Abstract: It is often asserted nowadays that the medieval period “fragmented” the classical rhetorical inheritance, while the Renaissance restored it to its former coherence. The story of the assimilation in the Middle Ages and Renaissance of Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory is examined here in order to demonstrate the problems inherent in such a position. It is argued that the full utilization of the text of Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory in the Renaissance, along with the discrediting of the Ad Herennium (as a work of Cicero) that is associated with the name of Raffaello Regio in the last decade of the fifteenth century, are not the instances of the “recovery” of antiquity and supersession of “medieval philology” that they are often thought to be. Instead the opposite seems to be the case. The philological “recovery” of Quintilian led away from the incorporation of the Institutes into contemporary rhetorical practice and towards philology for its own sake. This, together with the bitter professional jealousies among the Italian schoolmen of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, led, almost “accidentally” as it were, to a “sundering” of the “whole” that the Middle Ages had put together out of rhetorical fragments from antiquity. The medieval period, less concerned with philological niceties than with the practical utility of good advice from the past, constructed a new kind of rhetorical text from an amalgam of old texts: the Ad Herennium commentary, made up of the text of the Ad Herennium, explanations, summaries, and discussions from the medieval schoolroom, and portions of Boethius' De differentiis topicis, Quintilian's Institutes, and other classical sources. This serviceable “unity” the Renaissance “sundered” by (a) discrediting the Ad Herennium as an authoritative Ciceronian text, and (b) placing the Institutes far beyond the practical capabilities of contemporary rhetorical training courses by restoring it to its original length (vis-à-vis the abridgements and assimilations of the medieval period). In this process of turning the classical texts into icons, the Renaissance scholars were predictably unable to re-create the kaleidoscopic, one-thousand-year reality of rhetorical attitudes and texts in antiquity, from the fragments that the Middle Ages had used to build up their new form of integrated text. Much had been lost, but what had been gained?
- Copyright 1995, The International Society for the History of Rhetoric