Sketches of Various Authors: Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria

(10.1.73) Many have written history outstandingly, but no one doubts that two are to be placed far ahead of the rest; their diverse excellence has achieved almost equal praise. Thucydides is compact and brief and always urging himself on; Herodotos is sweet and clear and expansive. The first is better with excited emotions, the second with calm ones; the first with speeches, the second with conversations; the first at being forceful, the second at giving pleasure.

(76) There follows a large group of orators, in view of the fact that a single era brought forth ten at the same time in Athens. Of these Demosthenes was by far the first and was almost a law of speaking: there is such force in him, everything is so compact, so tautened with sinews, as it were, so absent is anything pointless–such a measured way of speaking that you could not find what is lacking in him or what is redundant.

(77) Aeschines is fuller and more diffuse and more like a grandiloquent orator since he is less constrained. Nonetheless, he has more flesh, less muscle. Hyperides is especially pleasant and pointed, but fit rather for lesser, not to say more paltry, cases.

(78) Lysias, preceding these in age, is simple and elegant and someone than whom, if it should be enough for an orator to instruct (his audience), you would not seek anything more perfect: there is nothing otiose, nothing recherche; he is closer, however, to a pure spring than a great river.

(79) Isokrates, polished and refined in a different type of speaking and more suited to the palaestra than to a (real) fight, pursued all the charms of speaking, and not wrongly: for he had prepared himself for lecture-halls, not courtrooms: he was adept at invention, mindful of the good, and in his composition so painstaking that his diligence is faulted.

. . . . .

(81) Of philosophers, from whom Marcus Tullius admits that he took the greatest part of his eloquence, who could doubt that Plato is outstanding, whether for his subtlety of argument or his divine, one might say, and Homeric gift of discourse? For he often rises above prose diction and that which the Greeks call pedestrian (“on foot, walking”) so that he seems to me to be driven not by the talent of a human being but by some Delphic oracle.

(82) Why should I recall that unaffected pleasantness of Xenophon–which, however, no artifice could achieve–so that the Graces themselves seem to have shaped his speech, and the testimony of old comedy about Pericles can be transferred most justly to him: that the goddess of persuasion, as it were, sat upon his lips.

Thucydides on Antiphon

(8.68.1-20) . . . The one, however, who organized the entire affair so that it came to this point and who took the most care over it was Antiphon, a man second to none of the Athenians of his time in virtue and best at taking thought (about affairs) and at speaking what he thought, not (however) coming forward to the people (to speak) nor willingly to any other contest, but viewed suspiciously by the mass because of a reputation for cleverness; able nonetheless most greatly as one individual to help those contending both in court and in the assembly, whoever consulted him on any point. And he himself, when later the faction of the four hundred was overthrown by the people and was badly treated, when he was accused on these very points, that he helped to establish (the tyranny), defended himself on a capital charge manifestly most ably of people up to my time.

Gorgias’ Distinctive Style

(Aristotle, Rhetoric 1404a24-29)

And since poets, although saying simple things, seemed to attain their reputation because of their style, for this reason poetic prose-style first came into being, for example that of Gorgias, and now, still, the majority of uneducated people think that people of this sort speak most beautifully. But this is not so; rather, the style of speech and of poetry is different.

(Diodorus Siculus 12.53.2-5)

And the ambassador-in-chief of the delegation was Gorgias the rhetor, who greatly excelled those of his own time in cleverness of speech. This one both first discovered artistic principles of rhetoric and so much excelled the rest in his teaching as to take one hundred minas as salary from his students. Then, arriving at Athens and brought before the people, he spoke to the Athenians about the alliance (with Leontinoi) and astounded the Athenians with the novelty of his style, since they were naive and fond of hearing speeches. For he first employed figures of speech both unusual and excelling in artfulness–antitheses and isokola and homoioteleuta and some other things of this sort, which then, on the one hand, were thought worthy of acceptance on account of the novelty of their contrivance, but now seem over-elaborate and appear laughable when they are used often and tiresomely. Finally, upon persuading the Athenians to enter into alliance with the people of Leontinoi, Gorgias, marveled at in Athens for his rhetorical art, made his way back to Leontinoi.

(Dionysios of Halikarnassos, Lysias 3)

And Gorgias the Leontinian makes this clear, since he makes his artistic expression in many places quite vulgar and pompous, and expresses some things ‘not far from dithyrambs’ [Plato, Phaidros 238d]–both he and, of his fellow-troupers, those associated with Likymnios and Polos. And poetic and figurative style took hold of the rhetors at Athens, as Timaios, on the one hand, says [frag. 95, FHG 1.216], because Gorgias started it when, as an ambassador to Athens, he astounded his audience with his declamation, but as the truth holds, because this sort of speech was always the subject of some wonderment even earlier. Thucydides, at any rate, the most marvelous of authors, both in the funeral oration and in the declamations, by using poetic artifice at many points transformed his style toward pompousness and, at the same time, a rather recherche choice of words.

(Dionysios of Halikarnassos, Demosthenes 5)

(Plato’s style) luxuriates inappropriately and childishly in poetic figures which bring the most extreme disgust and especially in the Gorgianic figures.

(Cicero, De Oratore 3.129)

. . . And he first of all dared, in a gathering of people, to ask on which subject each one wanted to hear (a speech); so great an honor was given him by Greece that to him alone of all at Delphi a statue not gilded but golden was erected.

(Plato, Symposion 198c1-5)

For in fact (Agathon’s) speech reminded me of Gorgias, so that I had exactly that feeling Homer describes [Odyssey 11.633-35]: I was afraid that at the end of his speech Agathon would send a “Gorgias’ head”, fearsome of speech, against my speech and turn me to stone myself with muteness.

Gorgias’ Audience: Thucydides 3.38.5-7

Kleon berates the Athenian ekklesia during the debate on Mytilene, a few months before Gorgias’ arrival at Athens in 427.

And when there is novelty of speech (you are) best at being deceived, but when there is tried and proven speech (you are best at) not wishing to follow along, since you are slaves of what on each occasion is unheard-of, and sneerers at what is familiar, and each of you wants personally to have the ability to speak, or if not, you contend with each other so as to seem not to lag behind in following in your mind the ones speaking thus and to applaud early when someone is saying something acutely, and you are eager to apprehend early what is being said and slow to recognize early the results which will come from it, and you are searching after something other, to put it thus, than the world in which we live while taking no sufficient thought about your present circumstances. Simply, you are overcome by the pleasure of hearing and resemble people sitting and watching sophists rather than deliberating about the city.

Dionysios of Halikarnassos on Lysias

(Lysias 2) He is entirely pure in his style and the best canon of Attic speech, not the archaic speech which Plato and Thucydides employ, but the speech prevalent at that time. . . . (3) . . . and he makes his subject matter seem dignified and out of the ordinary and great while using the commonest words and not resorting to poetic artifice. . . .

(4) I declare that the third excellence about the man is his clarity, not only that in his words but also in the matters which he treats. For there is also a certain clarity of subject matter not known to many. I make this judgment because in the diction of Thucydides and Demosthenes, who were most adept at expressing matters, many things are hard for us to divine and unclear and in need of interpreters. But Lysias’ diction is all lucid and clear even to one who seems to stand at a great remove from political speeches. . . .

(5) . . . Further, he is brief, as sufficing for a private citizen wanting to make matters clear, but as for a rhetor seeking to display an abundance of power, not sufficient. . . . (6) After these virtues I find in Lysias an excellence altogether marvelous, in which Theophrastos, on the one hand, says that Thrasymachos led the way, I, on the other hand, Lysias: . . . diction which condenses and expresses in closely rounded form his thoughts, very appropriate and indeed necessary for courtroom speeches and for every true contest. . . .

(7) And Lysias’ style also has vividness to a great extent. . . . (8) And I assign to him then also the most seemly excellence, called by many character-drawing. . . . And further, he puts his words together quite unassumingly and simply, since he sees that character comes not in the period and in rhythms but in the loose style. . . . (9) And I think that Lysias’ style has propriety no less than any of the ancient orators, the best and most complete excellence of them all, since I observe that his style is fully fitted both to the speaker and to the audience and to the matter at hand (for in these and in relation to these is propriety). . . .

(10) . . . There is no one who does not agree, learning from both first-hand experience and hearsay, that he is of all orators the most persuasive. . . . And I shall demonstrate one more excellence yet of the orator, judging it most beautiful, most powerful, and itself alone able to establish the character of Lysias more than the rest, in which no one of later orators excelled him, though many imitated it. . . . And what is this excellence? The charm blossoming equally over all his words, a thing greater than all speech and more wondrous. . . .

Opinions on Thucydides

(Dionysios of Halikarnassos, On Thucydides 24)

(1) . . . and at one time he makes a phrase out of a noun, at another he condenses a phrase into a noun; and now, on the one hand, he expresses a verbal idea nominally, again, on the other hand, he makes the noun a verb; and in addition he varies the uses of these very things (nouns), so that a proper noun, on the one hand, may become a common noun and a common noun, on the other, may be expressed as a proper noun; and (he makes) passive verbs active, and active ones passive; . . . And one can find not a few also of the theatrical figures of speech in him, I mean parisoses and antitheses, in which Gorgias of Leontinoi luxuriated and those associated with Polos and Likymnios and many others of those who flourished in his time. But his most manifest and characteristic traits are: attempting to express a very great number of things through a very small number of words, and merging many thoughts into one, and leaving the hearer still expecting that he will hear something more; because of which things his brevity becomes unclear.

To speak summarily, there are four instruments, as it were, of Thucydides’ style: the poetic quality of his vocabulary, the variety of his figures, the roughness of his composition, and the swiftness of his thoughts. And the hues of his style are its solidity and density, and its sharpness and austerity, and its weightiness and formidable intensity, but above all these things its emotive quality. Such a one, then, is Thucydides, as concerns the character of his style, in which he stands out from the rest. Whenever, then, on the one hand, his purpose and his power run the course together, complete and marvelous achievements take place; but whenever his power flags, and his vigor does not remain until the end, because of the swiftness of his exposition his style becomes unclear and brings some other unseemly faults.

(ibid. 51)

So then, to those who think that reading and understanding the language of Thucydides is the preserve only of the well-educated, I have this to say, that what is necessary and useful for all about the work (for nothing could be more necessary or more variously beneficial) they seek to remove from our common life, making it thus the property of a few men, just as in cities governed by oligarchies or tyrannies. For they are decidedly few in number who are such as to understand all of Thucydides’ writings, and not even these can understand some things without a grammatical commentary.

[I am indebted to the exemplary translation of W. K. Pritchett, with its full scholarly apparatus. Everyone interested in Dionysios should consult it.]

(Cicero, De Oratore 2.56)

And after (the time of) that one (Herodotos), Thucydides, in my opinion, easily vanquished all in artfulness of style; he so concentrates his copious material that he almost matches the number of his words with the number of his thoughts; in his words, further, he is so apposite and compressed that you do not know whether his matter is being illuminated by his diction or his words by his thoughts. . . .

(Cicero, Brutus 29-31)

What type of speaking flourished in those times can best be understood from the writings of Thucydides, who himself was alive then. They were grand in their words, tightly packed with thoughts, brief in their concision of expression and for this very reason sometimes rather obscure. But when it was realized how much power a studied and in a sense artificial diction possessed, then indeed many teachers of speaking suddenly appeared. Then Gorgias of Leontinoi, Thrasymachos of Chalkedon, Protagoras of Abdera, Prodikos of Keos, Hippias of Elis were in great honor. . . .

(Cicero, Brutus 287-288)

‘We are imitating Thucydides,’ he says. Fine, if you intend to write history, not to plead causes. For Thucydides was an honest and even grand narrator of historical events; but this contentious type of speaking, belonging to the forum and the law-courts, he did not take up. The speeches, however, which he interspersed–for there are many of them–these I am accustomed to praise. To imitate them neither would I be able if I wished, nor, perhaps, would I wish to if I were able.

Just as if someone should enjoy Falernian wine, but not so new that he wants a wine dating from the previous consuls nor yet so old that he seeks Opimius or Anicius as consul. ‘But these are the best labels.’ I agree; but excessive age neither has that sweetness which we seek nor it is really, by now, tolerable. ‘You don’t mean that whoever has this idea should think that he must draw his wine new from the cask?’ Not at all, but let him seek a certain age. Thus I would advise those people both to avoid that new manner of speaking, as it were still seething and fermenting in the vat, and not to seek that famous label of Thucydides, too old like that of Anicius. For Thucydides himself, if he had lived later, would have been much maturer and mellower.

(Cicero, Orator 30-32)

Lo and behold, some even proclaim that they are Thucydideans, some new and unheard-of type of unadept people. For those who follow Lysias follow some pleader of cases at least, not to be sure copious and magnificent, but subtle and elegant nonetheless and one who could take his place with distinction in cases argued in the forum. Thucydides, however, narrates historical events and wars and battles, weightily, yes, and properly, but nothing from him can be carried over to the practice of the forum and of public speaking. Those speeches themselves have so many obscure and recondite thoughts that they can hardly be understood, which is perhaps the greatest fault in political oratory.

Moreover, what so great perversity is there in men that, when grains have been discovered, they dine on acorns? Or has our diet been able to be improved by the beneficence of Athenian men, but not our speaking? Further, who ever of Greek rhetoricians took anything from Thucydides? ‘But he has been praised by all.’ I admit this–but praised as an intelligent, austere, dignified recounter of events, not such as to deal with cases in law-courts but such as to narrate wars in historical writings. Thus he has never been counted as an orator nor indeed, if he had not written history, would his name be extant, even though he had been especially honored (with public offices) and illustrious. In any case no one (of these Thucydideans) imitates the weightiness either of his words or of his thoughts, but instead, when they have spoken some broken and gaping words, which they could have done even without a teacher, they think they are genuine Thucydideses.

(Cicero, Orator 24)

. . . In Thucydides I miss only the rounding-off of his diction; the ornaments are manifest.

(A. W. Gomme, Historical Commentary on Thucydides, on 2.42.1)

He was doubtless much influenced by Gorgias, especially in his younger years; but the general effect is different. Gorgias is rich and flowing; the river of Thucydides’ eloquence is equally abundant, but is obstructed by rocks, and curious eddies are formed. Unlike the other he has something to say. Like the finest passage of all in this manner (iii. 82-83), it was not approved by Dionysios of Halikarnassos.

Dionysios of Halikarnassos on Plato

(Demosthenes 5)

But Plato’s language, in fact, wants, on the one hand, to be, even itself, a mixture of both the styles, the elevated and the plain, . . . But by its nature it is not equally felicitous as regards both styles. When, on the one hand, he pursues the plain and simple and un-artificial style, it is extraordinarily pleasant and appealing. For it is satisfyingly pure and transparent, like the clearest of streams, and precise and elegant beyond any other writing of those who have crafted the same style. It pursues commonness of vocabulary and aims for clarity, disdaining all unnecessary artifice. And the patina of antiquity quietly and stealthily comes over it and produces a flower fresh and thriving and full of bloom. And just as from the most fragrant meadows, a sweet breeze is borne from it. And it seems to display neither shrill babbling nor clever theatricality.

But whenever it takes an immoderate rush toward unusual expressions and prettified words–which it is accustomed to do often- -it falls far short of itself. For in fact it appears rather unpleasant and less properly Greek and somewhat bloated, and it dims what is clear and makes it like darkness and it draws the thought out a great distance, when it ought to round it off in a few words. And it flows forth into tasteless periphrases, showing off an empty profusion of words; and disdaining normal words and those used in their normal sense, it seeks invented and strange and archaistic ones. And it founders most as regards figurative language, abounding in epithets, untimely in metonymies, harsh and inexact in metaphors. And it produces many extended allegories which have neither measure nor appropriateness. And it luxuriates inappropriately and childishly in poetic figures which bring the most extreme disgust and especially in the Gorgianic figures. And there is a great deal of the charlatan about him in passages of this sort, as Demetrios of Phaleron has said somewhere and quite a few others before him. “For the tale is not my own.”

Opinions on Demosthenes

(Dionysios of Halikarnassos, Demosthenes 8)

Demosthenes, finding political speech in such a state (thus tending in various directions) and succeeding such great men, thought it right to be the emulator of no one man or style–he thought all of them were half-formed and incomplete–but gathering from them all everything that was best and most useful, he wove it all together and set about perfecting one diction out of many: magniloquent and simple, extraordinary and ordinary, novel and usual, elevated and straightforward, severe and festive, emotive and relaxed, pleasant and bitter, showing character and inspiring passion, differing not at all from Proteus, storied among the ancients. . . .

(ibid. 22)

When, on the one hand, I read one of Isokrates’ speeches, . . . I become morally serious in temper and I have a great tranquility of mind, like those listening to flute-playing in spondaic rhythm or Doric and harmonious melodies. But when I pick up one of Demosthenes’ speeches, I become possessed and I’m drawn this way and that, taking on one emotion in succession to another–doubting, struggling, fearing, sneering, hating, pitying, approving, angry, spiteful–taking on all the emotions, as many as naturally control the human mind. And I seem to myself no different from those celebrating the rites of the Great Mother and the korybantic rites and as many as are similar to these. . . .

(ibid. 33)

. . . dividing style, on the one hand, into the three most general types, the spare and the elevated and the one between these; demonstrating, on the other hand, that he succeeds most of all (more than the rest) in the three kinds. . . .

(ibid. 36)

Whence some, on the one hand, pursue the tranquil and weighty and austere and archaizing and dignified composition, one which avoids everything clever; others, on the other hand, pursue the smooth and clear-voiced and theatrical composition, which displays much that is clever and soft, that by which festive assemblies and the crowd collected together are charmed; others still, assembling from either diction the most useful elements, aimed for the mixed, middle way.

(ibid. 50)

[Distinctive features of Demosthenes’ composition (sunthesis) are harmony, good rhythm, and: . . . varying in every possible way and structuring with great variety his kola and his periods. . . .]

(Dionysios of Halikarnassos, On Thucydides 53)

But of orators Demosthenes alone, just as of the others, as many as had a reputation for composing something great and splendid in speeches, so also of Thucydides became an emulator in many respects and added (some excellent qualities) to his political speeches, taking them from him, qualities which neither Antiphon nor Lysias nor Isokrates, who stood first among orators of that time, possessed–I mean Thucydides’ swift and concentrated and forceful expressions and his harshness and compactness and that formidable quality which rouses passions.

But the recherche and unfamiliar and poetic quality of Thucydides’ diction he left aside, not considering it appropriate for real contests, nor did he approve Thucydides’ arrangement of figures straying far from the natural sequence and his apparent solecism, but rather Demosthenes stayed with customary vocabulary, adorning his style with changes and variety and by expressing no thought simply, without adornment. But the convoluted sentences, expressing a great deal in few words and completing the sense at a great distance and conveying the arguments in an unexpected way, he emulated, and he included them in his political and judicial speeches, less so in the private ones, more abundantly in the public contests.

(Cicero, Orator 234)

. . . (Demosthenes’) lightning-bolts would not fly with such force, if they were not borne along by the torsion of rhythm.

(Cicero, Brutus 289-291)

“Let us imitate Demosthenes then.” Good gods! What else, I ask, are we doing, or what else do we want? But we don’t achieve it. For of course, those Atticists of ours do achieve what they want! They don’t even realize this, that it it was not only traditionally so recalled but necessarily true, that when Demosthenes was about to speak, crowds from all of Greece gathered to hear him. But when those Atticists are speaking, they are deserted not only by the audience–which itself is a pitiful thing–but even by their supporters. Therefore if it is characteristic of Atticists to speak in a straitened and thin way, let them by all means be Attic. But let them come (only) into the comitium, let them address (only) a standing judge; the benches (full of spectators) demand a larger and fuller voice.

I want an orator to achieve this: when people hear that he is going to speak, places are taken on the benches, the tribunal is filled, scribes earn favor by giving or yielding a place; the circle of spectators is full of all sorts of people, the (presiding) judge is alert; when he who will speak rises, there are calls for silence from the spectators, then frequent sounds of assent, many of wonderment; laughter, when he wishes; when he wishes, tears; so that whoever should see this from a distance, even if he should not know what is going on, would understand nonetheless that it was pleasing the audience and that a Roscius was on the stage.

If anyone should achieve this, let it be known that he speaks in the Attic manner, as we hear about Perikles, about Hyperides, about Aeschines, indeed about Demosthenes himself most of all. If, however, they approve a pointed, sensible, and also pure and solid and dry style of speaking and do not make use of that weightier oratorical ornament and want this to belong to Atticists, they praise it correctly. For there is, in so great and so varied an art, a place even for this fine subtlety. Thus it will transpire that not all who speak in the Attic way speak well but that all who speak well speak Attic.

[Longinus], On the Sublime 16

Here, however, the topic of rhetorical figures also has its place. For in fact these things, if they are arranged in the proper way, as I said, would be no small part of grandeur. Nonetheless, since to go into everything in detail at present would require much labor–or rather, would be an endless task, we shall in fact recount a few of those things which help to achieve grandiloquence, in order to prove the present point. Demosthenes introduces a demonstration of (the correctness of) his political acts. What was the natural way to employ it? “You were not wrong who took up the struggle for the freedom of the Greeks, and you have precedents for this close to home. For neither were the men at Marathon wrong, nor those at Salamis, nor those at Plataia.”

But when, as if inspired suddenly by a god and, as it were, becoming possessed by Phoibos, he intoned the oath by the finest warriors of Greece (“It isn’t possible that you were wrong–no, not by the men who bore the brunt of danger at Marathon. . .”), manifestly, through the single figure of Oath, which I here term apostrophe, he both deifies his forebears, by presenting the idea that we must swear by those who thus died as by gods, and he lends to those sitting in judgment the high-minded pride of those who bore dangers on behalf of others in those places, and he transforms the nature of his demonstration into an overwhelming sublimity and emotional force which lends full credence to strange and mighty oaths, and at the same time he instills a healing and curative reasoning into the souls of his hearers so that, lifted up by the encomia, they may take pride no less in the battle against Philip than in the victories at Marathon and Salamis. By means of all these things Demosthenes, with his figurative expression, snatched up his audience and ran away with them.

And yet they say that the seed of the oath was found in Eupolis:

No, by my battle at Marathon,

not one of them will take pleasure in paining my heart!

(Frag. 90 Kock; cf. Euripides, Medea 395-98)

But it is not grand to swear by just anyone in any way, but (this depends on) where and how and in what circumstances and for what reason (one swears). But in Eupolis, on the one hand, there is nothing but an oath, and one directed at the Athenians when they were still fortunate and not in need of comforting, nor did the poet deify the men in his oath, in order that he might engender a proper reckoning of their virtue in his hearers, but from those who bore the danger he veered off to the inanimate: the battle. In Demosthenes, on the other hand, the oath is accomplished before a defeated audience, so as for Chaironeia no longer to seem a failure for the Athenians, and one and the same thing, as I said, is at once a demonstration that they were not wrong, an example, a proof, an encomium, and a moral exhortation.

And since (someone would probably have) replied to the orator, “You speak of a defeat in your political career, then you swear by victories?”–for this reason he measures everything in order and securely sets out facts and names, showing that even amid Bacchic revels one must be sober. He says, “the men who bore the brunt of danger at Marathon and the ones who fought sea-battles at Salamis and off Artemision and those who took their stand at Plataia.” Nowhere did he say “those who were victorious”, but everywhere he hid away the proper name of the outcome, since it was successful and opposite to the events at Chaironeia. For this reason he also immediately anticipates his hearer and carries him away: “all of whom the city buried publicly, Aischines, not the successful ones alone.”

Timokles (a 4th-c. B.C.E. poet of Middle Comedy), fragment 12, lines 4-7

Briareos [Demosthenes],

the one who eats catapults and spears,

a man who hates words and has never yet

uttered a single antithesis, but glares like Ares.

Demosthenes and Cicero Compared: Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 10.1.106

I judge most of their virtues similar: good judgment, (skill in) arrangement, sound technique in dividing (the parts of the speech}, preparing the way, and proving the case–everything, in sum, which belongs to invention. In their style of speaking there is a certain difference: Demosthenes is denser, Cicero more copious; D. bounds (his sentences) more tightly, C. more broadly; D. always fights with a sharp point, C. often also with weight; from D. nothing can be subtracted, to C. nothing can be added; of craft there is more in D., in C. more of nature.

([Longinus], On the Sublime 12.4-5)

In no other respect than this, it seems to me, dearest Terentianus (if, that is, it is permitted us too, as Greeks, to have an opinion), that Cicero differs from Demosthenes in grandiloquent passages. For Demosthenes mostly (is involved) in a rugged sublimity, Cicero in effusiveness. Our writer, because he burns and ravages everything, as it were, with force, and also with swiftness, strength, and formidable utterance, one could compare to a bolt of thunder or lightning. But Cicero, I think, like a wide-spreading fire ranges everywhere and rolls along, always with a strong and insistent burning, renewed now here, now there, and nurtured in relays within him. But this you Romans could better judge. The occasion for the Demosthenic and tensioned elevation is in forceful passages and displays of strong passion and where one must altogether astound the hearer; that for effusiveness, when one must flood him with words. For it is appropriate for commonplaces and perorations, for the most part, and digressions and all descriptive and epideictic passages, and historical and scientific writings, and not a few other classes (of writing).

Cicero on Asianic Style

(Brutus 325)

But if we are asking why Hortensius flourished in speaking more as a young man than as an older man, we shall find two reasons most true. First, that the Asiatic type of oratory was more suited to youth than to old age. There are, moreover, two types of Asiatic style: one clear and full of pointed thoughts, thoughts not so much weighty and severe as balanced and graceful. . . .

The other type, however, is not so much filled with thoughts as swift and agitated with words, the sort of style which is (spread) throughout Asia (Minor), characterized not only by a flowing river of speech but also by an ornate and sophisticated sort of vocabulary . . . In these (writers) there was an admirable flow of speaking, but an elaborate concinnity of sentences was absent.

(Orator 212-213)

Further, the period ends in rather many ways, of which Asia has especially followed one which is called the dichoreus, when the two final feet are chorei [i.e., trochees], that is consisting of single longs and shorts. (For one must explain, since the same feet are named with different words by different people.) In itself, the dichoreus is not wrong in clausulae, but in the rhythm of oratory nothing is so wrong as when it is always the same.

(Orator 230)

In others, moreover, and among the Asiatic school, who are most enslaved to rhythm, you can find certain empty words introduced as if to fill out rhythms. There are even those who, because of that fault which flowed especially from Hegesias, by breaking off and cutting short their cadences fall into a certain undignified style of speaking which most resembles little verses.


Comments on the Style and Career of Isokrates

(Plato, Phaidros 279a3-b3)

(Isokrates) seems to me to be better, as regards his nature, than to be compared with the speeches associated with Lysias and, what’s more, to be tempered with a nobler character. So that it would not be at all surprising, as his years go forward, if in the speeches themselves, to which he is now putting his hand, he should excel those who have ever yet taken up speeches more than (as if they were) children, and further if these things should not be sufficient for him, but some more divine impulse should lead him to greater things. For by nature, my friend, there is a certain love of wisdom in the man’s mind.

(Dionysios of Halikarnassos, Isokrates 2-3)

(2) And the style which he employs has this sort of character. It is pure, no less than that of Lysias, and uses no word carelessly and is meticulous to the highest degree with regard to the common and most customary language. For in fact this style has escaped the tastelessness of archaizing and peculiar words, but as regards figurative expression it differs a bit from that of Lysias and mixes in (such expression) moderately; and it possesses clarity similar to that of Lysias’ style, and vividness; and it is expressive of character and persuasive and {appropriate}. But it is not compactly rounded, like Lysias’ style, and closely joined and well adapted for judicial contests. Rather, it is flat and abundantly poured out, nor yet is it thus concise, but rather, it is both meagre and slower than the norm. . . .

Nor does it display the natural and simple and agonistic composition of words, as does that of Lysias, but a composition contrived rather for ceremonial and decorative dignity and in some places more magnificent than Lysias’ style, in others rather overwrought. For this man pursues fine diction everywhere and aims at speaking smoothly rather than simply. Isokrates avoids the placing together of vowels as ruining the joinings and the smoothness of the sounds, and he attempts to close his thoughts round in a period and a circle very rhythmical and not far distant from poetic meter, and he is more suitable for reading than for actual use.

For this reason his speeches bear recital as declamations at festivals and reading while held in the hand, but they do not stand up to contests in assemblies and law- courts. The reason for this is that the emotional element in those speeches must be great, but a period allows this least of all. And the paromoioses and parisoses and antitheses and all the trappings of figures of this sort are very prominent with him and often, by presenting themselves to our ears, mar the rest of his artistic effort.

(3) There being altogether three things, as Theophrastos says, from which arise what is grand and dignified and extraordinary in style, the choice of words and the harmony which comes from their joining and the figures which encompass them, Isokrates selects words very well and adopts the most accepted of them, but he joins them in a fussy way, stretching euphony into something musical, and he arranges them in figures vulgarly and for the most part he is frigid, either by reaching too far for his figures or because his figures are not appropriate for their subject since he does not keep control of proper measure.

These things, further, also often make his style prolix–I mean fitting all his thoughts into periods and circumscribing his periods with the same types of figures and seeking everywhere pleasant rhythm. For not all things admit either the same length or the same figure or the same rhythm, so that it is necessary for him to use fillers of words which serve no purpose and to lengthen his speech beyond what is beneficial.

I don’t mean that he does this all the time. (I’m not so insane. In fact he sometimes arranges his words simply and breaks up the period nobly and avoids banal and fussy rhetorical figures, especially in his symbouleutic and dikastic speeches.) Rather, in view of the fact that for the most part he is a slave to rhythm and to the circle of the period and seeks beauty of discourse in elaboration, I have stated a fairly common view about him. In this respect, indeed, I say that the style of Isokrates is inferior to that of Lysias, and also in charm. And yet Isokrates is florid, if anyone else is, and allures his listeners with pleasure, but he does not have the same grace as Lysias. He is as much inferior in this virtue as bodies bedecked with added ornaments are to bodies beautiful by nature. For Lysias’ style naturally has gracefulness; Isokrates’ strives for it. So then, in these virtues he is inferior to Lysias, in my opinion at least.

But he is superior in the following ones: he is more elevated than Lysias in his style and more grandiloquent by far and more dignified. For wondrous indeed and great is the elevation of Isokrates’ composition, fit for an heroic rather than an ordinary human nature. It seems to me, in fact, that one would not miss the mark if he compared the rhetoric of Isokrates to the art of Polykleitos and Pheidias in its augustness, artistic elaboration, and dignity, and that of Lysias to the art of Kalamis and Kallimachos for its subtlety and grace. For just as of the artists mentioned the one pair are more successful than the rest in lesser works on a human scale, while the other two are more adept at greater and more divine works, so also of (these) speakers the one is more clever on small topics, the other more remarkable on great ones, perhaps because he is actually by nature a great-spirited person, or if not, in any case because he pursues by choice what is august and awe-inspiring. So much, then, about Isokrates’ style.

(Dionysios of Halikarnassos, Demosthenes 4)

And he seeks in every way the period– and not a closely rounded and compact one, either, but one meandering and broad and eddying in many bends, as rivers do which don’t flow in a straight line.

(Dionysios of Halikarnassos, De Compositione Verborum 19)

And the best style of all is that which has the most opportunities for rest and changes in harmony, when this is expressed in a period, that not in a period, and this period is woven of more kola, that one of fewer, and of the kola themselves one is shorter, one longer, and one is more rough-hewn, another more precisely worked, and there are different rhythms at different times, and varied rhetorical figures, and various pitches of the voice (called prosodiai) beguiling boredom with their variety. Even something composed so as not to seem to be composed has some charm in such passages.

I do not think this section needs much discussion: I am sure everyone knows that in discourses the most pleasant and more beautiful thing is variety. As an example I offer all the writing of Herodotos, all of Plato, all of Demosthenes. For it is impossible to find others who have employed more additions and more timely variegations and more diverse figures. I speak of the first as (composing in) the mold of history, the second in the gracefulness of dialogues, the third in the exigencies of rhetorical combat.

But the (style of the) school of Isokrates and his associates was not like those styles. Rather, these men, although they composed many works pleasantly and grandiloquently, do not really succeed in variety and diversity: with them there is a single circuit of the period, a uniform arrangement of figures, an unchanging avoidance of the clash of vowels, and many other such things which interfere with hearing. I do not approve that school in this respect. In Isokrates himself, to be sure, there flourished many other graces which tend to hide this deformity, but in those who came after him, because their other successes were lesser, this fault is more apparent.

(Cicero, Orator 42)

Sokrates prophesizes these things about (Isokrates when he was) a young man, but Plato wrote them about (him when he was) older and indeed, though an attacker of all rhetoricians, this one alone he admires. Let those who do not have regard for Isokrates along with Sokrates and with Plato, allow me, too, to be in error. There is, then, a pleasant type of speech and loose and flowing, clever in (its expression of) ideas, resonant in its words, in that epideictic genre, which we said was peculiar to the sophists, more appropriate for a ceremony than for a contest, dedicated to gymnasia and to the palestra, spurned and banned from the forum. But because eloquence herself, brought up on the nutriments of this genre, later takes on (her proper) color and strength, it was not out of place to speak about the cradle, as it were, of an orator. But these things belong to schools and ceremony; let us rather come back to the battle-line and the fight.

(Cicero, Orator 207-209)

Therefore in the other genres, that is in history and in that which we call epideictic, it is acceptable for all things to be said in the Isokratean and Theopompean manner with that enclosure and rounded circuit, so that the speech runs as if enclosed in a circle, until it concludes in individual, complete, and separate sentences. Therefore, ever since this enclosure, or grasping round, or joining in a series, or circuit, if one may so speak, was born, no one who was of any account has written an oration of that type which is composed for enjoyment and remote from the law-courts and the contention of the forum, without reducing virtually all his sentences to strict order and measure.

For, since the hearer is one who does not fear that his trust is being assailed by the wiles of an artful speech, he even is grateful to the orator who serves the pleasure of his ears. This type of speaking, however, is neither to be adopted in its entirety for cases argued in the forum nor entirely rejected. For if you should use it always, it both brings satiety and its nature is recognized even by the inexperienced. Further, it takes away the toil of delivering the speech, it removes the human feeling of the hearer, it destroys completely veracity and persuasiveness.

(Cicero, Brutus 32-35)

Therefore, when those whom we mentioned a little while ago were old, Isokrates came to prominence, whose home was open as a school, so to speak, for all of Greece and a workshop of speech. He was a great orator and a perfect teacher, although he avoided the sunlight of the forum and nourished inside his walls that glory which no one, in my opinion at least, has since achieved. He both wrote a great deal himself and taught others, outstandingly; and just as he did other things better than those who preceded him, so he first understood that even in prose some order and rhythm ought to be observed, as long as you avoid making verse.

For before his time there was not a building-up, as it were, of words, and a rhythmical closure, or, if there ever was, it did not appear that this had been sought by deliberate effort. Which may perhaps be grounds for praise; in any case, at that time it happened more by nature and, sometimes, by chance, than either by any deliberate art or by observation. For nature herself bounds and encompasses a thought with a certain enclosure, and when the thought is bound together with well-fitted words, for the most part it also has a rhythmical cadence. For even the ears themselves judge what is complete, what lacking, and the grouping together of words is limited, as it were by a necessity, by the breath of the speaker, in which not only to fail, but even to have difficulty is shameful.

At that time lived Lysias, himself not indeed engaged in public cases, but an outstandingly simple and elegant writer, whom you might now almost dare to call a perfect orator. For you could easily call Demosthenes perfect, and one from whom nothing at all is lacking. In those pleadings which he wrote, nothing could have been cleverly contrived, nothing, if I may so speak, cunningly, nothing expertly, which he did not see; nothing could have been said subtly, nothing concisely, nothing tersely, by which anything of his could be made more polished; nothing grand, moreover, nothing passionate, nothing adorned with weight of words or thoughts, by which a single thing would be more elevated.

(Cicero, Orator 38-40)

In the Panathenaikos, moreover, Isokrates states that he has achieved these things by deliberate effort, for he had written not for a contest in the courts but for the pleasure of the ears. They say that Thrasymachos of Chalkedon and Gorgias of Leontinoi first employed these devices, then Theodoros of Byzantion and many others whom Sokrates in the Phaidros [266e] calls “artificers of speech”. Much of what they wrote is well pointed, but, like creatures just now coming to birth, some things are minute, resembling little verses, and excessively colorful. For this reason Herodotos and Thucydides are all the more admirable: although their age fell within the times of those whom I have named, they themselves, nevertheless, were very far removed from such niceties–or rather, gaucheries. For the one, without any harshness, flows like a gentle stream; the other is carried along more passionately and about affairs of war he even sounds, in a way, a signal of war. And by these men first, as Theophrastos says, history was roused to dare to speak more richly and more ornately than earlier writers did.

To the era of these men Isokrates was successor, who beyond the others of the same genre is always praised by us, while you, Brutus, sometimes mildly and learnedly demur. But you would perhaps concede my point, if you should learn what I praise in him. For, since Thrasymachos and Gorgias, although they are said first to have joined words with a certain art, seemed to him to be cut up by small cadences, and Theodoros, too, seemed rather abrupt and not, so to speak, sufficiently rounded, Isokrates first began the practice of extending his sentences with words and filling them out with softer rhythms. Since he taught in this technique those who, some in speaking, some in writing, became leaders, his home was considered a workshop of eloquence.

(Cicero, Orator 174-176)

For those who most admire Isokrates hold this up in their highest praises of him: that he first added rhythms to words not spoken in meter. For when he saw that orators were heard with asperity but poets with pleasure, then he is said to have pursued rhythms which we might use even in oratory, both for the sake of pleasantness and so that variety might relieve boredom. This is said by them truly to a certain extent but not entirely. For one must admit that no one in that genre was more knowledgeably expert than Isokrates, but the first to invent it was Thrasymachos, all of whose works are written with even an excessive rhythm. For, as I said a bit earlier, Gorgias first invented equal phrases joined with equals and ending in a similar way, and likewise opposites brought next to opposites, which by themselves, even if you should not intend this, mostly have a rhythmical cadence, but he used them rather immoderately. (This sort of thing, as was said before, is the second of the three parts of the arrangement of words.)

Each of these men precedes Isokrates in time, so that he bested them in moderation, not invention. For just as he is more calm in transferring and inventing words, so in his rhythms themselves he is more calm. Gorgias, however, has a greater appetite for this sort of thing and abuses rather arrogantly these festive trappings (for this is his own judgment), which Isokrates nonetheless, when he had heard Gorgias, now an old man, in Thessaly, tempered in a more moderate way.

What is more, Isokrates himself, as he advanced more and more in age–for he completed almost a hundred years–released himself from a too-rigid rule of rhythm, as he states in that volume which he wrote to Philip the Macedonian when he was already quite old, in which he says that he now is less a slave to rhythms than he had been accustomed to be. Thus he had corrected not only his predecessors but also himself.