Greek and Roman oratory compared. — Ch. 11: At what age to retire from speaking in public and how to spend one's retirement; possibilities of the successful training of an oratory; advantages to be drawn therefrom; exhortation to diligence; conclusion.

Chapter and Section Numbering, Local Links

Both chapters (large numbers) and sections (small numbers) mark local links, according to a consistent scheme; you can therefore link directly to any passage. Similarly, for citation purposes, the Loeb edition pagination is indicated in the right margin, and by local links in the sourcecode.

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Site updated: 27 Oct 17