In relation to Demosthenes and the orators contemporary with him, the significance of Aeschines is closely similar to that which Andokides has for the age of Antiphon. Andokides is an amateur,
not uninfluenced by what the artists are doing, but with no complete theory of his own. Just such an amateur is Aeschines in comparison with (for instance) Hypereides. On the other hand, the positive superiority of Aeschines to Andokides, as an orator, is immense. Scarcely more than Andokides did Aeschines possess the art, τέχνη
, of speaking; but he had, in a far greater measure than Andokides, the practice, μελέτη
, which, even without art, can do much to serve the need of the hour—this practice including both the habit of composition and skill in declamation. Lastly, he had in an extraordinary degree, the third and supreme requisite—faculty
. His natural gift was most brilliant. If we
Aeschines the orator as conceived by himself.
look to that conception of himself as an orator which Aeschines puts forward when he desires to appear at the greatest advantage over against Demosthenes, we shall find that it has two chief traits. First, Aeschines gives it to be understood that he is the man of spontaneous eloquence, while Demosthenes is the laborious rhetor. Secondly, Aeschines piques himself on his culture
, meaning by this partly his familiarity with the standard poets, such as the old tragedians; partly a general sense of propriety or refinement, which, for instance, leads him to imitate the decorum (εὐκοσμία
) of the old orators, like Solon or Perikles, by speaking with his hand within his robe, instead of using vehement
action;—and which helps to guard him, again, from such faults of taste in expression as he imputes to his rival1
. This second pretension, in both its parts, is originally the tragic actor's; Aeschines is usually at his worst when he puts it forward; and at the end of his career it comes in as his evil genius in the disastrous peroration against Ktesiphon. As for his other pretension—of representing natural as against laboured oratory—Aeschines was too shrewd to have made this claim if it had not been roughly like the truth. We may be quite sure that a great many people thought it true. Pytheas, too, could taunt Demosthenes with his speeches smelling of the lamp: a taunt of evil augury for all Greek art. Aeschines had had no systematic
Aeschines untrained in Rhetoric.
training. One account, indeed, made him the pupil of Isokrates and Plato; others hint that he had imitated Leodamas or studied Alkidamas2
. But the
best answer is the concise description of his style quoted by his scholiast from Greek critics3
. It has not finish, purity, or beauty of rhythm: it is blatant (κεχηνυῖα
), inartistic, headlong (προπετής
), easily betrayed into coarse abuse ill-becoming an orator;
but it has a stamp of power and of facility such as would come of nature and of private study
, i.e. not under a master. When the Rhodians asked him to teach them Rhetoric, he said that he did not know it himself.
If, however, Aeschines was no rhetorical artist,
His training as an actor:
he brought to public speaking the twofold training of an actor and a scribe. He had a magnificent voice, under perfect musical control: ‘he compares me to the sirens,’ says Aeschines of his rival. As tritagonist, he had often to play showy parts, such as Kreon, Kresphontes, Thyestes; and the pose which he adopted when speaking, in contrast with the then customary ‘action,’ had been studied in the right stage-parts. In his rank of tritagonist, he was probably a good actor. A protagonist, when he had been assigned to the poet by lot, chose his two colleagues; and so eminent a protagonist as Theodoros would not have associated Aeschines with Aristodemos if Aeschines had not been efficient. Demosthenes represents Aeschines as having failed on the boards: the fact seems to be rather that he was ruined by an accident. The Oenomaos
of Sophokles was being played at Kollytos. Aeschines was Oenomaos: in hurrying after Pelops, he stumbled and fell, and was helped to his feet by the leader of the chorus. Modern life has probably no adequate parallel for such a fiasco. If one could conceive the sum of all disasters that can mar a solemnity, or an opera, occurring before five thousand attentive Parisians, it might be easier to comprehend why Aeschines left the Attic stage. After
having been clerk to some minor official, Aeschines
was secretary to the statesmen Aristophon and Eubulos, and then, with his brother Aphobetos, for two years secretary to the ekklesia. He thus learned thoroughly the forms of public business, and gained that knowledge of laws and recorded decrees which, next to natural eloquence, was his chief weapon.
Without the intensity of Demosthenes, Aeschines
Character of Aeschines as an orator.
has a certain fluent vehemence; his diction, when neither low nor turgid, has that splendour4
which both Dionysios and Cicero recognised; and if his descriptions are sometimes tedious or pointless, he is certainly strong in exposition and narrative. The fatal hindrance to his greatness in oratory is the contrast, which never fails to reveal itself in any ambitious passage of much length, between his brilliant impetuosity and his profound want of earnest conviction and of moral nobleness. It is not the occasional coarseness of his style, it is the vulgarity of his soul that counteracts his splendid gift for eloquence: of Aeschines as a speaker it might indeed be said ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων
. Had he become an artist, his character would not therefore have risen to the height of his faculty; but his faculty would have been better restrained to the level of his character; the contrast just noticed would have been rendered less conspicuous; and if he would not have come so near to supreme success,
at least he would not have been so utterly overthrown.