The art of rhetoric could go no further after Isocrates, who, in addition to possessing a style which was as perfect as technical dexterity could make it, had imparted to his numerous disciples the art of composing sonorous phrases and linking them together in elaborate periods. Any young aspirant to literary fame might now learn from him to write fluent easy prose, which would have been impossible to Thucydides or Antiphon. If the style seems on some occasions to have been so over-elaborated that the subject-matter takes a secondary place, that was the fault not so much of the artist as of the man. Isocrates never wrote at fever-heat; his greatest works come from the study; he is too reflective and dispassionate to be a really vital force.
With Demosthenes and his contemporaries it is otherwise; they are men actively engaged in politics, actuated by strong party-feeling, and swayed by personal passion. This was the outcome of the political situation: just as feeling was strong in the generation immediately succeeding the reign of the oligarchical Thirty at Athens, so now, when Athens and the whole of greece were fighting not against oligarchy but the empire of a sovereign ruler, the depths were stirred.
A new feature in this period is the publication of political speeches. From the time of the earliest orator—Antiphon—the professional logographoi had preserved their speeches in writing. The majority of these were delivered in minor cases of only personal importance, though some orations by lysias and others have reference indirectly to political questions.
Another class of speeches which were usually preserved is the epideictic—orations prepared for delivery at some great gathering, such as a religious festival or a public funeral. Isocrates was an innovator to the extent of writing in the form of speeches what were really political treatises; but these were only composed for the reader, and were never intended to be delivered.
Among the contemporaries of Demosthenes we find some diversity of practice. Some orators, such as Demades and Phocion, never published any speeches, and seem, indeed, hardly to have prepared them before delivery. They relied upon their skill at improvisation.
Others, for instance Aeschines, Lycurgus, and Dinarchus, revised and published their judicial speeches, especially those which had a political bearing. Hyperides and Demosthenes, in addition to this, in some cases gave to the world an amended version of their public harangues. Demosthenes did not always publish such speeches; there are considerable periods of his political life which are not represented by any written work; but he seems to have wished to make a permanent record of certain utterances containing an explanation of his policy, in order that those who had not heard him speak, or not fully grasped his import, might have an opportunity for further study of his views after the ephemeral effect of his eloquence had
passed away. It is probable that most of the speeches so published belong to times when his party was not predominant in the state, and the opposition had to reinforce its speech by writing. The result is of importance in two ways, for the speeches are a serious contribution to literature, of great value for the study of the development of Greek prose; and they are of still greater historical value; for, though untrustworthy in some details, they provide excellent material for the understanding of the political situation, and the aims and principles of the anti-Macedonian party.