Quintilian, The Orator's Education

LCL 126: 468-469

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Sed huius quoque rei servetur mensura quaedam. Quamvis enim est omnis hyperbole ultra fidem, non tamen esse debet ultra modum, nec alia via magis in cacozelian itur.

74Piget referre plurima hinc orta vitia, cum praesertim minime sint ignota et obscura. Monere satis est mentiri hyperbolen, nec ita ut mendacio fallere velit. Quo magis intuendum est quo usque deceat extollere quod nobis non creditur. Pervenit haec res frequentissime ad risum: qui si captatus est, urbanitatis, sin aliter, stultitiae nomen adsequitur.

75Est autem in usu vulgo quoque et inter ineruditos et apud rusticos, videlicet quia natura est omnibus augendi res vel minuendi cupiditas insita nec quisquam vero contentus est: sed ignoscitur, quia non adfirmamus.

76Tum est hyperbole virtus cum res ipsa de qua loquendum est naturalem modum excessit: conceditur enim amplius dicere, quia dici quantum est non potest, meliusque ultra quam citra stat oratio. Sed de hoc satis, quia eundem locum plenius in eo libro quo causas corruptae eloquentiae reddebamus tractavimus.


Book 8.6

But even here, a certain sense of proportion is necessary. Though every Hyperbole surpasses belief, it must not be beyond all reason; there is no surer route to cacozelia.

I feel it distasteful to report the many faults arising from this Trope, especially as they are by no means unfamiliar or obscure. It is enough to remind the reader that Hyperbole is a liar, but does not lie to deceive. We must therefore consider all the more carefully how far it is appropriate to exaggerate a thing which is not believed. The attempt very often raises a laugh. If that is what was aimed at, it comes to be called wit; if not, folly.

It is in ordinary use, too, among the uneducated and with country people, no doubt because everybody has a natural desire to exaggerate or to minimize things, and no one is satisfied with the truth. It is pardoned, however, because we do not vouch for what we say.

Hyperbole only has positive value when the thing about which we have to speak transcends the ordinary limits of nature. We are then allowed to amplify, because the real size of the thing cannot be expressed, and it is better to go too far than not to go far enough. But enough of this, since I have handled the same topic more fully in the book in which I explained the causes of the decadence of eloquence.104

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.quintilian-orators_education.2002