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Chapter 1 serves as a prelude, exemplifying argument and method with two brief tableaux. Epistles 1.6 is Pliny’s first letter to Tacitus, and his first self-portrait as leisured man of study, writing in the woods of his Umbrian estate. Epistles 9.36 is a late, intimate account of Pliny’s daily routine at the same villa. Each letter engages closely with Institutio 10.3, Quintilian’s chapter on how to write. Quintilian rejects dictation, recommends solitude and dismisses claims that the countryside is the best place for composition. With a ‘divided imitation’, Pliny offers an intricate and subtle reply on all three points, so inscribing the Institutio into two cardinal letters which cut to the heart of the Epistles as autobiography and as minutely crafted text.
Chapter 3 begins an inductive argument for establishing Quintilian’s presence in the Epistles and establishes a method for reading it. It considers ten brief liaisons in which Pliny culls an epigram, metaphor or other distinctive detail from the Institutio. I argue that these similarities show imitation, not accident, and situate them within an imitative culture where declaimers, poets and prose writers routinely borrowed and improved on each others’ sententiae. These encounters are routinely self-conscious, but not necessarily (I argue) systematic or invested in allusively taking position against Quintilian: their function is also, and importantly, aesthetic. Lexical signatures play a part, but a much more discreet one than usually supposed – suggesting that we might all do well to spend less time with concordances and word searches and more time reading for the idea.
Lupercus is addressed twice in Pliny’s collection, receiving two very different pieces of Quintilianic imitation. Epistles 9.26 is a partner-letter to Epistles 1.20 (subject of Chapter 6), arguing for audacity in oratory. It opens with another window imitation (Institutio 2 and De oratore), and proceeds – I suggest – to some especially free imitatio of Institutio 12.10, completing in quite different fashion the work begun in Epistles 1.20. Epistles 2.5 is a partner to Epistles 7.9 (subject of Chapter 8), and behaves differently again. A relatively short letter, it features dense, eclectic and wide-ranging imitation of the Institutio. More than that: with two more window imitations (Cicero and Seneca the Elder), I argue, the letter miniaturises Quintilian’s first book and styles itself as a belated proem to Pliny’s collection.
This chapter reads the cycle of letters to Quadratus and Fuscus of which Epistles 7.9 (Chapter 8) forms the keystone. Epistles 6.11 introduces these two young men as the bright future of Roman oratory, with a fanfare constructed from Quintilian (Institutio 10) and Tacitus’ Aper (Dialogus). Epistles 6.29 is the partner to Epistles 7.9, matching but varying its imitation of Quintilian and Cicero, as Pliny continues playing praeceptor in surprising and arch ways. Epistles 9.36 and 9.40, describing his villa routine to Fuscus, constitute the twin sphragis of the collection. These deceptively simple letters take us to the core of Pliny’s self-styling as man and author, perofmed with pregnant imitations which confirm Quintilian’s very special, and very personal, role in the Epistles.
Epistles 1.20 is an unorthodox plea for length in court speeches. It is also one of the two salient peaks of ‘Quintilian in Brief’, a whole letter modelled, selectively and unpredictably, on Quintilian’s chapter on style (Institutio 12.10). This chapter reads it in detail, for argument and for intertexture, and shows that it is an imitative tableau of unusual complexity, focused on Institutio 12.10 but ranging widely across Quintilian’s work and looking through ‘windows’ to Cicero’s Brutus and Orator. The letter – addressed to Tacitus – also engages obliquely but closely with his Dialogus de oratoribus; Pliny’s anonymous interlocutor, I suggest, is a version of Tacitus’ Aper. A postscript on Epistles 1.21 reads this short note about buying slaves as a wry miniaturisation of Institutio 11, and sharp intertextual annotation of Epistles 1.20 and its virtuosic imitatio.
This last long chapter sharpens the profile of ‘Quintilian in Brief’, and widens the gaze, through syncrisis. I first compare Quintilian’s place in Epistles 1–9 with that in ‘Epistles 10’ (non-existent) and the Panegyricus (limited), and draw some inferences about the different nature, composition and audience of Pliny’s three works. The chapter then devotes itself to Pliny’s contemporary Tacitus. I consider briefly how the Annals imitates the Epistles (and note that Juvenal does too). The focus here, though, is on his Dialogus, both as another punctilious response to the Institutio and as an important ingredient of Pliny’s collection. I propose that the Dialogus antedates the Epistles; show that Pliny imitates it frequently, complicatedly and wittily; and argue that the whole Tacitus cycle is bound into a specifically Quintilianic project. The chapter includes close readings of the Dialogus, Annals 4.32, 4.61 and 15.67 and Epistles 3.20, 4.11, 4.25, 6.21, 7.20, 9.2, 9.10, 9.23 and 9.27; it ends where Chapter 1 began, in Epistles 1.6.
Chapter 5 addresses four more substantial liaisons, all involving ‘window imitation’. Epistles 5.8 (on writing history) works closely with Institutio 10.1, and reaches through it to Thucydides’ preface. Epistles 3.13 (on the style of the Panegyricus) combines Quintilian’s attack on ‘naturalists’ (Institutio 2.11–12) with his remarks on style (Institutio 8.3) and his own point of reference in Cicero’s De oratore. Epistles 4.7 attacks Regulus as immoral orator with help from Institutio 12.5 and its model passage in De oratore. Finally and most curiously, Epistles 2.14 (attacking degenerate advocates and audiences) combines Quintilian on ‘sing-song’ performance (Institutio 11.3) with other passages from the Institutio and Cicero’s Orator in an abstruse display of wit.
Chapter 10 pursues Pliny’s project of Quintilianic ethopoeia further, showing how – against all expectations – the most intimate passages of the Institutio are integrated into his collection. We begin with Quintilian’s two ‘inner prefaces’, on his imperial appointment (Institutio 4.pr.) and the deaths of his wife and sons (Institutio 6.pr.): Pliny reworks the first in Epistles 2.9 (senatorial electioneering) and 8.4 (Rufus’ epic Dacian war), the second in Epistles 5.16 (laments for Minicia Marcella) – two remarkable transformations which also raise macrostructural questions about Pliny’s grand designs. The rest of the chapter is devoted to another touching moment, Quintilian’s closing reflections on the orator’s retirement (Institutio 12.11). A divided imitation across Epistles 3.1 and 9.3 – by way of an excursus on Pliny the Elder in Epistles 3.5 – takes us deep into the textualisation of life, death and posterity.
Epistles 7.9 is an acme of ‘Quintilian in Brief’. Advising young Fuscus how to study during his summer vacation, Pliny rewrites Quintilian’s advice on written exercises (Institutio 10.5), offering a firm riposte to his views on poetry in a virtuosic leçon par l’exemple of textual imitatio. Besides drawing eclectically on Institutio 10 and 11, the letter reaches through windows to Cicero’s De oratore and Pro Archia, pursues Quintilian’s imitations of Seneca the Elder and – in a paroxysm of self-referentiality – appropriates Tacitus’ Dialogus to describe Pliny’s own prose style. An excursus on Epistles 4.14 shows that Quintilian is inscribed into Pliny’s ‘poetry’ letters from the beginning – and that Catullus is far more present in these pages than has been supposed.
This chapter introduces our two protagonists, their works, and ancient imitatio. It first brings together Quintilian and Pliny as individuals: their lives, careers and personal acquaintance. Pliny twice names Quintilian as his former teacher, but elsewhere implicates him in criticisms of Domitian, in a fine blend of professed allegiance and implicit distancing. Comparison of their views, outlooks and modes of writing suggests similarly nuanced dialectic. I next introduce the Institutio oratoria and suggest that it was more widely read in Pliny’s day than usually supposed. ‘A tale of two Plinies’ takes position in the critical war over the Epistles between ‘intertextualists’ and ‘epistoliteralists’ and shows that the Epistles is far more imitative than either side have supposed, encompassing a wide range of verse (including Callimachus, Terence and Lucretius) and prose (including Herodotus, Sallust and Valerius Maximus). The final section (‘Imitatio on and off the page’) discusses Pasquali, allusion and my preferred term, ‘imitation’; I then situate intertextuality in the broader cultural phenomenon of imitatio, and argue (with a reading of Epistles 1.2) that ancient stylistic and textual imitation was inherently personal and ethical – above all for Pliny.
This short chapter first reviews the argument of the book, then goes back to beginnings. The Institutio opens with strong generic positioning, situating Quintilian’s project against Cicero’s Orator and Sallust’s Jugurtha. Pliny’s cover note (Epistles 1.1) operates more discreetly, but reveals itself, through precise reworking of Quintilian’s cover note to Trypho, as an infrared invitation to read this collection of letters as ‘Quintilian in Brief’. Further traces of Quintilian’s first and last prefaces (Institutio 1.pr. and 12.pr.) in Epistles 1.2 and 9.1-2 offer final, open-ended confirmation that the Insitutio is hard-wired into the Epistles from start to end: Latin prose imitation, in Pliny’s hands, is a very fine art.