November 6, 2005
“I Have No Predecessor to Guide My Steps”: Quintilian and The Roman Construction of Authorship
Logie, John. “‘I Have No Predecessor to Guide My Steps’: Quintilian and the Roman Construction of Authorship.” Rhetoric Review 22.4 (2003): 353-73.
Logie undertakes an analysis of Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria in order to examine the extent to which Quintilian should be considered to fulfill the modern criteria of authorship. Quintilian’s program of education is heavily based on memorization and imitation, and prominent critics (Kennedy, Butler, Barilli, Bizzell, and Herzberg) suggest that he was little more than a compiler and a Ciceronian. To suggest that we should even consider him a capital-a Author flies in the face of historical circumstance: Roman culture held that inspiration originated from the Muses or from the Gods, not from within an author or creator. Additionally, as Ong would suggest, Rome was a largely oral society which would not have yet recognized proprietary interest in written works. Logie’s position also refutes Woodmansee’s predominant theory, which holds that the modern construction of the author did not emerge until the 18th century.
In her seminal essay “The Genius and the Copyright: Economic and Legal Conditions of the Emergence of the Author,” Woodmansee identifies three elements of this construct: solitary, originary, and proprietary. Logie applies her framework to the Institutio, concluding that Quintilian does fulfill all of these criteria, most particularly in Book XII. He argues that Quintilian’s arrangement of information follows his program, “progressing from relatively passive consumption of exemplary texts, to competent imitation, building finally to the creation of original compositions” (359). Quintilian makes claims for the novelty of his project, saying that he will not tread in other’s tracks. While acknowledging that some never move beyond imitatio, he makes it clear that he demands more from himself and his students. He also maintains that he has moved beyond Cicero: “I have no predecessor to guide my steps and must press far, far on, as my theme may demand” (369).
Additionally, Logie points out that Quintilian makes a number of proprietary claims throughout the work. In the opening chapters, he notes that pirated editions of his work are on the market. He asserts his right to determine whether or not his work should be published and which editions should remain in circulation.
The article presents a compelling case for a Roman conception/construction of Authorship in the solitary, proprietary, and originary senses of the term. Most importantly for my project, it provides a useful indication that authorship constructs did in fact exist in antiquity, and that further study on the topic is merited.