Quintilian Books 6-8

The march through Quintilian continues.

Book 6 begins with a moving account of how Q’s 10-year-old son died while he was composing these works, not terribly long after his 19-year-old wife and their first 5-year-old son. As he was writing his work on rhetoric for his apparently gifted sons to read after he was gone, he expresses doubt as to why he should continue, but he resolves to do so anyway. I am pressed for time, but I’d like to come back to this mini-speech and see how many commentators believe, as Russell does, that its placement just before Q’s discussion of emotional appeals is no accident.

Q’s arrangement can be rambling in these three books, so I think I’ll just hit some highlights. In his discussion of the Peroration (Conclusion) he enters into emotional appeals (pathos), as the closing in judicial rhetoric is where a truly gifted orator, appealing to pity and other emotions, will make his mark. Q doesn’t have a problem using emotion, as long as “truth, justice, and the common good cannot be secured by other means.” A huge assortment of tricks for the clever lawyer follows – prosopopoeie of the defendant, bringing forth the children, avoidance of images (apparently Roman courts frowned on images?), calling on the gods (a favorite maneuver of Demosthenes), various warnings about getting too dramatic or too funny, etc.

Most striking, though, is that he says that the real orator is one whose words can “move men to tears or anger” and that others are suited enough to assemble the facts of the case (paralegals? secondary counsel?) – he appears to be putting pathos well ahead of logos or ethos. Q also seems to contradict himself on his usual “good man” shtick when he notes the “orator’s true work begins” when the judges’ minds are “distracted from the truth.” – I thought truth was the aim of the good man.

Q’s discussion of phantasiai is also interesting, where he suggests our habit of daydreaming can also allow us to form and then convey clear images of an event to a jury – enargeia, which I recall Aristotle talks about in Book III, though he links it to metaphor (Q would agree, I’d think, based on Book 8). This coupled with his stress on the orator doing something remarkably similar to method acting suggests that emotional appeals are the strongest kind for Q.

A long discussion of comedy follows; it is not much more than a list of the different kinds of jokes, though, and only loosely connected to emotional appeals.

Book 7 seems to cover much of the ground covered earlier; Q introduces something he calls ‘division’ though it seems to be nothing more than stasis theory. I think the difference is that Q here is not so much concerned with the discovery of possible conjectures, but the importance and usefulness of each; he doesn’t make the distinction strongly enough, though, and so Book 7 seems half rehash, though later on he does into some new areas, such as the difference between the letter and the spirit of the law, and the arguments best used in certain kinds of cases, such as insanity and such. There is an interesting note about halfway through when he mentions having only published one speech in his lifetime, when he was quite young, with any others unauthorized and meddled with; it’s an interesting glimpse into 1st century C.E. publishing. Also, the book ends with a thoughtful rumination on what it is possible to teach – in this case, the rudiments of invention, but not, in the parallel of a doctor, “the power of feeling a pulse or noting temperature” as this goes to natural ability. His further admonition to “strive hard, grow pale with study, develop one’s own powers…” I take to heart.

Book 8 starts by Q’s note that it is important to provide a smooth road for beginners, and perhaps along those lines, he recaps the previous 7 books in 14 points, before moving on to elocution, which he believes is the most difficult part of oratory.

Q’s discussion of elocution, again, seems somewhat at odds with itself. On one hand, he is strongly opposed to spending too much time worrying over diction – to “grow old in a futile pursuit of words,” and he goes so far as to repeatedly link such activity to the feminine; it is better to use simple words “that spring from reality”, to “care for words, but (have) deep concern from the subject.” On the other hand, he says the ability to compose in those same simple words requires a great deal of previous study; I suppose the point here is that you must build a rich vocabulary when you are young, and then it is always at hand when you go to compose a speech.

Still, the following chapters, which follow this caution, are all about the importance of good Latin (lucidity vs. obscurity) and then in describing a sizable list of tropes – the very points of style that Q warned against. His “love of words” may be getting in the way. Perhaps this will be further explained in Book 9-12. In closing, I would note his emphasis on metaphor as the trope of tropes; Q’s discussion of it is pretty good, though shallow, as he doesn’t link it to logic or make it the centerpiece of style, instead giving the more general “delivery” that honor.

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