The beginnings of Greek Prose.
The outburst of intellectual life in Hellas during the fifth century before Christ had for one of its results the creation of Greek prose. Before that age no Greek had conceived artistic composition except in the form of poetry. The Ionians who had already recorded myths or stated philosophies in prose had either made no effort to rise above the ease of daily talk, or had clothed their meaning in a poetical diction of the most ambitious kind. As the mental horizon of Greece was widened, as subtler ideas and more various combinations began to ask for closer and more flexible expression, the desire grew for
something more precise than poetry, firmer and more compact than the idiom of conversation. Two special causes aided this general tendency. The development of democratic life, making the faculty of speech before popular assemblies and popular lawcourts a necessity, hastened the formation of an oratorical prose. The Persian Wars, by changing Hellenic unity from a sentiment into a fact, and reminding men that there was a corporate life, higher and grander than that of the individual city, of which the story might be told, supplied a new motive to historical prose. Athens under Perikles became the focus of all the feelings which demanded this new utterance, and of all the capabilities which could make the utterance artistic. The Athenian mind, with its vigour, its sense of measure, its desire for clearness, was fitted to achieve the special excellences of prose1
, and moulded that Attic dialect in which the prose-writer at last found his most perfect instrument. But the process of maturing the new kind of composition was necessarily slow; for it required, as its first condition, little less than the creation of a new language, of an idiom neither poetical nor mean. Herodotos, at the middle point of the fifth century, shows the poetical element still preponderant. The close of that century may be taken as the end of the first great stage in the growth of a prose literature. If a line is drawn there, Lysias will be perhaps the first representative name below it: Antiphon and Thucydides will be among the last names above it.