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Composition of Isokrates.

But choice of words was of comparatively small importance in determining the style of Isokrates, between whom and the elder ‘austere’ school the essential point of contrast was just this, that they relied much on words, while he relied almost wholly on composition. It was Isokrates who developed, though he did not originate, the idea of a literary prose-rhythm. The Greek theory distinguished a
Prose-rhythm.
music proper to the continuous (συνεχής) exertion of the voice in prose-declamation from the music of its exertion at intervals (διαστήματα) in singing1. As singing can scarcely charm the ear or make claim to beauty until it has brought itself under definite laws, partly of rhythm, partly of harmony, so oratorical prose cannot give artistic pleasure until it has become, in its proper measure, rhythmical. This implies the bringing out of that musical element which is inherent in all language; and the technical Rhetoric early began to take account of the proserhythm into which this element must be wrought. Thus Aristotle2 discusses the relative merits for rhetorical prose of the dactyl—which is too epic for ordinary use—the iambus, which is too common to give any distinctive effect—the trochee, which is too light—and the paeon, which he thinks on the whole the most serviceable,—the ‘first’ paeon (¯˘˘˘) for the beginning of the period, the ‘fourth’ (˘˘˘¯) for the end. Poetry has its strict correspondence of rhythms and its precision of metres. Prose has its irregular rhythms and its wandering melody in the fall of syllables—rhythms and metres not bound by any rigid framework, yet reducible to certain general laws which the attentive ear can discover, and which the skilful speaker can apply in ever-varying combinations3. Now the mistake of Gorgias had consisted in trying to bring the essentially free rhythms and metres of prose too near to the strict rhythms and metres of verse. Thrasymachos of Chalkedon was probably more judicious4. But Isokrates was the earliest great artist in the rhythm proper to prose5,—so distinctly so, that Cicero more than once calls him its discoverer6. Great artist as he was, however, he was only a developer, not a perfecter; and the chief reason why he fell short of the highest excellence seems to have been this, that he sought too constantly to base his rhythms on a certain type of composite period.

1 Volkmann, Die Rhetorik der Griechen und Romer (1872), p. 430.

2 Rhet. III. 8—where he observes that metre in prose is ἀπίθανον, i.e. destroys the rhetorical illusion, but rhythm desirable—simply, he thinks, as the period is—because ‘all men like to see to the end.’ Cf. Volkm. p. 447.

3 Dionys. Dem. cc. 49, 50. Prose is to be εὔρυθμος and εὔμετρος— not like Poetry, ἔρρυθμος and ἔμμετρος, bound. Quintilian (IX. iv. 45) distinguishes the metre (dimensio quaedam) of verse from the rhythm (numeri) of prose: and so Cic. has numerus=ῥυθμός, Or. § 67.

4 The artistic use of the pacon in prose is dated by Aristotle from Thrasymachos (Rh III. 8). Cp. Curtius, Hist. Gr. v. 168 (Ward).

5 For the precept of Isokr. in his own words, see the fragment of his τέχνη in Sauppe II. 225:—ὅλως δὲ λόγος μὴ λόγος ἔστω (mere prose), ξηρὸν γάρ: μηδὲ ἔμμετρος: καταφανὲς γάρ: ἀλλὰ μεμίχθω παντὶ ῥυθμῷ, μάλιστα ἰαμβικῷ τροχαικῷ. Aristotle would have considered this recommendation of the iambus or trochee as retrograde—Thrasymachos having brought in the paeon. In Adv. Soph. (XIII) § 16 Isokr. speaks of the study needed in order εὐρύθμως καὶ μουσικῶς εἰπεῖν.

6 ‘Isokr. was the first to see that in prose too a certain measure and rhythm (modum et numerum) must be observed’: Brut. § 32. In Orat. § 175 he quotes Thrasymachos himself to the same effect.

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