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DEMOSTHENES PRACTISING BY THE SEA.
From a painting by Jules J. A. Lecomte-du-Nouy
From a portion of a painting by Meyer, showing
Socrates and Plato with friends and disciples
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF GREEK
BY MARTIN LUTHER D'OOGE, PH.D., LL.D., D.LITT.
Professor of Greek in the University of Michigan
REEK oratory was the outgrowth of the in
tellectual awakening that Athens `experienced after the Persian wars, when the art of speaking came to be especially valued as a means
of political influence. The teaching of this art was the profession of the Sophists, who naturally modelled their prose upon verse, since up to their time the presumption existed that no thought could be expressed artistically that was not put in metrical form. Under this impulse Greek oratory was cultivated as one of the fine arts, like sculpture and painting, to which it was often likened, and its external form and style always remained of supreme importance.
We look therefore in the original of a Greek oration for minute matters of style and niceties of diction that a modern orator would scantily regard. As such may be mentioned the balancing of clauses, the structure of sentences of equal length, the repetition of sounds at the turning point of corresponding phrases so as to suggest an echo from other words, the avoidance of hiatus between a closing and an initial vowel of two consecutive words, and the arrangement of words in a sentence so as to secure a certain rhythm and harmony. It is manifest that such minute and fine points of style cannot be reproduced in any translation. An undue attention to these refinements might easily become an artificial mannerism. Such mannerism was characteristic of the style of one of the earliest Sophists and teachers of rhetoric, Gorgias of Leontini, who put his stamp upon Greek prose writing for all time.
The entire history of Greek oratory may be called a development from this artificial prose to a more artless and simple style, which later again became debased by the influence of rhetoric, and degenerated into the florid style that characterized the later Sophists.
In a brief sketch it is possible to note only the most signal steps in this process. The artificial manner of a Gorgias was soon felt to be unsuitable for a pleading at law, and the first impulse to use a more simple and natural style came from forensic speaking.
This appears clearly first in the orations of Andocides, in which are found vivid and picturesque narrations. But the merit of naturalness and ease mingled with grace belongs especially to Lysias, who excelled as a writer of speeches for others to recite in making their pleas in court. The logographer, as he was called, concealed himself behind his client, who was generally a plain citizen, and so played the part of a dramatic poet: like a Euripides he had to identify himself with the person who appeared on the scene. The aim of the orator was accordingly to appear as simple and natural as possible, and to conceal his art. Lysias employed therefore a simple style, short sentences, and a periodic structure that was clear and harmonious.
The more ornate and artificial style of Gorgias, chastenec but not subdued, came into prominence again in the hands of Isocrates, who was essentially a Rhetorician. While Isocrates, like Lysias, wrote in the language of the people, he cultivated the ornate and declamatory style suitable for public celebrations and festive occasions. The best example of an oration of this kind, called by the Greeks the epideictic style, is his famous Panegyric, which, like all his didactic and epideictic speeches, was written to be read and not spoken, and should therefore be called a political essay or pamphlet. Isocrates was the inventor of the long oratorical period, which is so skilfully constructed that all subordinate ideas are grouped around the central thought which is never obscured. He was excessively fond of appealing to the ear by the flow of his diction and the stately rhythm of his periods. The influence of Isocrates on Greek prose writing was lasting and great.
It was reserved for Demosthenes, by means of the severest self-discipline and most arduous labor, to combine the grace of Lysias with the logical grasp of Isæus and the stately elegance of Isocrates. The acknowledged master of Greek eloquence, Demosthenes was especially great in political and deliberative speech. This phase of his greatness is better appreciated in his Philippics and other political speeches than in the more commonly read oration “On the Crown." In the time of Demosthenes Athens afforded the ideal atmosphere for the cultivation of political oratory. The world has probably never seen another State in which the political education of its citizens was so complete. It needed only a great occasion or crisis to bring forward the great political orator. Such a crisis was upon Athens when Demosthenes came to manhood.
The losing conflict, in which he defended the freedom of his country against the attacks of Philip of Macedon from without and the treachery of foes at home, gave birth to that resistless eloquence that "fulmin'd over Greece from Macedon to Artaxerxes' throne." The great debate between Æschines
' ” and Demosthenes drew an audience from all parts of Greece as to a public spectacle. The reader of the oration “On the Crown” is impressed with the variety of the style of the orator. The manner of Demosthenes is characterized by the old critic Dionysius in the following words: “Now he speaks in short sentences, now in extended periods. All softness and uniformity of sound are foreign to him; yet there prevails in the discourse of Demosthenes harmony and rhythm changing in a thousand ways. Demosthenes is manifold; he excels the older school in clearness, the plain school in gravity, in penetrating and pungent force, the middle school in variety, in symmetry, in felicity, in pathos, above all in propriety and effectual strength. Sometimes he stings, sometimes he soothes the mind of the listener; sometimes he appeals to reason, sometimes to passion.” His eloquence has been likened to a mountain torrent that often overflows its banks.
In conclusion let us notice briefly the leading points in which ancient Greek differs from modern oratory.
It has become already apparent that the fundamental difference lies in the fastidious finish of style and careful arrangement so characteristic of Greek oratory. This peculiarity accounts for occasional repetitions by the writer in one speech