previous next

Meaning of ‘Asianism.’

While, then, the loss of political independence had a certain immediate effect in deteriorating deliberative and forensic oratory, the primary cause of their decline was one which lay deeper, which had begun its slow workings before Philip had a footing in Greece, and which affected the literary form of artistic prose even more strongly than the other two forms. This cause was the same which gradually vitiated every other branch of Greek art, and which prepared the downfall of Greek independence itself —the decay of the citizen-life of the Greek republics, whereby Greek art in every kind lost that popular character which was the external safeguard of the Greek artist's instinct for truth. It is important, therefore, to get rid of the notion that, when ‘Asianism’ is opposed to ‘Atticism’, the meaning is that Attic simplicity was overlaid by the tawdry taste of the Orientals among whom Greek letters were diffused by the conquests of Alexander. It is true that, in the new Hellenic settlements of Karia, Mysia and the Hellespont, Greek nationality was less pure, and that when the Augustan Atticists wished to stigmatise their opponents they loved to call them Phrygians1. But the depravation began in Athens itself: it became universal, because the demoralisation of the Greeks was universal: it passed over to Asia with the literature of the emigration, and there it grew worse: but it grew worse everywhere else too. Kallisthenes of Stageiros, Timaeos of Tauromenion, had the ‘Asiatic’ tendency as distinctly as any son of Tralles or Alabanda. ‘Asiatic’, as applied to Greek oratory, is properly a geographical term only. It expresses the fact that, from about 320 to about 280 B.C., the new Greek settlements in Asia Minor were the parts of Hellas in which oratory and prose literature were most actively cultivated. The general character of this prose was the same as the general character of prose in Sicily, at Athens, and in every other part of Hellas. ‘Asianism’ versus ‘Atticism’ means the New versus the Old Oratory. The essential difference between them is this. The Old Oratory was an art, and was
Essential difference between Atticism and Asianism.
therefore based upon a theory. The New Oratory was a knack, τρίβη, and was founded upon practice, μελέτη. Atticism was technical and, in its highest phase, scientific. Asianism was empirical. The flourishing period of Asianism was that during which the whole training of the rhetor consisted in declamation. The revival of Atticism dates from the moment when attention was recalled to theory.

1 A lost treatise of Caecilius— who also wrote on the question, τίνι διαφέρει Ἀττικὀς ζῆλος τοῦ Ἀσιανοῦ — was called κατὰ τῶν Φρυγῶν—being a polemical introduction to his Lexicon of Attic phrases: Suidas s. v. Καικίλιος. Cf Cic. Orat. § 25, “Itaque Caria et Phrygia et Mysia, quod minime politae minimeque elegantes sunt, asciverunt opimum quoddam et tanquam adipatae diction is genus.

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: