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The style of Antiphon: how far periodic.

The place of Antiphon in the history of his art is further marked by the degree in which he had attained a periodic style. It is perhaps impossible to find English terms which shall give all the clearness of the Greek contrast between περιοδική and εἰρομένη λέξις1. The ‘running’ style, as εἰρομένη expresses, is that in which the ideas are merely strung together, like beads, in the order in which they naturally present themselves to the mind. Its characteristic is simple continuity. The characteristic of the ‘periodic’ style is that each sentence ‘comes round’ upon itself, so as to form a separate, symmetrical whole2. The running style may be represented by a straight line which may be cut short at any point or prolonged to any point: the periodic style is a system of independent circles. The period may be formed either, so to say, in one piece, or of several members (κῶλα, membra), as a hoop may be made either of a single lath bent round, or of segments fitted together. It was a maxim of the later Greek rhetoric that, for the sake of simplicity and strength, a period should not consist of more than four3 of these members or segments; Roman rhetoric allowed a greater number4.

Aristotle5 takes as his example of the ‘running’ style the opening words of the History of Herodotos; and, speaking generally, it may be said that this was the style in which Herodotos and the earlier Ionian logographers wrote. But it ought to be remembered that neither Herodotos, nor any writer in a language which has passed beyond the rudest stage, exhibits the ‘running’ style in an ideal simplicity. In its purest and simplest form, the running style is incompatible with the very idea of a literature6. Wherever a literature exists, it contains the germ, however immature, of the periodic style; which, if the literature is developed, is necessarily developed along with it. For every effort to grasp and limit an idea naturally finds expression more or less in the periodic manner, the very nature of a period being to comprehend and define. In Herodotos, the running style, so congenial to his direct narrative, is dominant; but when he pauses and braces himself to state some theory, some general result of his observations, he tends to become periodic just because he is striving to be precise7. From the time of Herodotos onward the periodic style is seen gradually more and more natured, according as men felt more and more the stimulus to find vigorous utterance for clear conceptions. Antiphon represents a moment at which this stimulus had become stronger than it had ever before been in the Greek world. His activity as a writer of speeches may be placed between the years 421 and 411 B.C.8. The effects of the Peloponnesian war in sharpening political animosities had made themselves fully felt; that phase of Athenian democracy in which the contests of the ekklesia and of the lawcourts were keenest and most frequent had set in; the teaching of the Sophists had thrown a new light upon language considered as a weapon. Every man felt the desire, the urgent necessity, of being able in all cases to express his opinions with the most trenchant force; at any moment his life might depend upon it. The new intensity of the age is reflected in the speeches of Antiphon. Wherever the feeling rises highest, as in the appeals to the judges, he strives to use a language which shall ‘pack the thoughts closely and bring them out roundly9.’ But it is striking to observe how far this periodic style still is from the ease of Lysias or the smooth completeness of Isokrates. The harshness of the old rugged writing refuses to blend with it harmoniously,—either taking it up with marked transitions, or suddenly breaking out in the midst of the most elaborate passages10. It is everywhere plain that the desire to be compact is greater than the power. Antitheses and parallelisms11 are abundantly employed, giving a rigid and monotonous effect to the periods which they form. That more artistic period of which the several parts resemble the mutually-supporting stones of a vaulted roof12, and which leads the ear by a smooth curve to a happy finish, has not yet been found. An imperfect sense of rhythm, or a habit of composition to which rhythmical restraint is intolerable except for a very short space, is everywhere manifest. The vinegar and the oil refuse to mingle. Thucydides presents the same phenomenon, but with some curious differences. It may perhaps be said that, while Antiphon has more technical skill (incomplete as that skill is) in periodic writing, Thucydides has infinitely more of its spirit. He is always at high pressure, always nervous, intense. He struggles to bring a large, complex idea into a framework in which the whole can be seen at once. Aristotle says that a period must be of ‘a size to be taken in at a glance13;’ and this is what Thucydides wishes the thought of each sentence to be, though he is sometimes clumsy in the mechanism of the sentence itself. Dionysios mentions among the excellences which Demosthenes borrowed from the historian, ‘his rapid movement, his terseness, his intensity, his sting14;’ excellences, he adds, which neither Antiphon nor Lysias nor Isokrates possessed. This intensity, due primarily to genius, next to the absorbing interest of a great subject, does, in truth, place Thucydides, with all his roughness, far nearer than Antiphon to the ideal of a compact and masterly prose. Technically speaking, Thucydides as well as Antiphon must be placed in the border-land between the old running style and finished periodic writing. But the essential merits of the latter, though in a rude shape, have already been reached by the native vigour of the historian; while to the orator a period is still something which must be constructed with painful effort, and on a model admitting of little variety.

1 λέξις εἰρομένη (Arist. Rhet. III. 9). Demetrios (ἑρμ. περὶ περιόδων § 12) calls it διηρῃμένη, ‘disjointed,’ διαλελυμένη ‘loose,’ διερριμμένη ‘sprawling’—in contrast to the close, compact system of the periodic style. It is also called by Dionysios de Demosth. c. 39, κομματική, ‘commatic,’ as consisting of short clauses (κόμματα) following each other without pause. Aristotle (l. c.) calls the periodic style κατεστραμμένη, ‘compact.’

2 Cicero calls the period “circuitum et quasi orbem verborum(Cic. Orat. III. 51. 198).

3 Hermogenes περὶ εὑρες. II. p. 240, Spengel.

4 Quint. IX. 4. 124.

5 Rhet. III. 9.

6 Blass, Att. Bereds. p. 124: “Die gewisse Periodik hat naturlich die griechische und jede Litatur von Anfang an gehabt: eine ganz reine λέξις εἰρομένη ist in der Wirklichkeit nie vorhanden.”

7 See (for instance) the passage which Herodotos speculates on the causes of the overflowing of the Nile, II. 24, 25. It begins in a thoroughly periodic style:— εἰ δὲ δεῖ, | μεμψάμενον γνώμας τὰς προκειμένας, | αὐτὀν περὶ τῶν ἀφανέων ἀποδέξασθαι, | φράσω διότι μοι δοκέει πληθύεσθαι Νεῖλος τοῦ θέρεος.

8 The speech On the Murder of Herodes must probably be placed between 421 and 416 B. C.; the speech On the Choreutes about 413.

9 Dionys. de Lys. c. 6 (in reference to Lysias) συστρέφουσα τὰ νοήματα καὶ στρογγύλως ἐκφέρουσα λέξις,—a good description of the periodic style generally as opposed to the εἰρομένη.

10 E. g., in the speech On Murder of Herodes, sections 1 show thoroughly artistic period § 20, again, is almost pure εἰρομέν in Tetral. II. Γ 7 (ἀξιῶν δὲ διὰ φανερὰν εἶναι τὴν ὑποψίαν...ἐπέθετο αὐτῷ) the κατεστραμμένη and εἰρομένη are combined.

11 E.g. Accus. Venen. § 5 τοῦ μὲν ἐκ προοβουλῆς ἀκουσίως ἀποθανόντος τῆς δὲ ἑκουσίως ἐκ προνοίας ἀποκτεινάσης.

12 περιφερὴς στέγη, Demetrios περὶ ἑρμ. § 12, where this comparison is made.

13 μέγεθος εὐσύνοπτον: Rhet. III. 9.

14 τὰ τάχητὰς συστροφάςτοὺς τόνουςτὸ πικρόν: Dionys. De Thuc. 53. He adds τὸ στρυφνόν (which seems to be a metaphor of the same kind as αὐστηρόν, and to mean ‘his biting flavour’); and τὴν ἐξεγείρουσαν τὰ πάθη δεινότητα.

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