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It is feeling and force of imagination that makes us eloquent.

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (c. 35c. 100), was a Roman rhetorician. His De Institutione Oratoria was widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing.


  • Falsa enim est querela, paucissimis hominibus vim percipiendi quae tradantur esse concessam, plerosque vero laborem ac tempora tarditate ingenii perdere. Nam contra plures reperias et faciles in excogitando et ad discendum promptos. Quippe id est homini naturale, ac sicut aves ad volatum, equi ad cursum, ad saevitiam ferae gignuntur, ita nobis propria est mentis agitatio atque sollertia.
    • It is a complaint without foundation that "to very few people is granted the faculty of comprehending what is imparted to them, and that most, through dullness of understanding, lose their labor and their time." On the contrary, you will find the greater number of men both ready in conceiving and quick in learning, since such quickness is natural to man. As birds are born to fly, horses to run, and wild beasts to show fierceness, so to us peculiarly belong activity and sagacity of understanding.
      • Book I, Chapter I, 1; translation by Rev. John Selby Watson
  • Atque eam natura ipsa videtur ad tolerandos facilius labores velut muneri nobis dedisse, si quidem et remigem cantus hortatur; nec solum in iis operibus in quibus plurium conatus praeeunte aliqua iucunda voce conspirat, sed etiam singulorum fatigatio quamlibet se rudi modulatione solatur.
    • Rev. John Selby Watson's translation:
Nature herself, indeed, seems to have given music to us as a benefit, to enable us to endure labors with greater facility, for musical sounds cheer even the rower; and it is not only in those works in which the efforts of many, while some pleasing voice leads them, conspire together that music is of avail, but the toil even of people at work by themselves finds itself soothed by song, however rude.
  • H. E. Butler's translation:
Indeed nature itself seems to have given music as a boon to men to lighten the strain of labour: even the rower in the galleys is cheered to effort by song. Nor is this function of music confined to cases where the efforts of a number are given union by the sound of some sweet voice that sets the tune, but even solitary workers find solace at their toil in artless song.
  • Book I, Chapter X, 16
  • Quamlibet multa egerimus, quodam tamen modo recentes sumus ad id quod incipimus. quis non obtundi potest, si per totum diem cuiuscunque artis unum magistrum ferat? mutatione recreabitur sicut in cibis, quorum diversitate reficitur stomachus et pluribus minore fastidio alitur.
    • Rev. John Selby Watson's translation:
However many things we may have done, we are yet to a certain degree fresh for that which we are going to begin. Who, on the contrary, would not be stupified if he were to listen to the same teacher of any art, whatever it might be, through the whole day? But by change a person will be recruited, as is the case with respect to food, by varieties of which the stomach is re-invigorated and is fed with several sorts less unsatisfactorily than with one.
  • H. E. Butler's translation:
However manifold our activities, in a certain sense we come fresh to each new subject. Who can maintain his attention, if he has to listen for a whole day to one teacher harping on the same subject, be it what it may? Change of studies is like change of foods: the stomach is refreshed by their variety and derives greater nourishment from variety of viands.
  • Book I, Chapter XII, 5
  • Adeo facilius est multa facere quam diu.
    • So much easier is it to do many things than to do one thing for a long time continuously.
      • Book I, Chapter XII, 7; translation by H. E. Butler
  • Vtrubique autem orator meminisse debebit actione tota quid finxerit, quoniam solent excidere quae falsa sunt: verumque est illud quod vulgo dicitur, mendacem memorem esse oportere.
    • In either case the orator should bear clearly in mind throughout his whole speech what the fiction is to which he has committed himself, since we are apt to forget our falsehoods, and there is no doubt about the truth of the proverb that a liar should have a good memory.
      • Book IV, Chapter II, 91; translation by H. E. Butler
        • Compare: "Liars ought to have good memories", Algernon Sidney, Discourses on Government, chapter ii, section xv.
        • Alternate translation for "solent excidere quae falsa sunt": False things tend to be forgotten
  • Primum est igitur ut apud nos valeant ea quae valere apud iudicem volumus, adficiamurque antequam adficere conemur.
    • Accordingly, the first essential is that those feelings should prevail with us that we wish to prevail with the judge, and that we should be moved ourselves before we attempt to move others.
      • Book VI, Chapter II, 28; translation by H. E. Butler
  • Quare non ut intellegere possit sed ne omnino possit non intellegere curandum.
    • We should not speak so that it is possible for the audience to understand us, but so that it is impossible for them to misunderstand us.
      • Book VIII, Chapter II, 24
  • Modesto tamen et circumspecto iudicio de tantis viris pronuntiandum est, ne, quod plerisque accidit, damnent quae non intellegunt.
  • H. E. Butler's translation:
But modesty and circumspection are required in pronouncing judgment on such great men, since there is always the risk of falling into the common fault of condemning what one does not understand.
  • Book X, Chapter I, 26
  • Rev. John Selby Watson's translation:
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.
  • Note: The Latin for "They condemn what they do not understand" is Damnant quod non intellegunt. (Damnent quae non intellegunt, as in the original text, is in the subjunctive mood.
  • Historia et scribitur ad narrandum non ad probandum.
    • History is written for the purpose of narration and not in order to give proof.
      • Book X, Chapter I, 31
  • Nihil enim rerum ipsa natura voluit magnum effici cito, praeposuitque pulcherrimo cuique operi difficultatem: quae nascendi quoque hanc fecerit legem, ut maiora animalia diutius visceribus parentis continerentur.
    • For it is an ordinance of nature that nothing great can be achieved in a moment, and that all the fairest tasks are attended with difficulty, while on births as well she has imposed this law, that the larger the animal, the longer should be the period of gestation.
  • Pectus est enim quod disertos facit, et vis mentis.
    • For it is feeling and force of imagination that makes us eloquent.
      • Book X, Chapter VII, 15
  • Qui stultis videri eruditi volunt stulti eruditis videntur.
  • Sit ergo nobis orator quem constituimus is qui a M. Catone finitur vir bonus dicendi peritus, verum, id quod et ille posuit prius et ipsa natura potius ac maius est, utique vir bonus.
    • Let the orator whom I propose to form, then, be such a one as is characterized by the definition of Marcus Cato, a good man skilled in speaking. But the requisite which Cato has placed first in this definition—that an orator should be a good man—is naturally of more estimation and importance than the other.
      • Book XII, Chapter I, 1; translation by Rev. John Selby Watson
  • Mutos enim nasci et egere omni ratione satius fuisset quam providentiae munera in mutuam perniciem convertere.
    • 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.
      • Book XII, Chapter I, 2; translation by H. E. Butler
  • Neque enim tantum id dico, eum qui sit orator virum bonum esse oportere, sed ne futurum quidem oratorem nisi virum bonum. Nam certe neque intellegentiam concesseris iis qui proposita honestorum ac turpium via peiorem sequi malent, neque prudentiam, cum in gravissimas frequenter legum, semper vero malae conscientiae poenas a semet ipsis inproviso rerum exitu induantur.
    • 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.
      • Book XII, Chapter I, 3; translation by H. E. Butler
  • Videor mihi audire quosdam (neque enim deerunt umquam qui diserti esse quam boni malint) illa dicentis: "Quid ergo tantum est artis in eloquentia? cur tu de coloribus et difficilium causarum defensione, nonnihil etiam de confessione locutus es, nisi aliquando vis ac facultas dicendi expugnat ipsam veritatem? Bonus enim vir non agit nisi bonas causas, eas porro etiam sine doctrina satis per se tuetur veritas ipsa."
    • But I fancy that I hear some (for there will never be wanting men who would rather be eloquent than good) saying "Why then is there so much art devoted to eloquence? Why have you given precepts on rhetorical coloring and the defense of difficult causes, and some even on the acknowledgment of guilt, unless, at times, the force and ingenuity of eloquence overpowers even truth itself? For a good man advocates only good causes, and truth itself supports them sufficiently without the aid of learning."
      • Book XII, Chapter I, 33; translation by Rev. John Selby Watson
  • Et hercule quantumlibet secreta studia contulerint, est tamen proprius quidam fori profectus, alia lux, alia veri discriminis facies, plusque, si separes, usus sine doctrina quam citra usum doctrina valeat.
    • To say the truth, whatever improvement private study may produce, there is still a peculiar advantage attendant on our appearance in the forum, where the light is different and there is an appearance of real responsibility quite different from the fictitious cases of the schools. If we estimate the two separately, practice without learning will be of more avail than learning without practice.
      • Book XII, Chapter VI, 4; translation by Rev. John Selby Watson


  • Vain hopes are often like the dreams of those who wake.
    • Perhaps confusion of Book VI, Chapter II, 30
      • Similar to Matthew Prior: "For hope is but the dream of those that wake", Solomon on the Vanity of the World, book iii, line 102.
      • Similar to Diogenes Laërtius: "The question was put to him [Aristotle], what hope is; and his answer was, 'The dream of a waking man.'" The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Book V, Chapter I.
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