Friday is for rhetoric! How do you learn to speak? How do you learn to write? It’s all a kind of imitation. Quintilian asks where we can best learn to speak well. His answer? By reading well. Good reading, though, is not just what I would call “making words.” It has to do with timing, expression, and phrasing. Are you brave enough to read aloud? Quintilian thinks you should be.
Quintilian, and J.S. Watson. Institutes of Oratory. Edited by Lee Honeycutt, 2010. Kindle Electronic Edition. Book I Chapter 8
Quintilian has previously spoken about speaking and writing. Now he turns attention to reading. The rhetor learns about appropriate expression by good reading which will increase understanding. To this end, the quality of reading material matters. “Let his mode of reading, however, be, above all, manly, uniting gravity with a certain degree of sweetness. Let not his reading of the poets be like that of prose, for it is verse, and the poets say that they sing” (Quintilian I.8.2). A focus on morally excellent reading is also important, as especially young minds drink deeply of what they read (Ibid., I.8.4). The modern reader will observe that Quintilian’s assumption is always that of reading aloud, as was typical in antiquity. The student should start with Homer and Vergil, knowing they will be revisited again on more mature levels many times. He should then go on to the various poets, but especially the tragedians (Ibid., I.8.5-6). Comedy is suited for older boys: “when their morals are out of danger, it will be among the subjects to be chiefly read” (Ibid., I.8.7). Quintilian urges very careful analysis of poetry and meter, which is valuable in prose as well as poetry (Ibid., I.8.13). “But let the tutor, above all things, impress upon the minds of his pupils what merit there is in a just disposition of parts, and a becoming treatment of subjects; what is well suited to each character; what is to be commended in the thoughts, and what in the words; where diffuseness is appropriate, and where contraction” (Ibid., I.8.17).