Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
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Book 3 - Chapter 2

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Of the origin of oratory, § 1, 2. Nature and art, 3. Objection to Cicero's notion, 4.

1. THE question, what is the origin of oratory, need not detain us long, for who can doubt that men, as soon as they were produced, received language from nature herself, the parent of all things (which was at least the commencement of oratory), and that utility brought improvement to it, and method and exercise perfection? 2. Nor do I see why some should think that accuracy in speaking had its rise from the circumstance that those, who were brought into any danger by accusation, set themselves to speak with more than ordinary care for the purpose of defending themselves. This, even if a more honorable cause, is not necessarily the first, especially as accusation goes before defense, unless any person would say that a sword was forged by one who prepared steel for his own defense earlier than by one who designed it for the destruction of another.

3. It was therefore nature that gave origin to speech and observation that gave origin to art, for as, in regard to medicine, when people saw that some things were wholesome and others unwholesome, they established an art by observing their different properties, so, with respect to speaking, when they found some things useful and others useless, they marked them for imitation or avoidance. Other people added other things to the list according to their nature; these observations were confirmed by experience, and every one then taught what he knew. 4. Cicero, indeed, has attributed the origin of eloquence to founders of cities and to legislators, in whom there certainly must have been some power of speaking, but why he should regard this as the very origin of oratory, I do not see. There are nations at this day without any fixed settlements, without cities, and without laws, and yet men who are born among them discharge the duties of ambassadors, make accusations and defenses, and think that one person speaks better than another.


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Lee Honeycutt (honeycuttlee@gmail.com) Last modified:5/25/2004
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