Loss of Political Freedom—how far a cause of the decline.
AT the moment when the theory of oratory had been raised from a technical to a scientific form, its practice began to decline: the great analyst who gave a philosophy to Rhetoric was also the master of Demetrios Phalereus. It is commonly said that the declension of Attic oratory dates from the loss of political freedom. The fact is certain: but those who have tried to see what this oratory in its essence was, will be the first to feel that the connexion between the two things is not altogether self-evident. As to
the Deliberative branch, that, clearly, was doomed to decay when the questions which the ekklesia could discuss with a practical result came to be hardly more than municipal. A good notion of the manner in which the province of debate was now restricted may be got from a speech1
made eight years after Chaeroneia, when Alexander was in the mid-career of his Asiatic victories. An Athenian citizen of the Macedonian party had tried to damage his adversary in a law-suit by insinuating that this
adversary had flattered Olympias and Alexander. Hypereides retorts that it would be more to the purpose if, instead of making such charges, Polyeuktos could muster courage to go and denounce the injurious dictation of Macedon before the Panhellenic Congress: but the very way in which this is put implies that it was more than could be expected of ordinary patriotism; and the merit claimed for Euxenippos is not that he
has done anything of the kind, but simply that he has shunned association with the active Athenian agents of Alexander. As Aristotle says, no one deliberates about the impossible; and, in regard to independent action, the limits of the possible for Athens had become narrow. Nor was the Forensic branch exempt from
similar influences. Macedonian blandishments could reach jurors as well as debaters: the art of persuasion, pure and simple, would count for less and less; and the aim of the Athenian writer for the lawcourts would become more and more like that of the speaker whose first object is the display of his faculty. Granting all this, however, why, it may be asked,
should not Attic oratory, being essentially a fine art, have found at least one secure refuge in this very department of display; especially since the Epideictic branch had become so closely identified with the national literature? As long as there were such writers as Theopompos, or even Ephoros, a tolerably pure Attic style might surely be preserved, even though there were no longer political inspirations for the deliberative speaker, or, for the advocate, the opportunities of a real equality before the law. After
all, the deliberative branch itself had developed its best types chiefly from the epideictic.