Had his style been florid before it became plain?
His dramatic purpose—if it may be so called— decided the special characteristics of his style. But, even without this purpose, an instinctive dislike of exaggeration would of itself have given his style some general characteristics, sufficient to distinguish it from that of any of his contemporaries. On this account we must dissent from a view advanced by K. O. Müller in his History of Greek Literature1
Lysias had, he thinks, two distinct styles at two different periods of his life; the earlier, ‘forced and artificial;’ the later, plain. Müller recognises the former in the speech in the Phaedros, and in the Epitaphios. The turning-point was, he conceives, the impeachment of Eratosthenes, when ‘a real feeling of pain and anger’ in the mind of Lysias gave ‘a more lively and natural flow both to his spirits and to his speech.’ ‘This occasion’—Müller adds— ‘convinced Lysias what style of oratory was both the most suited to his own character and also least likely to fail in producing an effect upon the judges.’ Ingenious as the theory is, we have no belief in the fact of any such abrupt transition as it supposes. That temperate mastery with which Lysias cultivated the ‘plain’ style is doubly a marvel if it was only a sudden practical experience which weaned him from his first love for a forced and artificial rhetoric. Converts are not proverbial for discretion; and the exquisite judgment shown by Lysias after his supposed reformation ought to have prevented its necessity. Like all his contemporaries he must, unquestionably, have had his earliest training in the florid Sicilian school; but there is nothing to show that its precepts ever took a strong hold upon him; and there is overwhelming reason to believe that a genius of the bent of his must very early have thrown off such pedantic trammels. It is true that the speech in the Phaedros —assuming its genuineness—is more stiffly composed than any of his presumably later writings: but, on the other hand, it is, as Müller allows, entirely free from the ornaments of Gorgias.
As for the Epitaphios, its spuriousness is now a generally recognised fact2