Place of Lysias in the history of Rhetoric.
On reviewing the general position of Lysias among the Attic orators, it will be seen to result mainly from his discovery, made at a time when Rhetoric had not yet outlived the crudest taste for finery, that the most complete art is that which hides itself. Aided not only by a delicate mastery of language but by a peculiar gift for reading and expressing character, he created a style of which the chief mark was various naturalness. It was long before the art of speaking reached, in general
practice, that sober maturity which his precocious tact had given to it in a limited field; it was long before his successors freed themselves to any great extent— few wholly freed themselves—from the well-worn allurements which he had decisively rejected when they were freshest. But at least no one of those who came after dared to neglect the lesson taught by Lysias; the attempt to be natural, however artificially or rarely, was henceforward a new element in the task which professors of eloquence conceived to be set before them. Lysias remains, for all aftertimes, the master of the plain style.
This supremacy in a definite province is allowed
The ancient critics upon Lysias.
to him by the general voice of antiquity through the centuries in which its culture was finest; the praise becoming, however, less discriminating as the instinct which directed it became less sure.
upon Lysias—for not having seen that the writing of love-letters is a branch of Dialectic—is joined to a notice of the clearness, compactness, finished polish of his language2
; and it would perhaps be unfair to Plato to assume that in the one place where he seems at all just to
Lysias he meant to be altogether ironical. Isaeos was a careful student of Lysias3
. If Aristotle4
seldom quoted him, if Theophrastos5
appears to have missed and Demetrics6
to have underrated his peculiar merits, one of the first orators of their generation, Deinarchos7
, often took him for a model. When
the taste for Attic simplicity, lost during two centuries in the schools of Asia, revived at Rome, Lysias was recognised as its truest representative. Though most of his Roman imitators appear to have become feeble in seeking to be plain, one of them, Licinius Calvus, is allowed at least the praise of elegance8
. Cicero's criticism of Lysias is not close; it does not analyse with any exactness the special qualities of his style; but the general appreciation which it shows is just. For Cicero, Lysias is the model, not of a plain style merely, but of Attic refinement9
; he has also the highest degree of vigour10
; and though grandeur was seldom possible in the treatment of such subjects as he chose, some passages of his speeches have elevation11
. Yet, while Demosthenes could use the simplicity of Lysias, it is doubtful (Cicero thinks) whether Lysias could ever have risen to the height of Demosthenes12
Lysias is ‘almost’ a second Demosthenes13
, or, what is the same thing, ‘almost’ a perfect orator14
; but his mastery is limited to a province. The Augustan age produced by far the best and fullest of known ancient criticisms upon Lysias, that of Dionysios15
. The verdict of Caecilius has perished with his work on the Ten Orators; but the remark preserved from it, that Lysias was abler in the invention than in the arrangement of arguments16
, shows discernment. This quality marks in a less degree the judgments of subsequent writers. Quintilian17
only commends Lysias in general terms for plain elegance of language and mastery of clear exposition; Hermogenes18
especially praises, not his winningness, but his hidden force, classing him, with Isaeos and Hypereides, next to Demosthenes in political eloquence. Photios19
goes wide of the
mark; he praises Lysias for those things in which he was relatively weak, pathos and sublime intensity; and disputes the just observation of Caecilius that Lysias excelled in invention rather than in arrangement.