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The Periodic style

With Antiphon1, as we saw, the structure of a period was still a matter of effort—admitting, too, of little variety: in Lysias2 the power of forming terse, compact periods is nearly perfect, and is combined with skill in avoiding monotony; with
how developed by Isokrates.
Isokrates, the periodic style passes into an altogether new phase. The distinctive mark of the new Isokratic period is a certain luxuriant amplitude. Instead of aiming at the vigorous compression fittest for real contests, it rejoices in rich diffuseness—it unrolls itself like a clear river, luring the hearer on from bend to bend through the soft beauties of its winding course3. Three kinds of period are distinguished by Demetrios: the Rhetorical, terse and round;—the Conversational, slack and simple;—the Historical, intermediate between these two4. Lysias, as has been noticed, uses what may be called a ‘historical’ period in one special part of his work—in narrative parts of his public speeches. Isokrates, as a rule, uses everywhere the historical rather than the rhetorical period5—giving to it, however, a certain long and stately flow which is his own. The great fault of his management is monotony. Lysias knew at least how to brace or relax his framework; Demosthenes was a master of structural contrasts; but, in all the speeches of Isokrates, except the forensic, one long and finished period follows another with little variety or relief. He must always round his sentence6. Not only the form but the matter often suffers for this artificial uniformity. A thought has sometimes to be diffusely, and therefore weakly, expressed, in order to afford a symmetry of clauses7. But although there is this grave fault in his handling of the periodic style, it must not be forgotten that Isokrates gave a really important development to the idea of the period itself. Hitherto it had been too cramped: he was the first to give it a large and free expansion. He was the first, too, who showed how the ampler period might be worked up through the series of clauses and members to an artistic climax8.

1 Vol. I. p. 34.

2 ib. p. 166.

3 This is the image used by Dionysios (Dem. c. 4) to describe the ὑπαγωγικὴ περίοδος, the meandering period, of Isokrates. Cf. de Isocr. c. 12, τὸ κύκλιον τῶν περιόδων.

4 Demetr. περὶ ἑρμηνείας § 19. (Speng. Rh. Gr. III. 265.) He illustratcs the Rhetorical Period by the opening of Dem. adv. Lept.; the Conversational, by the opening of Plat. Rep.; the Historical, by the opening of Xen. Anab.

5 Dionys. Dem. c. 18 notices the period of Isokr. as being rather ‘like that of the historians’ than ἐναγώνιος fit for real contests.

6 Dionys. de comp. Verb. c. 19 observes that the best style is sometimes more, sometimes less, periodic: but that Isokr. did not understand such variety: cf. his κρίσις τῶν ἀρχαίων, c. 5. This wholly periodic style (with no alloy of εἰρομένη) is essentially epideiktic: cp. Cic. Or. § 207, Volkmann, p. 435.

7 The invariable desire for a period and a rhythm drives Isokr. to use παραπληρώματα λέξεων, padding, as Dionys. says (de Isocr. c. 3). The critic illustrates this minutely in his analysis of De Pace § 42 (Dem. c. 19). ‘These drooping folds might have been pinned up more neatly’—ταῦτα κεκολπωμένα σφίγξαι μᾶλλον ἐνῆν.

8 Cp. Müller, Hist. Gr. Lit. c. xxxvi. (Donalds. II. 154—5.)

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