Quintilian, III-V

Book III begins with a history of developments in rhetoric up to Q’s time, divided between the Greeks and the Romans. It’s clear that Q had access to a lot more early treatises that we have, though, as I have noted earlier, it does not seem that he had the Rhetoric Ad Herrenium. Most tantalizing are a few unknown rhetorical works by Aristotle, the work of his student, Theopastrus, and the Cornelius that Q cites nearly as often as Cicero.

The rest of III details some of the broad terminology of rhetoric – the five canons and their proper order, the purposes of rhetoric – “to instruct, to move, to delight,” the three audiences – epideictic, deliberative, and judicial, with some nice audience analysis after each, and some mention of various assignments that practice each – the theses and prosopoeia in particular. But Q dismisses it all with a wonderful flourish in 3.11 – “But let us leave this pedantic terminological subtlety to its pretentious labours!” as a breather before beginning the long march through the nitty-gritty of the parts of a speech.

Book IV handles the prooenium (introduction) and narration in all three kinds of situations. As usual, Q spends the most time in forsenic, with a great concern for audience response, a willingness to advise the use of tropes, and fifty hojillion examples from Cicero’s speeches. As promised, the advice is now practical rather than theoretical. A running theme is that when art is detected, it is lost; in 4.2, he states, “Everything must seem to come from the cause, not from the orator. Yet we find this intolerable, and we think our art is wasted unless it can be seen, when the truth it that it ceases to be art once it is detected!” The introduction and narration must not seem rhetorical in the slightest, but they must also seem well prepared, otherwise the listeners, in particular the judge, will be insulted.

Book V concerns proofs, the third part of a speech. Following Aristotle, Q divides them between non-technical proofs (external evidence, testimony, etc) and technical proofs (the enthymeme, signs, and examples). The technical section also gives a long list of commonplaces, which, as Q states, are not loci – prewritten snippets to be inserted into speeches – but the particular places from which arguments are be drawn. He divides these between humans and things. Places to draw arguments from with humans are thing like sex, occupation, fortune, physique, temperament, past crimes, etc. Places to draw arguments from with things involve journalistic questions – how, when, where, what, etc. Q’s prominent treatment of commonplaces confirms a strong recognition that invention is essential to rhetoric (even though earlier the book he states he will not list commonplaces but give a general method and principles).

This book is also where Q’s preference for a “masculine rhetoric” comes forth – weak arguments are apparently the same as emasculated eunuchs. Progressive on gender he ain’t.

V ends with refutations of proofs – how to counter various kinds of enthymemes (Q is aware this term is poorly defined) and epicheiremes (a long set of chained enthymemes, apparently, which he defines very differently from the RAH), and also with a cautionary note. Q observes that a speech “stuffed” with logical arguments will rarely be persuasive, and that “plain” language is not necessarily superior to the use of tropes (which he hasn’t gotten to yet). This is what I like about Quintilian the most – he never just presents material, but he also lists objections to it. His running objection is something like this line from 5.10 – “The discovery of arguments did not wait for the publication of textbooks.” In other words, knowing the different classifications of examples pales beside the ability to effectively use them in a speech.

I’ve been thinking along these lines as well, in the sense that if I teach 3604 again, I might teach many of the obscure tropes, but not by name. That is, I’d teach them by function. If the students want to learn the names, I’ll give them, but it is more important that they have a conscious option than knowing what that conscious option was called by someone 2000 years ago. I’d like to describe a set of tropes, in plain English and then have them execute all of them in a short piece, then discuss the effects and merits of each. What they should be able to do is not to correctly identify a trope, but recognize that they are looking at a trope when they see one, and know they are witnessing a rhetorical maneuver that they can resist, appreciate, or imitate.

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