BMCR 2020.11.36

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, M. Fabi Quintiliani Institutionis oratoriae liber IX. Introduzione, testo, traduzione e commento

, , Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, M. Fabi Quintiliani Institutionis oratoriae liber IX. Introduzione, testo, traduzione e commento. Bibliotheca Weidmanniana, XVII. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 2019. Pp. 1132. ISBN 9783615004380 €196,00.


This two-volume set contains: a list of bibliographic references (“Riferimenti bibliografici”, pp. VII-XCVI); a short introduction dealing with the structure of Quintilian’s book IX (“I. Il libro IX”, pp. XCIX-CVIII) and its textual tradition (“II. Nota al testo”, pp. CIX-CXVIII); the text of the ninth book of the Institutio oratoria with a facing Italian translation (“Testo e traduzione”, pp. 1-163); a profuse commentary (“Commento”, pp. 167-959); and, finally, four indexes (“I. Indice dei passi citati o discussi da Quintiliano”, pp. 963-968; “II. Indice delle parole e delle espressioni latine”, pp. 969-986; “III. Indice delle parole e delle espressioni greche”, pp. 987-991; and “IV. Indice delle cose notevoli”, p. 992-1008).

In the first volume, readers will find the text of Quintilian’s book IX with a facing Italian translation: an editorial choice that, in my opinion, will be warmly received. The understanding of Quintilian’s text is enhanced not only by the fluent Italian translation–which, in itself, works as an initial hermeneutic tool–but also by the section on the book’s structure, where readers will find a highly useful synopsis.

The Latin text printed by Cavarzere and Cristante is based on Winterbottom’s edition,[1] revised in the light of Russell’s text.[2] The authors have neither collated Quintilian’s manuscripts, nor printed an apparatus criticus; accordingly, they refuse to refer to theirs as a “critical edition” (cf. p. CXI). Throughout the commentary they discuss the textual tradition and their editorial choices. I think these valuable textual discussions would have been better appreciated by readers if placed in the introductory section, where 178 passages are listed in which this text differs either from those of both Winterbottom and Russell, or from one of them (the former occurs more often and reveals the editorial work done by the authors).

With regard to the Italian translation, Cavarzere and Cristante have achieved a very difficult goal: to give a readable translation of a text bristling with all sort of technicalities. Thus, for instance, 9.1.11 altero, quo proprie schema dicitur, in sensu vel sermone aliqua a vulgari et simplici specie cum ratione mutatio, is elegantly translated (p. 6) as “nel secondo senso, che è il significato vero e proprio di schema, si intende una intenzionale deviazione, nel senso o nel linguaggio, dalla forma corrente e semplice”.[3] However, the general problems of translating a technical ancient text remain.

I will first raise a minor objection: the authors do not transliterate the Greek terms employed by Quintilian. and leave in Latin some expressions that they (almost always rightly) take as technical terms. Thus e.g., 9.2.31 sermones hominum adsimulatos dicere διαλόγους malunt, quod Latinorum quidam dixerunt sermocinationem is translated (p. 32): “i discorsi fittizi degli esseri umani preferiscono invece chiamarli διάλογοι, cosa che alcuni autori latini hanno denominato sermocinatio“, where they could have written diálogoi [‘dialogi’], cosa che alcuni autori latini hanno denominato sermocinatio [‘colloquio’]”.[4]

A related–and treacherous–problem when translating an ancient technical text consists in employing expressions which project into the past categories that belong to the present. For instance, at 9.1.26 (= Cic. de orat. 3.201) cum et coniunctionis levitatem et numerorum quam dixi rationem tenuerimus the authors translate (p. 12) “dopo che ci sono assicurati la levigatezza delle connessioni fonetiche e i principi ritmici che ho descritto”. Here, instead of “connesioni fonetiche” one may have expected “connesioni dei suoni” (vel simile quid). Similarly, at 9.2.6 they translate the words at ea res (that is, interrogari uel percontari) as (p. 22) “ma un tale atto linguistico”: here J. L. Austin’s notion of “speech act” will likely spring to the mind of the reader. At any rate, as already stated, those are problems present in every translation of an ancient technical text, and they hardly detract from the achievements of this splendid translation.

The commentary–as one expects–is mainly focused on explaining the rhetorical doctrine expounded by Quintilian, but it also stands out because it considers Quintilian’s language and style. With regard to the former, the authors have gathered a large number of parallels (from both Latin and Greek rhetoricians); they also quote and discuss the relevant bibliographic references. Indeed, this commentary excels not only in the sound judgement of its authors, but also in the extensive bibliography and loci similes cited and discussed.[5]

Finally, readers need to bear in mind that the commentary is focussed on explaining what Quintilian says, and not on elucidating the origin of the doctrines he expounds. Let us take, for instance, the doctrine of figures. The authors (p. CI) state that the introductory section of Book IX—dealing with the difference between tropes and figures, as well as the definition, classification and scope of the latter—probably derives from Caecilius of Calacte;[6] in turn, from some brief remarks in the commentary (p. 169), the reader learns that the distinction between τρόποι and σχήματα may have arisen between the second and the first centuries BC;[7] and also (p. 208) that the term σχήματα λόγου came from the Stoa, being therefore older than its equivalent σχήματα λέξεως, coined by the Peripatetics[8] Nothing is said, however, as far as I can see, about the origin of the distinction between σχήματα λόγου (or λέξεως) and σχήματα διανοίας.[9] The authors avoided dealing systematically with such diachronic questions, since those topics lie far beyond the scope of their commentary (that is, explaining Quintilian’s own system). However, a fuller treatment of those and similar topics–perhaps in the Introduzione–might have given the readers a better understanding of Quintilian’s own position within the rhetorical tradition.

I dare say that this work matches the high quality of other deservedly renowned commentaries on Quintilian’s, like that of Reinhardt and Winterbottom on the second book.[10] Indeed, from now onwards, every scholar dealing with one or another passage of Quintilian’s book IX—as well as future editors of this rhetorician—will turn to Cavarzere and Cristante’s work. Accordingly, one may say their commentary is conceived in usum e(ru)ditorum; however, less specialized readers may find the Italian translation very useful, along with the synopsis of book IX. Profs. Cavarzere and Cristante are to be congratulated for this extremely valuable contribution, a landmark in the field of rhetorical studies.


[1] M. Winterbottom (ed.), M. Fabii Quintiliani De institutione oratoria libri duodecim, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970 (2 vols.).

[2] D. A. Russell (ed., trans.), Quintilian. The Orator’s Education, vol. 5, Cambridge (Mass.)-London: Loeb Classical Library, 2001.

[3] Of course, some passages may be subject to debate. For instance, at 9.1.26 (= Cic. de orat. 3.201) in perpetua oratione, the authors translate (p. 12) “in un discorso strutturato”.  I think that here perpetua oratio means ‘continuous / uninterrupted speech’, that is, the type of discourse delivered by orators and some philosophers–as opposed to the ‘alternate / interrupted speech’ favored by dialecticians; cf. Cic. fin. 2.17. Similarly, at 9.2.6. Quid enim tam commune quam interrogare vel percontari? Nam utroque utimur indifferenter, quamquam alterum noscendi, alterum arguendi gratia videatur adhiberi, they translate (p. 22): “Che c’è di tanto comune quanto domandare ovvero interrogare? In effetti noi usiamo i due termini indifferentemente, anche se, a ben vedere, uno è deputato a ottenere un’informazione, l’altro a fare chiarezza”; however, it is clear that Quintilian is not dealing with “termini” (‘terms’), but with actions. At any rate, this lapsus is immediately corrected by the authors, since they go on translating as follows: “Ma un tale atto linguistico…” (at ea res…). We will discuss such translation later.

[4] In addition, there are a handful of passages in which non-technical terms are understood by the authors as technical. For instance, 9.2.27 quod idem dictum sit de oratione libera, quam Cornificius licentiam vocat, Graeci παρρησίαν is translated (p. 30): “Lo stesso dicasi dell’oratio libera, che Cornificio chiama licentia e i Greci παρρησία”. I doubt whether oratio libera can be taken here as a technical term for the naming of a figure. Such iunctura, as far as I know, only appears in Iul. Ruf. rhet. 33 46, 17 Halm παρρησία oratio libera, quam Cornificius licentiam vocat: however, Iulius Rufinianus depends on Quintilian, and it is clear that he has improperly technicalized what in his model appears as an expression taken from the common language.

[5] Of course, it is not possible to quote everything, and some omissions do occur. Thus, e.g.., on p. 501, when dealing with Caesar’s stance on the doctrine of linguistic analogy, a reference to Garcea’s monograph is missing (A. Garcea, Caesar’s De analogia, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[6] See p. CI in fine, where a single paragraph is devoted to this issue: “si tratta di temi che dovevano essere comuni a tutti i manuali περὶ σχημάτων, perché se ne trovano tracce anche in Aquila Romano e, soprattutto, nella succinta introduzione del tardo retore Febammone. All’origine della tradizione doveva stare quindi un modello autorevole, da indentificarsi probabilmente nel perduto trattato di Cecilio di Calatte”. The authors are apparently basing themselves on R. Granatelli, “Le definizioni di figura in Quintiliano Inst. IX 1.10-14 e il loro rapporto con la grammatica e le controversiae figuratae“, Rhetorica 12, 1994, 383-425, quoted on p. CI, n. 5.

[7] On this subject, the authors refer the reader to D. M. Shenkeveld, “Figures and tropes: A border-case between grammar and rhetoric”, in G. Ueding (ed.), Rhetorik zwischen den Wissenschaften, Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1991, 149–157 (156); G. Calboli, “From Aristotelian λέξις to elocutio”, Rhetorica 16, 1998, 47-80 (56); and J. Wisse, M. Winterbotton, E. Fantham, M. Tullius Cicero. De oratore libri III, vol. 5, Heidelberg: Winter Verlag, 2008 (177ff.).

[8] In order to sustain this view, the authors just quote K. Barwick, Probleme der stoischen Sprachlehre und Rhetorik, Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1957 (97ss); L. Holtz, Donat et la tradition de l’enseignement grammatical, Paris: CNRS, 1981 (183ff.); and L. Calboli Montefusco, Consulti Fortunatiani Ars rhetorica, Bologna: Patron, 1979 (25 and 454 ss.).

[9] In my opinion, however, the distinction between tropes and schemata has nothing to do with the Stoics. I firmly believe that such division took place in the Peripatos or, at least, in the Alexandrine grammar. Furthermore, I think that Schenkeveld (o.c., 156) is right when suggesting that “starting from the Gorgianic figures, rhetoricians developed a theory of figures of speech, and from the Aristotelian schemata tes lexeos a theory of figures of thought, in which they were helped by the distinctions Stoics had made in the field of autotele lekta“; in turn, Calboli stressed the importance of Theophrastus and his μετουσία for explaining the emergence of tropes from Aristotle’s metaphor: see G. Calboli, “The metaphor after Aristotle”, in D. C. Mirhady (ed.), Influences on peripatetic rhetoric. Essays in honor of William W. Fortenbaugh, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007, 123-150). Moreover, I think that the term σχήματα λόγου is more recent than σχήματα λέξεως; see R. Gutiérrez González, “Stoics on tropes and figures”, Journal of Latin Linguistics 15 (2016), 279–311.

[10] T. Reinhardt and M. Winterbottom (edd.), Quintilian. Institutio oratoria, Book II, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.