previous next

Isokratic prose and its influence

By 350 B. C. this method had no longer any
The Isokratic Type becomes the standard of prose.
serious rival in its claim to be considered as the normal prose. A writer like the so-called Antisthenes might popularise his dialectic in such a piece
Its rivals.
as the controversy between Ajax and Odysseus. Alkidamas might defend, and Lykophron illustrate, the principles of Gorgias. Polykrates and Zoilos might show that something of Lysian elegance could be carried into other fields than the forensic. But, for the general uses of literature, the Isokratic style had been accepted as the standard. This may be seen from the way in which its influence grew upon writers outside the school. Plato's style has no law
Its influencc —how far felt by Plato
but itself; it has its unique place in the border-land between poetry and prose, being, as a rule, at its highest when it is nearer to the former. For our present purpose, it would scarcely be profitable to dwell on the Menexenos. The general marks of its style are manifest; the easy, irregular structure of dialogue interferes with the management of the unwonted oratorical period; the ornament is in the immature manner of Gorgias, not at all in that of Isokrates or Lysias; the diction shows occasional redundance, and even what a modern reader can agree with ancient Greek criticism in regarding as of doubtful correctness; the habit of irony slips into a homeliness which, here, is grotesque; and a few phrases are ‘not far from dithyrambs.’ But then it might always be answered that, at worst, the Menexenos is an imperfectly elaborated joke. The influence of the new prose, in so far as it was felt by Plato, must be sought on a surer and broader ground. Two general characteristics of his later work seem to afford such ground. First: the later, as compared with the earlier, dialogues—e.g. the Laws, Timaeos, Kritias as compared with the Republic—have less of short question and answer, and more of continuous exposition. The style of oral dialogue is passing over into a finished literary prose. Secondly: the strongest single peculiarity of the new prose—avoidance of hiatus—becomes more and more marked the later down we go. The instances of hiatus in the Phaedros are not one half so numerous as in the Republic or the Symposium, and the rate of decrease is (approximately) progressive in the Laws, Philebos, Timaeos, Kritias, Sophistes, Politikos1; suggesting that an emendation which, in these dialogues, introduces hiatus is, so far, improbable a priori.

1 See a rough estimate of the averages in Blass, Att. Ber. II. 426 f.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: