‘The Orator’s Education, Books 1-2’ By Quintilian

Orator's EducationI have mostly loved The Orator’s Education, as much for its insights into the Roman culture of its time as anything else – off handed remarks about gladiatorial styles, discussions that introduced me to how much constant interchange there was between Latin and Greek (with Latin even stealing letters from the Greek – I had had no idea what a state of perpetual transition Latin was in; such a difference from its current status as a ‘dead language’), remarks that showed how little formalized spelling and grammar could be, and more.

When Quintilian talks of ‘orators,’ he is, in the greater part, speaking of what we would call lawyers. Apparently, the pleading of cases was less a legalistic endeavor than it was a dramatic and rhetorical one. While legal procedurals on television make it seem like that’s still the case, believe me when I tell you that modern trials are almost always boring to watch and the average lawyer is not particularly eloquent.

At one point, Quintilian defends oratory against the claim that it cannot be an art because no art seeks to demolish itself (presumably, referring to how opposing orators will seek to demolish each other’s arguments). Leaving aside his actual refutation, what a different view of art! Now, we accept fairly readily the idea that an art is usually something in a state of constant oedipal rebellion.

He talks about three kinds of art: theoretical, practical, and poetic.

Theoretical arts include ancient astronomy, according to the author, and are what we might think of as scientific research, where the end is not a ‘thing,’ but understanding of the of the subject of study.

Practical arts are not things like carpentry, but rather actions. The example he gives is dance, where the end result is not a thing, but a properly completed action (oratory is this kind of art, he says)

Poetical arts are those which end with a work that can be seen, like a painting. I think this is awesome, because he uses the word ‘poetical’ to describe the most practical (in modern terms) of arts – that which ends in something. Gave me a smile.

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