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Life and work of Thrasymachus

A new period begins with Thrasymachus of Chalcedon, who adopted Athens as his home. He is placed by Aristotle between Tisias, one of the founders of rhetoric, and Theodorus of Byzantium (Soph. Elench., 183 b. 32), who was a contemporary of Lysias. According to the chronology of Plato's Phaedrus, he was already at the height of his powers when Isocrates was only a youth of promise (267 C). The dramatic date of the dialogue being 410 B.C., we may suppose him to have been born between 460 and 450 B.C., though there is no clear indication.

He seems to have followed the lines of his predecessors. He composed a τέχνη or handbook of rhetoric, and composed or compiled a collection of passages to serve as models for his pupils, called by the Suda ἀφορμαὶ ῥητορικαί (oratorical resources). This probably included the exordia and epilogues mentioned by Athenaeus (X. 416 A). Aristotle mentions a work called Ἔλεοι (appeals to pity, Rhet., iii. 1. 7), and a book with the mysterious title ὑπερβάλλοντες completed his educational output.1 He composed also some epideictic speeches, which, as the Suda calls them παίγνια, were probably of the mythological type, of which we possess examples in the Helen and Palamedes of Gorgias. Dionysius says that he left no deliberative or forensic speeches, and this statement agrees with the known fact that he was an alien, and therefore could not appear in the courts or the assembly (de Isaeo, ch. xx). On the other hand, the Suda mentions public speeches, and Dionysius has himself preserved a fragment of what appears to be a deliberative speech (de Demosthene, ch. iii). The probability is that this was composed only as a model for his pupils, and it is, in fact, of a vagueness which would be appropriate to almost any circumstances.

He excelled in the ‘pathetic’ style: ‘For the “sorrows of a poor old man,”’ says Socrates, ‘or any other pathetic case, no one is better than the Chalcedonian giant; he can put a whole company of people into a passion and out of one again by his mighty magic, and is first-rate at inventing or disposing of any sort of calumny on any grounds or none.’ (Phaedrus, 267 C, Jowett). These gifts seem to have been the natural expression of his impetuous and passionate character represented in the Republic, Book 1., 336B.

The loss of his works is much to be regretted, since he was the inventor of a style—the tempered style, as it was called by Dionysius—which, standing between the austerity of Antiphon and Thucydides, and the elaborate simplicity perfected by Lysias, combined the best qualities of both. He was thus a forerunner of Isocrates. In the fragment which is preserved, we find no trace of rare or poetical words or audacious compounds such as Gorgias used; none of the complicated sentences of Thucydides, and no forced antithesis; the diction is flowing, and the expression clear. He seems to have been the first writer to make a careful study of metrical effect, and is mentioned for his frequent use of the paeon by Aristotle, who apparently classed him with those writers to whom diction is more important than ideas.2

The fragment already mentioned purports to be the exordium of a political speech:

‘I could have wished, men of Athens, that my lot had been cast amid those ancient times and conditions when the younger men were content to be silent, since circumstances did not force them to speak in public, and their elders were able administrators of the state. . . .’

This is a conventional opening; a similar phrase of regret (ἐβουλόμην) begins the speech of Antiphon on the murder of Herodes,3 and Aeschines has elaborated the same theme of the superiority of political life in the time of Solon in a way which leads us to suspect that he had the prooemium of Thrasymachus in mind (Aesch. in Ctes., § 2).

Of the works of Theodorus of Byzantium not a sentence remains. A contemporary of Lysias, he taught rhetoric and composed certain works on the subject.4 He concerned himself with the proper divisions of a speech, adding a section of ‘further narrative’ (ἐπιδιήγησις) to the usual narrative, and ‘further proof’ (ἐπιπίστωσις) to proof.5 It is for this over-subtlety that Plato ridicules the ‘cunning artificer of speeches’ from Byzantium.6

1 The word seems to mean powerful or convincing; whether τόποι (commonplaces or passages) or λόγοι (arguments) is the word to be supplied, we cannot even conjecture.

2 Rhet., iii. 8. 4; iii. 1. 7. The paeon = -uuu ("first paeon") or uuu- ("fourth paeon").

3 Cf. Aristoph., Frogs, 866:ἐβουλόμην μὲν οὐκ ἐρἰζειν ἐνθάδε”.

4 The reference by Arist., Rhet., ii. 23. 28 to πρότερον Θεοδώρου τέχνη—the earlier treatise of T.—implies others.

5 Cf. Arist., Rhet., iii. 13. 4:διήγησις, ἐπιο̂ιήγησις, προδιήγησις; ἔλεγχος, ἐπεξέλεγχος”.

6 Phaedrus, 266 C,λογοδαίδαλος”.

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