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 To deny that our poet possesses the graces of oratory is using us hardly indeed. What is so befitting an orator, what so poetical as eloquence, and who so sweetly eloquent as Homer? But, by heaven! you'll say, there are other styles of eloquence than those peculiar to poetry. Of course [I admit this]; in poetry itself there is the tragic and the comic style; in prose, the historic and the forensic. But is not language a generality, of which poetry and prose are forms? Yes, language is; but are not the rhetorical, the eloquent, and the florid styles also? I answer, that flowery prose is nothing but an imitation of poetry. Ornate poetry was the first to make its appearance, and was well received. Afterwards it was closely imitated by writers in the time of Cadmus, Pherecydes, and Hecatæus. The metre was the only thing dispensed with, every other poetic grace being carefully preserved. As time advanced, one after another of its beauties was discarded, till at last it came down from its glory into our common prose. In the same way we may say that comedy took its rise from tragedy, but descended from its lofty grandeur into what we now call the common parlance of daily life. And when [we find] the ancient writers making use of the expression ‘to sing,’ to designate eloquence of style, this in itself is an evidence that poetry is the source and origin of all ornamented and rhetorical language. Poetry in ancient days was on every occasion accompanied by melody. The song or ode was but a modulated speech, from whence the words rhapsody, tragedy, comedy,1 are derived; and since originally eloquence was the term made use of for the poetical effusions which were always of the nature of a song, it soon happened [that in speaking of poetry] some said, to sing, others, to be eloquent; and as the one term was early misapplied to prose compositions, the other also was soon applied in the same way. Lastly, the very term prose, which is applied to language not clothed in metre, seems to indicate, as it were, its descent from an elevation or chariot to the ground.2
1 So much of the meaning of this sentence depends upon the orthography, that its force is not fully perceptible in English; the Greek is as follows: τοῦτο δ᾽ ὴ̂ν ἡ ᾠδὴ λόγος μεμελισμένος ἀφ᾽ ού̂ δὴ ῥαψῳδίαη τ̓ ἔλεγον καὶ τοͅαγῳδίαν καὶ κωμῳδίαν.
2 This last sentence can convey little or no meaning to the English reader; its whole force in the original depending on verbal association. Its general scope however will be evident, when it is stated that in Greek, the same word, πεζὸς, which means a ‘foot-soldier,’ signifies also ‘prose composition.’ Hence Strabo's allusion to the chariot. The Latins borrowed the expression, and used sermo pedestris in the same sense.
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