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7. Propriety of style will be obtained by the expression of emotion and character, and by proportion to the subject matter. [2] Style is proportionate to the subject matter when neither weighty matters are treated offhand, nor trifling matters with dignity, and no embellishment is attached to an ordinary word; otherwise there is an appearance of comedy, as in the poetry of Cleophon,1 who used certain expressions that reminded one of saying “madam fig.” [3] Style expresses emotion, when a man speaks with anger of wanton outrage; with indignation and reserve, even in mentioning them, of things foul or impious; with admiration of things praiseworthy; with lowliness of things pitiable; and so in all other cases. [4] Appropriate style
also makes the fact appear credible; for the mind of the hearer is imposed upon2 under the impression that the speaker is speaking the truth, because, in such circumstances, his feelings are the same, so that he thinks (even if it is not the case as the speaker puts it) that things are as he represents them; and the hearer always sympathizes with one who speaks emotionally, even though he really says nothing. [5] This is why speakers often confound their hearers by mere noise.

[6] Character also may be expressed by the proof from signs, because to each class and habit there is an appropriate style. I mean class in reference to age—child, man, or old man; to sex—man or woman; to country—Lacedaemonian or Thessalian. I call habits those moral states which form a man's character in life; [7] for not all habits do this. If then anyone uses the language appropriate to each habit, he will represent the character; for the uneducated man will not say the same things in the same way as the educated. But the hearers also are impressed in a certain way by a device employed ad nauseam by writers of speeches:3 “Who does not know?” “Everybody knows”; for the hearer agrees, because he is ashamed to appear not to share what is a matter of common knowledge.

[8] The opportune or inopportune use of these devices
applies to all kinds of Rhetoric.4 [9] But whenever one has gone too far, the remedy may be found in the common piece of advice—that he should rebuke himself in advance;5 then the excess seems true, since the orator is obviously aware of what he is doing. [10] Further, one ought not to make use of all kinds of correspondence6 together; for in this manner the hearer is deceived. I mean, for instance, if the language is harsh, the voice, features, and all things connected should not be equally harsh; otherwise what each really is becomes evident. But if you do this in one instance and not in another, the art escapes notice, although the result is the same. If mild sentiments are harshly expressed or harsh sentiments mildly, the speech lacks persuasiveness.

[11] Compound words, a number of epithets, and “foreign” words especially, are appropriate to an emotional speaker; for when a man is enraged it is excusable for him to call an evil “high-as-heaven” or “stupendous.” He may do the same when he has gripped his audience and filled it with enthusiasm, either by praise, blame, anger, or friendliness, as Isocrates does at the end of his Panegyricus7: “Oh, the fame and the name!” and “In that they endured.” For such is the language of enthusiastic orators, and it is clear that the hearers accept what they say in a sympathetic spirit. Wherefore this style is appropriate to poetry; for there is something inspired in poetry. It should therefore be used either in this way or
when speaking ironically, after the manner of Gorgias, or of Plato in the Phaedrus.8

1 By some identified with the tragic poet spoken of in Aristot. Poet. 2. His manner of expression, due to the wish to use fine language, was ridiculous owing to its being out of harmony with the subject. Others consider that he was not a poet at all but an orator. πότνια was a title of respect, applied to females, whether they were goddesses or ordinary women.

2 Or, “draws a wrong conclusion.”

3 Alluding to Isocrates.

4 Or, “to all the special rules given above.”

5 The exaggeration should be brought forward first, by way of forestalling the objection, and accompanied by some limiting phrase. Quintilian (Quint. Inst. Orat. 8.3.37) gives as examples: “so to say,” “if I may be allowed to say so.”

6 Adaptation of voice, features, etc., to the subject.

7 Isoc. 4.186, where μνήμη is the reading, translated “name” above (lit. memory) for the sake of the jingle, which also appears in the Greek of Isocrates. All the Mss. of Aristotle give γνώμην here, which shows that it is a misquotation.

8 Plat. Phaedrus 238d, Plat. Phaedrus 241e. In the first of these passages Socrates attributes his unusual flow of words to the inspiration of the nymphs, and tells Phaedrus not to wonder if he seems to be in a divine fury, for he is not far from breaking out into dithyrambs. An example of the irony (a term implying a certain amount of contempt (2.2.25)) of Gorgias is given in Aristot. Pol. 3.1. When asked how a person comes to be a citizen, he answers: “as those are mortars which have been made by mortar-makers, so those are Larissaeans who have been made by artisans ( δημιουργούς); for some of these were Larissa-makers ( λαρισοποιούς).” There is a play on the double meaning of δημιουργός, (1) artisan, (2) magistrate, lit. people-maker. Larissa-makers means makers of Larissaeans in such numbers that they might be regarded as makers of Larissa itself. It has also been suggested that λαρισοποιούς may mean “kettle-makers,” from λάρισα “a kettle,” so called from having been first made at Larissa, but this seems unnecessary. The point is that Gorgias maintained that all were citizens who were made so by the magistrates, that citizenship was a manufactured article (see W. L. Newman's note on the passage, and W. H. Thompson's Appendix to his edition of Plato's Gorgias).

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (5):
    • Aristotle, Poetics, 1448a
    • Aristotle, Politics, 3.1274b
    • Isocrates, Panegyricus, 186
    • Plato, Phaedrus, 238d
    • Plato, Phaedrus, 241e
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