Quintilian’s Advice: Give it the Old College Try

Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 1.1:

It is a specious complaint that the power of understanding lessons is granted to only a few people while many waste their labor and their time through the slowness of their intellect. For you will find, much to the contrary, many people who are quick in thought and prompt to learn. Indeed, learning is natural to humans. Just as birds are born to fly, horses to run, and beasts to be savage, so is mental action and adroitness natural to us. It is for this reason that the origin of the mind is thought to lie in the heavens.

Dullness and an inability to be taught are no more aligned with human nature than colossal bodies and signs of monstrosity at birth, though these are comparatively few anyway. The proof is that hope of more shines forth in children. When it dies away over time, it is clear that it is due to a lack of care, not a fault of nature. ‘Some people are more talented than others.’ Sure, I grant that much. But that will achieve more or less: yet no one can be found who has accomplished nothing with effort.

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: unde origo animi caelestis creditur.

Hebetes vero et indociles non magis secundum naturam hominis eduntur quam prodigiosa corpora et monstris insignia, sed hi pauci admodum fuerunt. Argumentum, quod in pueris elucet spes plurimorum: quae cum emoritur aetate, manifestum est non naturam defecisse sed curam. “Praestat tamen ingenio alius alium.” Concedo; sed plus efficiet aut minus: nemo reperitur qui sit studio nihil consecutus.

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