Political aspect of Athenian Oratory.
Athenian oratory has two great aspects, the artistic and the political. The artistic aspect will necessarily be most prominent in the following pages, since their special object is to trace the development of Attic oratory in relation to the development of Attic prose. When, however, Attic oratory is considered, not relatively to Attic prose, but in itself, the artistic aspect is not more important than the political; and, if even the literary value of the Attic orations is to be fully understood, their political significance must not for a moment be left out of sight. This significance resides not merely in the
matter or form of each discourse, but also in the
Political training of the Greek citizen,
training which had been received by the public to which it is addressed. We must ask ourselves, not merely, ‘Is this subject well treated?’ but also, ‘What manner of a multitude can it have been for which the speaker thought this treatment adapted?’ The common life of every Greek city, not suppressed by tyranny or too much warped by oligarchy, was a political education for the citizens. The reason is manifest from the very fact that the society was
a city, and neither a village nor a nation. On the one hand there was the instinct which demanded the highest attainable organisation under laws. On the other, there was the inability to conceive parliament except as a primary assembly. At Athens this political education of the citizens
and especially of the Athenian.
was more thorough than elsewhere, because at Athens the tendency of a commonwealth to deposit all power in an assembly was worked out with most logical completeness1
. All the powers of the State, legislative, executive and judicial were concentrated in the absolute Demos: the law-courts were committees of the Ekklesia, as the archons or generals were its officers. The world has seen nothing like this. The Italian Republics of the middle age were
Civic sentiment in the Greek and in the Italian Republics.
fragments of the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Italy. It was from their prosperity as municipalities that they had derived their independence as States. They grew up among traditions of feudal privilege, represented here and there by a noble who
could openly violate the order of the city within
whose walls he lived2
. A Florentine, like an Athenian, was a citizen with his share in the government of the city: Florence, like Athens, recognised the right of the assembled People to decide questions of State. But Florence, until its latest days, had nothing truly corresponding to the Ekklesia. The citizens were occasionally called together, but there was no popular Assembly with an organised and continual superintendence of all affairs. Nor was the civic sentiment so vivid or so direct for the Florentine as for the Athenían. The Florentíne acted in politics primarily as member of a commercial guild3
and only secondarily as a citizen. The Greek Republics far more than the Italian, Athens far more than Florence, afforded the proper atmosphere for such an oratory as alone, in strictness, can take the
lofty name of Civil; that is, which is addressed by a citizen, educated both in ruling and in obeying, to the whole body of fellow-citizens who have had the
Attic Oratory fulfils this definition.
same twofold training as himself. The glory of Attic oratory, as such, consists not solely in its intrinsic excellence, but also in its revelation of the corporate political intelligence to which it appealed: for it spoke sometimes to an Assembly debating an issue of peace or war, sometimes to a law-court occupied
with a private plaint, sometimes to Athenians mingled with strangers at a festival, but everywhere and always to the Athenian Demos, everywhere and always to a paramount People, taught by life itself to reason and to judge.