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This webpage reproduces a section of
Institutio Oratoria


published in Vol. IV
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1920

The text is in the public domain.

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(Vol. IV) Quintilian
Institutio Oratoria

p353 Book XII

Chapter 1

1 1 I now come to what is by far the most arduous portion of the task which I have set myself to perform. Indeed had I fully realised the difficulties when I first designed this work, I should have considered betimes whether my strength was sufficient to support the load that now weighs upon me so heavily. But to begin with, I felt how shameful it would be to fail to perform what I had promised, and later, despite the fact that my labour became more and more arduous at almost every stage, the fear of stultifying what I had already written sustained my courage through every difficulty. 2 Consequently even now, though the burden that oppresses me is greater than ever, the end is in sight and I am resolved to faint by the wayside rather than despair. But the fact that I began with comparatively trivial details deceived me. Subsequently I was lured still further on my voyage by the temptations of the favouring breeze that filled my sails; but the rules which I was then concerned to give were still of a familiar kind and had been already treated by most writers of rhetorical textbooks: thus far I seemed to myself to be still in sight of shore and I had the company of many who had ventured to entrust themselves to the self-same winds. 3 But presently when I entered on the task of setting forth a theory of p355eloquence which had been but newly discovered and rarely essayed, I found but few that had ventured so far from harbour. And finally now that the ideal orator, whom it was my design to mould, has been dismissed by his masters and is either proceeding on his way borne onward by his own impetus, or seeking still mightier assistance from the innermost shrine of wisdom, I begin to feel how far I have been swept into the great deep. 4 Now there is

"Nothing before and nothing behind but the sky and the Ocean."1

One only can I discern in all the boundless waste of waters, Marcus Tullius Cicero, and even he, though the ship in which he entered these seas is of such size and so well found, begins to lessen sail and to row a slower stroke, and is content to speak merely of the kind of speech to be employed by the perfect orator. But my temerity is such that I shall essay to form my orator's character and to teach him his duties. Thus I have no predecessor to guide my steps and must press far, far on, as my theme may demand. Still an honourable ambition is always deserving of approval, and it is all the less hazardous to dare greatly, when forgiveness is assured us if we fail.

1 1 The orator then, whom I am concerned to form, shall be the orator as defined by Marcus Cato, "a good man, skilled in speaking."2 But above all he must possess the quality which Cato places first and which is in the very nature of things the greatest and most important, that is, he must be a good man. This is essential not merely on account of the fact that, if the powers of eloquence serve only to lend arms to crime, there can be nothing more pernicious than p357eloquence to public and private life alike, while I myself, who have laboured to the best of my ability to contribute something of value to oratory, shall have rendered the worst of services to mankind, if I forge these weapons not for a soldier, but for a robber. 2 But why speak of myself? Nature herself will have proved not a mother, but a stepmother with regard to what we deem her greatest gift to man, the gift that distinguishes us from other living things, if she devised the power of speech to be the accomplice of crime, the foe to innocency and the enemy of truth. For it had been better for men to be born dumb and devoid of reason than to turn the gifts of providence to their mutual destruction. 3 But this conviction of mine goes further. For I do not merely assert that the ideal orator should be a good man, but I affirm that no man can be an orator unless he is a good man. For it is impossible to regard those men as gifted with intelligence who on being offered the choice between the two paths of virtue and of vice choose the latter, nor can we allow them prudence, when by the unforeseen issue of their own actions they render themselves liable not merely to the heaviest penalties of the laws, but to the inevitable torment of an evil conscience. 4 But if the view that a bad man is necessarily a fool is not merely held by philosophers, but is the universal belief of ordinary men, the fool will most assuredly never become an orator. To this must be added the fact that the mind will not find leisure even for the study of the noblest of tasks, unless it first be free from vice. The reasons for this are, first, that vileness and virtue cannot jointly inhabit in the selfsame heart and that it is as impossible for one and the same mind to harbour good p359and evil thoughts as it is for one man to be at once both good and evil: 5 and secondly, that if the intelligence is to be concentrated on such a vast subject as eloquence it must be free from all other distractions, among which must be included even those preoccupations which are free from blame. For it is only when it is free and self-possessed, with nothing to divert it or lure it elsewhere, that it will fix its attention solely on that goal, the attainment of which is the object of its preparations. 6 If on the other hand inordinate care for the development of our estates, anxiety over household affairs, passionate devotion to hunting or the sacrifice of whole days to the shows of the theatre, rob our studies of much of the time that is their due (for every moment that is given to other things involves a loss of time for study), what, think you, will be the results of desire, avarice, and envy, which waken such violent thoughts within our souls that they disturb our very slumbers and our dreams? 7 There is nothing so preoccupied, and distracted, so rent and torn by so many and such varied passions as an evil mind. For when it cherishes some dark garden, it is tormented with hope, care and anguish of spirit, and even when it has accomplished its criminal purpose, it is racked by anxiety, remorse and the fear of all manner of punishments. Amid such passions as these what room is there for literature or any virtuous pursuit? You might as well look for fruit in land that is choked with thorns and brambles. 8 Well then, I ask you, is not simplicity of life essential if we are to be able to endure the toil entailed by study? What can we hope to get from lust or luxury? Is not the desire to win praise one of the strongest stimulants to a p361passion for literature? But does that mean that we are to suppose that praise is an object of concern to bad men? Surely every one of my readers must by now have realised that oratory is in the main concerned with the treatment of what is just and honourable? Can a bad and unjust man speak on such themes as the dignity of the subject demands? 9 Nay, even if we exclude the most important aspects of the question now before us, and make the impossible concession that the best and worst of men may have the same talent, industry and learning, we are still confronted by the question as to which of the two is entitled to be called the better orator. The answer is surely clear enough: it will be he who is the better man. Consequently, the bad man and the perfect orator can never be identical. 10 For nothing is perfect, if there exists something else that is better. However, as I do not wish to appear to adopt the practice dear to the Socratics of framing answers to my own questions, let me assume the existence of a man so obstinately blind to the truth as to venture to maintain that a bad man equipped with the same talents, industry and learning will be not a whit inferior to the good man as an orator; and let me show that he too is mad. 11 There is one point at any rate which no one will question, namely, that the aim of every speech is to convince the judge that the case which it puts forward is true and honourable. Well then, which will do this best, the good man or the bad? The good man will without doubt more often say what is true and honourable. 12 But even supposing that his duty should, as I shall show may sometimes happen, lead him to make statements which are false, his words p363are still certain to carry greater weight with his audience. On the other hand bad men, in their contempt for public opinion and their ignorance of what is right, sometimes drop their mask unawares, and are impudent in the statement of their case and shameless in their assertions. 13 Further, in their attempt to achieve the impossible they display an unseemly persistency and unavailing energy. For in lawsuits no less than in the ordinary paths of life, they cherish depraved expectations. But it often happens that even when they tell the truth they fail to win belief, and the mere fact that such a man is its advocate is regarded as an indication of the badness of the case.

14 I must now proceed to deal with the objections which common opinion is practically unanimous in bringing against this view. Was not Demosthenes an orator? And yet we are told that he was a bad man. Was not Cicero an orator? And yet there are many who have found fault with his character as well. What am I to answer? My reply will be highly unpopular and I must first attempt to conciliate my audience. 15 I do not consider that Demosthenes deserves the serious reflexions that have been made upon his character to such an extent that I am bound to believe all the charges amassed against him by his enemies; for my reading tells me that his public policy was of the noblest and his end most glorious. 16 Again, I cannot see that the aims of Cicero were in any portion of his career other than such as may become an excellent citizen. As evidence I would cite the fact that his behaviour as consul was magnificent and his administration of his province a model of integrity, while he refused to p365become one of the twenty commissioners,3 and in the grievous civil wars which afflicted his generation beyond all others, neither hope nor fear ever deterred him from giving his support to the better party, that is to say, to the interests of the common weal. 17 Some, it is true, regard him as lacking in courage. The best answer to these critics is to be found in his own words, to the effect that he was timid not in confronting peril, but in anticipating it. And this he proved also by the manner of his death, in meeting which he displayed a singular fortitude. 18 But even if these two men lacked the perfection of virtue, I will reply to those who ask if they were orators, in the manner in which the Stoics would reply, if asked whether Zeno, Cleanthes or Chrysippus himself were wise men. I shall say that they were great men deserving our veneration, but that they did not attain to that which is the highest perfection of man's nature. 19 For did not Pythagoras desire that he should not be called a wise man, like the sages who preceded him, but rather a student of wisdom?4 But for my own part, conforming to the language of every day, I have said time and again, and shall continue to say, that Cicero was a perfect orator, just as in ordinary speech we call our friends good and sensible men, although neither of these titles can really be given to any save to him that has attained to perfect wisdom. But if I am called upon to speak strictly and in accordance with the most rigid laws of truth, I shall proclaim that I seek to find that same perfect orator whom Cicero also sought to discover. 20 For while I admit that he stood on the loftiest pinnacle of eloquence, and can discover scarcely a single deficiency in him, although I p367might perhaps discover certain superfluities which I think he would have pruned away (for the general view of the learned is that he possessed many virtues and a few faults, and he himself5 states that he has succeeded in suppressing much of his youthful exuberance), none the less, in view of the fact that, although he had by no means a low opinion of himself, he never claimed to be the perfect sage, and, had he been granted longer life and less troubled conditions for the composition of his works, would doubtless have spoken better still, I shall not lay myself open to the charge of ungenerous criticism, if I say that I believe that he failed actually to achieve that perfection to the attainment of which none have approached more nearly, 21 and indeed had I felt otherwise in this connexion, I might have defended my point with greater boldness and freedom.6 Marcus Antonius declared that he had seen no man who was genuinely eloquent (and to be eloquent is a far less achievement than to be an orator), while Cicero himself has failed to find his orator in actual life and merely imagines and strives to depict the ideal. Shall I then be afraid to say that in the eternity of time that is yet to be, something more perfect may be found than has yet existed? 22 I say nothing of those critics who will not allow sufficient credit for eloquence to Cicero and Demosthenes, although Cicero himself does not regard Demosthenes as flawless, but asserts that he sometimes nods,7 while even Cicero fails to satisfy Brutus and Calvus (at any rate they criticised his style to his face), or to win the complete approval of either of the Asinii, who in various passages attack the faults of his oratory in language which is positively hostile.

p369 23 However, let us fly in the face of nature and assume that a bad man has been discovered who is endowed with the highest eloquence. I shall none the less deny that he is an orator. For I should not allow that every man who has shown himself ready with his hands was necessarily a brave man, because true courage cannot be conceived of without the accompaniment of virtue. 24 Surely the advocate who is called to defend the accused requires to be a man of honour, honour which greed cannot corrupt, influence seduce, or fear dismay. Shall we then dignify the traitor, the deserter, the turncoat with the sacred name of orator? But if the quality which is usually termed goodness is to be found even in quite ordinary advocates, why should not the orator, who has not yet existed, but may still be born, be no less perfect in character than in excellence of speech? 25 It is no hack-advocate, no hireling pleader, nor yet, to use no harsher term, a serviceable attorney of the class generally known as causidici,a that I am seeking to form, but rather a man who to extraordinary natural gifts has added a thorough mastery of all the fairest branches of knowledge, a man sent by heaven to be the blessing of mankind, one to whom all history can find no parallel, uniquely perfect in every detail and utterly noble alike in thought and speech. 26 How small a portion of all these abilities will be required for the defence of the innocent, the repression of crime or the support of truth against falsehood in suits involving questions of money? It is true that our supreme orator will bear his part in such tasks, but his powers will be displayed with brighter splendour in greater matters than these, when he is called upon to direct the counsels of the senate and p371guide the people from the paths of error to better things. 27 Was this not the man conceived by Virgil and described as quelling a riot when torches and stones have begun to fly:8

"Then, if before their eyes some statesman grave

Stand forth, with virtue and high service crowned,

Straight are they dumb and stand intent to hear."

Here then we have one who is before all else a good man, and it is only after this that the poet adds that he is skilled in speaking:

"His words their minds control, their passions soothe."

28 Again, will not this same man, whom we are striving to form, if in time of war he be called upon to inspire his soldiers with courage for the fray, draw for his eloquence on the innermost precepts of philosophy? For how can men who stand upon the verge of battle banish all the crowding fears of hardship, pain and death from their minds, unless those fears be replaced by the sense of the duty that they owe their country, by courage and the lively image of a soldier's honour? 29 And assuredly the man who will best inspire such feelings in others is he who has first inspired them in himself. For however we strive to conceal it, insincerity will always betray itself, and there was never in any man so great eloquence as would not begin to stumble and hesitate so soon as his words ran counter to his inmost thoughts. 30 Now a bad man cannot help speaking things other than he feels. On the other hand, the good will never be at a loss for honourable words or fail to find matter full of virtue for utterance, since among his virtues practical wisdom will be one. And even though his p373imagination lacks artifice to lend it charm, its own nature will be ornament enough, for if honour dictate the words, we shall find eloquence there as well. 31 Therefore, let those that are young, or rather let all of us, whatever our age, since it is never too late to resolve to follow what is right, strive with all our hearts and devote all our efforts to the pursuit of virtue and eloquence; and perchance it may be granted to us to attain to the perfection that we seek. For since nature does not forbid the attainment of either, why should not someone succeed in attaining both together? And what should not each of us hope to be that happy man? 32 But if our powers are inadequate to such achievement, we shall still be the better for the double effort in proportion to the distance which we have advanced toward either goal. At any rate let us banish from our hearts the delusion that eloquence, the fairest of all things, can be combined with vice. The power of speaking is even to be accounted an evil when it is found in evil men; for it makes its possessors yet worse than they were before.

33 I think I hear certain persons (for there will always be some who had rather be eloquent than good) asking, "Why then is there so much art in connexion with eloquence? Why have you talked so much of 'glosses,'9 the methods of defence to be employed in difficult cases, and sometimes even of actual confession of guilt, unless it is the case that the power and force of speech at times triumphs over truth itself? For a good will only plead good cases, and those safely be left to truth to support without the aid of learning." 34 Now, though my reply to these critics will in the first place be a defence of my own work, it will also explain what p375I consider to be the duty of a good man on occasions when circumstances have caused him to undertake the defence of the guilty. For it is by no means useless to consider how at times we should speak in defence of falsehood or even of injustice, if only for this reason, that such an investigation will enable us to detect and defeat them with the greater ease, just as the physician who has a thorough knowledge of all that can injure the health will be all the more skilful in the prescription of remedies. 35 For the Academicians, although they will argue on either side of a question, do not thereby commit themselves to taking one of these two views as their guide in life to the exclusion of the other, while the famous Carneades, who is said to have spoken at Rome in the presence of Cato the Censor, and to have argued against justice with no less vigour than he had argued for justice on the preceding day, was not himself an unjust man. But the nature of virtue is revealed by vice, its opposite, justice becomes yet more manifest from the contemplation of injustice, and there are many other things that are proved by their contraries. Consequently the schemes of his adversaries should be no less well known to the orator than those of the enemy to a commander in the field. 36 But it is even true, although at first sight it seems hard to believe, that there may be sound reason why at times a good man who is appearing for the defence should attempt to conceal the truth from the judge. If any of my readers is surprised at my making such a statement (although this opinion is not of my own invention, but is derived from those whom antiquity regarded as the greatest teachers of wisdom), I would have him reflect that p377there are many things which are made honourable or the reverse not by the nature of the facts, but by the causes from which they spring. 37 For if to slay a man is often a virtue and to put one's own children to death is at times the noblest of deeds, and if it is permissible in the public interest to do deeds yet more horrible to relate than these, we should assuredly take into consideration not solely and simply what is the nature of the case which the good man undertakes to defend, but what is his reason and what his purpose in so doing. 38 And first of all everyone must allow, what even the sternest of the Stoics admit, that the good man will sometimes tell a lie, and further that he will sometimes do so for comparatively trivial reasons; for example we tell countless lies to sick children for their good and make many promises to them which we do not intend to perform. 39 And there is clearly far more justification for lying when it is a question of diverting an assassin from his victim or deceiving an enemy to save our country. Consequently a practice which is at times reprehensible even in slaves, may on other occasions be praiseworthy even in a wise man. If this be granted, I can see that there will be many possible emergencies such as to justify an orator in undertaking cases of a kind which, in the absence of any honourable reason, he would have refused to touch. 40 In saying this I do not mean that we should be ready under any circumstances to defend our father, brother or friend when in peril (since I hold that we should be guided by stricter rules in such matters), although such contingencies may well cause us no little perplexity, when we have to decide between the rival claims of justice and natural p379affection. But let us put the problem beyond all question of doubt. Suppose a man to have plotted against a tyrant and to be accused of having done so. Which of the two will the orator, as defined by us, desire to save? And if he undertakes the defence of the accused, will he not employ falsehood with no less readiness than the advocate who is defending a bad case before a jury? 41 Again, suppose that the judge is likely to condemn acts which were rightly done, unless we can convince him that they were never done. Is not this another case where the orator will not shrink even from lies, if so he may save one who is not merely innocent, but a praiseworthy citizen? Again, suppose that we realise that certain acts are just in themselves, though prejudicial to the state under existing circumstances. Shall we not then employ methods of speaking which, despite the excellence of their intention, bear a close resemblance to fraud. 42 Further, no one will hesitate for a moment to hold the view that it is in the interests of the commonwealth that guilty persons should be acquitted rather than punished, if it be possible thereby to convert them to a better state of mind, a possibility which is generally conceded. If then it is clear to an orator that a man who is guilty of the offences laid to his charge will become a good man, will he not strive to secure his acquittal? 43 Imagine for example that a skilful commander, without whose aid the state cannot hope to crush tis enemies, is labouring under a charge which is obviously true: will not the common interest irresistibly summon our orator to defend him? We know at any rate that Fabricius publicly voted for and secured the election to the consulate of Cornelius Rufinus, p381despite the fact that he was a bad citizen and his personal enemy, merely because he knew that he was a capable general and the state was threatened with war.10 And when certain persons expressed their surprise at his conduct, he replied that he had rather be robbed by a fellow-citizen than be sold as a slave by the enemy. Well then, had Fabricius been an orator, would he not have defended Rufinus against a charge of peculation, even though his guilt were clear as day? 44 I might produce many other similar examples, but one of them taken at random is enough. For my purpose is not to assert that such tasks will often be incumbent on the orator whom I desire to form, but merely to show that, in the event of his being compelled to take such action, it will not invalidate our definition of an orator as a "good man, skilled in speaking." 45 And it is necessary also both to teach and learn how to establish difficult cases by proof. For often even the best cases have a resemblance to bad, and the charges which tell heavily against an innocent person frequently have a strong resemblance to the truth. Consequently, the same methods of defence have to be employed that would be used if he were guilty. Further, there are countless elements which are common to both good cases and bad, such as oral and documentary evidence, suspicions and opinions, all of which have to be established or disposed of in the same way, whether they be true or merely resemble the truth. Therefore, while maintaining his integrity of purpose, the orator will modify his pleading to suit the circumstances.

The Translator's Notes:

1 Aen. III.193.

2 cp. IPr. 9.

3 For the distribution of the Campanian lands.

4 i.e. φιλόσοφος, a term of which he was reputed the inventor.

5 Brut. xci.316; Orat. xxx.107.

6 Quintilian's reverence for Cicero is such that he feels hampered in maintaining his thesis.

7 See X.1.24.

8 Aen. I.151 sqq.

9 color is a technical term for "the particular aspect given to a case by skilful manipulation of the facts — the 'gloss' or 'varnish' put on them by the accused or accuser." — Peterson on Quint. X.1.116.

10 The date is uncertain, but the reference must be either to the Samnite war of 290 or the war with Pyrrhus.

Thayer's Note:

a for the more harshly expressed view, see Columella, I, Preface, 6‑9 (and the editor's notes 5 and 6 there).

Page updated: 2 Jun 08