Originality of Lysias.
With certain exceptions, which will be noticed in their place, Lysias has these characteristics, and is the best representative of the plain style, whether viewed historically or in the abstract. That style gradually came to be used by almost all writers for the ekklesia or the law-courts; but it was Lysias, says Dionysios, who ‘perfected’ it, and ‘brought it to the summit of the excellence proper to it1
.’ In order that the originality of Lysias may not be
underrated, attention must be given to the precise meaning of this statement. It appears to speak of him merely as having succeeded better than others in a style used by nearly all writers of speeches for the law-courts. But what was, in fact, common to him and them was this only—the avoidance of decidedly poetical ornament and the employment of sober prose. This is all that the ‘plain’ style, as opposed to the ‘elaborate,’ necessarily means. That which he had, and which no other had in the same degree, was the art of so writing this prose that it should be in character with the person who spoke it. Their style was monotonously plain; his was plain too, but it was more, it was variously natural. Dionysios shows elsewhere that he appreciated to the full the originality of Lysias; but he has hardly brought it out with sufficient clearness in the passage which has just been noticed. Lysias may, in a general sense, be regarded as the perfecter of a style already practised by many others; but it is closer to the truth to call him the founder of a new one, and of one in which he was never rivalled2
It does not, perhaps, strike the modern mind as very remarkable that a man whose business was to write speeches for other people should have conceived
the idea of making the speech appropriate to the person. In order to understand why this conception was, at the time, a proof of genius, it is necessary to remember how rhetoric was then viewed. Prose composition in its infancy was a craft, a close profession, just as much as poetry. Beside the sacred band of ‘wise’ poets stood the small group of experts skilled to fashion artistic prose. When a man wished for help in a law-suit he applied, as a matter of course, if he could afford it, to one of these; and it was equally a matter of course that the speech supplied to him should bear the same stamp as others turned out by the same machine. There was no pretence of its being the work of the speaker, and no expectation, therefore, that it should reflect his nature; a certain rhetorical colour, certain recognized forms of argument and appeal, were alone looked for. The idea of writing for a client so that he should have in court the whole advantage of professional aid, and, in addition to this, the advantage of appearing to have dispensed with it, was not only novel but daring. This is what Lysias first undertook to do, and did admirably.