Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
Previous Chapter

Book 4 - Chapter 4

Next Chapter
Of propositions preparatory to proof; not always necessary, § 1, 2. Sometimes very useful, 3, 4. Various kinds of propositions, and remarks on them, 5-9.

1. THERE are some writers who place the proposition after the statement of facts, as a division of a speech on any matter for judgment. To this notion I have already replied. In my opinion the commencement of any proof is a proposition, which may be advanced not only in stating the principal question, but sometimes even to introduce particular arguments, especially those which are called ἐπιχειρήματα (epicheirēmata). 2. But I shall now speak of the former kind. It is not always necessary to use it, for sometimes the point in question is sufficiently manifest without any proposition whatever, for instance, if the statements of facts ends where the question begins. That which in arguments is commonly the recapitulation is sometimes immediately subjoined to the statement of the case: "These things occurred, judges, just as I have related them; the ambusher was cut off; violence was overcome by violence; or rather audacity was subdued by valor." 3. But at times it is extremely useful, especially when the fact cannot be denied and the question is about the definition, as, in pleading for him who took the money of a private person from a temple, you would say, "The consideration is about sacrilege; it is concerning sacrilege that you have to decide," so that the judge may understand that his only duty is to ascertain whether that which is charged against the accused is sacrilege. 4. It is also of use in causes that are obscure or complex, not only that they may be rendered more lucid, but also, occasionally, that they may be more striking. A proposition will produce this effect, if there be immediately subjoined to it something that may support our pleading: as, "A law has been made expressly that whatever foreigner mounts the wall is to be punished with death. That you are a foreigner is certain; that you mounted the wall there is no doubt. What remains, then, but that you undergo the penalty?" For such a proposition enforces a confession from the opposite party and prevents, in a great measure, delay in giving judgment, not only explaining the question, but supporting it.

5. Propositions are single, double, or complex, a distinction which results from more than one cause, for several charges may be combined, as when Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth and introducing new superstitions. A single charge may also be established by several proofs, as when it was alleged against Aeschines that he had acted dishonestly in his embassy because he had spoken falsely, because he had done nothing in conformity with the directions given him, because he had tarried, and because he had accepted presents. 6. The defense may also contain several propositions, as in an action to recover a debt it may be said, "You have no right to demand it, for it was not in your power to become an agent; nor had he, in whose name you act, a right to have an agent; nor are you the heir of him from whom I am said to have borrowed; nor was I indebted to him." 7. Such examples may be multiplied at pleasure, but it is sufficient to have pointed out that such is the case. If these allegations are stated singly, with proofs subjoined, they are so many distinct propositions; if they are combined, they come under the head of partition.

8. A proposition is sometimes, also, entirely bare, as is generally the case in conjectural causes: "I accuse of murder; I charge with theft"; sometimes it is accompanied with a reason, as "Caius Cornelius has been guilty of treason against the dignity of the tribunate, for he himself, when tribune of the people, read his own law before the public assembly." The proposition which we bring forward, too, is sometimes our own, as "I accuse this man of adultery"; sometimes that of our adversary, as "The charge against me is that of adultery"; sometimes affecting both parties, as "The question between my opponent and me is, which of the two is the nearer of kin to a person who has died intestate." Sometimes, moreover, we may couple opposite propositions, as "I say thus, my adversary thus."

9. There is a way of speaking which has, at times, the force of a proposition, though it is in reality not one, when, after having made our statement of facts, we add, "It is upon these points that you are to decide," this being a kind of admonition to the judge to direct his attention more earnestly to the case, and, being roused as by a touch, to observe that the statement is ended and the proof commenced, so that as we enter upon the establishment of our allegations, he may commence, as it were, a new stage of listening.


Previous Chapter
Lee Honeycutt (honeycuttlee@gmail.com) Last modified:6/27/04
Next Chapter