Dionysios on the ‘austere’ style.
Dionysios has described vividly the characteristics of that elder school of composition to which Antiphon belonged. He distinguishes three principal styles, the austere, the smooth and the middle1
. He cites poets, historians and orators who
are examples of each. Among orators Antiphon is his representative of the austere style, Isokrates of the smooth, Demosthenes of the middle. The austere style is thus described2
‘It wishes its separate words to be planted firmly and to have strong positions, so that each word may be seen conspicuously; it wishes its several clauses to be well divided from each other by sensible pauses. It is willing to admit frequently rough and direct clashings of sounds, meeting like the bases of stones in loose wall-work, which have not been squared or smoothed to fit each other, but which show a certain negligence and absence of forethought. It loves, as a rule, to prolong itself by large words of portly breadth. Compression by short syllables is a thing which it shuns when not absolutely driven to it.
‘As regards separate words, these are the objects of its pursuit and craving. In whole clauses it shows these tendencies no less strongly; especially it chooses the most dignified and majestic rhythms. It does not wish the clauses to be like each other in length of structure, or enslaved to a severe
syntax, but noble, simple, free. It wishes them to bear the stamp of nature rather than that of art, and to stir feeling rather than to reflect character. It does not usually aim at composing periods as a compact framework for its thought; but, if it should ever drift undesignedly into the periodic style, it desires to set on this the mark of spontaneity and plainness. It does not employ, in order to round a sentence, supplementary words which do not help the sense; it does not care that the march of its phrase should have stage-glitter or an artificial smoothness; nor that the clauses should be separately adapted to the length of the speaker's breath. No indeed. Of all such industry it is innocent... It is fanciful in imagery, sparing of copulas, anything but florid; it is haughty, straightforward, disdainful of prettiness, with its antique air and its negligence for its beauty.’
It is important to remember that this description is applied to a certain kind of poetry as well as of prose, to Pindar and Aeschylos as well as to Thucydides and Antiphon; and that, taken in reference to prose alone, it needs modification. It is not true, for instance, of the older prose that it always shrank from the display
of artificialism. Negligent it often was; but at other times it was consciously, ostentatiously artificial. Its general characteristics, however, are admirably given by Dionysios. It is dignified; it relies much on the weight of single words; it is bold but not florid; it aims at moving the hearer rather than at reflecting the character of the speaker. Antiphon, his representative orator, exemplifies these points clearly,—as will be seen
better if he is compared from time to time with the critic's representative historian, Thucydides.