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The Ethics of Ambiguity in Quintilian

McNamara, Charles Joseph

In a list of twelve stylistic and grammatical errors of oratory, the fourth-century grammarian Donatus includes the fault of amphibolia, a transliteration of a Greek word that Donatus further
defines as an ambiguitas dictionis. This understanding of ambiguitas dictionis as a flaw in composition is unique neither to the texts of late antiquity nor to technical grammatical treatises, and one can find ample cautioning against it in pedagogical texts both before and after Donatus. In his first-century Institutio Oratoria, for instance, Quintilian similarly cautions against writing ambiguous language and encourages his students to compose lucid and straightforward Latin, particularly in regard to syntax.


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Quasi Labor Intus: Ambiguity in Latin Literature
Paideia Institute for Humanistic Study

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August 13, 2018