Lysias a literary artist
An appreciation of Lysias is, in one sense, easy for modern criticism. He was a literary artist, and his work bears the stamp of consummate literary skill. The reader may fail to realise the circumstances under which a particular speech was delivered, the force with which it appeals to emotion or to reason, the degree in which it was likely to prove persuasive or convincing. But he cannot fail to be aware that he is reading admirable prose. The merit of Lysias as a writer is secure of recognition. It is his oratorical power which runs some danger of being too lightly valued, unless attention is paid to the conditions under which it was exerted. The speech Against Eratosthenes, indeed, in which he expresses the passionate feeling of his own mind, would alone suffice to prove him in the modern sense eloquent. But a large majority of his other speeches are so comparatively tame, so poor in the qualities of the higher eloquence, that his oratorical reputation, to
be understood, needs to be closely interpreted by the scope of his oratory.
Although on a few occasions he himself came forward as a speaker, the business of his life was to write for others. All sorts of men were among his clients; all kinds of causes in turn occupied him. Now he lent his services to the impeachment of an official charged with defrauding the Athenian treasury, or to the prosecution of some adherent of the Thirty, accused of having slandered away the lives of Athenian citizens; now he supplied the words in which a pauper begged that his obol a day from the State might not be stopped, or helped one of the parties to a drunken brawl to demand satisfaction for a black eye. The elderly citizen who appeals against the calumny of an informer to his past services as trierarch or choregus; the young man checked on the threshold of public life by some enemy's protest at his dokimasia for his first office,—in turn borrow their eloquence from Lysias. If he had been content to adopt the standard which he found existing in his profession, he would have written in nearly the same style for all these various ages and conditions. He would have treated all these different cases upon a uniform technical system, merely seeking, in every case alike, to obtain the most powerful effect and the highest degree of ornament by applying certain fixed rules. Lysias was a discoverer when he perceived that a purveyor of words for others, if he would serve his customers in the best way, must give the words the air of being their own. He saw that the monotonous intensity of the fashionable
rhetoric—often ludicrously unsuited to the mouth into which it was put—was fatal to real impressiveness; and, instead of lending to all speakers the same false brilliancy, he determined to give to each the vigour of nature. It was the desire of treating appropriately every case entrusted to him, and of making each client speak as an intelligent person, without professional aid, might be expected to speak in certain circumstances, which chiefly determined the style of Lysias.
Lysias the representative of the Plain Style.
This style, imitated by many, but marked in Lysias by an original excellence, made him for antiquity the representative of a class of orators. It was in the latter part of the fourth century B. C. that Greek critics began regularly to distinguish three styles of rhetorical composition, the grand, the plain and the middle. The grand style aims constantly at rising above the common idiom; it seeks ornament of every kind, and rejects nothing as too artificial if it is striking. The plain style may, like the first, employ the utmost efforts of art, but the art is concealed; and, instead of avoiding, it imitates the language of ordinary life. The ‘middle’ style explains itself by its name. Theophrastos appears to have been the first writer on Rhetoric who attempted such a classification; there is, at least, no hint of it in Aristotle or in the Rhetorica ad Alexandrum1
. Vague as the
classification necessarily is, it was frequently modified according to the taste of individual teachers. The two extremes—the grand and the plain styles—were recognised by all; but some discerned two2
, some three3
shades between them; while others thought it needless to distinguish anything intermediate4
. On the whole, however, the tripartite division kept its ground down to Roman times. It was adopted, with variations of detail, by Cicero5
. The characteristics of the ‘plain’ style
General characteristics of the Plain Style.
—with which we are most concerned at present—are only sketched by Dionysios8
; but they are more
precisely given by Cicero. There is a difference, indeed, between the points of view of the two critics. Dionysios treats the three styles historically; Cicero treats them theoretically. The ‘middle’ style of Cicero differs, therefore, from the ‘middle’ style of Dionysios in being an ideal. But Cicero's description of the ‘plain’ style, at least, would probably have been accepted in the main by Dionysios; and it is clear that for Cicero, as for Dionysios, Lysias was the canon of that style. According to Cicero, the chief marks of the ‘genus tenue’ are these:—1. In regard to composition—a free structure of clauses and sentences, not straining after a rhythmical period9
Originality of Lysias.
With certain exceptions, which will be noticed in their place, Lysias has these characteristics, and is the best representative of the plain style, whether viewed historically or in the abstract. That style gradually came to be used by almost all writers for the ekklesia or the law-courts; but it was Lysias, says Dionysios, who ‘perfected’ it, and ‘brought it to the summit of the excellence proper to it14
.’ In order that the originality of Lysias may not be
underrated, attention must be given to the precise meaning of this statement. It appears to speak of him merely as having succeeded better than others in a style used by nearly all writers of speeches for the law-courts. But what was, in fact, common to him and them was this only—the avoidance of decidedly poetical ornament and the employment of sober prose. This is all that the ‘plain’ style, as opposed to the ‘elaborate,’ necessarily means. That which he had, and which no other had in the same degree, was the art of so writing this prose that it should be in character with the person who spoke it. Their style was monotonously plain; his was plain too, but it was more, it was variously natural. Dionysios shows elsewhere that he appreciated to the full the originality of Lysias; but he has hardly brought it out with sufficient clearness in the passage which has just been noticed. Lysias may, in a general sense, be regarded as the perfecter of a style already practised by many others; but it is closer to the truth to call him the founder of a new one, and of one in which he was never rivalled15
It does not, perhaps, strike the modern mind as very remarkable that a man whose business was to write speeches for other people should have conceived
the idea of making the speech appropriate to the person. In order to understand why this conception was, at the time, a proof of genius, it is necessary to remember how rhetoric was then viewed. Prose composition in its infancy was a craft, a close profession, just as much as poetry. Beside the sacred band of ‘wise’ poets stood the small group of experts skilled to fashion artistic prose. When a man wished for help in a law-suit he applied, as a matter of course, if he could afford it, to one of these; and it was equally a matter of course that the speech supplied to him should bear the same stamp as others turned out by the same machine. There was no pretence of its being the work of the speaker, and no expectation, therefore, that it should reflect his nature; a certain rhetorical colour, certain recognized forms of argument and appeal, were alone looked for. The idea of writing for a client so that he should have in court the whole advantage of professional aid, and, in addition to this, the advantage of appearing to have dispensed with it, was not only novel but daring. This is what Lysias first undertook to do, and did admirably.
Had his style been florid before it became plain?
His dramatic purpose—if it may be so called— decided the special characteristics of his style. But, even without this purpose, an instinctive dislike of exaggeration would of itself have given his style some general characteristics, sufficient to distinguish it from that of any of his contemporaries. On this account we must dissent from a view advanced by K. O. Müller in his History of Greek Literature16
Lysias had, he thinks, two distinct styles at two different periods of his life; the earlier, ‘forced and artificial;’ the later, plain. Müller recognises the former in the speech in the Phaedros, and in the Epitaphios. The turning-point was, he conceives, the impeachment of Eratosthenes, when ‘a real feeling of pain and anger’ in the mind of Lysias gave ‘a more lively and natural flow both to his spirits and to his speech.’ ‘This occasion’—Müller adds— ‘convinced Lysias what style of oratory was both the most suited to his own character and also least likely to fail in producing an effect upon the judges.’ Ingenious as the theory is, we have no belief in the fact of any such abrupt transition as it supposes. That temperate mastery with which Lysias cultivated the ‘plain’ style is doubly a marvel if it was only a sudden practical experience which weaned him from his first love for a forced and artificial rhetoric. Converts are not proverbial for discretion; and the exquisite judgment shown by Lysias after his supposed reformation ought to have prevented its necessity. Like all his contemporaries he must, unquestionably, have had his earliest training in the florid Sicilian school; but there is nothing to show that its precepts ever took a strong hold upon him; and there is overwhelming reason to believe that a genius of the bent of his must very early have thrown off such pedantic trammels. It is true that the speech in the Phaedros —assuming its genuineness—is more stiffly composed than any of his presumably later writings: but, on the other hand, it is, as Müller allows, entirely free from the ornaments of Gorgias.
As for the Epitaphios, its spuriousness is now a generally recognised fact17
Special characteristics of his style.
Plainness and an easy versatility are, then, the general characteristics of Lysias. We propose now to consider in detail his special characteristics; speaking first of his style in the narrower sense, his composition and diction; next of his method of handling subject-matter.
Cicero, as we have seen, counts among the marks of the ‘plain’ style a free structure of sentences and clauses, not straining after a rhythmical period (Orator § 77
, quoted above). Dionysios, speaking of êthopoiïa in Lysias, says that he composes ‘quite simply and plainly, aware that êthos is best expressed, not in rhythmical periods, but in the lax (or easy) style’ (ἐν τῇ διαλελυμένῃ λέξει
. In another place, however, he praises Lysias for a vigour, essential in contests, ‘which packs thoughts closely and brings them out roundly’ (στρογγύλως
—that is, in terse periods. Both remarks are just. Nothing more strikingly distinguishes Lysias from his predecessors and from nearly all his successors than the degree in which the structure of his sentences varies according to his subject. His speeches may in this respect be classified under three heads. First, those which are of a distinctly public character; in which the composition is thoroughly rhythmical, and which abound with artistic periods, single or combined20
Secondly, those speeches which, from the nature of their subjects, blend the private with the public character; which show not only fewer combinations or groups of periods, but a less careful formation of single periods21
. Thirdly, the essentially private speeches; which differ from the second class, not in the mould of such periods as occur, but in the larger mixture with these of sentences or clauses not periodic22
. Further, in each of these three classes, a greater freedom of composition distinguishes the narrative from the argument. The narrative parts of the properly public speeches are usually thrown into what may be called the historical as opposed to the oratorical period; that is, the sentences are more loosely knit and are drawn out to a greater length. According as the speech has more of a private character, these freer periods are more and more relaxed into a simple series (λέξις εἰρομένη
) of longer or shorter clauses. Yet, while there are so many shades in the composition of Lysias, the colour of the whole is individual. Isokrates develops period out of period in long,
luxuriant sequence; Demosthenes intersperses the most finished and most vigorous periods with less formally built sentences which relieve them; Lysias binds his periods, by twos or threes at the most, into groups always moderate in size but often monotonous in form; excelling Isokrates in compactness, but yielding to Demosthenes in life23
His Diction—its purity.
The diction of Lysias is distinguished in the first place by its purity. This is a quality upon which no modern could have pronounced authoritatively, but for which the ancient Greek critic vouches. In the Augustan age the reaction from florid Asianism to Atticism had set in strongly, and especial attention was paid by Greek grammarians to the marks of a pure Attic style. Dionysios may be taken as a competent judge. He pronounces Lysias to be ‘perfectly pure in expression, the best canon of Attic speech,— not of the old used by Plato and Thucydides,’ but of that which was in vogue in his own time24
. This may be seen, he adds, by a comparison with the writings of Andokides, Kritias and many others. Two ideas are included under the ‘purity’ praised here; abstinence from words either obsolete (γλῶσσαι
) or novel, or too decidedly poetical; and abstinence from constructions foreign to the idiom of the day— an excellence defined elsewhere as ‘accuracy of dialect25
.’ Lysias is not rigidly pure in these respects.
The only instance of an old-fashioned syntax, indeed, which has been noticed in him, is the occasional use of τε
as a copula26
; nor does he use such pedantic words as were meant by ‘glossae;’ but rare or poetical words and phrases occur in many places27
. The praise of purity must be taken in a general and relative sense. Of those who came after Lysias, Isokrates most nearly approached him in this quality28
; but Isaeos is also commended for it29
Next, in contrast with the Sicilian school of rhetoric, Lysias is characterised by a general avoidance of ornamental figures. Such figures as occur are mostly of the kind which men use in daily life without rhetorical consciousness,—hyperbole, metaphor, prosopopoiïa and the like30
. As a rule, he expresses his meaning by ordinary words employed in their normal sense31
. His panegyrical speeches and his
letters are said to have presented a few exceptions to this rule; but all his business-works, as Dionysios calls them—his speeches for the ekklesia and for the law-courts—are stamped with this simplicity. He seems, as his critic says, to speak like the ordinary man, while he is in fact the most consummate of artists32
,—a prose poet who knows how to give an unobtrusive distinction to common language, and to bring out of it a quiet and peculiar music33
. Isokrates had the same command of familiar words, but he was not content to seek effect by artistic harmonies of these. His ambition was to be ornate; and hence one of the differences remarked by Dionysios: Isokrates is sometimes vulgar34
; Lysias never is. There is one kind of ornament, however, which Lysias uses largely, and in respect to which he deserts the character of the plain style. He delights in the artistic parallelism (or opposition) of clauses. This may be effected: (1) by simple correspondence of clauses in length (isokôlon); (2) by correspondence of word with word in meaning (antitheton proper); (3) by correspondence of word with word in sound (paromoion)35
. Examples are very numerous both in
the public and in the private speeches. This love of antithesis—shown on a larger scale in the terse periodic composition—is the one thing which sometimes blemishes the êthos in Lysias.
Clearness and conciseness.
Closely connected with this simplicity is his clearness. Lysias is clear in a twofold sense; in thought, and in expression. Figurative language is often a source of confusion of thought; and the habitual avoidance of figures by Lysias is one reason why he not only speaks but thinks clearly. In regard to this clearness of expression Dionysios has an excellent remark. This quality might, he observes, result merely from ‘deficiency of power,’ i.e. poverty of language and of fancy which constrained the speaker to be simple. In the case of Lysias it does, in fact, result from wealth of the right words36
. He uses only plain words; but he has enough of these to express with propriety the most complex idea. The combination of clearness with conciseness is
achieved by Lysias because he has his language thoroughly under command; his words are the disciplined servants of his thoughts37
. Isokrates is clear; but he is not also concise. In the union of these two excellences, Isaeos38
perhaps stands next to Lysias. There are, indeed, exceptions to the
conciseness of Lysias, as there are exceptions to the purity and the plainness of his diction. Instances occur in which terms nearly synonymous are accumulated, either for the sake of emphasis or merely for the sake of symmetry39
; but such instances are not frequent.
—‘the power of bringing under the senses what is narrated40
’—is an attribute of the style of Lysias. The dullest hearer cannot fail to have before his eyes the scene described, and to fancy himself actually in presence of the persons introduced as speaking. Lysias derives this graphic force from two things;—judicious use of detail, and perception of character. A good example of it is his description, in the speech Against Eratosthenes, of
his own arrest by Theognis and Peison41
. Dionysios ascribes vividness, as well as clearness, to Isokrates also42
; but there is perhaps only one passage in the extant work of Isokrates which strictly justifies this praise43
. A description may be brilliant without being in the least degree graphic. The former quality depends chiefly on the glow of the describer's imagination; the latter depends on his truthfulness and skill in grouping around the main incident its lesser circumstances. A lifelike picture demands the union of fine colouring and correct drawing. Isokrates was a brilliant colourist; but he was seldom, like Lysias, an accurate draughtsman.
From this trait we pass naturally to another which has just been mentioned as one of its sources— the faculty of seizing and portraying character. Of all the gifts of Lysias this is the most distinctive, and is the one which had greatest influence upon his style. It is a talent which does not admit of definition or analysis; it can be understood only by studying its results. It is shown, as Dionysios says, in three things—thought, diction, and composition44
; that is, the ideas, the words, and the style in which the words are put together, always suit the person to whom they are ascribed45
. There is hardly one of
the extant speeches of Lysias upon which this peculiar power has not left its mark. Many of them, otherwise poor in interest, have a permanent artistic value as describing, with a few quiet touches, this or that type of man. For instance, the Defence which is the subject of the Twenty-first Oration is interesting solely because it embodies to the life that proud consciousness of merit with which a citizen who had deserved well of the State might confront a calumny. In the speech on the Sacred Olive, if the nameless accused is not a person for us, he is at least a character—the man who shrinks from public prominence of any kind, but who at the same time has a shy pride in discharging splendidly all his public duties46
. The injured husband, again, who has taken upon Eratosthenes the extreme vengeance sanctioned by the law, is the subject of an indirect portrait, in which homeliness is combined with the moral
dignity of a citizen standing upon his rights (De caed. Eratosth. (Or. I.) §§ 5 ff.
). The steady Athenian householder of the old type, and the adventurous patriot of the new, are sketched in the speech On the Property of Aristophanes47
. The accuser of Diogeiton, unwilling to prosecute a relative, but resolved to have a shameful wrong redressed;—Diogeiton's mother, pleading with him for her sons;—are pictures all the more effective because they have been produced without apparent effort48
. But of all such delineations—and, as Dionysios says, no
character in Lysias is inartistically drawn or lifeless49
—perhaps the cleverest and certainly the most attractive is that of Mantitheos, the brilliant young Athenian who is vindicating his past life before the Senate. Nowhere is the ethical art of Lysias more ably shown than in the ingenuous words of apology with which, as by an afterthought, Mantitheos concludes his frank and highspirited defence:—
‘I have understood, Senators, that some people are annoyed with me for this too—that I presumed, though rather young, to speak in the Assembly. It was about my own affairs that I was first compelled to speak in public; after that, however, I do
suspect myself of having been more ambitiously inclined than I need have been,—partly through thinking of my family, who have never ceased to be statesmen,— partly because I saw that you (to tell the truth)
respect none but such men; so that, seeing this to be your opinion, who would not be invited to act and speak in behalf of the State? And besides— why should you be vexed with such men? The judgment upon them rests with none but yourselves50
The ‘propriety’ and ‘charm’ of Lysias.
The ‘propriety’ which has always been praised in Lysias depends mainly on this discernment of what suits the character of each speaker; but it includes more—it has respect also to the hearers and to the subject, and generally to all the circumstances of the case. The judge, the ekklesiast, the listener in the crowd at a festival are not addressed in the same vein; different excellences of style characterise the opening, the narrative, the argument, the final appeal51
It remains to say a few words on the peculiar and crowning excellence of Lysias in the province of expression,—his famous but inexplicable ‘charm.’ It is noticeable that while his Roman critics merely praise his elegance and polish, regarding it as a simple result of his art52
, the finer sense of his Greek
critic apprehends a certain nameless grace or charm, which cannot be directly traced to art,—which cannot be analysed or accounted for: it is something peculiar to him, of which all that can be said is that it is there. What, asks Dionysios, is the freshness of a beautiful face? What is fine harmony in the movements and windings of music? What is rhythm in the measurement of times? As these things baffle definition, so does the charm of Lysias. It cannot be taken to pieces by reasoning; it must be seized by a cultivated instinct53
. It is the final criterion of his genuine work. ‘When I am puzzled about one of the speeches ascribed to him, and when it is hard for me to find the truth by other marks, I have recourse to this excellence, as to the last piece on the board. Then, if the Graces of Speech seem to me to make the writing fair, I count it to be of the soul of Lysias; and I care not to look further into it. But if the stamp of the language has no winningness, no loveliness, I am chagrined, and suspect that after all the speech is not by Lysias; and I do no more violence to my instinct, even though in all else the speech seems to me clever and well-finished; believing that to write well, in special styles other than this, is given to many men; but that to write winningly, gracefully, with loveliness, is the gift of Lysias.’54
A modern reader would be sanguine if he hoped to analyse the distinctive charm of Lysias more closely than Dionysios found himself able to do. He may be content if study by degrees gives him a dim apprehension of something which he believes that he could use, as Dionysios used the qualities detected by his ‘instinct,’ in deciding between the genuine and the false. Evidently the same cause which in great measure disqualifies a modern for estimating the ‘purity’ of the language of Lysias also disqualifies him for estimating its charm. This charm may be supposed to have consisted partly in a certain felicity of expression,—Lysias having a knack of using the word which, for some undefinable reason, was felt to be curiously right; partly in a certain essential urbanity, the reflection of a nature at once genial and refined. The first quality is evidently beyond the sure appreciation of a modern ear: the second less so, yet scarcely to be estimated with nicety, since here too shades of expression are concerned. At best a student of Lysias may hope to attain a tolerably true perception of what he could not
have written: but hardly the faculty of rejoicing that he wrote just as he did.
His treatment of subject, matter.
Having now noticed the leading characteristics of Lysias in regard to form of language, we will consider some of his characteristics in the other great department of his art—the treatment of the subject-matter. In this the ancient critics distinguished two chief elements, Invention and Arrangement55
By ‘invention’ was meant the faculty of discovering
the arguments available in any given circumstances; the art, in short, of making the most of a case. Sokrates, criticising the speech in the Phaedros,
is made to express contempt for the inventive power of Lysias56
. Arguments, however, which would not pass with a dialectician, might do very well for a jury. If Plato found Lysias barren of logical resource, Dionysios emphatically praises his fertile cleverness in discovering every weapon of controversy which the facts of a case could yield to the most penetrating search57
. The latter part of the speech against Agoratos may be taken as a good example of this exhaustive ingenuity58
. It is a fault, indeed, that there the speaker attempts to make too many small points in succession; and one, at least, of these is a curious instance of overdone subtlety59
In regard to arrangement, Lysias is distinguished
from all other Greek orators by a uniform simplicity. His speeches consist usually of four parts, which follow each other in a regular order: proem, narrative, proof, epilogue60
. In some cases, the nature of the subject renders a narrative, in the proper sense, unnecessary; in others, the narrative is at the same time the proof; in a few, the proem is almost or
entirely dispensed with. But in no case is there anything more elaborate than this fourfold partition, —and in no case is the sequence of the parts altered. This simple arrangement, contrasting with the manifold subdivisions which Plato notices as used by the rhetoricians of his day61
, is usually said to have been first made by Isokrates62
. This may be true in the sense that it was he who first stated it theoretically. In practice, however, it had already been employed by Lysias; and more strictly than by Isokrates himself63
. The difference between their systems, according to Dionysios, is precisely this;—Lysias uses always the same simple framework, never interpolating, subdividing or defining64
; Isokrates knows how to break the uniformity by transpositions of his own devising, or by novel episodes65
. The same difference, in a stronger form, separates Lysias here from his imitator in much else, Isaeos. Every kind of artifice is used by Isaeos in shifting, subdividing, recombining the four rudimentary elements of the speech according to the special conditions of the case66
. It was this versatile tact in disposing his forces—this generalship67
, as Dionysios in one place calls it—which chiefly procured for Isaeos the reputation of unequalled adroitness in fighting a bad
. Lysias had consummate literary skill and much acuteness; but his weapons were better than his plan of campaign; he was not a subtle tactician. ‘In arranging what he has invented he is commonplace, frank, guileless;’69
while Isaeos ‘plays all manner of ruses upon his adversary,’70
Lysias ‘uses no sort of knavery.’71
Invention and selection are admirable in him: arrangement is best studied in his successors72
Parts of the oration
If we turn from his general plan to his execution of its several parts, Lysias will be found to shew very different degrees of merit in proem, narrative, proof and epilogue.
His proem, or opening, is always excellent, always gracefully and accurately appropriate to the matter in hand. This inexhaustible fertility of resource calls forth the special commendation of Dionysios. ‘The power shown in his proems will appear especially marvellous if it is considered that, though he wrote not fewer than 200 forensic speeches, there is not one in which he is found to have used a preface which is not plausible, or which is not closely connected with the case. Indeed, he has not twice hit upon the same syllogisms, or twice drifted into the same thoughts. Yet even those who have written
little are found to have had this mischance,—that, I mean, of repeating commonplaces; to say nothing of the fact that nearly all of them borrow the prefatory remarks of others, and think no shame of doing so.’73
The opening of the speech against Diogeiton may be cited as an example of a difficult case introduced with singular delicacy and tact.
The same kind of cleverness which never fails to make a good beginning finds a more important scope in the next stage of the speech. In narrative Lysias is masterly. His statements of facts are distinguished by conciseness, clearness and charm, and by a power of producing conviction without apparent effort to convince74
. If these qualities mark almost equally some of the narratives in the private orations of Demosthenes75
, it is yet Lysias and not Demosthenes to whom Dionysios points as the canon of excellence in this kind76
. He goes so far as to say that he believes the rules for narrative given in the current rhetorical treatises to have been derived from study of models supplied by Lysias.
In the third province—that of proof—this supremacy is not maintained. Rhetorical proofs are of three kinds: (1) direct logical proofs which appeal to the
reason; and indirect moral proofs which appeal (2) to the moral sense, and (3) to the feelings.
In the first sort Lysias is strong both by acuteness in discovering, and by judgment in selecting, arguments. In the second he is effective also; and succeeds, even when he has few facts to go upon, in making characters seem attractive or the reverse by incidental touches. In the third he is comparatively weak; he cannot heighten the force of a plea, represent a wrong, or invoke compassion77
, with sufficient spirit and intensity.
Hence in the fourth and last department, the epilogue, he shows, indeed, the neatness which suits recapitulation, but not the power which ought to elevate an appeal. The nature of his progress through a speech is well described by an image which his Greek critic employs78
. Like a soft southern breeze, his facile inspiration wafts him smoothly through the first and second stages of his voyage; at the third it droops; in the last it dies.
General qualities resulting from character
The manner in which Lysias handles his subject-matter has now been spoken of so far as concerns its technical aspect. But, besides these characteristics of the artist which may be discovered in particular parts, there are certain general qualities, resulting from the character of the man, which colour the whole; and a word must now be said of these.
The tact of Lysias.
Foremost among such qualities is tact. One of its special manifestations is quick sympathy with the character of the speaker; another is perception of the style in which a certain subject should be treated or a certain class of hearers addressed. Both these have already been noticed. But, above and beyond these, there is a certain sureness in the whole conduct of a case, a certain remoteness from liability to blunder, which is the most general indication of the tact of Lysias. Among his genuine extant speeches there is only one which perhaps in some degree offers an exception to the rule;—the speech against Evandros79
. In the case of the speech against Andokides, the conspicuous absence of a fine discretion is one of the most conclusive proofs that Lysias was not the author80
. In relation to treatment, this tact is precisely what the ‘charm’ praised by Dionysios is in relation to language; it is that quality, the presence or absence of which is the best general criterion of what Lysias did or did not write.
A quality which the last almost implies is humour; and this Lysias certainly had. The description of an incorrigible borrower, in the fragment of the lost speech against the Sokratic Aeschines, shows this humour tending to broad farce81
, and illustrates
what Demetrius means by the ‘somewhat comic graces’82
of Lysias. But, as a rule, it is seen only in sudden touches, which amuse chiefly because they surprise; as in the speech for Mantitheos, and most of all in that for the Invalid83
Really powerful sarcasm must come from earnest feeling; and Lysias, though intellectual acuteness gave him command of irony, was weak in sarcasm for the same reason that he was not great in pathos. There is, properly speaking, only one extant speech—that against Nikomachos—in which sarcasm is a principal weapon84
. Here he is moderately successful, but not in the best way; for, just as in his attack upon Aeschines, vehemence, tending to coarseness, takes the place of moral indignation.
Defects of Lysias as an orator.
The language, the method, the genius of Lysias have now been considered in reference to their chief positive characteristics. But no attempt to estimate what Lysias was would be true or complete if it failed
to point out what he was not. However high the rank which he may claim as a literary artist, he cannot, as an orator, take the highest. The defects which exclude him from it are chiefly two; and these are to a certain extent the defects of his qualities. As he excelled in analysis of character and in elegance, so he was, as a rule, deficient in pathos and in fire.
The limits of pathos in Lysias.
It would be untrue to say that Lysias never appeals to the feelings with effect, and unfair to assume that he lacked the power of appealing to them with force. But the bent of his mind was critical; his artistic instinct shrank from exaggeration of every sort; and, instead of giving fervent expression to his own sense of what was pitiable or terrible in any set of circumstances, it was his manner merely to draw a suggestive picture of the circumstances themselves. This self-restraint will be best understood by comparing a passage of Lysias with a similar passage of Andokides. The speech On the Mysteries describes the scene in the prison when mothers, sisters, wives came to visit the victims of the informer Diokleides85
. A like scene is described in the speech Against Agoratos, when the persons whom he had denounced took farewell in prison of their kinswomen86
. But the two orators take different means of producing a tragic effect. ‘There were cries and lamentations,’ says Andokides, ‘weeping and wailing for the miseries of the hour.’87
Lysias simply remarks that the wife who came to see her husband had already put on mourning88
. For hearers of a certain
class the pathos of facts is more eloquent than an express appeal; but the speaker who is content to rely upon it renounces the hope of being found pathetic by the multitude. It was only now and then that, without going beyond the limits which his own taste imposed, Lysias could expect to stir general sympathy. In the defence which he wrote for the nephews of Nikias, the last survivors of a house made desolate by violent deaths and now threatened with spoliation, he found such an opportunity. He used it well, because, though declamation would have been easy, he abstained from everything rhetorical and hollow. The few words in which the defendant speaks of his claim to the protection of the court are plain and dignified:—
‘Judges, I have no one to put up to plead for us; for of our kinsmen some have died in war, after showing themselves brave men, in the effort to make Athens great; some, in the cause of the democracy and of your freedom, have died by the hemlock of the Thirty; and so the merits of our kinsmen, and the misfortunes of the State, have become the causes of our friendlessness. It befits you to think of these things and to help us with good will, considering that under a democracy those deserve to be welltreated at your hands who, under an oligarchy, had their share of the troubles.’89
The eloquence of Lysias rarely passionate.
After inquiring how far Lysias fails in pathos, it remains to speak of the other principal defect noticed above. How far, and in what sense, does he want fire? By ‘fire’ is meant here the passion of a speaker
stirred with great ideas. Dionysios says (in effect) that, besides pathos, Lysias wants two other things, grandeur and spirit90
. He has not—we are told— the intensity or the force91
of Demosthenes; he touches, but does not pierce, the heart92
; he charms, but fails to astonish or to appal93
. This is true; but it should be remembered that in a great majority of the causes with which he had to deal the attempt at sublimity would have been ridiculous. It may be granted that, had Lysias been called upon to plead for Olynthos or to denounce Philip, he would not have approached even distantly the lofty vehemence of Demosthenes. The absence of passion cannot properly be regarded as a defect in his extant speeches; but they at least suggest that under no circumstances could he have excelled in passionate eloquence. They indicate a power which sufficed to elaborate them, rather than a power which gave them their special qualities out of an affluence of resource. Two speeches, however, must be named, one of which shows (in what remains of it) the inspiration of a great idea, the other, the inspiration of an ardent feeling. These are the Olympiakos
and the speech Against Eratosthenes. If in each of these Lysias has shown himself worthy of his subject, the inference in his favour should be strengthened by the fact that, so far as we know, these are the noblest subjects which he treated.
In the Olympiakos
he is enforcing the necessity of union among Greeks and calling upon Sparta to take the lead:—
‘It befits us, then, to desist from war among ourselves and to cleave, with a single purpose, to the public weal, ashamed for the past and apprehensive for the future; it befits us to imitate our forefathers, who, when the barbarians coveted the land of others, inflicted upon them the loss of their own; and who, after driving out the tyrants, established liberty for all men alike. But I wonder most of all at the Lacedaemonians, and at the policy which can induce them to view passively the conflagration of Greece. They are the leaders of the Greeks, as they deserve to be, both for their inborn gallantry and for their warlike science; they alone dwell exempt from ravage, though unsheltered by walls; unvexed by faction; strangers to defeat; with usages which never vary; thus warranting the hope that the freedom which they have achieved is immortal, and that, having proved themselves in past perils the deliverers of Greece, they are now thoughtful for her future.’94
In the speech Against Eratosthenes, he concludes the impeachment with an appeal to the two parties who had alike suffered from the Thirty Tyrants;— the Townsmen, or those who had remained at Athens under the oligarchy; and the democratic exiles who had held the Peiraeus:—
‘I wish, before I go down, to recall a few things
to the recollection of both parties, the party of the Town and the party of the Peiraeus; in order that, in passing sentence, you may have before you as warnings the calamities which have come upon you through these men.
‘And you, first, of the Town—reflect that under their iron rule you were forced to wage with brothers, with sons, with citizens a war of such a sort that, having been vanquished, you are the equals of the conquerors, whereas, had you conquered, you would have been the slaves of the Tyrants. They would have gained wealth for their own houses from the administration; you have impoverished yours in the war with one another; for they did not deign that you should thrive along with them, though they forced you to become odious in their company; such being their consummate arrogance that, instead of seeking to win your loyalty by giving you partnership in their prizes, they fancied themselves friendly if they allowed you a share of their dishonours. Now, therefore, that you are in security, take vengeance to the utmost of your power both for yourselves and for the men of the Peiraeus; reflecting that these men, villains that they are, were your masters, but that now good men are your fellow-citizens,—your fellow-soldiers against the enemy, your fellow-counsellors in the interest of the State; remembering, too, those allies whom these men posted on the acropolis as sentinels over their despotism and your servitude. To you—though much more might be said—I say thus much only.
‘But you of the Peiraeus—think, in the first
place, of your arms—think how, after fighting many a battle on foreign soil, you were stripped of those arms, not by the enemy, but by these men in time of peace; think, next, how you were warned by public criers from the city bequeathed to you by your fathers, and how your surrender was demanded of the cities in which you were exiles. Resent these things as you resented them in banishment; and recollect, at the same time, the other evils that you have suffered at their hands;—how some were snatched out of the marketplace or from temples and put to a violent death; how others were torn from children, parents, or wife, and forced to become their own murderers, nor allowed the common decencies of burial, by men who believed their own empire to be surer than the vengeance from on high.
‘And you, the remnant who escaped death, after perils in many places, after wanderings to many cities and expulsion from all, beggared of the necessaries of life, parted from children, left in a fatherland which was hostile or in the land of strangers, came through many obstacles to the Peiraeus. Dangers many and great confronted you; but you proved yourselves brave men; you freed some, you restored others to their country.
‘Had you been unfortunate and missed those aims, you yourselves would now be exiles, in fear of suffering what you suffered before. Owing to the character of these men, neither temples nor altars, which even in the sight of evil-doers have a protecting virtue, would have availed you against wrong;— while those of your children who are here would
have been enduring the outrages of these men, and those who are in a foreign land, in the absence of all succour, would, for the smallest debt, have been enslaved.
‘I do not wish, however, to speak of what might have been, seeing that what these men have done is beyond my power to tell; and indeed it is a task not for one accuser, or for two, but for a host.
‘Yet is my indignation perfect for the temples which these men bartered away or defiled by entering them; for the city which they humbled; for the arsenals which they dismantled; for the dead, whom you, since you could not rescue them alive, must vindicate in their death. And I think that they are listening to us, and will be aware of you when you give your verdict, deeming that such as absolve these men have passed sentence upon them,
and that such as exact retribution from these have taken vengeance in their
‘I will cease accusing. You have heard—seen— suffered: you have them: judge.’95
Place of Lysias in the history of Rhetoric.
On reviewing the general position of Lysias among the Attic orators, it will be seen to result mainly from his discovery, made at a time when Rhetoric had not yet outlived the crudest taste for finery, that the most complete art is that which hides itself. Aided not only by a delicate mastery of language but by a peculiar gift for reading and expressing character, he created a style of which the chief mark was various naturalness. It was long before the art of speaking reached, in general
practice, that sober maturity which his precocious tact had given to it in a limited field; it was long before his successors freed themselves to any great extent— few wholly freed themselves—from the well-worn allurements which he had decisively rejected when they were freshest. But at least no one of those who came after dared to neglect the lesson taught by Lysias; the attempt to be natural, however artificially or rarely, was henceforward a new element in the task which professors of eloquence conceived to be set before them. Lysias remains, for all aftertimes, the master of the plain style.
This supremacy in a definite province is allowed
The ancient critics upon Lysias.
to him by the general voice of antiquity through the centuries in which its culture was finest; the praise becoming, however, less discriminating as the instinct which directed it became less sure.
upon Lysias—for not having seen that the writing of love-letters is a branch of Dialectic—is joined to a notice of the clearness, compactness, finished polish of his language97
; and it would perhaps be unfair to Plato to assume that in the one place where he seems at all just to
Lysias he meant to be altogether ironical. Isaeos was a careful student of Lysias98
. If Aristotle99
seldom quoted him, if Theophrastos100
appears to have missed and Demetrics101
to have underrated his peculiar merits, one of the first orators of their generation, Deinarchos102
, often took him for a model. When
the taste for Attic simplicity, lost during two centuries in the schools of Asia, revived at Rome, Lysias was recognised as its truest representative. Though most of his Roman imitators appear to have become feeble in seeking to be plain, one of them, Licinius Calvus, is allowed at least the praise of elegance103
. Cicero's criticism of Lysias is not close; it does not analyse with any exactness the special qualities of his style; but the general appreciation which it shows is just. For Cicero, Lysias is the model, not of a plain style merely, but of Attic refinement104
; he has also the highest degree of vigour105
; and though grandeur was seldom possible in the treatment of such subjects as he chose, some passages of his speeches have elevation106
. Yet, while Demosthenes could use the simplicity of Lysias, it is doubtful (Cicero thinks) whether Lysias could ever have risen to the height of Demosthenes107
Lysias is ‘almost’ a second Demosthenes108
, or, what is the same thing, ‘almost’ a perfect orator109
; but his mastery is limited to a province. The Augustan age produced by far the best and fullest of known ancient criticisms upon Lysias, that of Dionysios110
. The verdict of Caecilius has perished with his work on the Ten Orators; but the remark preserved from it, that Lysias was abler in the invention than in the arrangement of arguments111
, shows discernment. This quality marks in a less degree the judgments of subsequent writers. Quintilian112
only commends Lysias in general terms for plain elegance of language and mastery of clear exposition; Hermogenes113
especially praises, not his winningness, but his hidden force, classing him, with Isaeos and Hypereides, next to Demosthenes in political eloquence. Photios114
goes wide of the
mark; he praises Lysias for those things in which he was relatively weak, pathos and sublime intensity; and disputes the just observation of Caecilius that Lysias excelled in invention rather than in arrangement.
Lysias and his Successors.
A few words will be enough to mark the broad differences between Lysias and those three of his successors who may best be compared with him,— Isaeos, Isokrates and Demosthenes. Isokrates, like Lysias, has purity of diction and accuracy of idiom; command of plain language (though he is seldom content with it); power of describing, though not of dramatizing, character; propriety and persuasiveness. But while Lysias hides his art in order to be more winning, Isokrates aims openly at the highest artificial ornament, and escapes being frivolous or frigid only by the greatness of most of his subjects and the earnestness with which he treats them. Isaeos, a direct student of Lysias, resembles him most in his diction, which is not only, like that of Isokrates, clear and pure, but concise also; further, he strives, like his master, to conceal his art, but never quite succeeds in this. The excellence of Demosthenes comprises that of Lysias, since, while the latter is natural by art, the former is so by the necessary sincerity of genius; but Demosthenes is not, like Lysias, plain; nor has he the same delicate charm; grandeur and irresistible power take its place.
Services of Lysias to the prose idiom.
Lastly—it should be remembered that it is not only as an orator but also, and even more, as a writer that Lysias is important; that, great as were his services to the theory and practice of eloquence, he did greater service still to the Greek language. He brought the everyday idiom into a closer relation than it had ever before had with the literary idiom, and set the first example of perfect elegance joined to plainness; deserving the praise that, as in fineness of ethical portraiture he is the Sophokles, in delicate control of thoroughly idiomatic speech he is the Euripides of Attic prose.