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The judgement of Dionysios

AT the conclusion of his essay on Isaeos1, Dionysios explains the principle of selection which has guided him in this and in the two other criticisms which are properly its companions, the essays on Lysias and Isokrates. He has chosen men who are not merely interesting in themselves but who have a certain typical significance. Lysias is the representative of those who cultivate terse, closelyreasoned discourse with a view to real contests, deliberative or forensic; and, having made a study of Lysias, he has felt himself exempted from discussing in detail the austere Antiphon, the frigid, inane and ungraceful Polykrates, the correct and subtle Thrasymachos, who, though inventive and forcible, is still a merely scholastic writer, the artificial Kritias and Zoilos, to whom, in different ways, the same general observation would apply. Isokrates, again, stands for all who have succeeded in the poetical, the elevated and stately manner; and, in like sort, absolves the critic from discussing Gorgias, ‘who lapses from moderation and is everywhere childish’; Alkidamas, his pupil, who is ‘somewhat coarse’; Theodoros of Byzantium, whose technical inaccuracies are not adequately compensated by ability, deliberative or forensic, and who, moreover, is antiquated; Anaximenes of Lampsakos, who aims at completeness, who would fain stand foursquare to rivalries from every quarter, but who, in every kind, is weak and devoid of persuasive charm; or, lastly, those contemporary imitators of Isokrates, in regard to expression, who are confessedly his inferiors, such as Theodektes, Naukrates, Philistos, Kephisodoros, Ephoros, Theopompos. But what or whom does Isaeos represent except himself? Might not he, if any man, he, an exclusively forensic writer, and that in the ‘plain’ manner, he, the close student and direct imitator of Lysias, have been taken as characterised when Lysias had been criticised? This is the answer of Dionysios:—‘As
Distinction of Isaeos, according to Dionysios.
to the third—Isaeos—if anyone were to ask me why I added him (to Lysias and Isokrates), being, as he is, an imitator of Lysias, I should assign this reason;—Because I think that the oratorical power (δεινὄτης) of Demosthenes—power which everyone deems to have reached an incomparable perfection— took its seeds and its beginnings from Isaeos2.’
The estimate needs qualification.

The significance of Isaeos, when looked at closely, will prove to be something more independent and substantive than this judgment seems to make it. But here, at least, are two cardinal points for an attempt to estimate the place of Isaeos in the development of Attic oratory. We must endeavour to determine, first, his relation to Lysias; secondly, his relation to Demosthenes.

1 Dionys. Isae. c. 19.

2 Dionys. Isae. 20, ὅτι μοι δοκεῖ τῆς Δημοσθένους δεινότητος, ἣν οὐθείς ἐστιν ὃς οὐ τελειοτάτην ἁπασῶν οἴεται γενέσθαι, τὰ σπέρματα καὶ τὰς ἀρχὰς οὗτος ἀνὴρ παρασχεῖν. Cp. ib. c. 3, where he says that the composition of Isaeos, in respect of the power, the impressiveness, of its embellishment (τῇ δεινότητι τῆς κατασκευῆς) ‘is in truth a fountain (πηγή τις) of the faculty of Demosthenes.’

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