Thursday, June 30, 2016

Quintilian, Transcriptions, Publication, and Mark's Gospel

Mark writing the Gospel, London Rothschild Hours

Quintilian, a famous orator from the later part of the first century CE (see previous post), wrote his most famous work "Institutes of Oratory" in response to requests made by his students. Apparently, his students and followers wished for Quintilian to put down his vast knowledge and experience in teaching and practicing the art of rhetoric into a more permanent written form (Pref. 1-3). He dedicated the work to Marcellus Victorius because of his "extraordinary love of letters" and because, Quintilian wrote, "my treatise seemed likely to be of use for the instruction of your son" (Pref. 6). 
It seems, however, that portions of Quintilian's teaching on rhetoric was already circulating in written form. He wrote that, 
"This I rather designed, because two books on 'The Art of Rhetoric' were already in circulation under my name, though neither published by me nor composed for that object, for after holding two days' discourse with me, some youths, to whom that time was devoted, had caught up the first by heart; the other, which was learned indeed in a greater number of days (as far as they could learn by taking notes), some of my young pupils, of excellent disposition, but of too great fondness for me, had made known through the indiscreet honor of publication. In these books, accordingly, there will be some things the same, many altered, very many added, but all better arranged, and rendered, as far as I shall be able, complete." (Pref. 7-8)
It is clear that this work, "The Art of Rhetoric," contained transcriptions of Quintilian's lectures, but was not written by Quintilian himself, and was done without his knowlege. Though this writing was attributed to Quintilian, he did not regard it as a sanctioned work, fully polished and complete, worthy of circulation. He contrasted this poorly written transcription with his "Institutes," which was designed to teach "from the very cradle as it were of oratory, through all the studies which can at all assist the future speaker to the summit of that art" (Pref. 6). It was Quintilian's desire that this new, carefully crafted work would supplant the inferior transcription in circulation, for he told Victorius that the material in the "Institutes" was "better arranged, and rendered, as far as I shall be able, complete" (Pref. 8).

Quintilian's account of the transcription of his lectures being published, brings to mind Papias's account (ca. 100 CE) of the circumstances surrounding the composition of Mark's Gospel.
"And the Elder used to say this: 'Mark, having become Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving an ordered account of the Lord's sayings. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not omit anything which he heard or to make any false statement in them." (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39; Holmes, 569)
According to Papias, Mark copied down the teaching of Peter, arranged the material into a written document that contained everything that Peter taught. An interesting difference between Quintilian and Mark is that, in Quintilian's case, the transcriptions were circulated under his name, whereas, Mark's Gospel, as far as we know, was never circulated under Peter's name. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Mark was more instrumental in "composing" material while keeping it faithful to Peter's teaching. Also, Quintilian does not seem to be too pleased that this writing is circulating under his name and would rather have something more polished and complete attributed to him.

Holmes, Michael W., ed. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Quintilian. 2006. Institutes of Oratory. Ed. Lee Honeycutt. Trans. John Selby Watson. (accessed June 30, 2016).


  1. Timothy, thanks for sharing this thought-provoking parallel (only got to it today)! Definitely something to consider as my dissertation will be on Mark.


  2. You are welcome Peter. There are many similar nuggets in Quintilian!