previous next

Caecilius and Dionysios.

Among the Greeks then living in the Imperial City were two men, united by friendship, by community of labours and by zeal for the Atticist revival; symbols, by birth-place, of influences which in the past had converged upon the Athens of Perikles from Sicily and the Ionian East,—Caecilius of Calacte and Dionysios of Halikarnassos, now met in that new capital of civilised mankind to which the arts, too, of Athens were passing. Both were scholars of manifold industry, in history, in archæology, in literary criticism, in technical rhetoric, and in a field which the catalogues of the libraries had left almost untouched—discrimination between the genuine and the spurious works of Attic writers. Both wrote upon the Attic orators, but with a difference of plan which is instructive.

The lost work of Caecilius was entitled

Caecilius on the Attic Orators.
περὶ χαρακτῆρος τῶν δέκα ῥητόρων, On the Style of the Ten Orators. These ten were Antiphon, Andokides, Lysias,
The decade.
Isokrates, Isaeos, Lykurgos, Aeschines, Demosthenes, Deinarchos. Now, Caecilius, and his contemporary Didymos, the grammarian and critic of Alexandria, are the earliest writers who know this decade. Dionysios takes no notice whatever of the canon thus adopted by his friend. He seems never to have heard of the number ‘ten’ in connexion with the Attic orators. But from the first century A.D. onwards the decade is established. It is attested, for instance, by the Lives of the Ten Orators, wrongly ascribed to Plutarch, but probably composed about 80 A.D.; by Quintilian; by the neoplatonist Proklos, about 450 A.D.; and by Suidas, about 1100 A.D.— from whom it appears that, in his time, the grammarians had added a second list of ten to the first. The origin of the canon is unknown. It has been ascribed to Caecilius himself, mainly on the ground that it is not heard of before his time. It has been referred to Aristophanes the Byzantine, librarian at Alexandria about 200 B. C., or to his successor Aristarchos, about 156 B. C.,—by whom a canon of the poets, at least, was certainly framed. Another view is that it arose simply from the general tendency to reduce the number of distinguished names in any field to a definite number,—the tendency that gives the Seven Sages of Greece, the Seven Champions of Christendom, and the like. This last theory may safely be rejected. The decade includes at least three names which this kind of halo can never have surrounded—Andokides, Isaeos and Deinarchos. It excludes other orators who, though inferior as artists, would have had a stronger popular claim, such as Kallistratos of Aphidnae, the chief organiser of the Athenian Confederacy in 378, of whom Demosthenes said, when asked whether he or Kallistratos were the better speaker, ‘I, on paper—Kallistratos on the platform’,—his opponents, Leodamas of Acharnae, Aristophon of Azenia, Thrasybulos and Kephalos of Kollytos,—or that vigorous member of the anti-Macedonian party, Polyeuktos of Sphettos. Clearly, this canon was framed once for all by a critic or a school from whose decree contemporary opinion allowed no appeal, was adopted by successive generations, and ultimately secured the preservation of the writings which it contained, while others, not so privileged, were neglected, and at last suffered to perish. The decade was probably drawn up by Alexandrian grammarians in the course of the last two centuries before our era: but there is no warrant for connecting it with any particular name1.
Dionysios on the Attic Orators.

Dionysios, as has been said, altogether ignores the decade. If we supposed that Caecilius was its author, and that, when Dionysios wrote, Caecilius had not yet made his selection, the fact would be explained. But the double supposition involves the strongest improbability. Even if Caecilius had been the framer of the decade, it can hardly be doubted that at least the idea must have been known through him to his intimate friend Dionysios before the latter had completed the series of works which we possess, and that we should find some trace of it in those long lists of orators which Dionysios frequently gives. The truth probably is that Dionysios was perfectly aware of this arbitrary canon, but disregarded it, because it was not a help, but a hindrance, to the purpose with which he studied the Attic orators.

Nothing is more characteristic of Dionysios as a critic than his resolution not to accept tradition as such, but to bring it to the test of reason. This comes out strikingly, for instance, in his distrust of merely prescriptive or titular authenticity when he is going through the list of an ancient writer's works. Now, his object in handling the Attic orators was

His object in handling them.
not to complete a set of biographies or essays, but to establish a standard for Greek prose, applicable alike to oratory and to every other branch of composition. He considers the orators, accordingly, less as individual writers than as representatives of tendencies. He seeks to determine their mutual relations, and, with the aid of the results thus obtained, to trace a historical development. The orators whom he chose as, in this sense, representative were six in number —Lysias, Isokrates, Isaeos, Demosthenes, Hypereides, Aeschines. We have his treatises on Lysias, Isokrates, and Isaeos. We have also the first part of his treatise on Demosthenes—that part in which he discusses expression as managed by Demosthenes; the second part, in which he discussed the Demosthenic handling of subject-matter, has perished with his discourses on Hypereides and Aeschines. The treatise on Deinarchos, it need hardly be said, is bibliographical, and has nothing to do with the other series.
His classification— the εὑοεταί and the τελειωταί.
Dionysios considers his six orators as forming two classes. Between these classes the line is clearly drawn. Lysias, Isokrates, Isaeos are εὑρεταί, inventors,—differing indeed, in degree of originality, but alike in this, that each struck out a new line, each has a distinctive character of which the conception was his own. Demosthenes, Hypereides, Aeschines, are τελειωταί, perfecters,—men who, having regard to the historical growth of Attic prose, cannot be said to have revealed secrets of its capability, but who, using all that their predecessors had provided, wrought up the several elements in a richer synthesis or with a subtler finish2.

1 On the history of the decade, see Ruhnken, Historia Critica Oratorum Graecorum, who brings together the ancient authorities; Meier, Comment. Andoc. IV. 140; and the observations in Blass, Die Griechische Beredsamkeit in dem Zeitraum von Alexander bis auf Augustus (Berlin, 1865) p. 193.

2 Dionys. De Deinarch. c. 1; cf. c. 5.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: