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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On Ancient Authors
By Quintilian (c. 35–c. 95 A.D.)
 
Homer

AS Aratus, then, thinks that “we ought to begin with Jupiter,” so I think that I shall very properly commence with Homer; for, as he says that “the might of rivers and the courses of springs take their rise from the ocean,” so has he himself given a model and an origin for every species of eloquence. No man has excelled him in sublimity on great subjects, no man in propriety on small ones. He is at once copious and concise, pleasing and forcible; admirable at one time for exuberance, and at another for brevity; eminent not only for poetic, but for oratorical excellence. To say nothing of his laudatory, exhortatory, and consolatory speeches, does not the ninth book of the Iliad, in which the deputation sent to Achilles is comprised, or the contention between the chiefs in the first book, or the opinions delivered in the second, display all the arts of legal pleadings and of councils? As to the feelings, as well the gentle as the more impetuous, there is no one so unlearned as not to acknowledge that he had them wholly under his control. Has he not at the commencement of both his works—I will not say observed, but established, the laws of oratorical exordia? for he renders his reader well affected towards him by an invocation of the goddesses who have been supposed to preside over poets; he makes him attentive by setting forth the grandeur of his subjects, and desirous of information by giving a brief and comprehensive view of them. Who can state facts more concisely than he who relates the death of Patroclus, or more forcibly than he who describes the combat of the Curetes and Ætolians? As to similes, amplifications, illustrations, digressions, indications, and proofs of things, and all other modes of establishment and refutation, examples of them are so numerous in him that nearly all those who have written on the rules of rhetoric produce from him illustrations of their precepts. What peroration of a speech will ever be thought equal to the entreaties of Priam beseeching Achilles for the body of his son? Does he not indeed, in words, thoughts, figures, and the arrangement of his whole work, exceed the ordinary bounds of human genius? So much indeed that it requires a great man even to follow his excellences, not with rivalry (for rivalry is impossible) but with a just conception of them.  1
 
Virgil and Other Roman Poets

ACCORDINGLY, as Homer among the Greeks, so Virgil among our own countrymen, presents the most auspicious beginning;—an author who of all poets of that class, Greek or Roman, doubtless approaches nearest to Homer. I will here repeat the very words which when I was a young man I heard from Domitius Afer, who, when I asked him what poet he thought came nearest to Homer, replied, “Virgil is second to him, but nearer the first than the third. Indeed, though we must give place to the divine and immortal genius of Homer, yet in Virgil there is more care and exactness, for the very reason that he was obliged to take more pains; and for what we lose in the higher qualities we perhaps compensate in equability of excellence.”
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  All our other poets will follow at a great distance. Macer and Lucretius should be read indeed, but not in order to form such a style as constitutes the fabric of eloquence: each is an elegant writer on his own subject, but the one is tame and the other difficult. Varro Atacinus, in those writings in which he has gained a name as the interpreter of another man’s work, is not indeed to be despised, but is not rich enough in diction to increase the power of an orator. Ennius we may venerate, as we venerate groves sacred from their antiquity; groves in which gigantic and aged oaks affect us not so much by their beauty as by the religious awe with which they inspire us.  3
  There are other poets nearer to our own times, and better suited to promote the object of which we are speaking. Ovid allows his imagination to wanton, even in his heroic verse, and is too much a lover of his own conceits; but deserves praise in certain passages. Cornelius Severus, though a better versifier than poet, yet if he had finished his ‘Sicilian War,’ as has been observed, in the manner of his first book, would justly have claimed the second place in epic poetry. But an immature death prevented his powers from being brought to perfection; yet his youthful compositions display very great ability, and a devotion to a judicious mode of writing which was wonderful, especially at such an age.  4
 
Historians and Orators

IN history, however, I cannot allow superiority to the Greeks: I should neither fear to match Sallust against Thucydides, nor should Herodotus feel indignant if Livy is thought equal to him,—an author of wonderful agreeableness and remarkable perspicuity in his narrative, and eloquent beyond expression in his speeches, so admirably is all that is said in his pages adapted to particular circumstances and characters; and as to the feelings (especially those of the softer kind), no historian, to speak but with mere justice, has succeeded better in describing them. Hence, by his varied excellences, he has equaled in merit the immortal rapidity of Sallust: for Servilius Nonianus seems to me to have remarked with great happiness that they were rather equal than like,—a writer to whom I have listened while he was reading his own histories; he was a man of great ability, and wrote in a sententious style, but with less conciseness than the dignity of history demands. That dignity Bassus Aufidius, who had rather the precedence of him in time, supported with admirable effect, at least in his books on the German war; in his own style of composition he is everywhere deserving of praise, but falls in some parts below his own powers….
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  But our orators may, above all, set the Latin eloquence on an equality with that of Greece; for I would confidently match Cicero against any one of the Greek orators. Nor am I unaware how great an opposition I am raising against myself, especially when it is no part of my design at present to compare him with Demosthenes; for it is not at all necessary, since I think that Demosthenes ought to be read above all other orators, or rather learned by heart. Of their great excellences I consider that most are similar; their method, their order of partition, their manner of preparing the minds of their audience, their mode of proof, and in a word, everything that depends on invention. In their style of speaking there is some difference: Demosthenes is more compact, Cicero more verbose; Demosthenes argues more closely, Cicero with a wider sweep; Demosthenes always attacks with a sharp-pointed weapon, Cicero often with a weapon both sharp and weighty; from Demosthenes nothing can be taken away, to Cicero nothing can be added; in the one there is more study, in the other more nature. In wit and pathos, certainly,—two stimulants of the mind which have great influence in oratory,—we have the advantage. Perhaps the custom of his country did not allow Demosthenes pathetic perorations; but on the other hand, the different genius of the Latin tongue did not grant to us those beauties which the Attics so much admire. In the epistolary style, indeed, though there are letters written by both, and in that of dialogue in which Demosthenes wrote nothing, there is no comparison. We must yield the superiority, however, on one point: that Demosthenes lived before Cicero, and made him in a great measure the able orator that he was; for Cicero appears to me, after he devoted himself wholly to imitate the Greeks, to have embodied in his style the energy of Demosthenes, the copiousness of Plato, and the sweetness of Isocrates. Nor did he by zealous effort attain only what was excellent in each of these, but drew most or rather all excellences from himself, by the felicitous exuberance of his immortal genius. He does not, as Pindar says, “collect rainwater, but overflows from a living fountain;” having been so endowed at his birth, by the special kindness of Providence, that in him eloquence might make trial of her whole strength. For who can instruct a judge with more exactness, or excite him with more vehemence? What orator had ever so pleasing a manner? The very points which he wrests from you by force, you would think that he gained from you by entreaty; and when he carries away the judge by his impetuosity, he yet does not seem to be hurried along, but imagines that he is following of his own accord. In all that he says, indeed, there is so much authority that we are ashamed to dissent from him; he does not bring to a cause the mere zeal of an advocate, but the support of a witness or a judge: and at the same time, all these excellences, a single one of which any other man could scarcely attain with the utmost exertion, flow from him without effort; and that stream of language, than which nothing is more pleasing to the ear, carries with it the appearance of the happiest facility. It was not without justice, therefore, that he was said by his contemporaries “to reign supreme in the courts”; and he has gained such esteem among his posterity, that Cicero is now less the name of a man than that of eloquence itself. To him, therefore, let us look; let him be kept in view as our great example; and let that student know that he has made some progress, to whom Cicero has become an object of admiration.  6
 
 
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