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CAS 505 - Historical Development of Rhetorical Theory

Dr. Michele Kennerly
223 Sparks

The Formation of the Orator in Imperial Times

He took care to repair, at the greatest of costs, the libraries that had been consumed by fire, seeking master copies of works from everywhere and anywhere.

He ordered the execution of dozens of senators. He arranged for the crucifixion of a historian and the historian’s scribe. He devised new methods of torture for the extraction of information.

That is how the historian Suetonius describes the emperor Domitian, a curious man of culture and cruelty. Domitian is the emperor who summoned Quintilian out of retirement to tutor his grandnephews and to hold the very first imperial chair in rhetoric. Responding to various pressures during this period, Quintilian composed Institutio Oratoria (The Formation of the Orator), a twelve-volume guide to a good orator’s development and comportment from infancy to gracious withdrawal from the places of public speaking. 

Course Objectives

Together, we will read the Institutio, understanding it to be:

  • a product of the context of its composition in the late first century CE;
  • an instruction manual aimed at the maintenance of uncorrupted eloquence;
  • an archive of the earliest rhetorical traditions, which Quintilian surveys and weighs;
  • a trove of both familiar and undertheorized rhetorical concepts.