Asianism as viewed by Cicero and by Greek Atticists.
The spirit which animated all this various work came from a certain way of looking at the whole development of Greek prose since Alexander. Cicero, the Roman, conceives Atticism as an unbroken tradition, which was merely adulterated and debased by those influences which are called Asiatic. In one sense this is most true. Athens made once for all the conquest of Hellenic prose. The forms of the Attic dialect became once for all the standard forms of Greek literature, and are so in the newspapers of today. From Polybios to Trikoupes the literary supremacy of Athens has been acknowledged by men who have written in a dialect which they did not speak. It has been truly said that the latest Byzantine was, in language, nearer to Xenophon than Xenophon was to Herodotos1
. On the other hand, just as a Roman could scarcely comprehend the feeling with which Demosthenes regarded Philip, so a Roman could scarcely comprehend the feeling with which Dionysios and Caecilius regarded Hegesias. To those Greek scholars living in Augustan Rome, Asianism, when they looked back on it and compared it with the art of better days, seemed not merely a debasement, but an extinction, of the soul by which that art had lived. Attic forms might be retained; but without the Attic spirit they were dead. The continuity had been merely outward. Let us hear
Dionysios on the Dectine and the Revival.
Dionysios say this in his own vivid words. ‘Great thanks might justly be given to our days, most
excellent Ammaeus, as well for an improvement in other branches of culture, as particularly for the signal advance that has been made by the study of Civil Oratory. For, in the times before ours, the old scientific Rhetoric was threatened with abolition by the contumelies and outrages that it suffered. From the death of Alexander of Macedon it began to yield up its spirit and gradually to fade; and in our own generation it was all but totally extinguished. A stranger crept into the other's place—immodest, theatrical, ill-bred, intolerable, imbued neither with philosophy nor with any other liberal discipline; stealthily she imposed on the ignorance of the multitude; and, besides living in greater wealth, luxury, splendour than her predecessor, drew into her own hands all those threads of political power and influence which should have been held by her wiser sister. Utterly vulgar and meddlesome, the usurper at last made Greece like to the households of misguided profligates. For, even as in such houses the true wife, freeborn and virtuous, sits powerless over all that is her own, while a giddy paramour, a presence fatal to the home, claims to govern its fortunes, heaping scorns and threats on their rightful queen; even so in every city—aye, and worst of all, in the seats of culture no less than elsewhere—the Attic Muse, daughter of the land and of its memories, had been disinherited and made a mockery, while the abuse that had come but yesterday from some barbarians of Asia, an outlandish baggage from Phrygia or Karia, presumed to rule the cities of Greece, when, by her, the other had been driven
from their councils—the wise damsel by the foolish, the modest by the mad2