Dinarchus, the last of the ten orators of the Alexandrian Canon, was a Corinthian by birth. He lived as a metoecus at Athens, but never obtained the citizenship, and was therefore unable to appear in the courts or the assembly. He was born about 360 B.C.; on coming to Athens he is said to have studied under Theophrastus, and he began to write speeches, as a professional logographos, about 336 B.C. He did not come into prominence till about the time of the affair of Harpalus, and his most flourishing period was after the death of Alexander, under the oligarchic constitution set up by Cassander. During these fifteen years, 322-307 B.C., he composed a large number of speeches. In 307 B.C. the democratic restoration threatened danger to all who had flourished under the oligarchy, and he retired to Chalcis in Euboea, where he lived for fifteen years.1
He returned to Athens in 292 B.C. and stayed for a time with one Proxenos, who, taking advantage of his age and infirmity, robbed him of a large sum of money. He brought his host to justice, and, according to Dionysius and other biographers, himself spoke in court for the first time. We know nothing of the result of the case, and have no information of the rest of the life of Dinarchus or his death.2
Dinarchus wrote, according to Demetrius Magnes,3
over a hundred and sixty speeches. Many of these were rejected by Dionysius, who, however, admits the authenticity of a sufficiently large number—sixty out of eighty-seven which he knew.4
Three only have come down to us, and the authenticity of the longest of these—Against Demosthenes
—was questioned by Demetrius. We shall, however, treat it as genuine, since in style and subject-matter it is very similar to the others. The three speeches, Against Demosthenes, Aristogiton,
all relate to the affair of Harpalus. The corruption connected with this affair was so deep-rooted that it was necessary above all to find men of upright character to conduct the prosecutions, and these would not be well-known orators, since most of the prominent politicians were implicated as defendants in the case. It is hardly remarkable, therefore, that professional speech-writers should be employed or that one writer should compose speeches to be delivered in three of the many prosecutions.
Dinarchus, the last of the truly Attic orators, is of very little importance in himself, but must find a place in any history of this kind as representing the beginning of the decline of oratory. ‘He flourished most of all,’ says Dionysius, ‘after the death of Alexander, when Demosthenes and the other orators had been condemned to perpetual banishment or put to death, and there was nobody left who was worth mentioning after them.’ This contains a fairly just estimate of the merits of the man, who, according to the same critic, ‘neither invented a style of his own, like Lysias and Isocrates
and Isaeus, nor perfected the inventions of others, as, in ourjudgment, Demosthenes, Aeschines, and Hyperides did.’ (Dion., Din., ch. 2
). His merits and defects are very obvious. He knows all the technique of prose composition; he can avoid hiatus cleverly, and writes a style which is easily intelligible, even when his sentences are inordinately long. He has some skill in the use of new words and metaphors—μετοιωνίσασθαι τὴν τύχην
, ‘auspicate your fortunes anew’—ἐκκαθάρατε
, ‘purge him away from the State’—δευσοποιὸς πονηρία
, ‘ingrained wickedness.’ He has some vigour and liveliness: abrupt statements like the following are terse and graphic enough—‘You chose prosecutors in due course; he came before the court; you acquitted him’ (Demos., § 58
); he makes good use of rhetorical questions addressed to the defendant:—‘Did you propose any motion about it? Did you give any counsel? Did you contribute any money? Did you ever in any small matter prove serviceable to those who were working for the common safety? Not in the slightest degree’ . . . etc. (Ibid., § 35.
) His sarcasm, which is rare, because he is generally too directly violent to be sarcastic, is at times pointed:—‘Read again the decree which Demosthenes proposed against Demosthenes.’ (Ibid., 83
) He knows the oratorical tricks: he can flatter the jury by references to their intelligence, by praise of the Areopagus, by encomia on the virtues of their ancestors. He can appeal to ancient and modern precedent for the impartiality of judges and their severity against evil-doers.
He is at his best in the long refutation of the defence which he anticipates from Demosthenes (Demos., §§ 48-63
) —this is, on the whole, orderly and effective—and in short passages like the following from the speech Against Philocles
‘Reflecting on these facts, Athenians, and remembering the present crisis, which calls for honour, not corruption, it is your duty to hate evil-doers, to exterminate from your city such beasts, and show the world that the nation has not shared in the degradation of certain of its politicians and generals, and is not a slave to conventional opinion; knowing that, by God's favour, with the help of justice and concord, we shall easily defend ourselves, if any enemies wrongfully attack us, but that in union with corruption and treachery and other such vices which infect mankind, no city can ever be saved.’ (Phil., § 19
He was, then, thoroughly competent; but he was careless. He passes from section to section with no logical and little formal connection; invective takes the place of argument, and even his abuse is incoherent. Everything is overdone; other writers have produced striking effects by slight changes in the order of words; Dinarchus disarranges his order without improving the emphasis.5
Again, the repetition of a single word may give emphasis, as thus:—‘a hireling, men of Athens, a hireling he is and has been’; but this device is used ad nauseam.6
His sentences, great concatenations of participles and relatives, trail along like wounded snakes.7
Invective had its place in Athenian oratory, but when on every page we find such expressions as beast,
foul creature, foul beast, scum, cheat, accursed, thief, traitor, perjurer, receiver of bribes, hireling, unclean, we feel that the orator is spitting rather than talking.8
There is a similar lack of decency in his imputation of corrupt motives to all the public actions of Demosthenes, good or bad, and to his exaggeration of the latter's offences. He becomes positively ridiculous when he describes Aristogiton's first imprisonment—the first of many. Aristogiton, the worst man in Athens, or rather, in all the world . . . has spent more time in prison than out . . . the first time he went there he behaved so disgustingly that the other prisoners, the dregs of all the world, refused to have their meals with him, or associate with him on terms of equality (Aristog., §§ 1
). This abuse of a man who is on trial for a merely political offence, is grossly over-coloured, and is probably as false as his description of Demosthenes' callousness:— ‘He went about exulting in the city's misfortunes; he was carried in a litter down the road to Piraeus, mocking at the miseries of the poor.’ Finally, his plagiarisms from Demosthenes, Aeschines, and other orators are too numerous to record; he borrows whole passages without skill or appropriateness.9
He borrows even from himself.10
the ancient nicknames for him, ἀγροῖκος Δημοσθενής, κριθινός Δημοσθενής
—‘the boorish Demosthenes,’
‘the small-beer Demosthenes,’ are as apt as such characterisation can be.11
To sum up: the very marked decline of which Dinarchus is typical, is due not to lack of technical ability, but to lack of originality on the intellectual side, and still more to moral causes:—lack of literary conscience, shown in the plagiarisms; lack of proper care, shown in the incoherence of the whole speeches; and lack of all sense of proportion and restraint, shown by the numerous exaggerations of various kinds which have been described above.