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Corax, Tisias

Cicero has preserved, from Aristotle, a statement that forensic rhetoric came to its birth at Syracuse, when, after the expulsion of the tyrants in 465 B.C., many families, whose property had been confiscated by them, tried to re-establish their claims (Cicero, Brutus, § 46.). Certainly Corax, the founder of rhetoric, was teaching about the year 466 B.C., and composed a τέχνη, or handbook of rhetorical principles (Arist., Rhet., ii. 24. 11.). He was followed by his pupil Tisias, who also wrote a treatise which Aristotle pronounced to be better than his master's, and was in turn soon superseded by a better one (Soph. Elench., 183 p. 28 sqq.). Both Corax and Tisias attached great importance to εἰκός (probability) as a means of convincing a jury. A sample of the use of this argument from the work of Corax is the case of the man charged with assault, who denies the charge and says, ‘It is obvious to you that I am weak in body, while he is strong; it is therefore inherently improbable that I should have dared to attack him.’ The argument can of course be turned the other way by the prosecutor—‘the defendant is weak in body, and thought that on that account no one would suspect him of violence.’ We shall find that this argument from εἰκότα is very characteristic of the orator Antiphon; it occurs in his court speeches as well as in his tetralogies, which are model exercises. It seems, indeed, that he almost preferred this kind of argument to actual proof, even when evidence was available (See below, p. 36). Tisias improved on the theme of Corax; supposing that a feeble but brave man has attacked a strong one who is a coward, he suggests that both should tell lies in court. The coward will not like to admit his cowardice, and will say that he was attacked by more than one man. The culprit will prove this to be a lie, and will then fall back on the argument of Corax, ‘I am weak and he is strong; I could not have assaulted or robbed him,’—and so on.1

An anecdote of these two rhetoricians further indicates the slipperiness of the ground on which they walked.2 Tisias took lessons from Corax on condition that he should pay the fee only if he won his first case in court. After some lapse of time Corax grew impatient for his money, and finally brought an action— the first case, as it happened, on which Tisias was ever engaged. Corax asserted, ‘If I win the case, I get my money by the verdict; if I lose it, I claim payment by our contract.’ ‘No,’ said Tisias, ‘if I win, I don't pay, and if I lose I don't pay.’ The court dismissed the case with the remark, ‘A bad crow lays bad eggs’;3 and this was obviously to the advantage of the younger man, who had nine points of the law on his side.

Though no writings of cither are preserved, we can form an idea of their methods. They were wholly immoral or non-moral, and perversely sophistical. The plausible was preferred to the true, and the one object was to win the case. Their method of teaching was, according to Aristotle, ‘quick but unscientific,’4 and consisted of making the pupil learn by heart a large number of ‘commonplace’ topics and standard arguments suitable to all kinds of legal processes. They do not appear to have paid any attention to style on the literary side.

1 Quoted by Plato, Phaedrus, 273 B-C.

2 Schol. on Hermogenes; also Sext. Empir. adv. Mathem., ii. 96.

3 κακοῦ Κόρακος κακὰ ὠά.

4 Soph. Elench., 184 a. 1.

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