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The vocabulary of Aeschines consists mostly of words in ordinary use which require no comment. Though he was a great admirer of poetry, his ordinary writing does not display more poetical or unusual words than that of any other orator.

The difference between his style and that of a writer such as Lysias is, essentially, a difference not of vocabulary but of tone; the tones of Aeschines are raised. He tends to use words which are stronger than they need be, to be ‘angry’ when only surprise is called for; to be ‘excessively indignant’ when a moderate resentment would meet the case, to ‘detest’ when to dislike would be enough.1 He makes unnecessary appeals to the gods more frequently than any other orator except Demosthenes. Exaggeration is part of the secret of his splendor verborum, as the Roman critic described it; but by far the greatest part is his instinct for using quite ordinary words in the most effective combinations. His best passages, if analysed, contain hardly any words which are at all out of the common, and yet their vigour and dignity are unquestionable.2 The ancients, however, denied purity of diction to Aeschines, perhaps on account of the characteristics just described.

He is, as Blass observes, occasionally obscure; that is, it is possible to find sentences which are not quite easy to understand; but on the whole these are very rare. No writer, even a Lysias, can be at all times perfectly lucid.3 As a rule Aeschines is as simple in the construction of his sentences as he is in the arrangement of his speeches, and he is much easier to understand than, for instance, Demosthenes.

He has not the consummate grace and terseness which critics admire as the chief beauties of Lysias; sometimes unnecessary repetitions of a word are to be found, sometimes two synonyms are used where one word would suffice; but such repetitions often give us lucidity, though at the expense of strict form, and the accumulation of synonyms increases the emphasis.4 Only the great artist, who is perfectly confident that he has found the right word to express adequately his whole meaning in exactly the right way, can afford to do without all superfluous strokes. Aeschines is not a perfect artist in language; he aims not at artistic beauty but effect, to which style is nothing but a subordinate aid. The composition of artistic prose is, for him, far from being an end in itself.

His speeches were designed not to be read by literary experts, but to be delivered from the platform, and he aimed, not at pleasing the critics' taste but at working on the passions of the ordinary citizen. Some of his most important orations were not written at all, though he probably preserved notes of them,5 and the three which he did write out in full were preserved not for their literary beauty but for their subject-matter. The time for the rhetoric of culture was past; the course of events required the kind of oratory that would stir men to action. As to the effectiveness of his speeches, there can be no doubt. We know—on his own authority, certainly; but it has never been disputed—how his harangue moved the Amphictyons; and we know that, without any conspicuous moral qualities, with no advantages from family influence and no definite political principles, he became a power in Athens solely by virtue of his eloquence.

Aeschines varies the length of his sentences very considerably; some of them are long, and consist of strings of participial and relative clauses. These, however, occur mostly in narrative passages, where such discursive style is excusable: for instance, the long sentences in the de Legatione, §§ 26-27, §§ 75-77, and § 115, contain reports of Aeschines' own earlier speeches. The first of these (§§ 26-27) is monotonous owing to the series of genitives absolute which compose an inordinately long protasis, the main verb not occurring till near the end of the sentence, and then being followed by another genitive clause.

A long sentence early in the Ctesiphon gives a résumé of the circumstances by which the orator is impelled to speak; the clauses are mostly connected by καί, though all depend on a relative at the beginning. No skill is displayed in the structure of such sentences, and their possible length is limited only by the amount of water in the clepsydra. Up to a certain length, they are forcible, but if the limit is exceeded, the effect is lost, for the point which the orator wishes to make is too long deferred, since the main clause, containing the statement which the preceding relative clauses illustrate or explain, is not reached until the heavy accumulation of relative clauses has wearied the perception.

In general, however, Aeschines is moderate in length; his sentences, on the average, are shorter than those of Isocrates, and he tacitly adheres to the rule that a period should not be so long that it cannot be uttered in one breath.

Though not pedantic, he was far from being without a taste for composition. In all the speeches we find examples of the deliberate avoidance of hiatus, and in the de Legatione he bestowed some care on the matter.

The avoidance may generally, though not always, be traced in an unusual order of words.6 Examples of harsh hiatus are rare, though there are many unimportant instances. Quite apart from theoretical rules, a good orator will instinctively avoid awkward combinations of letters, for euphony is necessary for fluent speaking. Aeschines, secure in the possession of a perfect delivery, might admit sounds which Isocrates and other theorists considered harsh; it was with practical declamation that he was concerned.

The use of the rhetorical ‘figures’ is a prominent characteristic of Aeschines. The verbal contrasts which Gorgias and the Sophists affected, many of which seem to us so frigid and tedious, have too much honour from Aeschines; for instance, the purely formal antithesis—‘He mentions the names of those whose bodies he has never seen’ (Ctes., § 99), where the sound of the jingle— ὀνόματα, σώματα—is more important than the sense. The effect of such ‘like endings’ (homoeoteleute) cannot as a rule be reproduced, though sometimes a play upon words will indicate it: e.g. “οὐ τὸν τρόπον ἀλλὰ τὸν τόπον μόνον μετήλλαξεν” “— ‘he has changed, not his habits, but only his habitation.’(Ibid., § 78). In such assonance there is an undoubted aiming at comic effect. A forcible repetition of words is found in such sentences as the following: ‘What I saw, I reported to you as I saw it; what I heard, as I heard it; now what was it that I saw and heard about Cersobleptes? I saw . . .’ etc. (de Leg., § 81). Repetitions of this and similar kinds seem to break at times from the speaker's control, and pass all measure.7

Aeschines does not seem to have paid any attention to rhythmical writing; his style is too free to be bound by unnecessary restrictions; verses and metrical passages occur sporadically, but they are rare. He seems to have fallen into them by accident, since they occur in positions where no special point is marked by an unusual rhythm.8

Direct quotations of poetry, for which he had a great liking, are, on the other hand, very frequent. No other orator, except Lycurgus, is comparable to him in this respect, and Lycurgus uses his power of quotation with much less force than Aeschines, who often employs it aptly. He gives us the impression that serious religious conviction is at the back of his quotation from Hesiod:

“Often the whole of a city must suffer for one man's sin.

In other cases the quotations are excessively long and, like those of Lycurgus, have hardly any bearing on the point.

His metaphors are sometimes vivid and well chosen —ἀμπελουργεῖν τὴν πόλιν—‘to strip the city like a vineyard’ ἔναυλον ἦν πᾶσιν—‘it was dinned into everybody's ears.’ Some of the most forcible occur in passages which purport to be quotations or paraphrases of Demosthenes: e.g. ἐπιστομίσαι, ‘to bridle’ the war-party; ἀπορράψειν τὸ Φιλίππου στόμα, ‘to sew up Philip's mouth.’ (Ctes., §§ 192-193). These are probably caricatures of Demosthenes' daring phrases.

Turning now from the consideration of the materials to the finished product, we find that Aeschines can attain a high level of style. His denunciation of the sharp practices prevailing in the course of his day is impressive; we know that he is speaking the truth, and he does not make the mistake of exaggerating. The seriousness is relieved, but not impaired, by the light thread of sarcasm which runs through the whole fabric:

‘The hearing of such cases, as my father used to tell me, was conducted in a way very different from ours. The judges were much more severe with those who proposed illegal measures than the prosecutor was, and they would often interrupt the clerk and ask him to read over again the laws and the decree; and the proposers of illegal measures were found guilty not if they had ridden over all the laws, but if they had subverted one single clause. The present procedure is ridiculous beyond words; the clerk reads the illegal decree, and the judges, as if they were listening to an incantation or something that did not concern them, keep their minds fixed on something else. And already, through the devices of Demosthenes, you are admitting a disgraceful practice; you have allowed the course of justice to be changed, for the prosecutor is on his defence, and the defendant conducts his prosecution; and the judges sometimes forget the matter of which they are called on to be arbiters, and are compelled to vote on questions which they ought not to be judging. The defendant, if he ever refers to the facts at all, tells you, not that his proposal was legal, but that somebody else has proposed similar measures before his time, and has been acquitted.’

The following passage has been many times pointed out, and justly, as a fine example of the higher style of Aeschines' rhetoric. Taken apart from its context, and without any consideration of the truth of the insinuations which it makes, it is a notable piece of ‘pathetic’ pleading. The Romans, with a fondness for epigrammatic contrast, attributed to Aeschines more of sound and less of strength than to Demosthenes. This is true if we regard their works as a whole; but in isolated passages like this, Aeschines finds his level with the best of Attic orators:

“Thebes, our neighbour Thebes, in the course of a single day has been torn from the midst of Greece; justly, perhaps, for in general she followed a mistaken policy; yet it was not human judgment but divine ordinance that led her into error. And the poor Lacedaemonians, who only interfered in this matter originally in connection with the seizure of the sanctuary, they who once could claim to be the leaders of the Greeks, must now be sent up to Alexander to offer themselves as hostages and advertise their disaster; they and their country must submit to any treatment on which he decides, and be judged by the clemency of the conqueror who was the injured party. And our city, the common asylum of all Greeks, to whom formerly embassies used to come from Greece to obtain their safety from us, city by city, is struggling now not for the leadership of the Greeks but for the very soil of her fatherland. And this has befallen us since Demosthenes took the direction of our policy. A passage in Hesiod contains a solemn warning appropriate to such a case. He speaks, I believe, with the intention of educating the people, and advising the cities not to take to themselves evil leaders.

I shall quote the lines, for I conceive that we learn by heart the maxims of the poets in childhood, so that in manhood we may apply them:—

“Often the whole of a city must suffer for one man's sin, Who plotteth infatuate counsel, and walketh in evil ways, On such God sendeth destruction, by famine and wasting plague, And razeth their walls and armies, and shatters their ships at sea.”

We know that Aeschines took education very seriously—more seriously, in fact, than anything else— and his reference here to the educative influence of the poets gives proof of his earnestness, which may have been a transient emotion, but was, for the moment, a strong one.

Setting apart a few such serious passages, Aeschines is at his best when he is directly accusing Demosthenes. His attacks are nearly always characterized by a humorous manner which does not make them any the less forcible, and they generally contain just enough truth to make their malice effective. The fact that Aeschines himself had too deep a respect for the truth to be prodigal in the use of it does not diminish the virulence of his attack on his rival's veracity, while any question as to the exactitude of his statements would be drowned in the laugh that followed the concluding paragraph:

“The fellow has one characteristic peculiarly his own when other impostors tell a lie, they try to speak vaguely and indefinitely, for fear of being convicted of falsehood; but when Demosthenes seeks to impose upon you, he first of all enforces his lie with an oath, invoking eternal ruin on himself; secondly, though he knows that a thing never can happen at all, he dares to speak with a nice calculation of the day when it is going to happen; he utters the names of people whose faces he has never seen, thus cheating you into hearing him, and assuming an air of truthfulness; and so he thoroughly merits your detestation, since, being such a scoundrel as he is, he discredits the usual proofs of honesty.

After talking in this way he gives the clerk a decree to read—something longer than the Iliad, and more empty than the speeches he makes or the life he has led; full of hopes that can never be realized, and armies that will never be mustered.

The pleasing custom followed by the orators of antiquity, whether Greek or Roman, of defiling the graves of the ancestors of their political opponents, and defaming their private lives, can be as well exemplified from Aeschines as from his rival. Aeschines shows no great originality in particular terms of abuse—Dinarchus has a greater variety of offensive words—but the following extract from his circumstantial fictions about Demosthenes is more effective, because more moderate in tone, than the incredible insults with which the latter described the family circumstances and the career of Aeschines:9

“So, on his grandfather's account, he must be an enemy of the people, for you condemned his ancestors to death; but through his mother's family he is a Scythian, a barbarian, though he speaks Greek; so that even his wickedness is not of native growth. And what of his daily life? Once a trierarch, he appeared again as a speechwriter, having in some ridiculous fashion thrown away his patrimony; but as in this profession he came under suspicion of disclosing the speeches to the other side, he bounded up on to the tribunal; and though he took great sums of money from his administration, he saved very little for himself. Now, however, the king's treasure has drowned his extravagance—but even that will not be enough; for no conceivable wealth can survive evil habits.

Worst of all, he makes a living not out of his private sources of income, but out of your danger.

But he is really at his best where some slight slip on the part of his opponent gives him the opportunity of magnifying a trivial incident into importance. In the following caricature the indecision of Demosthenes is better expressed by the vacillating language thrust into his mouth than it could have been by the most eloquent description in the third person:

“While I was in the middle of this speech, Demosthenes shouted out at the top of his voice—all our fellow-envoys can support my statement—for in addition to his other vices he is a partisan of Boeotia. What he said was something to this purpose:—“This fellow is full of a spirit of turbulence and recklessness; I admit that I am made of softer stuff, and fear dangers afar off. However, I would forbid him to raise disturbances between the States, for I think that the right course is for us ambassadors not to meddle with anything. Philip is marching to Thermopylae; I cover my face. No man will judge me because Philip takes up arms; I shall be judged for any unnecessary word that I utter, or for any action in which I exceed my instructions.”

The failure of Demosthenes to rise to the occasion when he had the opportunity of delivering an impressive speech before Philip, during the first embassy, forms the groundwork for excellent comedy on the part of Aeschines. Demosthenes, by his rival's account, was usually so intolerable as a companion that his colleagues refused to stay in the same lodging with him whenever another was obtainable; but he had found opportunity to impress them with his own sense of his importance as an orator. These professions are well indicated in a few words. The account of his failure, of Philip's patronizing encouragement, of the fiasco in which the whole proceedings terminated, are sketched with a delicate malice that must have made any defence or explanation impossible; indeed Demosthenes seems to have attempted no reply:

“When these and other speeches had been made, it was Demosthenes' turn to play his part in the embassy, and everybody was most attentive, expecting to hear a speech of exceptional power; for, as we gathered later, even Philip and his companions had heard the report of his ambitious promises. When everybody was thus prepared to listen to him, the brute gave utterance to some sort of obscure exordium, half-dead with nervousness, and having made a little progress over the surface of the subject he suddenly halted and hesitated, and at last completely lost his way. Philip, seeing the state he was in, urged him to take courage, and not to think he had failed because, like an actor, he had forgotten his part; but to try quietly and little by little to recollect himself and make the speech as he intended it. But he, having once been flurried, and lost the thread of his written speech, could not recover himself again; he tried once more, and failed in the same way. A silence followed, after which the herald dismissed the embassy.

Aeschines not only excelled in this class of circumstantial caricature, but he could win a laugh by a single phrase. It is well known that Midias, after various discreditable quarrels, put the final touch to his insolence by a public assault on Demosthenes, whose face he slapped in the theatre. Demosthenes on many occasions made capital out of this assault; which fact inspires the remark of Aeschines, ‘His face is his fortune.’10 Of his dexterity in repartee a single instance may be quoted: Demosthenes, in an outburst of indignation, had suggested that the court should refuse to be impressed by the oratory of a man who was notoriously corrupt, but should rather be prejudiced by it against him (de Falsa Leg., § 339). Aeschines, catching at the words, rather than the spirit, retorted, ‘Though you, gentlemen, have taken a solemn oath to give an impartial hearing to both parties, he has dared to urge you not to listen to the voice of the defendant.’ (Aesch., de Leg., § 1).

1 Cf. the frequent use of δεινός and δεινῶςδεινὴ ἀπαιδευσία, ἀναισχυντία; δεινῶς σχετλιάζειν, ἀσχημονεῖν, ἀγνοεῖν, etc., and compounds such as ὑπεραγανακτῶ, ὑπεραισχύνομαι.

2 E.g. the fine passage about Thebes, p. 186 below.

3 The speech of Lysias against Eratosthenes, for instance, conains many complicated sentences which are unnecessarily obscure.

4ὁρώντων φρονούντων βλεπόντων ὑμῶν,Ctes., § 94.

5 Cf. his frequent references to his speeches, above, p. 177.

6 E.g. de Leg., § 183,τοὺς εἰς τὸν μέλλοντ᾽ αὐτῷ χρόνον ἀντεροῦντας”. Blass, vol. iii. pt. 2, p. 232, notes that there is more consistent care on this point in the de Legatione than in the other two speeches.

7 Cf. Ctes., § 198,ὅστις μὲν οὖν ἐν τῇ τιμήσει τὴν ψῆφον αἰτεῖ, τὴν ὀργὴν τὴν ὑμετέραν παραιτεῖται, ὅστις δ᾽ ἐν τῷ πρώτῳ λόγῳ τὴν ψῆφον αἰτεῖ ὅρκον αίτεῖ, νόμον αἰτεῖ, δημοκρατίαν αἰτεῖ, ὧν οὔτε αἰτῆσαι οὐδὲν ὅσιον οὔτ᾽ αίτηθέντα ὲτέρῳ δοῦναι”.

8 E.g. iambics, Ctes., § 239, σωφρονῶν δῆμος οὐκ ἐδέξατο”; and de Leg., § 66,μίαν δὲ νύκτα διαλιπὼν συνηγόρουν”, etc.; anapaestic effect, ibid., 223,ἀεὶ τὸ παρὸν λυμαινόμενος, τὸ δὲ μὲλλον κατεπαγγελλόμενος”; and a curious combination, ibid., 91,ἁπάντων μετασχὼν τῶν πόνων τῇ πόλει”, (u-- | u-- | -u- | -u- )

9 Dem., de Cor., §§ 129, 259.

10 Ctes., § 212,οὐ κεφαλὴν ἀλλὰ πρόσοδον κέκτηται”. The play upon words ıs not easy to reproduce: κεφαλή, of course, suggests κεφάλαιον, ‘principal,’ or ‘capital,’ while πρόσοδος is ‘income’ or ‘revenue.’

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