Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
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Book 8 - Chapter 4

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Of amplification and diminution; things are exaggerated or extenuated by the terms applied to them, § 1, 2. Modes of augmentation, 3-9. By comparison, 10-14. By reasoning and inference, 15-25. By an accumulation of terms or particulars, 26, 27. Modes of extenuation are similar, 28. Hyperbole, 29.

1. THE first mode of amplifying or extenuating, then, lies in the nature of the term which we apply to anything, as when we say, that a man who was beaten, was murdered; that one who is disingenuous, is a thief; or, on the other hand, that one who beat another, touched him, or that one who wounded another, hurt him. Of both there is an example in one passage of the speech for Caelius; If a woman, being a widow, lives freely; being bold, lives without restraint; being rich, lives luxuriously; being wanton, lives like a courtezan; should I, if a man salutes her somewhat familiarly, consider him as an adulterer? 2. For he calls a woman who was rather immodest, a courtezan; and says, that he who had been long connected with her, saluted her somewhat familiarly. This sort of amplification becomes stronger and more remarkable, when the terms of larger meaning are compared with those for which we substitute them; thus Cicero says in his speech against Verres, "We have brought before your tribunal, not a thief, but an open robber; not a simple fornicator, but a violator of all chastity; not a person guilty only of sacrilege, but an open enemy to everything sacred and religious; not a mere assassin, but a most cruel executioner of our countrymen and allies." 3. By the first term, much is signified; by the second, still more.

I see that amplification, however, is effected chiefly in four ways; by augmentation, by comparison, by reasoning, and by accumulation.

Augmentation is most effective, when even things of which we speak as inferior to others, are made to seem of importance. This may be done either by one step or by several. By augmentation we reach, not only the highest point, but some times, as it were, beyond that point. 4. To exemplify all these remarks a single instance from Cicero will suffice: It is an offense to bind a Roman citizen, a crime to scourge him, almost treason to put him to death; and what shall I say that it is to crucify him? 5. For had the Roman citizen only been scourged, Cicero would have exaggerated the guilt of Verres one degree, by saying, that even a less kind of punishment than scourging was an offense; and had he only been put to death, the guilt would have been aggravated by another degree; but after having said, that to put him to death was almost treason, a crime than which there is no greater; Cicero adds, what shall I say that it is to crucify him? When he had come to that crime, which is the greatest of all, words were necessarily wanting to express anything beyond it. 6. An advance, beyond what seems highest, may also be made in another way; as in what Virgil says concerning Lausus:

Quo pulchrior alter
Non fuit, excepto Laurentis corpore Turni

Than whom
Was none more beautiful, except the form
Of the Laurentian Turnus.

To say, than whom, was none more beautiful, was to go apparently as high as possible, but something was afterwards added. 7. There is also a third way, in which we do not advance by steps, there being no more and most, but proceed at once to something than which nothing greater can be named: You killed your mother; what shall I say more; you killed your mother. For this is a kind of augmentation, to represent anything as so great that it cannot be augmented. 8. Language is amplified less evidently, but perhaps for that very reason more effectively, when, without any breaks, but in one continuous series and course, something always follows greater than what goes before; thus Cicero reproaches Antony with his vomiting, In an assembly of the people of Rome, when holding a public office, when master of the horse. Every particular is an advance on that which precedes: To vomit from excessive drinking would have been of itself disgusting, even if not before a public assembly; it would have been disgusting before a public assembly, even if not of a whole people; before a whole people, even if not the people of Rome; even if he had held no office, or not a public office, or not that of master of the horse. 9. Another speaker might have distinguished these steps, and dwelt upon each of them; Cicero hastens to the summit at once, and gains it, not by climbing, but at the utmost speed.

But as this kind of amplification looks always to something higher, so that which is made by comparison seeks to raise itself on something lower. For by elevating that which is beneath, it must of necessity exalt that which is placed above. 10. Thus Cicero, in the passage just quoted, says, If this had happened to you at a banquet, and over those immense cups of yours, who would not have thought it disgraceful? But when it occurred before an assembly of the Roman people, etc. And in one of his speeches against Catiline. If, assuredly, my slaves feared me, as all your fellow-citizens fear you, I should think that I must quit my house. 11. Sometimes, by mentioning an instance of something similar, we may make that which we wish to exaggerate appear greater: thus Cicero, in his speech for Cluentius, having related that a woman of Miletus had received a bribe from the heirs in reversion to cause abortion in her own person, exclaims, Of how much greater punishment is Oppianicus deserving for a crime of a similar nature? The woman of Miletus, in doing violence to her own body, tortured only herself; Oppianicus effected a like object by violence and torture to the body of another. 12. Nor let any one think that this sort of amplification, though of a like character, is the same with the mode of proceeding in regard to arguments, where the greater is inferred from the less; for in the one case to prove is the object, in the other to magnify; as, in regard to Oppianicus, the purpose of the comparison is not to show that he committed a crime, but that he committed a greater crime than another person. 13. In the two cases, however, though different, there is a certain affinity; and I shall therefore have recourse to the same example of which I made use in the other place, though not for the same purpose; for what I have here to show is, that, for the sake of amplification, not only a whole is compared with a whole, but parts with parts; as in this passage: Did that illustrious man, and chief pontiff, Publius Scipio, kill, in his private character, Gracchus, when he was making only moderate changes in the commonwealth, and shall we consuls bear with Catiline, who is seeking to devastate the whole earth with fire and sword? 14. Here Catiline is compared to Gracchus; the commonwealth to the whole world; the moderate change to slaughter, fire, and devastation; a man in his private character with the consuls; and if a speaker should wish to dilate on these points severally, each would furnish ample matter for the purpose.

15. As to the amplifications which I said were made by reasoning, let us consider whether I designated them by a sufficiently appropriate term; though I am not indeed very anxious as to that point, provided that the thing itself be clear to those who wish to understand it. I have, however, adopted that term, because this sort of amplification is introduced in one place and produces its effect in another; so that one thing is magnified in order that another may be corroborated; and thence we arrive by reasoning at that which is the object of our amplification. 16. For instance, Cicero, designing to reproach Antony with his wine-bibbing and vomiting, says, You, with such a throat, with such sides, with such strength in your whole body, fit for a gladiator, etc. What has the mention of the throat and sides to do with the intoxication? It is by no means without effect; for, looking to their capacity, we may estimate how much wine he has swallowed at the marriage of Hippia, which he could not bear and carry off even with that strength of body fit for a gladiator. If, therefore, one thing is concluded from another, the term reasoning is neither improper nor extraordinary; and it is a term which I have introduced for the same reason among the positions. 17. So likewise amplification arises from ensuing circumstances, as, in the case of Antony, such was the force of the wine bursting from him, that it produced no trifling effect, or inclination to vomit, but an absolute necessity of doing so, where it least of all became him; and the food which he cast up was not fresh, as sometimes happens, but such as remained in his stomach from the feast of the preceding day. 18. Circumstances that have preceded an act, too, lead to a similar conclusion; for when Aeolus, at the request of Juno,

--cavum conversâ cuspide montem
Impulit in latus; ac venti, velut agmine facto
Qua data porta ruunt,

--turn'd his spear, and struck
The hollow mountain's side, and forth the winds
Rush, as in banded throng, where'er a way
Was giv'n,

it is signified how great a tempest would follow. 19. Is it not amplification by reasoning, also, when we purposely extenuate the most atrocious crimes, (which we ourselves have previously represented as meriting the utmost detestation,) in order that the charges which are to follow may appear more enormous? This is done by Cicero, when he said, These are but trifling charges against such a criminal. The captain of a vessel, from a most honorable city, purchased exemption from the terror of scourging with a sum of money; to allow him to do so was humanity in Verres. Another, that he might not be beheaded, sacrificed also a sum of money; this was but an ordinary occurrence. 20. Has not Cicero used amplification from reasoning, in order that the audience might estimate how enormous what was to be inferred must be, when such transactions, compared with it, were humane and ordinary? In this manner one thing is frequently enhanced by a reference to another; as when the merit of Scipio is magnified by dwelling on the military excellences of Hannibal; and when we extol the bravery of the Gauls and Germans, in order that the glory of Julius Caesar may appear the greater.

21. It is also a kind of amplification, when something is said of one thing with reference to another, with a view to which, however, it does not appear to be said. The chiefs of Troy thought it nothing discreditable that the Greeks and Trojans should endure so many calamities for so long a period for the sake of the beauty of Helen; how great, then, must that beauty be supposed to have been! It is not Paris, who carried her off, that says this; nor any young man; nor one of the multitude; but old men, the wisest of the people, the counsellors of Priam. 22. And even the king himself, exhausted by a ten years' siege, deprived of so many children, with utter destruction hanging over him, he, to whom it might have been thought that that face, which had been the cause of so many tears, would have been odious and detestable, not only listens patiently to this remark, but calling, her "daughter," places her at his side, and even exculpates her, and denies that she is the cause of his misfortunes. 23. Nor does Plato, in his Symposium, when he represents Alcibiades as confessing, on his part, how he wished to have been treated by Socrates, appear to have given this account in order to blame Alcibiades, but in order to show the incorruptible morality of Socrates, which could not be shaken even by the obvious advances of the most attractive of mankind. 24. It is thus, too, that the extraordinary stature of the ancient heroes is left to be inferred by us from the weapons which they used; as instances, may be mentioned the shield of Ajax, and the spear of Achilles. Of this kind of artifice Virgil has admirably availed himself in his description of the Cyclops; for how huge must we conceive the body to be, the hand of which trunca pinus regit, "a pine-tree lopped of its branches supports?" How great also must have been the size of Demoleos, when two men, with their united efforts, could scarcely support his coat of mail on their shoulders, and yet he, clad in it,

cursu palantes Troas agebat,
The scatter'd Trojans at full speed pursued!

25. Cicero himself, again, could hardly have imagined anything so descriptive of the luxury of Mark Antony as he intimates when he says, You might have seen the couches of slaves in their bed-rooms, decked with Pompey's purple quilts. Slaves in their bed-rooms use purple quilts, and those the quilts of Pompey; nothing stronger can be said; and yet we must consider that there was infinitely greater extravagance in the master than in his slaves. 26. This species of amplification is of a similar nature with what is called ἔμφασις (emphasis). But the one suggests an inference from a word, the other from a thing; and the latter is as much more effective than the former as things are more impressive than words.

There remains to be noticed under amplification the accumulation of a number of words or thoughts having the same signification; for though they do not ascend by steps, yet they are heaped up, as it were, by coacervation. 27. What did your sword do, Tubero, that was drawn in the field of Pharsalia? At whose body was the point of it aimed? What was the object of your appearance in arms? To what were your thoughts, your eyes, your hands, directed? What ardor inspired your breast? What did you wish or desire? This is similar to what the Greeks call συναθροισμός (synathroismos). But in the Greek there is an amassing of many things; in the other figure there is an aggregation of particulars relating to one. This kind of amplification is often produced by a series of words rising higher and higher in meaning; as, There was present the doorkeeper of the prison, the praetor's executioner, the death and terror of the allies and citizens of Rome, the lictor Sextius.

28. The art of extenuation is nearly similar; for there are as many steps when we go up as when we go down. I shall content myself, therefore, with one example of it, taken from that passage where Cicero speaks thus of a speech of Rullus: Some few, however, who stood nearest to him, suspected that he wished to say something about the Agrarian law. If this is considered to signify that the speech was not understood, it is extenuation; if that it was obscure, it is exaggeration.

29. I know that hyperbole may also be thought by some a species of amplification, for it either magnifies or diminishes. But because the meaning of hyperbole is larger than that of amplification, it must be reserved for consideration under the head of tropes. Of these I should proceed to treat at once, if they were not a form of speech distinct from other forms, consisting in words used, not in their proper, but in a metaphorical sense. Let me grant a little indulgence, therefore, to a desire which is almost universal and not omit to speak of that ornament of style which most regard as the principal and almost only one.

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