Don’t Try to Make that Speech Too Perfect

Quintilian, 9.4 (112)

“This whole topic is handled here not merely to make oratory, which should move and flow, grow ancient because it must measure out each foot and weigh out each syllable. No, that is what miserable minds who are obsessed with minor things think about.

No one who throws himself into this concern completely will have any time for more important matters if, once the weight of the material is forgotten and polish itself is rejected, he constructs “mosaic work”, as Lucilius says, and works his words together in “vermiculate construction”. Won’t his fire cool down and his force diminish, the same way show-riders break the pace of their horses with a dancing gait?”

Totus vero hic locus non ideo tractatur a nobis ut oratio, quae ferri debet ac fluere, dimetiendis pedibus ac perpendendis syllabis consenescat: nam id cum miseri, tum in minimis occupati est: neque enim qui se totum in hac cura consumpserit potioribus vacabit, si quidem relicto rerum pondere ac nitore contempto ‘tesserulas’, ut ait Lucilius, struet et vermiculate inter se lexis committet. Nonne ergo refrigeretur sic calor et impetus pereat, ut equorum cursum delicati minutis passibus frangunt?

Demosthenes, Practicing

Don’t Try to Make that Speech Too Perfect

Quintilian, 9.4 (112)

“This whole topic is handled here not merely to make oratory, which should move and flow, grow ancient because it must measure out each foot and weigh out each syllable. No, that is what miserable minds who are obsessed with minor things think about.

No one who throws himself into this concern completely will have any time for more important matters if, once the weight of the material is forgotten and polish itself is rejected, he constructs “mosaic work”, as Lucilius says, and works his words together in “vermiculate construction”. Won’t his fire cool down and his force diminish, the same way show-riders break the pace of their horses with a dancing gait?”

Totus vero hic locus non ideo tractatur a nobis ut oratio, quae ferri debet ac fluere, dimetiendis pedibus ac perpendendis syllabis consenescat: nam id cum miseri, tum in minimis occupati est: neque enim qui se totum in hac cura consumpserit potioribus vacabit, si quidem relicto rerum pondere ac nitore contempto ‘tesserulas’, ut ait Lucilius, struet et vermiculate inter se lexis committet. Nonne ergo refrigeretur sic calor et impetus pereat, ut equorum cursum delicati minutis passibus frangunt?

Demosthenes, Practicing

No One Uses Thucydides As A Model

Cicero, Orat. 9.30-32

“Thucydides, however, tells of history, wars and battles, in a noble and strong way, but nothing he writes can be transferred to forensic or political use. Those well-known speeches have so many unclear and odd phrases that they barely make sense, something which is probably the worst offense in public address.

Do humans possess so much perversity that we will eat acorns after grains have been discovered? Is it possible that the human diet could be changed thanks to Athenian invention but not oratory? Who of the Greek orators, moreover, ever used Thucydides’ work as a model? Surely, he’s praised by everyone. I concede this. But he is praised as a wise explainer of events, a no-nonsense, serious man of the kind who did not pursue cases in court but described battles in history. For this reason, he has never been counted as an orator and would not, indeed, have gained any fame if he had not written history, even though he was noble and elected to office.

Still, no one can really imitate the weight of his words and ideas—but when some people articulate a few broken and unrelated statements, which they could have done even without a teacher, they imagine themselves to be a new-born Thucydides.”

Thucydides autem res gestas et bella narrat et proelia, graviter sane et probe, sed nihil ab eo transferri potest ad forensem usum et publicum. Ipsae illae contiones ita multas habent obscuras abditasque sententias vix ut intellegantur; quod est in oratione civili vitium vel maximum. Quae est autem in hominibus tanta perversitas, ut inventis frugibus glande vescantur? An victus hominum Atheniensium beneficio excoli potuit, oratio non potuit? Quis porro unquam Graecorum rhetorum a Thucydide quicquam duxit? At laudatus est ab omnibus. Fateor; sed ita ut rerum explicator prudens, severus, gravis, non ut in iudiciis versaret causas, sed ut in historiis bella narraret. Itaque nunquam est numeratus orator, nec vero, si historiam non scripsisset, nomen eius exstaret, cum praesertim fuisset honoratus et nobilis. Huius tamen nemo neque verborum neque sententiarum gravitatem imitatur, sed cum mutila quaedam et hiantia locuti sunt, quae vel sine magistro facere potuerunt, germanos se putant esse Thucydidas.

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Don’t Try to Make that Speech Too Perfect

Quintilian, 9.4 (112)

“This whole topic is handled here not merely to make oratory, which should move and flow, grow ancient because it must measure out each foot and weigh out each syllable. No, that is what miserable minds who are obsessed with minor things think about.

No one who throws himself into this concern completely will have any time for more important matters if, once the weight of the material is forgotten and polish itself is rejected, he constructs “mosaic work”, as Lucilius says, and works his words together in “vermiculate construction”. Won’t his fire cool down and his force diminish, the same way show-riders break the pace of their horses with a dancing gait?”

Totus vero hic locus non ideo tractatur a nobis ut oratio, quae ferri debet ac fluere, dimetiendis pedibus ac perpendendis syllabis consenescat: nam id cum miseri, tum in minimis occupati est: neque enim qui se totum in hac cura consumpserit potioribus vacabit, si quidem relicto rerum pondere ac nitore contempto ‘tesserulas’, ut ait Lucilius, struet et vermiculate inter se lexis committet. Nonne ergo refrigeretur sic calor et impetus pereat, ut equorum cursum delicati minutis passibus frangunt?

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Demosthenes tried to be pretty perfect…

Learning to Speak, Write and Read are Critically Interdependent: Quintilian

It has been some time since Quintilian graced this page. But he has some good reminders for those of us returning to the classroom.

Quintilian, Institutio Oratorio 10.1

“But these rules of rhetoric, even though they are critical to understanding, are not on their own enough to instill power of speech unless that certain quality is also strong, the one  the Greeks call ἕξις [“self-possession”?]. I know that many have deliberated whether this is best developed by writing, reading or speaking—and it is a question meriting very serious consideration, if we could ever be content with only one of the three. But, truly, they are so interconnected and dependent on each other that if one is lacking, then the others are pursued in vain. For eloquence will never be forceful or flourishing unless it acquires strength from practice by writing; such practice bereft of the lessons of reading wanders like a ship without captain; and whoever knows what should be said and how to say it—if he does not also have eloquence practiced for combat and every outcome—will recline on a locked-up treasure.”

Sed haec eloquendi praecepta, sicut cogitationi sunt necessaria, ita non satis ad vim dicendi valent nisi illis firma quaedam facilitas, quae apud Graecos hexis nominatur, accesserit: ad quam scribendo plus an legendo an dicendo conferatur, solere quaeri scio. Quod esset diligentius nobis examinandum [citra] si qualibet earum rerum possemus una esse contenti; II. verum ita sunt inter se conexa et indiscreta omnia ut, si quid ex his defuerit, frustra sit in ceteris laboratum. Nam neque solida atque robusta fuerit umquam eloquentia nisi multo stilo vires acceperit, et citra lectionis exemplum labor ille carens rectore fluitabit, et qui sciet quae quoque sint modo dicenda, nisi tamen in procinctu paratamque ad omnis casus habuerit eloquentiam, velut clausis thesauris incubabit.
Full Latin text.

Full translation.