Two early tendencies— the Rhetorical and the Gorgian
IT will now be useful to look back on the whole development from Antiphon to Demosthenes, and to trace the main lines of its course.
The ground for an artistic Athenian oratory was prepared partly by the popular Dialectic of the eastern Sophists, partly by the Sicilian Rhetoric. Intermediate between these stood the earliest artist of oratorical prose, Gorgias; differing from the eastern Sophists in laying more stress on expression than on management of argument, and from the Sicilian Rhetoricians in cultivating his faculty empirically, not theoretically.
Two principal tendencies appear in the beginnings of Attic oratory. One of these sets out from the forensic Rhetoric of Sicily, in combination with the popular Dialectic of the Sophists, and is but slightly affected by Gorgias. It is represented by the writers of the ‘austere’ style, of whom Antiphon and Thucydides are the chief. From Thucydides to Demosthenes this manner is in abeyance, partly because it
is in itself unsuited to forensic purposes, partly because its grave emphasis has come to seem archaic. The second tendency is purely Gorgian, and, after having had several obscure representatives, is taken up by Isokrates, who gives to it a corrected, a complete and a permanent form. From a compromise between this second tendency and the idiom of daily life arises the ‘plain’ style of Lysias. The transition from Lysias to a strenuous political oratory is marked by Isaeos. Then comes the matured political oratory, giving new combinations to types already developed, and, in its greatest representative, uniting them all.
Antiphon and Thucydides have been strongly
influenced, as to arrangement and form of argument, by Dialectic and Rhetoric. In regard to expression, they have been influenced by the synonym-lore, such as that of Prodikos, but hardly at all by the oratory of Gorgias. In expression, they are essentially pioneers. Those things which they have in common are to a great extent the necessary traits of early Greek prose, before the language was a perfectly flexible material, when that prose was wrought by a vigorous and subtle mind. Such traits are, however, numerous enough and strong enough to justify us in holding that they constitute a style. The characteristics of this ‘austere’ style have been analysed in reference to Antiphon. Such a manner
The ‘austere’ style not forensic.
could not possibly keep its place in the forensic field. Legal controversy, growing subtle, terse and eager, would become as uncongenial to the prose of Antiphon as to the prose of Milton. A
conception of the general effect will be assisted, perhaps, by a rough English parallel. In 1626 the Judges were called in to assist the House of Lords regarding a claim to the earldom of Oxford, and Chief Justice Crewe delivered an address in which this passage occurred1
‘This great honour, this high and noble dignity, hath continued ever since in the remarkable surnaine of De Vere, by so many ages, descents, and generations, as no other kingdom can produce a peer in one of the self-same name and title. I find in all this length of time but two attainders of this noble family, and those in stormy and tempestuous times, when the government was unsettled and the kingdom in competition. I have laboured to make a covenant with myself that affection may not press upon judgment; for I suppose there is no man that hath any apprehension of gentry and nobleness, but his affection stands to the continuance of so noble a name and house, and would take hold of a twig or a twine-thread to uphold it. And yet Time hath its revolutions; there must be a period and an end to all temporal things—finis rerum,
an end of names, and dignities, and whatsoever is terrene, and why not of De Vere? For where is Bohun? where is Mowbray? where is Mortimer? Nay, which is more and most of all, where is Plantagenet? They are entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality. And yet let the name and dignity of De Vere stand so long as it pleaseth God!’