Roman Eloquence: Rhetoric in Society and Literature

By William J. Dominik | Go to book overview

4

The style is the man: Seneca, Tacitus and Quintilian's canon

William J. Dominik

There was much controversy and debate among writers of the first century on matters of style (elocutio), namely the selection of individual words (dictio) and the generation of syntactic patterns (compositio verhorum). The writings of the period are replete with references to and discussions about the various forms, functions and styles of rhetoric and literature. The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian (c. 35-c. 96 CE) and the Dialogus de Oratoribus of Tacitus (c. 55-after c. 117 CE) constitute some of the most important passages on rhetorical and literary criticism of the early imperial period. Stylistically the comments of Quintilian and Tacitus are often pointed and memorable, none more so than Quintilian's polemic against the younger Seneca (c. 4 BCE-65 CE) in Institutio 10.1 and Marcus Aper's defence of postclassical rhetoric in the Dialogus. The stylistic contrast between Quintilian and Seneca, standard-bearers of neo-Ciceronianism and postclassicism respectively, and the debate between Aper and his scholastic opponents exemplify the aesthetic controversies of the age. While Seneca promoted and Aper defended a style of expression that in their view reflected the changed attitudes and circumstances of the early principate, Quintilian attempted to modify the prevailing imperial style.


1

The first chapter of Institutio 10 is significant for its evaluation of Greek and Latin authors according to genres (47-131). Quintilian's comments on specific writers and the various styles are made primarily from the standpoint of their appropriateness in the training of aspiring orators and in shaping their styles (cf. 10.1.44-5), but they are also literary judgements. Since Quintilian's discussion of Seneca's

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