Allowing, however, all that has been advanced above, it might still seem strange that Gorgias should have had this reception from the Assembly which, within three years, had been listening to Perikles. But the true question is whether
Was his oratory artistic in form?
Perikles had aimed at giving to his eloquence the finish of a literary form. Suidas says that Perikles was the first who composed a forensic speech before delivering it; his predecessors had extemporised1
. Cicero says that Perikles and Alkibiades are the most ancient authors who have left authentic writings2
. Quintilian, however, thinks that the
compositions extant under the name of Perikles are not worthy of his reputation, and that, as others had conjectured, they were spurious3
. Plutarch says
positively that Perikles has left nothing written (ἔγγραφον
) except decrees4
. The antithesis meant by ἔγγραφον
is with those sayings of Perikles which tradition had preserved; especially those bold similes from nature and life to which reference will be made in considering the style of Antiphon5
. The speeches
Thucydidean Speeches of Perikles.
in Thucydides doubtless give the general ideas of Perikles with essential fidelity; it is possible, further, that they may contain recorded sayings of his like those in Aristotle: but it is certain that they cannot be taken as giving the form of the statesman's oratory. Like the other speeches, they bear the stamp of a manner which was not so fully developed until after his death. Perikles as an orator is best
known to us from the brief but emphatic notices of the impression which he made. ‘This man,’ says Eupolis, ‘whenever he came forward, proved himself the greatest orator among men: like a good runner, he could give the other speakers ten feet start, and win.......Rapid you call him; but, besides his swiftness, a certain persuasion sat upon his lips —such was his spell: and, alone of the speakers,
he ever left his sting in the hearers6
.’ When Aristophanes is describing the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, ‘Perikles the Olympian,’ he says, ‘was thundering and lightening and putting Greece in a
Its distinctive conditions.
tumult.’ (Ar. Ach. 530.
) Unique as an Athenian statesman, Perikles must have been in two respects unique also as an Athenian orator;—first, because he occupied such a position of personal ascendancy as no man before or after him attained; secondly, because his thoughts and his moral force won him such renown for eloquence as no one else ever got from Athenians without the further aid of artistic expression. His manner of speaking seems to have been tranquil, stately to a degree which Plutarch seems inclined to satirize (Plut. Per. c. 5.
), but varied by occasional bursts having the character of lofty poetry7