Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (in English mostly as Quintilian, but also incorrectly spelled Quintillian or Quinctilian) was born around 35 CE at Calagurris in Hispania (now Calahorra, Spain). His works preserve a form of the ancient canons which allow us to see how those in the early empire viewed the great literature of the past.
His father was a noteworthy teacher of rhetoric and sent his son to Rome to be educated under the grammaticus Remmius Palaemon and the orator Domitius Afer, the latter acting as Quintlian’s mentor.
After completing his Roman education, he returned to Spain to practice law, but after some success there he was summoned back to Rome in 68 by the Emporer Galba in order to teach and practice law. Since he was not very close to the emperor, he escaped ill treatment after Galba’s assassination.
For a teacher at Rome, he wielded great influence over students who later would become very important in both the literary and political worlds, such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and perhaps Juvenal. He was even made consul by Vespasian.
Quintilian finally retired from public life in 88, perhaps due to Domitian’s increasingly unbalanced state, and quietly devoted himself to his studies. His respite did not last long, however, as the emperor in 90 CE appointed Quintilian tutor over his nephews.
It is unknown when Quintilian died.
He wrote De Causis Corruptae Eloquentiae, no longer extent, to combat what he thought was corruption of the elegant speeches of time past. His students also collected enough notes to publish, against his will, the Artis Rhetoricae in two books. It too has been lost.
The only extant work certain of being his is the Institutio Oratoria, published at the end of Domitian’s reign. It was dedicated to Marcellus Victorius, whom he describes as a very good friend and lover of literature.
The Institutio Oratoria contains twelve books. The first two books are more didactic in nature, forming the fundamental material in becoming an orator. Books three through nine are more specific in nature, describing technical terms and analyzing the various forms. Book ten lists the great writers of the past, both Latin and Greek, who ought to be read, starting with Homer for Greek, and Vergil for Latin. Finally, books eleven and twelfth show the manner in which orators should conduct and cultivate themselves.
The Institutio Oratoria also attacks the New Style pioneered by Seneca. According to Quintilian, the great oratory skill defined by Cicero a little over a century and a half ago was being corrupted by those emulating Seneca, whose ornamental and rapid speech was directed at moving people with colorful language and short sententiae.
Two other works bearing Quintilian’s name are preserved in the manuscript tradition: the 19 Declamationes Maiores, and the 145 Declamationes Minores, the latter of which originally comprising a larger set of 388 declamations. However, Quintilian’s authorship is doubted based on stylistic differences.
- Gwynn, Aubrey. 1966. Roman education from Cicero to Quintilian. New York: Teachers College Press.
- Kennedy, George A. 1972. The art of rhetoric in the Roman world 300 B.C.–A.D. 300. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.