Quintilian, and J.S. Watson. Institutes of Oratory. Edited by Lee Honeycutt, 2010. Kindle Electronic Edition. Book 12 Chapter 10.
In book 12 chapter 10 Quintilian gives us a conspectus of different styles and characteristics of oratory as found in different individuals and different locations. There are those who would admire the oratory of different people, different times, and different locations. This, Quintilian suspects, is because there is no such thing as perfect oratory (Quintilian XII.10.2). It may well be that there are apt comparisons between the art of oratory and other arts, such as painting. Quintilian goes on to describe different painters and their styles, then different sculptors and their styles. Likewise, oratory is varied. “If we contemplate the varieties of it, we find almost as much diversity in the minds as in the bodies of orators” (Quintilian XII.10.10). Quintilian summarizes the strengths of a variety of different Latin orators. At the pinnacle, he places Cicero (Quintilian XII.10.12) despite a variety of negative statements from Cicero’s contemporaries.
In addition to diversity based on the orator, Quintilian finds distinctions between different regions. He starts with differences between Attic and Asiatic oratory (Quintilian XII.10.16).The Asiatic style is more expansive with less compact energy than the Attic style. That of Rhodes seems to be placed between the Attic and Asiatic style (Quintilian XII.10.18). Quintilian assesses them, concluding that “that of the Attics is by far the best” (Quintilian XII.10.20). Again, he summarizes the styles of a variety of different orators. Some of the stylistic differences Quintilian assigns to the differences between dialects. As we might expect, he sometimes prefers the Latin oratory because it doesn’t fall into the clumsy speech patterns he finds in Latin (Quintilian XII.10.28 ff). Then again, there are some sounds which are more pleasing in Greek (Quintilian XII.10.33). It is a “sweet” language, bearing a musicality which Quintilian thinks Latin orators should also find. However, he says that Latin oratory certainly has more weighty forms than those of the Greeks (Quintilian XII.10.36).
The style of oratory also differs to a greater or lesser degree from ordinary speech. While some might like to use plain speech, Quintilian thinks the orator should use special language in his arguments (Quintilian XII.10.43). While the speech does not want to be full of affectations, it sould be embellished appropriately. As to differences between speaking and writing, Quintilian does recognize that there are ornaments which work better in speaking. Speaking and writing do not need to be the same, as there are some types of arguments which are more effective in a written form (Quintilian XII.10.50). However, in Quintilian’s opinion, the orator should speak as he would write whenever possible (Quintilian XII.10.55).
Quintilian next discusses three different levels of eloquence. He finds that speeches can be divided among those which are “plain,” “grand,” and “florid” (Quintilian XII.10.5). Most narrative or proofs will be presented in a plain style. The middle works in a pleasing manner to gain memorability. The florid style is used to apply extra force to an argument and move adoption of an idea (Quintilian XII.10.59-61). A skillful orator will move among the different styles as needed, in a seamless manner. It is all on a continuum, so the different styles cannot necessarily be identified in a definitive and objective way (Quintilian XII.10.66). The wise and skillful orator will learn to find the right tone for each part of an argument, for each situation, and for each audience.