Introductory Note

Here are extensive excerpts from the treatise of Demetrios On Style (Peri Hermeneias), translated by Hardy Hansen. There are links, via the Perseus Project, to many of the Greek texts quoted. Note that the text quoted by Demetrios often differs somewhat from that established by modern editors.

Demetrios (? second/first c. B.C.E.) was apparently the first surviving critic to know Aristotle’s Rhetoric, and his essay On Style seems to be the earliest surviving work to deal exclusively with this topic. See, e.g., George Kennedy, A New History of Classical Rhetoric, pp. 88-90. For the identification and dating of Demetrios see the detailed essay of P. Chiron in the introduction to his edition, pp. xiii-xl. Chiron identifies him as the Demetrios of Syria (born c. 140 B.C.E.) with whom Cicero studied during his sojourn in Athens in 80. See the bibliography for full references, including editions and translations of Demetrios.

Demetrios develops Aristotle’s analysis of periodic structure by distinguishing three types of periods: historical, rhetorical, and philosophical. Likewise, he elaborates on earlier critics by distinguishing four styles (kharakteres): iskhnos (“spare”, “thin”), glaphuros (“smooth”, “polished”), megaloprepes (“grand”), and deinos (“forceful”, “formidable”). Authors (in poetry as well as prose) write in a mixture of styles, except that the two extremes are not mixed; Lysias is predominantly plain, Thucydides predominantly grand. Demetrios also treats rhetorical figures more fully than Aristotle had done. The extensive selections from Demetrios below focus on periodic sentence structure.


(1) Just as poetry is divided by meters (such as hemistichs, hexameters, or the rest), so also do the so-called kola (“limbs”) divide and mark off prose, as if relieving the speaker and the spoken words themselves and dividing the discourse at many points, since, mark you, it would otherwise be lengthy and boundless and would choke off the speaker.

(2) These kola, however, aim at articulating a thought, sometimes an entire thought, for example, as Hekataios says in the beginning of his history: “Hekataios of Miletos tells his story thus.” By the whole kolon a thought has been comprehended whole, and they both conclude together. Sometimes, however, the kolon does not complete a whole thought, but is a part of the whole, while being in itself complete. For just as, although the arm is a whole thing, there are parts of it which, as wholes, are parts of the whole arm, such as fingers or forearm (for each of these parts has its own overall shape and, in turn, its own parts), so also, when a whole thought is large, there can be included in it certain parts which themselves also are complete.

(3) For example, in the beginning of Xenophon’s Anabasis. . . [“Of Dareios and Parysatis were born two children, the older, on the one hand, Artaxerxes, the younger, on the other hand, Kyros”] the whole comprises a completed thought. But the two kola in it are both parts of it, and in each a thought is completed, having its own conclusion, for example: “Of Dareios and Parysatis were born [two] children.” This thought has a certain completeness in itself, that children were born to Dareios and Parysatis. And likewise the other kolon: “the older, on the one hand, (was) Artaxerxes, the younger, on the other hand, (was) Kyros.” Thus the kolon, as I say, will in any case contain some thought, either a complete one or a part, itself complete, of a complete thought.

(4) But one must neither make the kola very long, since, mark you, the composition becomes unmeasured or hard to follow. Not even poetry goes beyond a hexameter except, perhaps, in a few cases, for it is laughable for poetic “measure” to be unmeasured and for us to forget, as the meter concludes, when it began–neither, in fact is great length of kola appropriate to prose because of its lack of measure, nor is smallness, since, mark you, what is called “arid composition” would occur, such as: “Life is short, art long, the moment fleeting.” The composition seems chopped and broken up, and worthy of scorn because it contains only small elements.

(5) Nonetheless, there is sometimes an occasion for a long kolon, for example in (treating) great topics, as when Plato says: “For in fact this All sometimes the god himself leads and whirls along in its progress. . . .” (Politicus 269e4-5; Plato’s text is slightly different.) For the discourse is, as it were, exalted along with the magnitude of the kolon. Because of this the hexameter, too, is called “heroic” and fit for heroes on account of its size, and one could not fittingly write Homer’s Iliad in the short verses of Archilochos, for example:

messenger’s wand of woe (frag. 185 West)


Who dragged your wits astray? (frag. 172 West)

nor in those of Anakreon, such as:

Bring water, boy, bring wine! (frag. 51 Page)

The rhythm is simply that of a drunken old man, not a fighting hero.

(6) An occasion for a long kolon, then, can arise sometimes for this reason. There can also be sometimes an occasion for a short one, for example when we are describing something small, as when Xenophon states that the Greeks arrived at the river Teleboas: “This was not large, but beautiful.”(Anabasis 4.4.3) By the brevity and abruptness of the rhythm both the small size of the river and its charm were immediately made manifest, but if he had stretched it out thus and said “This in size was smaller than most but in beauty surpassed all,” he would have missed what was fitting and his prose would have been frigid. But we will discuss “frigidity” later.

(7) There is a use for brief kola also in the forceful style: for that which expresses much in a short space is more forceful and more vehement, which is why, in fact, the Spartans are brief of speech because of their forceful character. And giving commands is concise and brief, and every master is curt (“monosyllabic”) to a slave; supplication, on the other hand, and lamentation are lengthy. The spirits of Entreaty, according to Homer, are both lame and shriveled from their slowness, that is from their garrulousness, and old men are garrulous because of their lack of strength.

(8) An example of concise composition is: “Spartans to Philip: Dionysios in Korinth.” For it seems much more forceful expressed thus briefly than if, stretching it out at length, they had said, “Dionysios, who once was a great tyrant like you, nonetheless is now living in Korinth as a private citizen.” Expressed in many words, it no longer would have seemed like a rebuke but a narration, and more like someone instructing than threatening. Thus extended, the spirit and vigor of the statement is dissolved. Just as animals contract themselves when fighting, there can be this sort of contraction also of speech coiling itself, so to speak, to achieve forcefulness.

(9) This sort of brevity in composition is called a komma (“cutting”). And they define it thus: a komma is that which is shorter than a kolon. Examples are the saying just discussed, “Dionysios in Korinth”, and “Know thyself” and “Follow god”, the sayings of the sages. For brevity is both an apophthegmatic thing and a gnomic one, and it is more clever to gather much thought in a small space, just as in seeds the potentialities of whole trees are gathered. But if someone should extend the gnomic saying in lengthy words, it becomes a lesson and a rhetorical display rather than a saying.

(10) When kola and kommata of this sort are put together, moreover, there are formed what are called periods. And a period is a structure, made from kola and kommata, fitted in a well-rounded way to the thought which underlies it, for example, “Most of all because I think it benefits the city for the law to be annulled, second for the sake of Chabrias’ child, I have agreed that I shall, as best I am able, speak for these men.” (Demosthenes 20.1) This period, consisting of three kola, has a certain turning and coiling together at the end.

(11) Aristotle defines the period thus: “A period is a statement having a beginning and an end.” (Rhetoric 3.1409a36) He gives a very good and appropriate definition. For immediately the person speaking a period shows that he has begun from somewhere and he is hurrying to finish at some conclusion, just like runners released from the starting-line. For in fact at the beginning of their course the finish is also manifest. Whence (this arrangement) too was named periodos, since it was likened to circular paths which are run around. {And} generically a period is nothing except a structure of a certain type. At any rate, if its circular, running character should be dissolved and it should be rearranged, the subject matter remains the same, but the period will not exist, for example, if one were to re-arrange the period of Demosthenes just quoted and express it in some such way as this: “I shall speak for these men, citizens of Athens. For Chabrias’ son is a friend of mine, and even more than him the city, for which it is right for me to speak.” No longer is the period to be found anywhere.

(12) And this is the origin of it. One type of style, on the one hand, is called “turned toward an end”, like that arranged in periods as is the style of the Isokratean rhetorical compositions and those of Gorgias and Alkidamas; for they consist entirely of continuous periods no less than Homer’s poetry does of hexameters. The other type, on the other hand, is called “disjoined” (“loose”) style, the one resolved into kola not very closely connected with each other, like the style of Hekataios and most of Herodotos and generally all archaic style. Here is an example of it. “Hekataios of Miletos tells his story thus. I write these things as they seem true to me. For the tales of the Greeks are many and laughable, as they seem to me.” (FHG 1 F1a) The kola resemble things piled up and thrown on top of each other and not having connection or holding each other up, nor helping each other as in periods.

(13) In fact periodic kola, on the one hand, resemble stones buttressing each other and holding up a circular (domed) roof; while kola of the loose style, on the other hand, resemble stones thrown around near each other and not set together. (14) For which reason the earlier style also has something carved all around and neatly shaped, as do also archaic statues, whose art seemed to be their spareness and simplicity. The style of later writers, however, already resembles the works of Pheidias, since it has something at the same time magnificent and precise.

(15) I approve indeed neither that the entire discourse be strung together with periods, like that of Gorgias, nor that it all be loose, like archaic works, but rather that it be a mixture using both. For thus it will be both contrived and simple at once, and from both things pleasant, and neither too amateurish nor too sophistic. But of those who speak a succession of periods not even the heads stay upright, as with drunks, and the audience becomes nauseated because of the patent insincerity and sometimes even sounds out the ends of the periods, knowing them ahead of time, and cries them out in advance.

(16) Of periods the smaller ones are composed of two kola, the largest of four. A number above four would no longer be within the measured symmetry of a period. (17) There are also some periods consisting of three kola. And one-kolon periods, which they call simple periods. For whenever the kolon has length and a turning at the end, then there is a one-kolon period, such as this: “Of the inquiry of Herodotos of Halikarnassos the result is this.” And again: “For clear expression provides much light for the hearers’ minds.” (author unknown) Note that the simple period is comprised of both things–both the length and the turning at the end–never of one alone.

(18) In composite periods the final kolon should be longer and, as it were, containing and encompassing the rest. For thus the period will be magnificent and dignified, since it ends in a dignified and lengthy kolon. A period which does not, resembles one cut off and lame. An example is this sort of expression: “The goal is not good speaking but acting on the good which one has spoken.” (author unknown)

(19) There are three kinds of period: historical, conversational, rhetorical. The historical, on the one hand, is that which is neither brought around in a circle nor left loose to any great extent, but between the two, so that it may not seem rhetorical and unpersuasive because of its circular course, and may have, because of its simplicity, a dignified and expository character. Here is an example: “Of Dareios and Parysatis were born two children, the older, on the one hand Artaxerxes, the younger, on the other hand, Kyros.” Its final cadence seems like a settled and secure conclusion.

(20) Of the rhetorical period, on the other hand, the form is twisted together and circular and requires a stout voice and an arm following the course of the rhythm, for example in the period “Most of all because I think it benefits the city for the law to be annulled, second for the sake of Chabrias’ child, I have agreed that I shall, as best I am able, speak for these men.” Almost right from the beginning this sort of period has something coiled together and showing that it could not end in a simple conclusion.

(21) And the conversational period is the one still looser and simpler than the historical period and scarcely revealing that it is a period, such as the following: “I went down yesterday to Peiraios with Glaukon, Ariston’s son, to pray to the goddess and also wanting to see the festival, how they would perform it, since now they’re holding it for the first time.” (Plato , Republic 327a1-3) The kola are thrown one on top of the other as in the disjoined style, and we can barely notice, when we leave off at the end, that what was being said was a period. For the conversational period should be written in between the loose style and the style turned toward an end, and mixed alike with both. So many, then, are the types of periods.

(22) There are also periods consisting of antithetical kola, antithetical either in content (for example, “sailing through the mainland, marching through the sea” [Isokrates , Panegyrikos 89]) or in both respects, wording and content, as in this same period.

(23) Kola antithetical in words only are as follows, for example in Isokrates’ comparison of Helen with Herakles: “Him he gave life enduring and dangerous; her form he made alluring and glamorous.” (Helen 17) Article balances article, conjunction balances conjunction, like things balance like, and all the rest in the same way: epoiesen with katestesen, epiponon with periblepton, polukindunon with perimakheton–the corresponsion is entirely one-to-one, like to like.

(24) There are kola, too, which, while not antithetical, give an impression of antithesis because they have been composed antithetically, such as the jesting remark of the poet Epicharmos: “Once, on the one hand, in those men’s home I was; once, on the other hand, among those men I was.” (frag. 147 Kaibel) The same thing has been expressed and nothing opposite, but the manner of expression, mimicking an antithesis, resembles someone trying to mislead. But Epicharmos made his antithesis to rouse laughter and also to mock the rhetoricians.

(25) There are also kola which have similar elements [which show paromoiosis] at the beginning, for example:

Open to gifts they are, and open to words. (Homer, Iliad 9.526)

Or at the end, like the beginning of the Panegyrikos: “Many times did I admire the festivals’ solemnizers and the athletic games’ organizers.” One form of similarity is isokolon, when the kola have their syllables equal. An example from Thucydides : “. . .since ||neither were the persons they asked ashamed of their work|| ||nor did the ones who were concerned to know disdain it||.” (1.5.2) This is isokolon.

(26) Homoioteleuta are kola which end similarly, either in the same words, as is the case with “But while he was living you spoke of him badly; now that he’s dead you write of him badly.” (author unknown) Or when they end in the same syllable, like the passage above from the Panegyrikos.

(27) The use of this sort of kola is risky: they are not suitable for one speaking in the forceful style, since the fussy exactitude and care which they involve destroys forcefulness. Theopompos makes this clear to us: accusing the friends of Philip he says, “war-men in nature, they were whore-men in character; they were called comrades in arms but were really comrades in bed.” (FHG 115 F225) The similarity and antithesis in the kola dissolves the forcefulness because of the inappropriate cleverness. For anger does not need art. Rather, what is said in such accusations must be in some way spontaneous and simple.

(28) Neither, indeed, in the forceful style are kola of this sort to be employed, as I have shown, nor in displays of passion and delineations of character. For passion wants to be simple and un-artificial, and likewise also character. In Aristotle’s work On Justice, for example, if the man grieving over the city of the Athenians should speak thus: “What such city did they take of their enemies as that of their own which they lost?” (frag. 82 Rose), he would have made a passionate and mournful statement. But if he makes it a paromoion [paromoiosis]: “What such city of their enemies have they won as that of their own which they’ve undone?”, he will not, by Zeus, arouse even pity, but rather what is called “tearful laughter”. This sort of misplaced cleverness in emotional passages is “joking at a funeral” as the proverb has it.

(29) Nonetheless, (such kola) sometimes can be used, as when Aristotle says, “I went from Athens to Stageira because of the great king, and from Stageira to Athens because of the great storm.” (frag. 619 Rose) Certainly if you should take away the second “great”, you will also take away the elegance. For kola of this sort can contribute to grandiloquence, as do the many antitheses of Gorgias and Isokrates. This much, then, about paromoia.

. . . . .

(34) Aristotle defines the kolon thus: “A kolon is the one part of a period.” Then he adds: “And there is also a simple period.” Defining it thus as “the one part”, he clearly wanted the period to consist of two kola. But Archedemos, taking together Aristotle’s definition and the addition to it, defined the kolon more clearly and completely thus: “A kolon is either a simple period or a part of a composite period.” (frag. 7 von Arnim)

(35) What a simple period is, then, has been stated; when Archedemos says that a kolon is part of a composite period, he does not seem to limit the period to two kola but (to allow for) also three and even more. But we have set out the measure of a period. Let us now speak of the styles of discourse.

(36) The simple (unmixed) styles are four–the spare, the grand, the polished, and the forceful–and in addition there are the ones mixed out of these. But each is not mixed with each. Rather, the polished style is mixed with both the spare and the grand styles, and the forceful style likewise with both. Only the grand style is not mixed with the spare; these two styles stand very much as opposites. Thus some judge that only these two styles exist and that the other two are between these: they associate the polished style more with the spare style, and the forceful with the grand, since the polished style has a certain slightness and elegance, and the forceful style has mass and amplitude.

(37) But an argument like this is absurd. We see that, except for the styles described as opposites, all are mixed with all: for example, the epics of Homer and the writings of Plato and Xenophon and Herodotos and many others have much grandiloquence mixed in, and much forcefulness and polish. Thus the number of styles would be as stated, and the discourse appropriate to each would be something like the following. . . .

(From the discussion of the grand style [megaloprepes kharakter])

(44) Length of kola also creates grandiloquence, for example: “Thucydides the Athenian recounted the war of the Peloponnesians and Athenians” and “Of the inquiry of Herodotos of Halikarnassos the result is this.” For falling silent quickly to make a short kolon diminishes the dignity of the discourse, even if the underlying thought is grand, and even if the words are.

(45) It is also a mark of the grand style to compose in a rounded course, as Thucydides does in this example: “For the river Acheloos, flowing down from Mount Pindos through Dolopia and the Agrianoi and Amphilochoi, and through the Akarnanian plain, skirting the city Stratos upland and discharging into the sea by Oiniadai and creating a marsh around their city, makes it impossible, because of the water, in winter to mount a campaign” (2.102.2). This sort of grandiloquence comes entirely from the circular composition and from the fact that Thucydides and his listener barely pause for breath.

(46) If one were to break it up and express it thus: “For the river Acheloos flows, on the one hand, from Mount Pindos and discharges, on the other, by Oiniadai into the sea; before its discharge it makes the plain of Oiniadai a marsh, so as for the water to become a bulwark and shield for them against the winter assaults of their enemies.”–if one were to change the sentence and express it thus, he will provide it with many pauses but will take away the grandiloquence.

(47) For just as continual resting-places make long roads short, while desolate areas give an impression of length even on short journeys, the same thing can happen with kola.

(From the discussion of the polished style [glaphuros kharakter])

(139) For the self-same thing, when placed first or in the middle, is clumsy but at the end is elegant, for example as Xenophon says of Kyros: “And he also gave him gifts: a horse and a robe and a necklace, and for his land no longer to be ravaged.” (Anabasis 1.2.27) Among these items it is the last (“and for his land no longer to be ravaged”) which creates the elegance because of the unusual and personal character of the gift. Its placement is the reason for the elegance: if it had been placed first, it would certainly have been rather clumsy, thus: “He gave him gifts: for his land no longer to be ravaged, and a horse and a robe and a necklace.” But as things stand Xenophon mentioned first the ordinary gifts and added last the strange and unaccustomed one–from all of which the elegance has been created.

(From the discussion of the spare style [iskhnos kharakter])

(204) One must also avoid first, when composing in the spare style, kola of great length. Lengthiness is always grandiloquent, just as also in verse the hexameter, because of its magnitude, is called heroic and fit for heroes, but New Comedy is confined to the trimeter.

(205) For the most part, then, we use kola of trimeter length and sometimes kommata, as when Plato says “I went down yesterday to Peiraios with Glaukon. . . .” For the rests and closing cadences are frequent. And Aischines [the student of Sokrates]: “We were sitting on the seats in the Lykeion, where the judges direct the contest.” (frag. 15 Krauss)

(206) And let the ends of the kola have a firm foundation and stance, as in these passages. For extensions near the end are grandiloquent, like the words of Thucydides: “The river Acheloos, flowing from Mount Pindos” and what follows.

(From the discussion of the forceful style [deinos kharakter])

(241) As for composition, the forceful style can be created, first, if it has kommata instead of kola. Lengthiness destroys vehemence, and that which expresses much in a short space is more forceful. An example is the saying of the Spartans to Philip: “Dionysios in Korinth.” If they had stretched it out–“Dionysios, exiled from his reign, is a pauper in Korinth teaching grammar school”–it would have been in effect a narrative instead of a rebuke.

(242) In other matters, too, the Spartans naturally used few words. Brevity is more forceful and commanding; lengthy speech is appropriate for suppliance and entreaty.

(243) Thus figurative statements also have forcefulness because they resemble brief sayings. For in fact from what is said briefly one must supply most of the thought, just as one must from symbolic statements. Thus the saying “Your cicadas will sing from the ground” is more forceful expressed figuratively than if it had been simply stated: “Your trees will be cut down.”

(244) Periods, however, must be sharply constricted (“choked off”) at the end. For a circular course is a forceful thing, looseness a simpler one and a sign of a simple nature, like all archaic style. For archaic authors had a simple character.

. . . . .

(247) But one should avoid antitheses and paromoia (paromoioses) in periods. They create massiveness, not force, and often they actually create frigidity instead of forcefulness, as Theopompos, for example, speaking against the friends of Philip, destroyed the forcefulness with his antithesis: “war-men in nature, they were whore-men in character.” The hearer, attending to this axcessive artistry–or rather, perverse artistry–loses all his outrage.

(248) Many statements, moreover, we shall be, as it were, constrained by the facts themselves to arrange in a rounded and forceful way, such as this Demosthenic example: “Just as, if one of them had (then) been convicted, you wouldn’t have written this (proposal), so, if you are now convicted, no one else will do so” (23.99). The matter itself and its arrangement clearly held the composition closely bound to it, and not even by force could one easily have arranged it otherwise. For in many cases we compose while being pulled along by the matters themselves, like runners on a downhill slope.

(249) Placing the most forceful thing at the end is also productive of a forceful style. If included in the middle, it is blunted. An example is the sentence of Antisthenes: “He’d almost cause distress, a man from firewood risen” (frag. 67 Mullach). If one should rearrange it thus: “Almost a man from firewood risen would cause distress”, although saying the same thing, he will no longer be thought to be doing so.

(250) Antithesis, which I mentioned in the case of Theopompos, was not fitting in the works of Demosthenes either, where he says “You initiated, but I underwent initiation; you taught, but I was a student; you were a third actor, but I was a spectator; you were thrown off the stage, but I was hissing” (On the Crown 265). Because of the exact corresponsion he seems to be over-elaborating and to be trifling rather than complaining.

(251) Also appropriate for the forceful style is a series of successive periods, although this is unsuitable for the other styles. Periods placed in succession will resemble a verse-rhythm spoken repeatedly, and a forceful one at that, like choliambics.

(252) Let the periods, however, be at once successively placed and concise. I mean periods of two kola, since, mark you, if they have many kola they will create beauty, not forcefulness.