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Lysias the representative of the Plain Style.

This style, imitated by many, but marked in Lysias by an original excellence, made him for antiquity the representative of a class of orators. It was in the latter part of the fourth century B. C. that Greek critics began regularly to distinguish three styles of rhetorical composition, the grand, the plain and the middle. The grand style aims constantly at rising above the common idiom; it seeks ornament of every kind, and rejects nothing as too artificial if it is striking. The plain style may, like the first, employ the utmost efforts of art, but the art is concealed; and, instead of avoiding, it imitates the language of ordinary life. The ‘middle’ style explains itself by its name. Theophrastos appears to have been the first writer on Rhetoric who attempted such a classification; there is, at least, no hint of it in Aristotle or in the Rhetorica ad Alexandrum1. Vague as the classification necessarily is, it was frequently modified according to the taste of individual teachers. The two extremes—the grand and the plain styles—were recognised by all; but some discerned two2, some three3 shades between them; while others thought it needless to distinguish anything intermediate4. On the whole, however, the tripartite division kept its ground down to Roman times. It was adopted, with variations of detail, by Cicero5, Dionysios6 and Quintilian7. The characteristics of the ‘plain’ style
General characteristics of the Plain Style.
—with which we are most concerned at present—are only sketched by Dionysios8; but they are more precisely given by Cicero. There is a difference, indeed, between the points of view of the two critics. Dionysios treats the three styles historically; Cicero treats them theoretically. The ‘middle’ style of Cicero differs, therefore, from the ‘middle’ style of Dionysios in being an ideal. But Cicero's description of the ‘plain’ style, at least, would probably have been accepted in the main by Dionysios; and it is clear that for Cicero, as for Dionysios, Lysias was the canon of that style. According to Cicero, the chief marks of the ‘genus tenue’ are these:—1. In regard to composition—a free structure of clauses and sentences, not straining after a rhythmical period9

1 Dionysios, speaking of the third or middle style, declares himself unable to decide whether it was first used by Thrasymachos of Chalkêdon, ‘as Theophrastos thinks,’ or by some one else: De Demosth. c. 3. From this, Francken infers with great probability that the distinction between the three styles was first made by Theophrastos in his lost work περὶ λέξεως (Commentationes Lysiacae, p. 9).

2 Thus Demetrios (περὶ ἑρμην. c. 36, Walz, Rh. Graec. vol. IX. p. 21) distinguishes four types or χαρακτῆρες—the plain (ἰσχνός), the grand (μεγαλοπρεπής), the polished (γλαφυρός), and the forcible (δεινός)—meaning by the last a terse, vigorous style, suited to controversy in court or council.

3 Syrianos, in his commentary on the περὶ ἰδεῶν of Hermogenes (Walz, Rh. Graec. vol. VII. p. 93), says that Hipparchos (a rhetorician who wrote a treatise περὶ τρόπων, ib. VI. p. 337) recognised five styles—the plain (ἰσχνός), the copious (ἁδρός—another name for the μεγαλοπρεπής), the middle (μέσος), the graphic (γραφικός), and the florid (ἀνθηρός).

4 Demetrios says that his γλαφυρὸς χαρακτήρ was considered by some as a branch of the ἰσχνός, and his δεινὸς χαρακτήρ as the branch of the μεγαλοπρεπής: περὶ ἑρμ. c. 36, Walz, IX. 21.

5 Cic. Orator c. 6 § 20,grandiloquitenues, acutimedius et quasi temperatus.

6 Dionysios describes the grand style as ἐξηλλαγμένη, περιττή, ἐγκατάσκευος (De Demosth. 1), or ὑψηλὴ λέξις (ib. 34): the plain, as λιτή, ἀφελής (ib. 2), or ἰσχνή, ἀπέριττος (ib. 34): the middle as μέση (ib. 34) or μικτή (ib. 3).

7 Quint. XII. c. 10 § 58. “Unum subtile (genus), quod ἰσχνόν vocant, alterum grande atque robustum, quod ἁδρόν dicunt, constituunt; tertium alii medium ex duobus, alii floridum (namque id ἀνθηρόν appellant) addiderunt.

8 Dionys. De Demosth. c. 2, ἑτέρα λέξις, λιτὴ καὶ ἀφελής, καὶ δοκοῦσα κατασκευήν τε καὶ ἰσχὺν τὴν πρὸς ἰδιώτην ἔχειν λόγον καὶ ὁμοιότητα—a vague description, which tells us only that this style is based upon ἰδιώτης λόγος—the language of ordinary life.

9 Cic. Orator § 77,Primum igitur eum tanquam e vinculis numerorum eximamus......Solutum quiddam sit, nec vagum tamen.”. 2. In regard to diction—(a) purity9, (b) clearness10, (c) propriety11. 3. Abstemious use of rhetorical figures12.

10 ib. § 79sermo erit purus et Latinus.

11 ib.dilucide planeque dicetur.

12 ib.quid deceat circumspiciatur.

13 ib § 80verecundus erit usus oratoriae quasi supellectilis. supellex est enim quodammodo nostra quae est in ornamentis, alia rerum, alia verborum.

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