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
. 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