Il Postino

Incipiamus igitur ab eo qui cum frequentissimus est tum longe pulcherrimus, translatione dico, quae μεταφορὰ Graece vocatur. quae quidem cum ita est ab ipsa nobis concessa natura ut indocti quoque ac non sentientes ea frequenter utantur, tum ita iucunda atque nitida ut in oratione quamlibet clara proprio tamen lumine eluceat. neque enim vulgaris esse neque humilis nec insuavis apte ac recte modo adscita potest. copiam quoque sermonis auget permutando aut mutuando quae non habet, quodque est difficillimum, praestat ne ulli rei nomen deesse videatur. transfertur ergo nomen aut verbum ex eo loco in quo proprium est in eum in quo aut proprium deest aut tralatum proprio melius est. id facimus aut quia necesse est aut quia significantius est aut, ut dixi, quia decentius. ubi nihil horum praestabit quod transferetur, improprium erit. necessitate rustici gemmam in vitibus (quid enim dicerent aliud?) et sitire segetes et fructus laborare; necessitate nos durum hominem aut asperum: non enim proprium erat quod daremus his affectibus nomen. iam incensum ira et inflammatum cupiditate et lapsum errore significandi gratia; nihil enim horum suis verbis quam his arcessitis magis proprium erit. illa ad ornatum, lumen orationis et generis claritatem et contionum procellas et eloquentiae fulmina, ut Cicero pro Milone Clodium fontem gloriae eius vocat et alio loco segetem ac materiem.
(Quintilian, Inst. Or. 8.6.4-7)

Let us begin, then, with the commonest and by far the most beautiful of tropes, namely, metaphor, the Greek term for our translatio. It is not merely so natural a turn of speech that it is often employed unconsciously or by uneducated persons, but it is in itself so attractive and elegant that however distinguished the language in which it is embedded it shines forth with a light that is all its own. For if it be correctly and appropriately applied, it is quite impossible for its effect to be commonplace, mean or unpleasing. It adds to the copiousness of language by the interchange of words and by borrowing, and finally succeeds in accomplishing the supremely difficult task of providing a name for everything. A noun or a verb is transferred from the place to which it properly belongs to another where there is either no literal term or the transferred is better than the literal. We do this either because it is necessary or to make our meaning clearer or, as I have already said, to produce a decorative effect. When it secures none of these results, our metaphor will be out of place. As an example of a necessary metaphor I may quote the following usages in vogue with peasants when they call a vinebud gemma, a gem (what other term is there which they could use?), or speak of the crops being thirsty or the fruit suffering. For the same reason we speak of a hard or rough man, there being no literal term for these temperaments. On the other hand, when we say that a man is kindled to anger or on fire with greed or that he has fallen into error, we do so to enhance our meaning. For none of these things can be more literally described in its own words than in those which we import from elsewhere. But it is a purely ornamental metaphor when we speak of brilliance of style, splendour of birth, tempestuous public assemblies, thunderbolts of eloquence, to which I may add the phrase employed by Cicero in his defence of Milo where he speaks of Clodius as the fountain, and in another place as the fertile field and material of his client’s glory(tr. Harold Edgeworth Butler)



De pueris inter quos educabitur ille huic spei destinatus, idem quod de nutricibus dictum sit. de paedagogis hoc amplius, ut aut sint eruditi plane, quam primam esse curam velim, aut se non esse eruditos sciant. nihil est peius iis, qui paulum aliquid ultra primas litteras progressi falsam sibi scientiae persuasionem induerunt. nam et cedere praecipiendi partibus indignantur et velut iure quodam potestatis, quo fere hoc hominum genus intumescit, imperiosi atque interim saevientes stultitiam suam perdocent.
(Quintilian, Inst. Or. 1.1.8)

As regards the boys in whose company our budding orator is to be brought up, I would repeat what I have said about nurses. As regards his paedagogi*, I would urge that they should have had a thorough education, or if they have not, that they should be aware of the fact. There are none worse than those, who as soon as they have progressed beyond a knowledge of the alphabet delude themselves into the belief that they are the possessors of real knowledge. For they disdain to stoop to the drudgery of teaching, and conceiving that they have acquired a certain title to authority—a frequent source of vanity in such persons—become imperious or even brutal in instilling a thorough dose of their own folly.

* There is no translation for paedagogus, the slave-tutor. “Tutor,” “guardian,” “governor,” and similar terms are all misleading. He had the general supervision of the boy, escorted him to school and elsewhere, and saw that lie did not get into mischief, but did not, as a rule, direct his studies.

(tr. Harold Edgeworth Butler, with his note)


In parentibus vero quam plurimum esse eruditionis optaverim, nec de patribus tantum loquor. nam Gracchorum eloquentiae multum contulisse accepimus Corneliam matrem, cuius doctissimus sermo in posteros quoque est epistulis traditus: et Laelia C. filia reddidisse in loquendo paternam elegantiam dicitur, et Hortensiae Q. filiae oratio apud triumviros habita legitur non tantum in sexus honorem. nec tamen ii, quibus discere ipsis non contigit, minorem curam docendi liberos habeant; sed sint propter hoc ipsum ad cetera magis diligentes.
(Quintilian, Inst. Or. 1.1.6-7)

As regards parents, I should like to see them as highly educated as possible, and I do not restrict this remark to fathers alone. We are told that the eloquence of the Gracchi owed much to their mother Cornelia, whose letters even to-day testify to the cultivation of her style. Laelia, the daughter of Gaius Laelius, is said to have reproduced the elegance of her father’s language in her own speech, while the oration delivered before the triumvirs by Hortensia, the daughter of Quintus Hortensius, is still read and not merely as a compliment to her sex. And even those who have not had the fortune to receive a good education should not for that reason devote less care to their son’s education; but should on the contrary show all the greater diligence in other matters where they can be of service to their children. (tr. Harold Edgeworth Butler)



Cultus non est proprius oratoris aliquis sed magis in oratore conspicitur. quare sit, ut in omnibus honestis debet esse, splendidus et virilis. nam et toga et calceus et capillus tam nimia cura quam negligentia sunt reprehendenda. est aliquid in amictu, quod ipsum aliquatenus temporum condicione mutatum est. nam veteribus nulli sinus, perquam breves post illos fuerunt. Itaque etiam gestu necesse est usos esse in principiis eos alio, quorum brachium, sicut Graecorum, veste continebatur. (Quintilian, Inst. Or. 11.3.137-138)

With regard to dress, there is no special garb peculiar to the orator, but his dress comes more under the public eye than that of other men. It should, therefore, be distinguished as manly, as, indeed, it ought to be with all men of position. For excessive care with regard to the cut of the toga, the style of the shoes, or the arrangement of the hair, is just as reprehensible as excessive carelessness. There are also details of dress which are altered to some extent by successive changes in fashion. The ancients, for example, wore no folds, and their successors wore them very short. Consequently it follows that in view of the fact that their arms were, like those of the Greeks, covered by the garment, they must have employed a different form of gesture in the exordium from that which is now in use. (tr. Harold Edgeworth Butler)


Neque ea solum quae talibus disciplinis continentur, sed magis etiam, quae sunt tradita antiquitus dicta ac facta praeclare, et nosse et animo semper agitare conveniet. quae profecto nusquam plura maioraque quam in nostrae civitatis monumentis reperientur. an fortitudinem, iustitiam, fidem, continentiam, frugalitatem, contemptum doloris ac mortis melius alii docebunt quam Fabricii, Curii, Reguli, Decii, Mucii aliique innumerabiles? quantum enim Graeci praeceptis valent, tantum Romani, quod est maius, exemplis.
(Quintilian, Inst. Or. 12.2.29-30)

But it is desirable that we should not restrict our study to the precepts of philosophy alone. It is still more important that we should know and ponder continually all the noblest sayings and deeds that have been handed down to us from ancient times. And assuredly we shall nowhere find a larger or more remarkable store of these than in the records of our own country. Who will teach courage, justice, loyalty, self-control, simplicity, and contempt of grief and pain better than men like Fabricius, Curius, Regulus, Decius, Mucius and countless others? For if the Greeks bear away the palm for moral precepts, Rome can produce more striking examples of moral performance, which is a far greater thing. (tr. Harold Edgewort Butler)


Ante omnia futurus orator, cui in maxima celebritate et in media rei publicae luce vivendum est, adsuescat iam a tenero non reformidare homines neque illa solitaria et velut umbratica vita pallescere. excitanda mens et attollenda semper est, quae in eius modi secretis aut languescit et quendam velut in opaco situm ducit, aut contra tumescit inani persuasione: necesse est enim nimium tribuat sibi, qui se nemini comparat.
(Quintilian, Inst. Or. 1.2.18)

It is above all things necessary that our future orator, who will have to live in the utmost publicity and in the broad daylight of public life, should become accustomed from his childhood to move in society without fear and habituated to a life far removed from that of the pale student, the solitary and recluse. His mind requires constant stimulus and excitement, whereas retirement such as has just been mentioned induces languor and the mind becomes mildewed like things that are left in the dark, or else flies to the opposite extreme and becomes puffed up with empty conceit; for he who has no standard of comparison by which to judge his own powers will necessarily rate them too high. (tr. H.E. Butler)