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Seminar Latin: Quintilian, Institutio oratoria


Admission requirements

This course is open to MA and research MA students in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (specialization Classics). Admission requirements for other students: a BA degree in Classics obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Moreover, students with an international degree have to contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.


Is an orator allowed to use his eloquence to defend something which is morally entirely unacceptable or should he himself remain a person of integrity? Assuming he has integrity and wants to communicate nothing but the truth, is there any use in stirring up his audience’s emotions and embellishing what could be said even in a few words? Can an emotive performance be an essential contribution to the process of communicating knowledge? Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria is not only a handbook or compilation of rhetorical strategies; it is rather also concerned with the aesthetic and ethic dimensions of an orator’s duties and the question of how young people have to be educated in order to meet the requirements of becoming an “orator perfectus”. The treatise eventually proves to be a compelling and entertaining discussion of these questions. In the seminar we will read and discuss some of the passages which have turned out to be crucial for aesthetic theory up to the present day.

Course objectives

After the completion of this tutorial, a student has:

  • a basic knowledge of the history of rhetoric;

  • an overview over Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria;

  • an insight into crucial rhetorical terms and concepts (such as enárgeia, pathos etc.).


  • can find, select, and critically assess relevant secondary literature;

  • knows how to formulate an independent research question;

  • can construct a convincing argument on the basis of independent research (students are required to write an essay);

  • can present research results clearly and effectively both in oral and written form;

  • can give a critical response to research results (in oral form) and open a discussion (students are required to respond to one the essays).


Please consult the timetable on the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

  • Individual Supervision

  • Research

Assessment method

When taken for 10.0 EC:

  • Oral presentation (20 min.): 30%

  • Essay & response: 30%

  • Paper: 40%

When taken for 5.0 EC:

  • Oral presentation (20 min.): 50%

  • Essay & response: 50%


A reader will be available via Blackboard.

Reading list

Quintiliani Institutionis Oratoriae libri XII, 2 vols, ed. M. Winterbottom, Oxford 1970 (OCT)


Students are required to register for this course via usis, the course registration system of Leiden University. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.


Mw. Prof. Dr. A.B. Wessels