The ‘propriety’ and ‘charm’ of Lysias.
The ‘propriety’ which has always been praised in Lysias depends mainly on this discernment of what suits the character of each speaker; but it includes more—it has respect also to the hearers and to the subject, and generally to all the circumstances of the case. The judge, the ekklesiast, the listener in the crowd at a festival are not addressed in the same vein; different excellences of style characterise the opening, the narrative, the argument, the final appeal1
It remains to say a few words on the peculiar and crowning excellence of Lysias in the province of expression,—his famous but inexplicable ‘charm.’ It is noticeable that while his Roman critics merely praise his elegance and polish, regarding it as a simple result of his art2
, the finer sense of his Greek
critic apprehends a certain nameless grace or charm, which cannot be directly traced to art,—which cannot be analysed or accounted for: it is something peculiar to him, of which all that can be said is that it is there. What, asks Dionysios, is the freshness of a beautiful face? What is fine harmony in the movements and windings of music? What is rhythm in the measurement of times? As these things baffle definition, so does the charm of Lysias. It cannot be taken to pieces by reasoning; it must be seized by a cultivated instinct3
. It is the final criterion of his genuine work. ‘When I am puzzled about one of the speeches ascribed to him, and when it is hard for me to find the truth by other marks, I have recourse to this excellence, as to the last piece on the board. Then, if the Graces of Speech seem to me to make the writing fair, I count it to be of the soul of Lysias; and I care not to look further into it. But if the stamp of the language has no winningness, no loveliness, I am chagrined, and suspect that after all the speech is not by Lysias; and I do no more violence to my instinct, even though in all else the speech seems to me clever and well-finished; believing that to write well, in special styles other than this, is given to many men; but that to write winningly, gracefully, with loveliness, is the gift of Lysias.’4
A modern reader would be sanguine if he hoped to analyse the distinctive charm of Lysias more closely than Dionysios found himself able to do. He may be content if study by degrees gives him a dim apprehension of something which he believes that he could use, as Dionysios used the qualities detected by his ‘instinct,’ in deciding between the genuine and the false. Evidently the same cause which in great measure disqualifies a modern for estimating the ‘purity’ of the language of Lysias also disqualifies him for estimating its charm. This charm may be supposed to have consisted partly in a certain felicity of expression,—Lysias having a knack of using the word which, for some undefinable reason, was felt to be curiously right; partly in a certain essential urbanity, the reflection of a nature at once genial and refined. The first quality is evidently beyond the sure appreciation of a modern ear: the second less so, yet scarcely to be estimated with nicety, since here too shades of expression are concerned. At best a student of Lysias may hope to attain a tolerably true perception of what he could not
have written: but hardly the faculty of rejoicing that he wrote just as he did.