The sententia, which I translate as “a concise expression of one’s sense of things,” plays an important role in Quintilian’s approach to the formation of an orator and to the forms public speech should take. Passages about sententiae, which appear across the Institutio Oratoria, show how Quintilian attempts to temper a generational frenzy for making clever quips: by reminding readers that sententiae also can be familiar lines of verse or prose circulating in culture and by advising readers that sentence-length variety increases an orator’s affective and communicative efficacy. Studying sententiae in Quintilian enriches our understanding of past and present attitudes toward what one might generally call being quotable. These days, quotable forms include sound bites and tweets, and some critics view those short forms as analogous to sententiae. Quintilian’s views on sententiae, therefore, not only prove applicable to on-going debates about the place of quotable forms in rhetorical pedagogy and practice but also might help channel those debates in more productive directions.
Quintilian on the Quotable
The author wishes to thank Marc van der Poel, Debra Hawhee, Curry Kennedy, the two anonymous reviewers, Damien Smith Pfister, Rosa Eberly, and the Penn State graduate students in her fall 2017 seminar on Quintilian.
Michele Kennerly; Quintilian on the Quotable. Rhetorica 1 May 2019; 37 (2): 120–145. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rh.2019.37.2.120
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