previous next

Dionysios on the ‘smooth’ harmony.

It has been said in a former chapter1 that Dionysios distinguishes three principal ‘harmonies’ or modes of composition, whether in verse or in prose, —the ‘austere,’ the ‘smooth’ and the ‘middle;’ Antiphon being his oratorical representative of the ‘austere,’ Isokrates of the ‘smooth,’ Demosthenes of the ‘middle.’ The ‘smooth’ (or ‘florid’) harmony is thus described:—

‘It does not seek that each separate word should be conspicuously seen, as if set on a broad, firm pedestal; or that the pauses between the words should be long. The slow, steadfast manner is not at all to its mind. Rather it likes movement and impetus of language; it wishes word to come on word as wave rides wave, each lending buoyancy to each, like flowing waters that never are still. It requires that all the parts of the context should be taken together and find their power in their whole effect. This result is wrought by a nicety of joining which leaves no pause that can be felt between word and word. In this, the style is like a web of fine warp, or a painting of which the lights melt into the shadows. Then it wishes that all its words should be musical, smooth, delicate, as with the bloom of a fair young face. It may be said to be at feud with rough syllables and all clashing sounds; and to be wary of everything rash and venturesome.

‘Nor is it only between word and word that it seeks this apt juncture and coherence. It desires that clause should be closely knitted to clause; that every sentence should be rounded to a period; that each segment of a period should be neither shorter nor longer than the just mean; and that the whole period should be within the compass of one full breath. A sentence not periodic, a period not jointed into members, or a member not symmetrical with the rest, are thoroughly foreign to its workmanship. The rhythms which it employs are not the longest but the middle or the shorter. It wishes the last words of a period to be rhythmical and firmly set, as on a base squared by line and rule;—thus reversing, in the structure of these final clauses, its practice in the ordinary harmonies of words. Ordinarily it makes word slide into word. But it would have the closing words of a period to stand clear, and be seen, as it were, from every side. The figures which it uses are not those which have an antique air, or which are notable for majesty or impressiveness or ruggedness; but rather the luxuriant and voluptuous, in which the elements of illusion and stage-glitter are strong. To speak generally—this ‘smooth’ or ‘florid’ style is in essentials the opposite of the austere2.’

This description may serve at the outset to

Representatives of this style
hint the broadest characteristics of Isokrates as contrasted with the elder school represented by Antiphon. The typical poets of the ‘smooth’ style,
in poetry,
according to Dionysios, are, in epos, Hesiod; of lyrists, Sappho, Anakreon, Simonides; among tragedians, Euripides only. When Dionysios comes to
in prose.
name a representive historian, he is at a loss; no one, he says, is strictly apposite; but Ephoros and Theopompos are so ‘more than most.’ This illustrates the degree in which the style of Isokrates was distinctive. The only prose-writers in the ‘smooth harmony’ whom Dionysios finds to mention are Isokrates and two pupils of Isokrates.

1 Vol. I. p. 21.

2 Dionys. de comp. Verb. c. 23.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: