Early History of Greek Oratory.
The least gifted people, in the earliest stage of intellectual or political growth, will always or usually have the idea, however rude, of a natural
Two conditions for the possibility of any such history.
oratory. But oratory first begins to have a history, of which the development can be traced, when two conditions have been fulfilled. First, that oratory should be conceived, no longer subjectively, but objectively also, and from having been a mere faculty, should have become an art. Secondly, that an oration should have been written in accordance with the theory of that art. The history of Greek oratory begins with Gorgias. The history of Attic oratory, properly so called, begins with Antiphon.
The special attributes and endowments of the
Greeks would lead us to expect, before the beginnings of an oratorical art, a singularly rich and various manifestation of natural eloquence, and also an early moment of origin for the art itself. Now, as a
Late appearance of Greek oratory as an Art.
matter of fact, the origin of the art was singularly late, relatively to the gifts and to the general artistic tendency of the race; but the causes of this delay were external and political. On the other hand,
Extraordinary brilliancy of the pre theoretic Oratory.
no documents of any early society can show an exuberance, a brilliancy, a diversified perfection of natural eloquence comparable to that which makes one of the chief glories of the Homeric poems. By ‘natural’ is meant, not necessarily unstudied, but unsystematic, or antecedent to a theory of Rhetoric. The man to whom the gods had given
Homeric estimate of Eloquence.
, the power of discourse,—that which, with beautiful strength, φυή
, and good sense, φρένες
, makes the Homeric triad of human excellences,— might cultivate it; but so long as this cultivation is empirical, not theoretic, the eloquence which it achieves is still natural. From Achilles to Thersites, the orators of the Iliad and the Odyssey are
Homeric illustrations of Eloquence.
individual. If Achilles alone is a Demosthenes, who had no defects to conquer and no mysteries to learn, Nestor is an Isokrates unaided or unembarrassed by his system, Telemachos an ingenuous youth who has no need of prompting by a Lysias, Odysseus a speaker in whom the logical terseness of Isaeos is joined to something like the unscrupulous smartness, though to nothing like the theatrical splendour, of
Modern character of the great Homeric speeches:
Aeschines. Nor does any oratory that the ancient world has left approach so nearly as the Homeric to
the modern ideal. The reason of this is that the great orations of the Iliad are made in debate, and the greatest of all are replies,—as the answer of Achilles to the envoys in the First Book. Condensed statement, lucid argument, repartee, sarcasm, irony, overwhelming invective, profound and irresistible pathos,—all these resources are absolutely commanded by the orators of the Iliad, and all these must have belonged to him, or to those, by whom
Their historical significance.
the Iliad was created. As Mr Gladstone has said1
, ‘Paradise Lost’ does not represent the time of Charles the Second, nor the ‘Excursion’ the first decades of this century, but ‘as, when we find these speeches in Homer, we know that there must have been men who could speak them, so, from the existence of units who could speak them, we know that there must have been crowds who could feel them.’
The Homeric eloquence is still aristocratic, not civil.
The Homeric ideal, to shine in eloquence as in action, to be at once ‘a speaker of words and a doer of deeds,’ ‘good in counsel, and mighty in war,’ had ample scope, as far as kings and nobles were concerned, in the council and the agora. But the eloquence of the commons does not appear to have been particularly encouraged by the chiefs, and the consummate individuality of an Achilles or an Odysseus was no real step towards the development of a popular oratory based upon a theory communicable to all. In the presence of these great debaters of the Iliad, the Homeric τις
, when present at all, is essentially a layman, confined strictly to the critical function and uttering his criticisms, when
they find utterance, in the fewest and plainest words. Democracy, with its principle of ἰσηγορία
First conditions of civil eloquence — ἰσηγορία,
the principle that every citizen has an equal right to speak his mind about the concerns of the city,— was necessary before a truly civil eloquence could be even possible. But, after Democracy had arisen, a further condition was needed,—the cultivation of
the popular intelligence. What is so strikingly characteristic of Greek Democracy in the period
The faculty of speech— its place in early Greek Democracy.
before an artistic oratory is this,—that the power of public speaking now exists, indeed, as a political weapon, but, instead of being the great organ by which the people wield the commonwealth, is constantly used by designing individuals against the people. It is employed as a lever for changing the democracy into a tyranny. Such names as Aristagoras, Evagoras, Protagoras, Peisistratos, frequent especially in the Ionian colonies, indicate, not the growth of a popular oratory, but the ascendancy which exceptionally gifted speakers were able to acquire, especially in democracies, before oratory was yet an accomplishment studied according to a method.