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Literary and practical analysis

The records of eloquence may be studied from various points of view, which may be roughly classified under the headings ‘literary’ and ‘practical,’ though it is not always easy to keep the elements distinct. A stylistic study of the writings of the Athenian orators must find a place in any systematic work on the development of Attic prose, but in a work like the present, which professes to deal with orators only, such a study cannot be carried out with any attempt at completeness; thus, while it may be possible to discuss the influence of Thucydides or Plato on Demosthenes, there will be no room to consider how far the historian himself may have been influenced directly by Antiphon, or the philosopher by Gorgias, though a cursory indication may be given that such influences were at work. When, however, we regard rhetoric not for its literary value but as a practical art, our task becomes more feasible; in literature there are many eddies and cross-currents, but in oratory, especially of the forensic type, there is more uniformity of flow. Antiphon and Demosthenes had, to a great extent, similar ground to traverse, similar obstacles to overcome or circumvent; and a study of their different methods of approaching like problems may give some reasonable and interesting results which will be a contribution to the history of the ‘Art of Persuasion.’ Even here we shall find difficulties, for one who is reckoned among the greatest orators, Isocrates, is known not to have been practical at all in the sense in which Demosthenes was; his so-called speeches were never meant to be delivered, and depended for their efficacy far more on their literary style than on their practical characteristics. There is, perhaps, only one great factor which is common to all orators alike; they all give us, both directly and indirectly, invaluable materials for the study of Athenian history, information with regard both to public and private life and national character. While the speeches before the assembly and in public causes increase our historical knowledge in the wider sense, the private speeches, often dealing with matters of the utmost triviality, provide a miscellaneous store of information on domestic matters only comparable to that more recently recovered from the papyri of Egypt.

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