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Parodic Pedants: Satire in Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria 1.6 and Varro’s De Lingua Latina 8–9

Curtis Dozier

The technical and antiquarian treatises of Varro have long been recognized as a major source for Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria (see especially Collart 1978), with particular debate focusing on whether Quintilian’s source on linguistic matters was the De Lingua Latina or the mostly lost De Sermone Latino (Cousin 2003, 20). This paper will argue that there is more than meets the eye in Quintilian’s relationship with his learned predecessor, beginning by pointing out that Quintilian’s often quoted judgment on Varro—that he was the vir Romanorum eruditissimus (Inst. 10.1.95)—refers first not to his scholarly output but to his satires (though the plurimi libri doctissimi do receive subsequent mention). Building on Kronenberg’s recent argument that Varro did not distinguish between his satiric and his didactic works  and that not only De Re Rustica but even the venerable De Lingua Latina contain satirical elements, I propose that Varro’s “intellectual legacy” in Quintilian consists not only of the source material Varro provided but in the satirical approach to systematic knowledge that he modeled for the Flavian   rhetorician. I will illustrate this influence by reading Quintilian’s discussion of the relative importance of analogy and usage (Inst. 1.6) in light of Kronenberg’s argument that Varro’s account of the debate  between analogists and anomalists is a satire of pedantic disputation such as is found in Cicero’s   dialogues (Kronenberg 2009, 85–87). Quintilian’s discussion is not only replete with similarities of  content to Varro’s (Grebe 2000) but also features many of the markers of satire that Kronenberg identifies both in the de Re Rustica and in the de Lingua Latina itself, including distortion of the positions of analogists and anomalists, a reliance on specious argumentation and hair-splitting, and a deflating and pat synthesis at the end. These prompted Kronenberg to identify satirical intent as a way of making sense of many of the interpretive and historical problems that plague the interpretation of Varro’s account (see for example Blank 2005), an approach which is fruitful for Quintilian’s similarly problematic treatment as well. The satirical dimension of Quintilian that emerges from this comparison is every bit as unrecognized and unexpected as that which Kronenberg found in the De Re Rustica and illustrates that Varro’s   influence on later scholars extended far beyond his encyclopedic research.

Session/Panel Title

The Intellectual Legacy of M. Terentius Varro: Varronian Influence on Roman Scholarship and Latin Literary Culture

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