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Ancient History Sourcebook:
Quintilian:
The Ideal Education, c. 90 CE


[Thatcher Introduction]:

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a native of Spain. The date of his birth was about 35 A.D., of his death about 95 A.D. He began to plead causes in Spain, but after accompanying Galba to Rome where the latter was proclaimed emperor, took up pleading and the teaching of rhetoric there. To understand the position of oratory and of an instructor in it at Athens or Rome the reader must consider how little there was to learn then as compared with today. The ordinary education of a boy was supposed to include music, gymnastics, and geometry. Under music was included Greek and Latin literature, under geometry what little was known in science. The subjects for education above what might be called the grammar school were oratory and the philosophers. A Roman's fields for action were politics and war. He learned to command in the field, and usually won the right to command through politics. The open highway through politics was oratory, and hence oratory was considered practically the only subject worthy to be the end of a youth's education. So Quintilian won honors and wealth in his profession. He was highly rewarded by Vespasian and was later the instructor of the grand-nephews of Domitian. His last years were spent in preparing his work on the education of an orator, the "Institutes." We give below his ideas of the ideal Roman education preliminary to the education of the orator.

The Institutes.

Book I, 1: LET A FATHER, then, as soon as his son is born, conceive, first of all, the best possible hopes of him; for he will thus grow the more solicitous about his improvement from the very beginning; since it is a complaint without foundation that "to very few people is granted the faculty of comprehending what is imparted to them, and that most, through dullness of understanding, lose their labor and their time." For, on the contrary, you will find the greater number of men both ready in conceiving and quick in learning; since such quickness is natural to man; and as birds are born to fly, horses to run, and wild beasts to show fierceness, so to us peculiarly belong activity and sagacity of understanding; whence the origin of the mind is thought to be from heaven.

2. But dull and unteachable persons are no more produced in the course of nature than are persons marked by monstrosity and deformities; such are certainly but few. It will be a proof of this assertion, that, among boys, good promise is shown in the far greater number; and, if it passes off in the progress of time, it is manifest that it was not natural ability, but care, that was wanting.

3. But one surpasses another, you will say, in ability. I grant that this is true; but only so far as to accomplish more or less; whereas there is no one who has not gained something by study. Let him who is convinced of this truth, bestow, as soon as he becomes a parent, the most vigilant possible care on cherishing the hopes of a future orator.

4. Before all things, let the talk of the child's nurses not be ungrammatical. Chrysippus wished them, if possible, to be women of some knowledge; at any rate he would have the best, as far as circumstances would allow, chosen. To their morals, doubtless, attention is first to be paid; but let them also speak with propriety.

5. It is they that the child will hear first; it is their words that he will try to form by imitation. We are by nature most tenacious of what we have imbibed in our infant years; as the flavor, with which you scent vessels when new, remains in them; nor can the colors of wool, for which its plain whiteness has been exchanged, be effaced; and those very habits, which are of a more objectionable nature, adhere with the greater tenacity; for good ones are easily changed for the worse, but when will you change bad ones into good? Let the child not be accustomed, therefore, even while he is yet an infant, to phraseology which must be unlearned.

6. In parents I should wish that there should be as much learning as possible. Nor do I speak, indeed, merely of fathers; for we have heard that Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi (whose very learned writing in her letters has come down to posterity), contributed greatly to their eloquence; the daughter of Laelius is said to have exhibited her father's elegance in her conversation; and the oration of the daughter of Quintus Hortensius, delivered before the Triumviri, is read not merely as an honor to her sex.

7. Nor let those parents, who have not had the fortune to get learning themselves, bestow the less care on the instruction of their children, but let them, on this very account, be more solicitous as to other particulars. Of the boys, among whom he who is destined to this prospect is to be educated, the same may be said as concerning nurses.

8. Of paedagogi this further may be said, that they should either be men of acknowledged learning, which I should wish to be the first object, or that they should be conscious of their want of learning; for none are more pernicious than those who, having gone some little beyond the first elements, clothe themselves in a mistaken persuasion of their own knowledge; since they disdain to yield to those who are skilled in teaching, and, growing imperious, and sometimes fierce, in a certain right, as it were, of exercising their authority (with which that sort of men are generally puffed up), they teach only their own folly.

9. Nor is their misconduct less prejudicial to the manners of their pupils; for Leonides, the tutor of Alexander, as is related by Diogenes of Babylon, tinctured him with certain bad habits, which adhered to him, from his childish education, even when he was grown up and become the greatest of kings.

10. If I seem to my reader to require a great deal, let him consider that it is an orator that is to be educated; an arduous task, even when nothing is deficient for the formation of his character; and that more and more difficult labors yet remain; for there is need of constant study, the most excellent teachers, and a variety of mental exercises.

11. The best of rules, therefore, are to be laid down; and if any one shall refuse to observe them, the fault will lie, not in the method, but in the man. If, however, it should not be the good fortune of children to have such nurses as I should wish, let them at least have one attentive paedagogus, not unskilled in language, who, if anything is spoken incorrectly by the nurse in the presence of his pupil, may at once correct it, and not let it settle in his mind. But let it be understood that what I prescribed at first is the right course, and this only a remedy.

12. I prefer that a boy should begin with the Greek language, because he will acquire Latin, which is in general use, even though we tried to prevent him, and because, at the same time, he ought first to be instructed in Greek learning, from which ours is derived.

13. Yet I should not wish this rule to be so superstitiously observed that he should for a long time speak or learn only Greek, as is the custom with most people; for hence arise many faults of pronunciation, which is viciously adapted to foreign sounds, and also of language, in which when Greek idioms have become inherent by constant usage, they keep their place most pertinaciously even when we speak a different tongue.

14. The study of Latin ought therefore to follow at no long interval, and soon after to keep pace with the Greek; and thus it will happen, that, when we have begun to attend to both tongues with equal care, neither will impede the other.

15. Some have thought that boys, as long as they are under seven years of age, should not be set to learn, because that is the earliest age that can understand what is taught, and endure the labor of learning. Of which opinion a great many writers say that Hesiod was, at least such writers as lived before Aristophanes the grammarian, for he was the first to deny that the work Hypothekai, in which this opinion is found, was the work of that poet.

16. But other writers likewise, among whom is Erastothenes, have given the same advice. Those, however, advise better, who, like Chrysippus, think that no part of a child's life should be exempt from tuition; for Chrysippus, though he has allowed three years to the nurses, yet is of the opinion that the minds of children may be imbued with excellent instruction even by them.

17. And why should not that age be under the influence of learning, which is now confessedly subject to moral influence? I am not indeed ignorant that, during the whole time of which I am speaking, scarcely as much can be done as one year may afterwards accomplish, yet those who are of the opinion which I have mentioned, appear with regard to this part of life to have spared not so much the learners as the teachers.

18. What else, after they are able to speak, will children do better, for they must do something? Or why should we despise the gain, how little soever it be, previous to the age of seven years? For certainly, small as may be the proficiency which an earlier age exhibits, the child will yet learn something greater during the very year in which he would have been learning something less.

19. This advancement extended through each year, is a profit on the whole; and whatever is gained in infancy is an acquisition to youth. The same rule should be prescribed as to the following years, so that what every boy has to learn, he may not be too late in beginning to learn. Let us not then lose even the earliest period of life, and so much the less, as the elements of learning depend on the memory alone, which not only exists in children, but is at that time of life even most tenacious.

20. Yet I am not so unacquainted with differences of age, as to think that we should urge those of tender years severely, or exact a full complement of work from them; for it will be necessary, above all things, to take care lest the child should conceive a dislike to the application which he cannot yet love, and continue to dread the bitterness which he has once tasted, even beyond the years of infancy. Let his instruction be an amusement to him; let him be questioned and praised; and let him never feel pleased that he does not know a thing; and sometimes, if he is unwilling to learn, let another be taught before him, of whom he may be envious. Let him strive for victory now and then, and generally suppose that he gains it; and let his powers be called forth by rewards, such as that age prizes.

21. We are giving small instructions, while professing to educate an orator; but even studies have their infancy; and as the rearing of the very strongest bodies commenced with milk and the cradle, so he, who was to be the most eloquent of men, once uttered cries, tried to speak at first with a stuttering voice, and hesitated at the shapes of the letters. Nor, if it is impossible to learn a thing completely, is it therefore unnecessary to learn it at all.

22. If no one blames a father, who thinks that these matters are not to be neglected in regard to his son, why should he be blamed who communicates to the public what he would practice to advantage in his own house? And this is so much the more the case, as younger minds more easily take in small things; and as bodies cannot be formed to certain flexures of the limbs unless while they are tender, so even strength itself makes our minds likewise more unyielding to most things.

23. Would Philip, king of Macedon, have wished the first principles of learning to be communicated to his son Alexander by Aristotle, the greatest philosopher of that age, or would Aristotle have undertaken that office, if they had not both thought that the first rudiments of instruction are best treated by the most accomplished teacher, and have an influence on the whole course?

24. Let us suppose, then, that Alexander were committed to me, and laid in my lap, an infant worthy of so much solicitude (though every man thinks his own son worthy of similar solicitude), should I be ashamed, even in teaching him his very letters, to point out some compendious methods of instruction? For that at least, which I see practiced in regard to most children, by no means pleases me, namely, that they learn the names and order of the letters before they learn their shapes.

25. This method hinders their recognition of them, as, while they follow their memory that takes the lead, they do not fix their attention on the forms of the letters. This is the reason why teachers, even when they appear to have fixed them sufficiently in the minds of children, in the straight order in which they are usually first written, make them go over them again the contrary way, and confuse them by variously changing the arrangement, until their pupils know them by their shape, not by their place. It will be best for children, therefore, to be taught the appearances and names of the letters at once, as they are taught those of men.

26. But that which is hurtful with regard to letters, will be no impediment with regard to syllables. I do not disapprove, however, the practice, which is well known, of giving children, for the sake of stimulating them


Source:

From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391.

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg has modernized the text.


This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, June 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu