The Decline and the Revival.
Loss of Political Freedom—how far a cause of the decline.
AT the moment when the theory of oratory had been raised from a technical to a scientific form, its practice began to decline: the great analyst who gave a philosophy to Rhetoric was also the master of Demetrios Phalereus. It is commonly said that the declension of Attic oratory dates from the loss of political freedom. The fact is certain: but those who have tried to see what this oratory in its essence was, will be the first to feel that the connexion between the two things is not altogether self-evident. As to
the Deliberative branch, that, clearly, was doomed to decay when the questions which the ekklesia could discuss with a practical result came to be hardly more than municipal. A good notion of the manner in which the province of debate was now restricted may be got from a speech1
made eight years after Chaeroneia, when Alexander was in the mid-career of his Asiatic victories. An Athenian citizen of the Macedonian party had tried to damage his adversary in a law-suit by insinuating that this
adversary had flattered Olympias and Alexander. Hypereides retorts that it would be more to the purpose if, instead of making such charges, Polyeuktos could muster courage to go and denounce the injurious dictation of Macedon before the Panhellenic Congress: but the very way in which this is put implies that it was more than could be expected of ordinary patriotism; and the merit claimed for Euxenippos is not that he
has done anything of the kind, but simply that he has shunned association with the active Athenian agents of Alexander. As Aristotle says, no one deliberates about the impossible; and, in regard to independent action, the limits of the possible for Athens had become narrow. Nor was the Forensic branch exempt from
similar influences. Macedonian blandishments could reach jurors as well as debaters: the art of persuasion, pure and simple, would count for less and less; and the aim of the Athenian writer for the lawcourts would become more and more like that of the speaker whose first object is the display of his faculty. Granting all this, however, why, it may be asked,
should not Attic oratory, being essentially a fine art, have found at least one secure refuge in this very department of display; especially since the Epideictic branch had become so closely identified with the national literature? As long as there were such writers as Theopompos, or even Ephoros, a tolerably pure Attic style might surely be preserved, even though there were no longer political inspirations for the deliberative speaker, or, for the advocate, the opportunities of a real equality before the law. After
all, the deliberative branch itself had developed its best types chiefly from the epideictic.
Ultimate cause of the decline.
This question might fairly be raised. And assuredly a true answer to it is not to be found merely in the political circumstances of the time when Athens had just come under the leadership of Macedon. We must go further back, and look deeper into the conditions under which the best work of Greek art was done. In the Ionian republics, and especially at Athens, while their life was still healthy, letters and the fine arts entered into the education which was received by all citizens alike. Letters and the fine arts were therefore subject to the opinion, not of a class, but of the entire city. The artist, whether sculptor or architect, painter,
The great Greek Art waspopular:
poet or orator, received the impress of the national mind, and reflected it from his own. He worked for all the citizens, and he knew that he would be judged, not by a few critics, but by the whole civic body. The Greek genius, in its purest and brightest form, tended of itself to fix its attention on what is essential and typical in nature, and to suppress those mere accidents of which the prominence is always disturbing and at last grotesque. Here was a further safeguard for the artistic worker who began with this inborn tendency. Mannerism and exaggeration may be made the fashion of a clique, but, where public opinion is really free, they will never be popular. The Greek artist who, in rivalry with brother artists, sought for the approbation of his fellow-citizens gathered in the theatre, or going about their daily work amid gracious forms of marble or
living shapes still more beautiful, in the clear air of Attica and close to the foam and freshness of the sea, knew that no refinements of the study could save him if he was false to nature, and knew, also, that his loyalty to nature would be surely recognised just in proportion as he brought out, not the trivial or transient things, not such things as depend for their interest on an artificial situation, but those lineaments of nature which have the divine simplicity of permanence. It cannot be too often repeated,
but not therefore the less ideal.
it is a thoroughly vulgar misconception, more fatal than anything else to the comprehension of all Greek things, to suppose that the Athenian statesmen or cobblers who went to the theatre of Dionysos in the days of Perikles found the art of Sophocles cold because it was ideal, and would have thought the demonstrative and rhetorical pathos of Euripides more ‘human.’ Their feeling, happily, was very different, or the Parthenon would have been very different too. They felt that the immortal things of humanity are more human than its accidents; and therefore, the poorest of them, they could rise out of the mean or grievous things of daily life into a contemplation which educated the passions that it moved and resolved the anguish of pity or of terror in a musical and chastened joy. The festive disposition of the Greeks is a perpetual snare to modern writers who cannot dissociate the love of dinner-parties from a tone either mildly cynical or at all events the reverse of transcendental, and who hasten to the conclusion that an inquirer exempt from academical sentiment or pedantry will study
the real Greeks in their comedians or their cooks. It was not until the moral unity of the State was broken, and men began to live a life of thought or pleasure apart from the life of the city, that the artists began to work for the few, and that the taste of the many sank below the power of appreciating the highest beauty. Philip, Alexander and their Successors were indeed the apostles of Greek language, Greek art, Greek social civilisation: but between Hellas and Hellenism there was a spiritual
Gulf between Hellas and Hellenism.
separation which no force of the individual mind could do away. Literature and art had been sacred energies and public delights to the citizens of free Athens: to the writers or artists of Antioch or
The artists of Hellenism.
Alexandria they were agreeable industries, inviting reward or awaiting correction from aristocratic patrons, whose artificial canons encouraged either an elaborate vagueness of expression or the pretence of an occult profundity2
. The lapse of literature and art into the depths of affectation is only a matter of time when the judges on whom recognition depends are a capricious and absolute oligarchy. There
Art depends on a judicious and candid public.
is no lasting security for truth in artistic creation except an intelligent public, pronouncing with authority and not intimidated by the prescriptions of a coterie or a caste. In this sense, it may justly be said that nothing is so democratic as taste; nor could there be a better illustration than a
comparison between the Athens of Perikles and the Alexandria of the Ptolemies.
Meaning of ‘Asianism.’
While, then, the loss of political independence had a certain immediate effect in deteriorating deliberative and forensic oratory, the primary cause of their decline was one which lay deeper, which had begun its slow workings before Philip had a footing in Greece, and which affected the literary form of artistic prose even more strongly than the other two forms. This cause was the same which gradually vitiated every other branch of Greek art, and which prepared the downfall of Greek independence itself —the decay of the citizen-life of the Greek republics, whereby Greek art in every kind lost that popular character which was the external safeguard of the Greek artist's instinct for truth. It is important, therefore, to get rid of the notion that, when ‘Asianism’ is opposed to ‘Atticism’, the meaning is that Attic simplicity was overlaid by the tawdry taste of the Orientals among whom Greek letters were diffused by the conquests of Alexander. It is true that, in the new Hellenic settlements of Karia, Mysia and the Hellespont, Greek nationality was less pure, and that when the Augustan Atticists wished to stigmatise their opponents they loved to call them Phrygians3
. But the depravation began in Athens itself: it became universal, because the
demoralisation of the Greeks was universal: it passed over to Asia with the literature of the emigration, and there it grew worse: but it grew worse everywhere else too. Kallisthenes of Stageiros, Timaeos of Tauromenion, had the ‘Asiatic’ tendency as distinctly as any son of Tralles or Alabanda. ‘Asiatic’, as applied to Greek oratory, is properly a geographical term only. It expresses the fact that, from about 320 to about 280 B.C., the new Greek settlements in Asia Minor were the parts of Hellas in which oratory and prose literature were most actively cultivated. The general character of this prose was the same as the general character of prose in Sicily, at Athens, and in every other part of Hellas. ‘Asianism’ versus ‘Atticism’ means the New versus the Old Oratory. The essential difference between them is this. The Old Oratory was an art, and was
Essential difference between Atticism and Asianism.
therefore based upon a theory. The New Oratory was a knack, τρίβη
, and was founded upon practice, μελέτη
. Atticism was technical and, in its highest phase, scientific. Asianism was empirical. The flourishing period of Asianism was that during which the whole training of the rhetor consisted in declamation. The revival of Atticism dates from the moment when attention was recalled to theory.
Course of the Decline and the Revival.
From 300 to about 250 B.C. the general course of the decline can be made out with tolerable clearness. From 250 to about 150 B.C. all is dark. When light comes again, Asianism is seen fully developed and wholly triumphant; but a reaction to Atticism is setting in. This reaction may be considered as beginning with Hermagoras of Temnos, about
110 B. C.4
, and as completed at Rome by Dionysios of Halikarnassos, about 20 B.C.
The general character of Asianism, or the New Prose, results from the fact that it is founded on no theory of prose-writing as an art. The prose composition, whether history or oration, is not contemplated as a whole, and consequently no care is taken to preserve a symmetry of parts. Hence arises
Source of the vices in style— exaggeration. Its two chief forms.
exaggeration; and this exaggeration is usually in one of two principal directions. Sometimes it is an exaggerated desire of grandeur or splendour which leads the writer to say all things in a diction which should have been kept for the great things. Sometimes it is an exaggerated desire of point which makes him heedless whether the thought which he is expressing is obscured or made ridiculous by the turn which he gives to it. Asianism oscillates between bombast and importunate epigram. The fresh currents of public criticism in the Athens of Perikles would have blown such tricks to the winds: in schools or palaces their sickly growth was sheltered:—
and not the Sun-god's fire, Not heaven's pure dew comes there, nor any wind.
Orators of the period 320-250 B.C.
During the first half century or so of the decadence—
These tendencies universal, 320— 250 B.C.
to about 250 B.C.—we are able to see this, at least, clearly, that the new tendencies are at work in all schools alike. Not even the definite Isokratic type,
or the scientific Rhetoric founded by Aristotle, is proof against them. Aristotle's pupil Demetrios of
Phaleron is named by Cicero as the first who impaired the strength of Attic oratory, ‘preferring his own sweetness to the weight and dignity of his predecessors5
’. His style, like his life, was elegantly luxurious; but in becoming ornate it became nerveless; there is no longer, says Cicero, ‘sucus ille et sanguis incorruptus’, the sap, the fresh vigour, which had hitherto been in oratory; in their place there is ‘fucatus nitor’, an artificial gloss6
. In the school of Isokrates, the decline is represented by Kallisthenes of Stageiros, who accompanied
Alexander to the East, and who, in a memoir, described the Pamphylian Sea as lashing its shores for joy at the hero's approach. Timaeos of Tauromenion,
also an imitator of Isokrates, did not err on this side, but had the taste for verbal conceits in a measure which the Middle Comedy would not have tolerated. Kleitarchos, son of the historian Deinon,
was more like Kallisthenes; as the author of the treatise On Sublimity
, ‘His pipe is small, but he blows it loud’; and the criticism is justified by a specimen of his manner which another writer has preserved. Kleitarchos, describing the habits of a bee, said, κατανέμεται τὴν ὀρεινήν
,—just, the critic complains, as if he had been speaking of the Erymanthian boar8
. But the new tendencies are more strongly exemplified by Hegesias of Magnesia,
(about 270 B.C.), who has sometimes been called, in a
misleading phrase, the founder of Asianism. Hegesias was deliberately opposed to everything that Isokrates had introduced and Demosthenes had perfected. In diction, he was a coarse imitator of Lysias; in composition, he adopted a style of short clauses which was his own. Dionysios9
pronounces him ‘finnikin’ (μικρόκομψον
), ‘languid,’ and blames especially his ‘ignoble rhythms’—meaning thereby especially the trochee and the tribrach as opposed to the paeon and the dactyl. But the chief characteristic of his style must have been the curious combination of jerkiness and magniloquence, of which the following is a specimen10
:—ὅμοιον πεποίηκας, Ἀλέξανδρε, Θήβας κατασκάψας, ὡς ἂν εἰ ὁ Ζεὺς ἐκ τη_ς κατ᾽ οὐρανὸν μερίδος ἐκβάλοι τὴν σελήνην. τὸν γὰρ ἥλιον ὑπολείπομαι ταῖς Ἀθήναις. δύο γὰρ αὗται πόλεις τῆς Ἑλλάδος ἦσαν ὄψεις. διὸ καὶ περὶ τῆς ἑτέρας ἀγωνιῶ νῦν. ὁ μὲν γὰρ εἷς αὐτῶν ὀφθαλμὸς ἡ Θηβαίων ἐκκέκοπται πόλις
. Within fifty years after the death of Demosthenes, Hegesias could be a favourite. Gorgias of Athens, Cicero's master, took his examples from Hegesias as well as from Demosthenes and Hypereides; Varro (Cic. ad Att. XII. 6.
) and Strabo (p. 396
) praised him; and it was reserved for Cicero and Dionysios to discover that he was an example of what is to be avoided.
Period from 250 to 150 B.C. obscure.
From 250 to 150 B.C. the history of Greek oratory is as obscure as the names which represent it. But, as appears from the sequel, such general
tendencies as those represented by Timaeos on the one hand, and by Kallisthenes or Hegesias on the other, had been gaining ground. ‘There are,’ says Cicero,
Cicero on the two kinds of Asianism.
‘two kinds of the Asiatic style. One is aphoristic, pointed, with turns of thought which have less weight or moral dignity than neatness and elegance. ... The other kind is not studded with such points; rather it rushes with an impetuous stream, and this is the manner now universal in Asia (50 B. C.). But it is not merely fluent; its language is also ornate and polished. This was the style used by Aeschylos of Knidos and by my contemporary, Aeschines of Miletos. They were distinguished by rushing eloquence, not by epigrammatic turns of thought.’ (Brut. § 325
The first of these two manners, the epigrammatic, was represented, according to Cicero, by the brothers Hierokles and Menekles of Alabanda, about 120 B.C. The second manner, that of ornate declamation, is represented by Aeschylos of Knidos and Aeschines of Miletos, about 80 B.C. It may be observed that
Why one was earlier, the other later.
the full development of the declamatory manner naturally came later than the other; for it was the last result of those declamatory exercises on which Asianism was founded11
. In the progress of the decadence Hegesias was to Aeschylos of Knidos much what Antiphon was to Demosthenes.
Revival of Atticism and of rhetorical theory
At the time when Asianism of the sententious
Atticism prepared by Hermagoras
kind was prevalent, the first step towards the revival of Atticism was taken by Hermagoras of Temnos.
The art of Rhetoric, which now for a century and a half had exercised little influence on oratory, had passed at Athens through two phases.
Phases of Rhetoric -- the Practical:
First, the Practical Rhetoric founded in Sicily by Korax had been perfected by Anaximenes and Isokrates. This could not exist without a practical object; it perished before Athens had become what Athens was in the days of Polybios. 'The sea is there and the headlands and the everlasting hills; Athênê still stands spear in hand, as the guardian of her chosen city; Dêmos still sits in Pnyx; he still choose Archons by the lot and Generals by the uplifted hand; but the fierce democracy has sunk into the lifelessness of a cheerless and dishounored old age; its decrees consist of fulsome adulation of foreign kings; its demagogues and orators are sunk into beggars who wander from court to court to gather a few talents of alms for the People which once received tribute from a thousand cities.'12
But, just as the Practical Rhetoric was about to perish because its occupation was gone, Aristotle claimed Rhetoric for philosophy.
The Philosophical Rhetoric necessarily aimed, of course, at forming practical orators; but, unlike its predecessor, it had a reason for existing independently of results. In the schools of the philosophers accordingly, and chiefly in the Peripatetic school, it had lived on. Hermagoras now worked up the treatises both of the Practical and of the Philosophical
Rhetoric into a new system. His object was practical; but he followed the philosophers in giving his chief care to the province of Invention. Erring on the side of too much subtlety, he founded a Rhetoric which, as distinguished from the Practical and the Philosophical, may be called the Scholastic13
. For Greek oratory this could do little directly. But
for Roman oratory Hermagoras and his followers did
Its uses to Greece and to Rome
very much what the school of Isokrates had done for Athens. And both to Greece and to Rome they did good service by reviving the conception of oratory not as a knack but as an art, and so preparing men once more to discern between the true artists and the false. It is not a mere coincidence, it is one
Revival of Sculpture contemporary with Atticism.
illustration more of the close bond between oratory and the other arts that, just about the time when the Atticist revival was beginning, there are traces of a renascence in Greek sculpture. From about 300
Reaction from and School of Lysippos.
to 150 B.C. the school of Lysippos had prevailed—a school which substituted the real for the ideal, selecting the basest subjects if in these a frigid technical skill could be shown forth. In sculpture, as in oratory, ingenuity or pretension had marred simplicity, dignity and beauty; and the generation that began to revolt from Hegesias began also to revolt from Lysippos.
It may have been Cicero who paid a compliment
So-called Rhodian School: a mere compromise in favour of Atticism.
to his teacher Molon by setting the fashion of distinguishing a Rhodian School from the Attic and the Asiatic. Such a school is unknown to Dionysios,
Caecilius or Strabo. It is, in fact, confusing to treat it as separate. The Rhodian orators, so far as they had a common stamp, were eclectics, borrowing from the epigrammatic Asianism, but, on the whole, inclined to Atticism of the type represented by Hypereides. Under the Successors of Alexander,
Rhodes under the Diadochi.
Rhodes had become important, first, politically, and then, as a result of this, in a literary and scientific sense. The oratorical school does not seem to have been famous before 100 B.C. Apollonios and Molon
Fame for oratory— from circ. 100 B C.
were both Karians of Alabanda, who, like many other men whose names illustrated Rhodes, migrated thither for a career. Cicero is no impartial
Estimate of the Rhodian merits.
panegyrist of a school to which he probably owed many faults; and, in the judgment of Dionysios, the Atticism of the Rhodians was perverse. Yet, in its degree, it must have done good service at a time when florid declamation was almost universally popular; and, through Cicero, it brought the better of two rival influences into the mighty stream of Roman life.
Roman view of Oratory
Before Roman oratory could be even indirectly influenced by Greek, there was an obstacle to be removed. The Roman mind, unlike the Greek, did not instinctively conceive the public speaker as an artist. It conceived him strictly as a citizen, weighty by piety, years, or office, who has something to say for the good of the other citizens, and whose dignity, hardly less than the value of his hearer's time, enjoins a pregnant and severe conciseness. Cato
Progress of the Greek view at Rome.
detested Greek rhetoric. The Gracchi, on the other hand, were more Hellenic in their tastes; and before
100 B.C. the florid Asianism had admirers and perhaps imitators at Rome. Declamations in Greek on
abstract questions (θέσεις
) were first introduced: then, about Cicero's time, came exercises on definite cases founded in fact (ὑποθέσεις
), either forensic or deliberative—the latter being suasoriae.
In Cicero's time, or a little later, there were also controversiae
—dealing with special situations, but not with special persons; e.g., what a
brave man is to do in such or such circumstances; and these at once recall the nature of the exercises which Aeschines is said to have founded at Rhodes. Lastly, under the Empire, we have declamations on poetical or fancy themes. Now, all these
declamatory exercises were in the interest of Asianism. What was necessary to give Atticism a future at Rome was that the theory of Rhetoric should have a place there. It was a great step gained when, about 92 B.C., L. Plotius and others opened schools
Roman schools of Rhetoric.
for the teaching of Rhetoric in Latin. The censors, as might have been expected, opposed this: in the last days of the Republic, Rome was rather scandalised by the first instance of a Knight teaching Rhetoric; but learners were numerous from the first.
Asianism versus Atticism.
As early as 90 B.C., then, the Greek conception of oratory was established at Rome. Roman oratory was to be, in some way, artistic. The question remained, Was this way to be the ‘Asiatic’ or the ‘Attic’?
Hortensius and Asianism
About 95 B.C. Hortensius began to be the Latin representative of Asianism. It was his
distinction that he combined its two manners, sententious point and florid declamation. His vivacity was probably his best quality: it is characteristic of the man that he studied all aids to theatrical effect, and also that, when he had reached the consulship, his oratorical ambitions were fulfilled.
Cicero the eclectic
Cicero now comes forward as the representative of the Rhodian eclecticism. His success, though not exactly a victory for the Attic school, was, at least, a sure sign that the Atticists would finally prevail. Cicero, like his Rhodian masters, is by no means emancipated from Asianism; and, in a comparison with Demosthenes, his faults of form are made more conspicuous by the usual absence of great thoughts and of really noble feeling. The force of the recent and surely extravagant reaction against Cicero comes from the habit of regarding him as the great Roman orator, not as the great Roman master of literary rhetorical prose. His proper Greek analogue is not Demosthenes but Isokrates. As a practical orator, Cicero can scarcely be placed in the second rank by those who know the Attic models. As a stylist in the epideictic kind, though he has not consummate art, he joins versatile strength to brilliancy and abundance in a degree which has never been equalled.
Calvus and Messalla Corvinus: pure Atticism
The pure Atticism of Rome may be dated from about 60 B.C. Its best representative was the poet and forensic orator, Gaius Licinius Calvus (82—48 B.C.), who imitated Lysias in a field of work as limited as the Greek writer's own, but who, like Lysias, was not untouched by a generous sympathy
with the great political interests of his day. Next to Calvus probably came Messalla Corvinus, who
translated the defence of Phryne by Hypereides, and who is said to have been not unsuccessful in reproducing something of the master's eloquence. Atticism was the return, not to a school, but to a phase of the Greek mind: and, as the men who represented this phase were most various, it was inevitable that the revival should have factions. One sect of the earlier Roman Atticists worshipped
The sects of Roman Atticism;
Xenophon; another, Thucydides; another, Lysias and Hypereides. To adopt Xenophon as an
oratorical standard was a mere mistake: in style, he is an unpractical Andokides: and for the advocate, at least, no model could be less suitable14
Thucydides, again, is at once transitional and unique: to imitate him in another language was therefore a twofold error. The Lysians and Hypereideans
Lysians and Hypereideans.
could have shown far better reason for their choice, if only the distinctive excellence of Lysias and Hypereides, their χάρις
or grace, had not been the very thing which no Greek had succeeded in reproducing, and which manifestly could not be translated into an idiom which was not its own. At last Dionysios came forward to maintain that
the excellences of Thucydides, of Isokrates, of Lysias, and if these, then the excellences of Xenophon and Hypereides too, meet in Demosthenes.
Fruits of Atticism for Rome and for Greece.
It must be borne in mind that the practical benefits to be derived from Atticism by Rome were of a different order from those which could be derived
from it by Greece. Rome was only developing her artistic literature: Greece had seen hers pass through maturity to decay. The sapling might be trained to lines of growth in which it should bear fruit hereafter; the withered tree could blossom no more. The Atticist Revival gave Rome true canons for living work. It gave Greece, not this, but the only thing now possible, a standard for the appreciation of the past. The representative of the revival, as it affected Rome, is Cicero. The representative of the revival, as it affected both Rome
and Greece, is Dionysios of Halikarnassos, the greatest critic of the ancient world who was not a philosopher. Philosophical criticism began with Aristotle; and, for antiquity, may be said to have ended with him. But the literary criticism of the
the literary critic of antiquity.
ancient world was never so thorough as in Dionysios. He and his friend Caecilius, those two men who,
Scope of work chosen by him and by Caecilius.
in the reign of Augustus, gave a complete expression to all the tendencies and energies of the reaction which had been growing for nearly a century, had this for a common characteristic,—they were determined not to lose themselves in the subtleties of the new Scholastic Rhetoric: they saw that there was better work to be done. They
Technical Rhetoric not their field.
did not try to strike out a new path through these technical mazes, like Apollodoros of Pergamos or his antagonist Theodoros of Gadara just before them, or like Hermogenes after them. On technical points, Dionysios generally goes back to Aristotle or Theophrastos. He and his friend saw that the revival of theory had performed its part, by recalling
attention to those works of true art by which the theory was illustrated. What was now needed was not a
Aesthetic criticism now needed.
more minute analysis but a better aesthetic criticism. For Cicero's teacher at Athens, Demosthenes and Hegesias were alike classical. This must not be. Men must be taught to feel, and not merely to recognise by a mechanical test, that Hegesias and Demosthenes are of different orders. This desire of clearer insight into the things which make the Attic excellences was necessarily connected with the task of separating genuine from spurious works. In the
Discrimination of true and spurious writings.
catalogues of the orators (ῥητορικοὶ πίνακες
) at Pergamos or Alexandria the librarian had merely to register the traditional authorship. He could not enter upon critical inquiries. Such inquiries were undertaken by Dionysios and Caecilius. The paper of Dionysios on Deinarchos exemplifies his method. The evidence used is external as well as internal: the rhetor's life is sketched; his models are indicated; the tradition is tried by its warranty, by that conception of the writer's style which the critic has formed for himself, and by the subject-matter. Dionysios was, however, preeminently the literary
Special work of Dionysios,
critic, Caecilius was preeminently the scholar and grammarian. The treatment of the Attic orators by the two men respectively suggests the greater independence and greater subtlety of Dionysios in this field. On the other hand, Caecilius was the first to
cultivate a province on which Dionysios does not seem to have entered. The register of Attic phrases compiled by Caecilius—who probably wrote a rhetorical lexicon also—stood, as the first of its kind,
between the glossaries of Alexandria and such later lexicons as those of Harpokration.
Asianism as viewed by Cicero and by Greek Atticists.
The spirit which animated all this various work came from a certain way of looking at the whole development of Greek prose since Alexander. Cicero, the Roman, conceives Atticism as an unbroken tradition, which was merely adulterated and debased by those influences which are called Asiatic. In one sense this is most true. Athens made once for all the conquest of Hellenic prose. The forms of the Attic dialect became once for all the standard forms of Greek literature, and are so in the newspapers of today. From Polybios to Trikoupes the literary supremacy of Athens has been acknowledged by men who have written in a dialect which they did not speak. It has been truly said that the latest Byzantine was, in language, nearer to Xenophon than Xenophon was to Herodotos15
. On the other hand, just as a Roman could scarcely comprehend the feeling with which Demosthenes regarded Philip, so a Roman could scarcely comprehend the feeling with which Dionysios and Caecilius regarded Hegesias. To those Greek scholars living in Augustan Rome, Asianism, when they looked back on it and compared it with the art of better days, seemed not merely a debasement, but an extinction, of the soul by which that art had lived. Attic forms might be retained; but without the Attic spirit they were dead. The continuity had been merely outward. Let us hear
Dionysios on the Dectine and the Revival.
Dionysios say this in his own vivid words. ‘Great thanks might justly be given to our days, most
excellent Ammaeus, as well for an improvement in other branches of culture, as particularly for the signal advance that has been made by the study of Civil Oratory. For, in the times before ours, the old scientific Rhetoric was threatened with abolition by the contumelies and outrages that it suffered. From the death of Alexander of Macedon it began to yield up its spirit and gradually to fade; and in our own generation it was all but totally extinguished. A stranger crept into the other's place—immodest, theatrical, ill-bred, intolerable, imbued neither with philosophy nor with any other liberal discipline; stealthily she imposed on the ignorance of the multitude; and, besides living in greater wealth, luxury, splendour than her predecessor, drew into her own hands all those threads of political power and influence which should have been held by her wiser sister. Utterly vulgar and meddlesome, the usurper at last made Greece like to the households of misguided profligates. For, even as in such houses the true wife, freeborn and virtuous, sits powerless over all that is her own, while a giddy paramour, a presence fatal to the home, claims to govern its fortunes, heaping scorns and threats on their rightful queen; even so in every city—aye, and worst of all, in the seats of culture no less than elsewhere—the Attic Muse, daughter of the land and of its memories, had been disinherited and made a mockery, while the abuse that had come but yesterday from some barbarians of Asia, an outlandish baggage from Phrygia or Karia, presumed to rule the cities of Greece, when, by her, the other had been driven
from their councils—the wise damsel by the foolish, the modest by the mad16
Permanent results of the revival.
Atticism could not quicken the dead things of Greece, nor could it permanently guard Rome against the intrusions of a false taste. Two things, however, it did, and for these it deserves the gratitude of mankind. It set correct models before those great Roman writers who, in their turn, have been examples to the modern world. It founded a Greek criticism of Greek literature in which the perspective was just, and recorded the reasons of men, whose qualifications and opportunities were complete, for comparative estimates which the sense of posterity has approved, but to which posterity alone could not have given so authoritative a sanction. Greek lived on, to be the tongue in which Marcus and Julian, by the Danube or the Rhine, asserted the late supremacy of a wisdom that carried the seeds of death, to bring the message of a hope beyond the grave and to bear on a strenuous tide the voices of men whom that promise made sublime, to be the record of empire in the city of Constantine, to write its legends on the stones of Ravenna or to blazon them on the apses of Venice and Torcello, even to keep bright the memories of civil freedom where, in a northern isolation, in the Tauric land washed by the harbourless sea, the fire once taken from Megara burned for centuries on the last altar of the hearth that had a Greek commonwealth for its shrine, and at last, in our own age, after a second deliverance from the barbarian, most happily to be
come once more the language of a free Greek people; but never under any sky to recover that balance of its native qualities which had been so perfect and so transient. Yet the writers and speakers who had moulded Attic speech were to have an influence which should be world-wide and perpetual even when it was unfelt. After that long night for Greek art which began with the death of Alexander, when the cold dawn of a new day was breaking on the earth silent under the dominion of Augustus, men of Greek race rekindled an instinct for the best things that Greece had done in the half-forgotten morning of her gladness, her glorious strength, her beauty made musical by intelligent and gracious self-mastery. As the little band of Xenophon's comrades, hemmed in by barbarians and fighting their way back to Hellas out of the heart of Asia, burst into a cry of joy as they saw from the hill-top the first light of the waves of the Euxine, so these loyal workers were rejoiced afar off by a gleam from the sunlit surface of that clear sea which ripples at the feet of a pure and an immortal Aphrodite. They strove on, and won their way to their goal: for they brought the Athenian spirit once more into the central current of human life by communicating it to the genius of Rome.