Demetrius Phalereus Criticism - Essay

G. M. A. Grube (essay date 1961)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to A Greek Critic: Demetrius On Style, University of Toronto Press, 1961, pp. 3-56.

[In the following essay, Grube offers background on the philosophical and rhetorical traditions of Greek literary criticism, examines the content, nature, and structure of On Style, and considers the problems of determining the authorship and date of composition of the work.]

The Background

Greek criticism of literature was derived from two distinct and independent sources, the philosophical and the rhetorical. The philosophers were first in the field. As early as 500 B.C. we find Xenophanes and Heraclitus vigorously censuring Homer for his immoral and untrue stories about the gods.1 Thus started what Plato was to call the ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy, in which the philosophers stressed the social responsibility of the poet, and the importance they attached to this reflects the vital place of poetry in the life of Classical Greece. Formal education consisted, as is well known, mainly of physical training, music, and poetry, especially Homer. The Olympian gods cared little for the conduct of their worshippers; except for a very few traditional requirements such as the sanctity of an oath, respect for parents, and the laws of hospitality, they insisted only on the performance of due ritual. There was no preaching in the temples, and men turned to the poets for guidance in the art of living. Hence the deep-rooted feeling that the poets were the teachers of men; we find this point of view first clearly formulated in Aristophanes, but it is, as a feeling if not a theory, very much older. This moral responsibility might well have surprised Homer, but Hesiod would have accepted it, so would most of the lyric poets, and by the time of the great tragedians it was well established. In any case, where poetry is a vital force in society, it cannot live in an ivory tower. Art for art's sake is a theory which does not arise until poetry has retired to the study and music to the studio. It was therefore very natural that criticism of literature—and this up to the third quarter of the fifth century meant criticism of poetry exclusively—should, particularly in Greece, have begun as moral criticism, as criticism of content rather than of form, and this philosophical approach was rarely absent in the better critics of antiquity.

From the middle of the fifth century, however, a quite different approach to literature was being developed by the teachers of rhetoric. First in Sicily, then in Athens, with the growth of democracy, the art of swaying assemblies and juries was the road to political power, and this was clearly recognized by the ambitious. Teachers of rhetoric were in great demand, and the Sophistic movement arose to fill this demand, for, in spite of their individual differences, the Sophists all had an interest in language in common.

When Gorgias of Leontini came to Athens in 427 B.C. and brought with him from Sicily all the tricks of his rhetorical trade, he is said to have taken Athens by storm. Certainly, the Athenians were predisposed to appreciate the new art of speech: their education had endowed them with a sensitive appreciation of poetry; they eagerly discussed the works of the great dramatists; they had applauded Pericles and other orators in the assembly. Indeed it may well be argued that they were already thoroughly familiar, in practice, with Gorgias' antitheses, homoioteleuta, balanced clauses, and so forth, and it is probable that the direct influence of Gorgias on the style of the great writers of the time, Euripides and Thucydides for example, has been exaggerated by both ancient and modern critics. Nevertheless, as the first theorists of the art of language, the Sophists did have a very great influence on the development of Greek style.

When Gorgias praised the power of Logos, the spoken word, he was claiming for prose a place by the side of poetry as a sister art and he clearly wakened the Athenians to a new awareness of the art of speech. Indeed, when Aristotle speaks of the old simple style of writing,2 he means writers before the time of Gorgias, including Herodotus. As a theoretical innovator, however, Gorgias went too far, and it was easy for Aristotle and later critics to ridicule his poetic diction, his farfetched metaphors, his too neatly-balanced clauses, his word-jingles, rhymes, and the rest. Indeed his fiagments fully deserve their censures.

Gorgias and the other teachers of rhetoric were interested only in the art of persuasion, in rhetorical tricks to arouse the emotions of an audience, and Plato was no doubt right when he maintained that they felt no moral responsibility whatever. "The word" said Gorgias "is a mighty power; … it can end fear, remove pain, bring joy, and increase pity." He went on to extol the power of words to play upon human emotions, and to show how a speech (logos) can delight and persuade a great crowd "not because it is spoken with truth but because it is skilfully composed." Gorgias may be regarded as the first conscious technician of the art of speech in continental Greece; he brought with him an already well-developed technical vocabulary. From him ultimately derives that tendency to analyze figures of speech and thought which, in the rhetorical works of later criticism, often looks upon literature, from Homer down, as a mere treasure-house of rhetorical devices.

This emphasis on the means of persuasion and on rousing the emotions, fear and pity in particular, without regard for morality or truth, naturally went hand in hand with scepticism, with a questioning of all accepted values. The new teachers undoubtedly helped to undermine the traditional education of Athens and the traditional social morality. Because of this they aroused the anger and resentment of conservative Athenians, whose spokesman was Aristophanes, the great comic poet (ca. 450-385 B.C.).

The comedies of Aristophanes bear convincing witness to the important place which poetry—tragedy in particular but not tragedy only—held in Athenian life. They are full of literary allusions, parodies, and criticisms which he expected his audience, the people of Athens, to appreciate and enjoy. His hatred of the new education and the new scepticism is especially clear in the Clouds (423 B.C.), where Socrates is his chief butt. For twenty years he attacked Euripides as the exponent of the modern spirit. But Aristophanes' greatest contribution to literary criticism is the famous contest in the Frogs between Euripides and Aeschylus for the Chair of Tragedy in Hades. The comedy was produced in 405 B.C., soon after Euripides' death. Aeschylus had been in his grave for fifty years, and he stands here as the defender of tradition. Euripides is attacked for his immoral subjects and evil influence, but there is also much criticism that is purely aesthetic, where the younger poet is censured for his realism, his innovations in metre and music, his use of a narrative prologue, his excessive use of lyric monodies, his prosaic everyday language. The whole debate puts before us two different views of drama, and of literature generally, which are perennial and irreconcilable. The differences can in part be explained historically: the tempo of Aeschylean tragedy was already archaic in 405 B.C. and so was a good deal of its language; the more "sophistic" techniques of Euripides are also partly due to his date. Essentially, however, the conflict goes very much deeper, for it is the conflict between the romantic and the realist, the former believing that many true things are better ignored, the latter that truth, the whole truth, will make men free. The grand manner of Aeschylus requires the grand style and impressive language; the realism of Euripides inevitably requires a simpler diction. Aristophanes' sympathies were all with Aeschylus, but the criticisms of him which he puts in the mouth of Euripides also neatly hit the mark, and in the end he refuses to judge between them as dramatists or as poets. The contest is one of the most vivid pieces of literary criticism in ancient literature, as well as the most amusing. For all his dislike of the new techniques, Aristophanes was clearly thoroughly familiar with them.

So was Plato (who was growing to manhood at this time) in spite of all the bitter things he said against the Sophists and rhetoricians in his dialogues. In practice he was a most careful stylist, and one likes to remember the story told by Dionysius of Halicarnassus that, when Plato died, tablets found among his belongings showed how he had tried many different word-orders for that simple, easy-flowing sentence with which he begins his Republic.3 His style takes its place in the history of fourth-century Greek prose as the superb culmination of that process of development which Gorgias and the rhetoricians had started about the time of Plato's birth. But Plato was a philosopher, the disciple of Socrates. He knew, better than Aristophanes, that Socrates had laboured for a much deeper, more philosophic education than that of the Sophists, an education which aimed at philosophic inquiry into the nature of reality by way of painful self-knowledge and self-criticism. When, a teacher himself and the spiritual heir of Socrates, Plato opened his Academy in the eighties of the fourth century, it was natural that he should examine critically the claims of those other teachers old and new, the poets and the rhetoricians. It is thus that he approaches rhetoric in the Gorgias, and poetry in the Republic. What are their claims to knowledge and what is it they can claim to teach? The world of literature has never forgiven Plato for banishing the poets, or at any rate most of them, from his ideal republic, but that banishment is essentially a challenge to the poets to recognize their social responsibility, a challenge which has never been completely answered. Every civilized state except ancient Athens has adopted Plato's theory of censorship—the subordination of the artist to the legislator, in some form or other. Nor have they waited, before doing so, for the establishment of the ideal republic or the rule of the philosopher-king! Plato was deeply convinced that poetry, music, and the arts had a tremendous influence upon the formation of character, and he was terribly afraid of an uncritical emotional response to that influence, especially in drama where impersonation makes the response more immediate and more complete, both for the actor and for the audience. Hence the vigour of his attack, and his forbidding the impersonation of any evil at all upon the stage.

His theory of art as imitation of life does not mean, of course, that the best painting is a coloured photograph or the best drama a mere record of actual conversations, though it must be confessed that his ironically emphatic language almost seems to say so at times. It does mean, however, that the artist, and especially the dramatist, must draw his material from life and be true to life. This is, to him, an accepted truism4 rather than an original theory, and, after it had been more calmly stated and more fully worked out by Aristotle, it was never challenged in antiquity. Moreover, when he insisted that the poet could not directly imitate or represent the eternal verities that are the Platonic Forms, but could do so only indirectly as they are mirrored in actual life, was he not right at least to the extent that drama must be represented through individuals, and that a drama of pure ideas is not drama, or indeed poetry, at all?

The Phaedrus is a corrective of the too intellectual and social approach of the Republic with its apparent attack upon passion and emotion. The myth of the Phaedrus is a superb vindication of passion and inspiration, but the inspiration must come from the gods. This, translated into philosophical terms, means that the passion of the poet must be directed towards beauty and truth, and directed by reason.

The second part of the Phaedrus is written in a calmer mood. It sets out to discover how to write well, whether in prose or verse, and it contains a statement of basic critical principles. Plato states clearly, for the first time, the difference between criticism of form and of content.5 He insists that the writer must know his subject and adds ironically that he will find this useful even if his aim is only to deceive. He must define his subject. Every logos, every work of prose or poetry, should have a definite structure, with a place and function for each part, like a living organism, with a beginning, middle, and end, and with every part in its proper place, in its proper relation to the whole. The technique of writing or speaking are a preliminary requirement, but technique is not art. Plato dwells on this last point at some length: the man who knows the notes of the musical scale but cannot relate them to each other is no musician; the man who knows the effects of drugs but not when to use them is no doctor; the man who can make speeches, long or short, to arouse pity or fear, but knows not when to make them, is no tragic poet. Sophocles and Euripides would laugh at his pretensions "knowing well that the art of tragedy is no other than the interrelating of these elements in a manner fitting to each other and to the whole work." And Plato goes on to pour ridicule upon the rhetoricians' boast that they can arouse and calm emotions at will, as also upon their ever more complex technical vocabulary and their neglect of the fundamentals of their own craft.6

Plato discussed poetry and music once more, in the second book of the Laws, the work of his old age. Mousikê, which includes both, is a gift of the gods with two functions: the training of the emotions in youth and the recreation of emotional stability at all ages. Poetry and music have their roots in primary human needs and instincts, in the natural need for motion and utterance. As the random movements of the infant, gradually brought to orderly control by the human sense of harmony and rhythm, culminate in the dance, so the same sense of rhythm and meaning brings under control the infant's random cries until this process culminates in reasoned speech and ultimately in poetry. We all speak and move; we are all to some extent poets and musicians.

There are, in the Laws, three criteria by which art must be judged: one of these is still the moral criterion; the second is pleasure, even though Plato insists that it must be the pleasure of the educated and that art must not be judged, as we might put it, by box-office receipts. The third criterion is artistic or aesthetic, even though the formulation of it is rather rudimentary, that is, the "correctness" of the imitation. Both pleasure and artistic perfection are thus recognized as criteria. We are further told that the poet need not be the judge of the moral values of his work but he must, in that case, accept the judgment of the legislator who in turn must, in order to give an adequate judgment, understand the aim of the artist.7

The Poetics of Aristotle continues the philosophic approach to literature and at many points tries to answer Plato. It is important to realize that Aristotle accepts, in the main, the moral approach of Plato and his philosophic predecessors. This is quite clear from the Politics, the only place where he discusses the function of mousikê in society. Even in the Poetics tragedy is "the imitation of a morally good action."8 He accepts the principle of censorship, and the place of poetry and music in both education and recreation. He accepts, too, Plato's theory of art as "imitation," mimêsis, though he adds that the poet may imitate or represent things as they are, as they were, as they were thought to be, or as they ought to be, thus making it clear that the Greek mimêsis does not mean copying. He modifies the moral criterion to the extent that any evil act or speech in a play must be judged not in itself but in relation to the effect of the play as a whole, and in relation to the character concerned. His theory of catharsis: "tragedy … by means of pity and fear achieves the purgation (catharsis) of such emotions" is now generally accepted as a medical metaphor. The effect, as he explains in the Politics, is the same as that of orgiastic music which through exciting emotions to a crisis has an ultimately calming effect. And he answers Plato by suggesting that "the more vulgar parts of an audience, mechanics and general labourers … whose souls are perverted from their natural state" and in a state of over-excitement, need this catharsis to recreate emotional stability and that this kind of dramatic performance should therefore be allowed. The passage makes it abundantly clear that the cathartic effect of drama is mainly restricted to these weaker types. The Aristotelian philosopher, who has perfect emotional control, presumably remains unaffected. Even Aristotle's theory of the tragic hero as neither villain nor saint, but a man with some flaw in his character and therefore more "like ourselves," recognizes the need at least for weaker men, if not for himself, of that emotional identification which Plato so greatly feared. Moreover, where he insists upon the unity of plot (the only kind of unity he does insist on) and explains how one incident should follow the other as inevitable or at least probable, with the end emerging from the plot itself, he is elaborating upon the Platonic conception of the unity of a work of art as an organism. He adds important suggestions of his own: the preference for an unhappy ending, the importance of peripeteia or the sudden change of direction toward misfortune, and of recognition and discovery. The Poetics is a triumph of unemotional analysis; it is extraordinarily suggestive in detail; some of its limitations are due, however, precisely to the fact that the author's emotions are nowhere engaged.

What we have called the philosophic, as against the rhetorical, approach to literature thus began with moral criticism and continued to insist upon the writer's responsibility to society, but in Plato and Aristotle it also developed a considerable body of literary theory. Of this approach in its purer form the Poetics is our last extant example.

During the century between the famous visit of Gorgias to Athens and the publication of Aristotle's Rhetoric, textbooks on rhetoric multiplied, and it is these which both Plato and Aristotle regard with contempt. Most of them, undoubtedly, were purely technical and amoral. Of this considerable literature very little remains. We know that Thrasymachus of Chalcedon, a contemporary of Gorgias, was an adept at arousing and again calming the passions of his audiences, that he paid some attention to rhythm, wrote in short rhythmical clauses, and affected the use of paeonic feet. He seems to have been able to arrange his material clearly, to express his thoughts with succinct compactness, and to have developed a kind of prose diction that was neither too poetical, like that of Gorgias, nor lacking in distinction.9 We have a short essay of another rhetorician, Alcidamas, on the necessity for an orator to speak extempore.

But if rhetoric finally established itself as the higher education from the fourth century B.C. onward—and to this place of rhetoric in education the rhetorical nature of our later critical texts is largely due—the credit or discredit for this should be given mainly to Isocrates (436-338 B.C.). Several years older than Plato, he died at the time of the battle of Chaeronea which established Philip's supremacy over Greece. He was the teacher of most of the great Athenians of his day. He called himself a philosopher, though neither Plato nor Aristotle would have conceded him the title. He had little respect for "useless" knowledge; he was the apostle of general education, which for him consisted in being able to speak well on great subjects—and this also meant to be able to write. He rejected, however, the amorality of the rhetorical technicians; he insisted that you cannot speak well on noble subjects without practical knowledge of them, and, furthermore, since an orator (or writer) must make a good impression on his audience, he will desire to be a good man: "To speak well is the greatest sign of intelligence; a truthful, lawful, just speech is the outward image of a good and loyal soul."10 The later theory of Cicero and Quintilian, that the good orator is a good man vir bonus dicendi peritus, as old Cato put it11—ultimately derives from Isocrates' theories of education, superficial as these obviously were.

It may be added that Isocrates, though included in the later canon of the Ten Attic Orators, was prevented from public speaking by a physical handicap; he published his speeches as pamphlets, and logos obviously means, to him, both the written and the spoken word. Of poetry he says very little. He was a pupil of Gorgias and a very careful stylist: antitheses and balanced clauses follow one another in carefully constructed periods, and he avoids any hiatus like the plague. His patriotism was sincere, but it never caused him to write an inelegant sentence, and the total effect—we have a considerable number of his "speeches"—is one of deadly monotony. His contemporary influence however was very great (greater than that of the Academy or the Lyceum); his posthumous influence was no less—we can trace it clearly in the texts we possess, in Cicero, Dionysius, and Quintilian.

Although Isocrates was a teacher of the art of speech, he was hardly a rhetorician in the strict sense; he did try to communicate to his pupils a general philosophic outlook. For an example of the more strictly rhetorical approach at this time we have to go to a treatise preserved for us among the works of Aristotle, the Rhetorica ad Alexandrum. The dedication, a letter from Aristotle to Alexander the Great, is an obvious forgery. The work itself, however, is definitely dated in the fourth century B.C. and often thought to be the work of a contemporary of Aristotle, the rhetorician and historian Anaximenes. It is, at any rate, our sole remaining example of the more sophistical treatises of the period. It displays the completely cynical, amoral attitude which was so repugnant to Plato; it is concerned exclusively with the question: what kind of arguments will, in particular kinds of cases, be convincing? These are listed, named, and described at considerable length and with great precision. Even if this particular work was not written before Aristotle's Rhetoric, there can be no doubt, that many works of the type were in existence, and it is against this kind of background that the Rhetoric of Aristotle must be judged.

Unlike the Poetics, the Rhetoric had an immediate and lasting influence in antiquity. It is very different kind of book, for here Aristotle meets the rhetoricians on their own ground. He writes the kind of book which should be written about their craft. Indeed, it might well be said that he establishes the art, and even Isocrates' theory of education, on a much more solid philosophic foundation. Aristotle himself, in the Poetics, refers us to the Rhetoric for all that concerns the expression of thought in words, be it in poetry or prose. For we should never forget that rhêtorikê was the art of expression as a whole, even if oratory was the art of expression par excellence. And in part Aristotle is still, as so often, answering Plato: he sets forth in the first two books the kind of knowledge of politics and psychology which an fator should have, and which can suffice, the kinds of arguments and proofs based on probability, which he should employ. The first twelve chapters of the third book then deal with style, and concern us closely; we shall see that the author of our treatise On Style is thoroughly familiar with them, and much indebted to them. Many of the later critical and rhetorical formulae of the schools appear here for the first time, at least for us.

Among these are the statement that the diction of poetry is necessarily different from that of prose; the division of rhetoric into three kinds: the forensic, the deliberative, and the epideictic; the division of style into diction (or the choice of words) and the arrangement of the words thus chosen; the further division of word-arrangement into the running or strung-along style of the "ancient" writers and the periodic structure. Here too are the divisions of a speech into proem or introduction, narrative, proofs, and epilogue. Aristotle will allow only these four; he would prefer two only, statement and proof, and he mentions with Platonic contempt the over-subtle subdivisions affected by contemporary rhetoricians. Prose must have rhythm but not metre, a statement repeated for centuries by Greek and Roman critics.

Aristotle recognizes only one "virtue" of style, lucidity. This is most easily attained by the use of current, everyday language, but men like the strange and the new, so we must introduce a certain number of unusual words and a degree of ornamentation, in order to strike a happy mean, always making our style suitable and fitting… to the occasion, the audience, and the speaker. Aristotle deals at length with metaphor, the chief ornament he allows in prose; it is also the one thing that cannot be learned from others for it involves a capacity to see similarities in things. Like every Greek, Aristotle is well aware of the importance of semantics, of whether, as he puts it, you call Orestes his mother's murderer or the avenger of his father. The discussion of style ends with an attempt to analyze the reasons for successful sayings: their success is related to man's delight in learning something new—a delight that can be derived from a good metaphor, a particularly apt word, a clever antithesis or argument. All these gain from brevity, for example, Pericles' famous remark after many young Athenians had been lost in battle that "the year had lost its spring." Vividness, riddles or half-riddles, similes, proverbs, hyperboles, all these can contribute to success. Moreover, there is not one perfect style suited to all occasions; each kind of rhetoric has its own appropriate style. The style of written work is not that of debate; it is more precise, less histrionic. Nor will Aristotle accept brevity as necessarily a good thing: one should be neither too concise nor too verbose, but seek the right mean.

The rest of the book is more definitely concerned with rhetoric in the more restricted sense: it deals in turn with the aim and purpose of each of the four parts of a discourse and how the speaker should deal with each part (13-17). This section is also much drier and more technical in style. If Aristotle shared Plato's contempt for the technicalities of the Thetoricians, he had a good deal more patience in dealing with them.13

From the time of Aristotle to the first century B.C. we have no extent critical texts, unless indeed it be our treatise On Style. We know that Theophrastus, the disciple and successor of Aristotle, wrote a book on style.… The references to this work in later writers, who usually mention him along with Aristotle, are scrappy and tantalizing. Scholars have attempted to reconstruct his critical theories, but the evidence is insufficient. On the whole it would seem that he did not depart very far from his master's theories which he expanded and explained.14

During the third and second centuries B.C., Alexandria developed a school of literary scholarship rather than of rhetoric or literary criticism. The scholars of the Museum edited, with commentary, all the great classical writers. The catalogues of the great library formed the basis of the first histories of literature, while the commentaries did evolve some critical principles, notably those of Aristarchus (ca. 217-143 B.C.). He stated that Homer must be interpreted in the light of the social customs of his day and not those of a later age; that any statement must be judged by reference to the character who makes it or, as he put it, "all that is said in Homer is not said by Homer"; that poets must be given some licence in dealing with historical facts: they need not tell us every detail of what happens but may leave certain things to the reader's imagination. Aristarchus championed the unity of Homer and he may have defended the artistic unity of the Iliad and the Odyssey.15

We know that the so-called Asiatic style developed rapidly as the Greek language spread over Asia Minor and that Hegesias of Magnesia (fl. 250 B.C.) was criticized by Dionysius and Cicero as the great exponent of that florid, over-rhythmical, artificial manner. In the next century Hermagoras revived rhetorical studies and seems to have written a great work in which he classified all the possible kinds of court cases, the different kinds of issues and how each should be dealt with. It must have been during this period too that the various formulae which we find in the Roman rhetorical writers of the first century B.C. were developed: that of the three main styles, for example, or that of a specific number of rhetorical virtues, but we cannot trace the origin of either for lack of evidence. Nor did the philosophers, as far as we can make out, make any further substantial contribution. While the Peripatetics probably continued in the tradition of the Rhetoric to analyze style and to use both prose and poetry to illustrate the points they made, the Stoics seem to have concentrated on allegorizing Homer so as to make a Stoic of him, and on pure linguistics. Their main contribution seems to have been to add "brevity" to whatever list of rhetorical "virtues" then came into fashion, and though brevity is often to be commended it is not in itself, as Aristotle knew, necessarily a virtue.16 But the Stoics seem to have despised all conscious stylistic effort, and the Epicureans, by and large, seem to have taken little interest in literature of any kind.

When we come to the first century B.C., however, we again have a large number of texts, partly Latin and partly Greek. As we are here primarily concerned with a Greek-treatise, it will not be necessary to follow, in any detail, the development of Roman rhetoric or criticism, for the Greek rhetoricians hardly ever mention a Latin writer or a Latin theorist. This is not primarily due to arrogance, or to discretion, but to the simple fact that they had no need to mention them. They were concerned with Greek literature and with Greek style; they took their illustrations from the Greek authors of the classical age and, to a lesser extent, from those of Alexandria. Nor could they be required to mention Roman critics or rhetoricians, for the Romans took their theories from the Greeks. There were, to be sure, specifically Latin or Roman problems such as, for example, the quarrel between the champions of the ancient Latin writers and those "moderns" who took the Greek classics as their models, but these were of no concern to a Greek writer.

Suffice it to say, therefore, that in the Roman tradition there is nothing to correspond to what we have called the purely philosophical approach. The ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy was long forgotten, and in any case Rome produced no original philosophers. The approach was therefore rhetorical, but of two kinds: the strictly rhetorical on the one hand, and on the other what may well be called the Isocratean, that more general approach which, though still rooted in rhetorical training, nevertheless stood for a more cultivated outlook and a general interest in human affairs. Our first Latin text, the Rhetorica ad Herennium, is of the first, more professionally rhetorical kind. It is preserved among the works of Cicero; it was most probably not written by him, but was in any case written at the time when he was a very young man, probably between 86 and 82 B.C.17

The Ad Herennium is of considerable interest as the first extant attempt to Latinize the Greek rhetorical vocabulary, and, although the author is impatient of the over-elaborate subtleties of the Greek rhetoricians, all the formulae are carefully set down: the three kinds of rhetoric which we saw in Aristotle; the main formula, also used by Cicero, of the capacities the orator must possess: he must be able to think of what he should say (inventio…), to order his material (dispositio…), he must have style (elocutio…), memory, and a good delivery (actio…). Each part of a speech, of which the author recognizes six,18 is discussed; we then proceed to inventio in relation to the types of argument to be used in each type of case, and so with the other parts of the main formula. The fourth and last book discusses the three styles, the plain, the grand, and the intermediate, all of which the good orator should be able to use at the right moment, and various kinds of qualities, ornaments, and figures (sixty-four of these altogether).

The more technical of Cicero's rhetorical works are of much the same type—the De Inventione, the Topica, the Partitiones Oratoriae. He shows the same impatience with Greek subtleties and the same inability to shake them off, a greater virtuosity in the translation of technical terms, and an occasional purple patch, usually the introduction. His more general works, however, take a broader, more Isocratean view; in them the technical formulae take second place. The Brutus is largely a history of Roman oratory introduced by a brief sketch of Greek oratory. It also, however, contains many passages of more general interest. Cicero wrote very quickly and he is extremely careless in the use of technical terms, but his main concern, as in the three books of the De Oratore and in the Orator, is to rescue rhetoric from the study of mere techniques, to insist that oratory is an art which must be solidly rooted in a general education in philosophy, history, and jurisprudence, an education in the liberal arts which will ensure a moral education as well. He goes into a good deal of detail but he never forgets his main purpose: the general education of the orator. In spite of his own predilection for the grand manner, he recognizes that the orator must instruct (docere) and entertain (delectare) as well as rouse the emotions (movere) and he must therefore be able to use each of the three styles at the right time (apte). His lists of "virtues" of style vary from one work to the other but purity of language (Latinitas), lucidity (dilucide), appropriateness (decorum) and stylistic ornament (ornatum) are the most frequent.

When we turn from Cicero to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who settled in Rome about twelve years after Cicero's death, we find ourselves in a world still dominated by the rhetorical education but definitely more literary than oratorical. Dionysius never mentions Cicero, nor Horace whose contemporary he was; yet, as we know from his history and from the introduction to his work on the orators, he was extremely well-disposed to the Romans. It was to the cultured Romans of his day that he gave the credit for stamping out, as he thought, the plague of Asianism in style. We have a considerable bulk of his critical writings. One of them …, On Composition or Word-Arrangement, is a masterpiece. It deals with the collocation of words from the point of view of sound, the music of language which results from the sound of letters in combination, from rhythm and pitch and stress. The Greeks were extremely sensitive to this music of language even in prose; Dionysius pursues its aesthetic appeal to its very elements and discusses the sound of each letter and its contribution to the total effect, incidentally giving us a good deal of information about the correct pronunciation of Greek. When dealing with rhythm he tries to prove too much, for he reduces his examples to metrical feet whereas, in prose, it is the total effect that matters, as Theophrastus seems to have realised.19 Dionysius insists that there must be variety, and that the language-music must be appropriate to the matter, the occasion, and the emotions which the speaker or writer wishes to arouse.

Dionysius recognizes three main styles of word-arrangement, the dry or austere …, the flowery …, and the intermediate. The first is the severe style of Thucydides: the words stand apart and cannot be run together, harsh collocations are deliberately used, with an abundance of broad syllables; the rhythms are impressive, the clauses not balanced equally. Sense and sentence-structure do not correspond, smoothness of every kind is avoided and even grammatical sequence at times disregarded. The other extreme is the flowery, elegant word-arrangement of Isocrates, and there the words are run together in flowing continuity, and only the periods come to a definite and distinct end. The clauses are carefully balanced, the rhythms neither too heavy nor too light, all harsh collocations are avoided, as is any hiatus between words. The general effect is like that of a painting where light and shade everywhere merge into one another. The intermediate type, which uses the effects of both extremes at the appropriate time, is the composition or word-arrangement which we find in Homer, Sophocles, Plato, and Demosthenes.20

Dionysius' other extant works include fragments of a work on mimêsis or emulation, separate studies on the style of Lysias, Isocrates, Demosthenes, and Thucydides, and three short treatises known as the Three Literary Letters. The work on Emulation consisted of brief critical valuations of classical authors much in the manner of Quintilian's historical sketch of Greek and Roman writers in the tenth book of his Institutio Oratoria; indeed Dionysius may have been one of Quintilian's sources, but of course only for the Greeks. Dionysius' enthusiasm for Isocrates is for a practitioner of the true practical philosophy, an educator who made his pupils "not only clever speakers but men of good moral character, men who served their house, their city, and the whole of Greece."21 This is akin to the liberal education of the orator as understood by Cicero and Quintilian, but with more emphasis on rhetoric and less on general education.

Dionysius is unique among our extant critics in that he uses his critical-rhetorical formulae as a means of evaluating the style of an author, and not his authors merely to illustrate the formulae. He quotes freely from their writings and discusses certain passages at considerable length; he compares them with passages from others. This method of comparative criticism seems to have been characteristic of Greek criticism, at least in Rome, in his day, for we know that his contemporary and friend Caecilius of Calacte wrote critical essays on Lysias, whom he preferred to Plato, and attempted comparative valuations of Cicero and Demosthenes, of Demosthenes and Aeschines.22

Dionysius has certain weaknesses: he is somewhat naïve and lacking in imagination, as in his strictures on Plato's diction; his moral earnestness betrays him into an unbounded admiration for Isocrates and condemnation of Thucydides as unpatriotic, or as inferior to Herodotus in his choice of subject: "one war, which was neither noble nor fortunate, which had much better not have happened, and, when it had, should have been left to silence and oblivion, and ignored by posterity."23 It is only fair to add that this kind of nonsense is quietly dropped in his later essay on the historian. The moral earnestness itself, however, shows him to be more a man of letters than a rhetorician in the stricter sense, even though Demosthenes, for him as for Cicero, is the greatest of all writers.

Horace's letter to the Pisos on the Art of Poetry is, as already mentioned, contemporary with Dionysius. There is little in this informal, delightfully phrased advice that is original. We may note, however, that Horace is, in a sense, trying to do for poetry what Cicero attempted to do for prose: he insists that his poet must understand life and man, and that his work must be true to that knowledge. He emphasizes the need for unity and appropriateness, the need for talent and training, the importance of the choice of subject, of the choice of words, of structure, and so on; behind the deliberate informality of the epistle we can easily trace a thorough knowledge of the critical-rhetorical formulae of the day. But Horace is also concerned with specifically Roman problems, as for example, the controversy between the "ancients" and the "moderns."

After Horace we find ourselves in the world of the rhetorical schools, where the practice of declamatio was becoming increasingly fashionable and almost superseding every other method of teaching. Declamations were of two kinds: the suasoria in which the pupil had to imagine himself in some historical dilemma—should Alexander, for example, cross the Indus?—and devise a speech appropriate to the occasion; and the controversia, where he had to speak in an imaginary, often highly artificial and improbable, law-suit. The masters of rhetoric themselves gave display declamations of both kinds before an admiring public. The elder Seneca published a curious collection of such suasoriae and controversiae for the benefit of his sons, in which he records the adroit and clever things said by the rhetoricians of the Principate. His book is extant, and from it we gain a better understanding of how this practice, which put all the emphasis on ingenuity and clever epigram—for the same subjects were dealt with again and again—affected silver Latin style. The dangers of declamations and of their increasing artificiality are vigorously denounced throughout the first century by the elder Seneca himself, by Petronius, by Persius, by Tacitus, and at the close of the century by the great Quintilian, but they flourished in spite of them all.24 It was in the last years of the century that Quintilian published his massive work in twelve books on the education of the orator, the Institutio Oratoria. Quintilian was Professor of Rhetoric by imperial appointment, and his book, complete, authoritative, lucid, sensible, not too original and at times more than a little dull, is an almost perfect pattern of what a professorial work should be. We find in it, in proper historical perspective, all the best thought of Rome on education, literature, criticism, and rhetoric.

We have no critical or rhetorical texts in Greek for this period, though it is fashionable among scholars today to assign to the first century A.D. both our Demetrius' treatise On Style, about the date of which more will be said later, and the famous short treatise On the Sublime which tradition attributed to Longinus in the third century A.D. In the second century A.D., however, we have the considerable works of Hermogenes on various qualities of style and forms of argument. They are purely rhetorical text books, dry and over-subtle in distinctions and classifications. We note that the theory of styles is now quite abandoned, and that Demosthenes is solidly established as the one supreme model for the young. The works of Hermogenes continued to be edited, commented on, and studied for the next ten centuries, but no really original mind appears in the vast collection of rhetorical writings which we still possess from that millennium.

Something more needs to be said, however, about the short and fragmentary treatise known as "Longinus on the Sublime."25 Whatever its date it is a work of original genius. The author knows and uses many of the usual rhetorical formulae, but he remains their master, they never master him. It is not a work on the grand style or any other particular style, indeed the theory of particular styles is completely absent. Rather the author seeks to find the secret of the kind of great writing which suddenly sweeps one off one's feet. He traces it to five sources: vigour of mental conception, strong and inspired emotion, the skilful use of figures, noble diction or the proper choice of words, and dignified and spirited word-arrangement. The first, vigour of mental conception, implies nobility of mind, the power of grasping great ideas, and undoubtedly a certain grandeur. This, however, does not mean grand words; indeed it sometimes requires no words at all, as when Homer makes Ajax stride away in silence when Odysseus addresses him in the underworld, or the simplest of words, as in Ajax' famous prayer to Zeus to clear away the mist from the battlefield "that we may die in daylight." It does imply, however, the capacity to select the significant details and to weld them into a meaningful picture, and of this quality Longinus gives as an example the famous ode of Sappho, preserved here only, which begins "… [phaimetai moi keinos isos theoisi]."

The treatment of passion is lost. To illustrate the proper use of figures—a favourite subject in rhetorical critics who usually discuss it with great care and dullness—"Longinus" first gives a full and brilliant analysis of one sentence of Demosthenes, the famous Marathon oath in his speech On the Crown, and then gives examples of other figures to show how "as dimmer lights are lost in the surrounding sunshine, so pervading greatness all around hides the presence of rhetorical devices." Of the treatment of diction much is lost; what remains shows Longinus to be fully aware of the importance of the choice of words which "endows the subject matter with a speaking soul." He very properly allows vulgarisms in the right places, and insists that there is no limit to the number of metaphors that may be used in a passage provided that successfully conveyed passion can make them convincing.

As for composition, that is, word-arrangement and sentence structure, he glorifies the music of language in poetry and prose, a music allied with meaning and thus making a powerful appeal to the soul and mind of man. Like all the critics, he rejects both metrical, as against rhythmical, prose, and also broken, hurried, or monotonous rhythms. He insists that the anatomy of the sentence must be such that each part fits into the whole like the parts of a living organism.

"Longinus" sees the dangers of attempting greatness, and he names four vices into which the attempt may fall: turgidity, puerility ("the thinking of the schools which ends in frigidity through over-elaboration"), misplaced or artificial passion which leaves the reader unaffected, and frigidity which is often due to strange conceits. Faults and virtues are both illustrated from the greatest writers, and not even Homer is spared criticism. Indeed one of the most striking passages is where he argues that greatness is always accompanied by faults, for genius is careless, but it is always to be preferred to flawless mediocrity. The whole work is full of quotable passages such as the famous comparison of Cicero and Demosthenes: "The greatness of Demosthenes is for the most part abrupt, that of Cicero is like a flood. Our man is violent, swift, strong, intense; he may be compared to a lightning-bolt which burns and ravages. Cicero is like a spreading conflagration which rolls and ranges far and wide.…"

With "Longinus"—whether we place him before or after Hermogenes in time—the living stream of Greek criticism reaches its end. We saw that the philosophers of the fifth and fourth centuries posed the problem of literature's social function and responsibility, and built up the beginnings of literary theory. The contemporary development of rhetoric led to a study of style and stylistic devices as such, and it is this approach which triumphs after Aristotle. A continuous output of rhetorical textbooks was published throughout the centuries, but the more responsibly-minded men of letters, while they remain in the stylistic tradition of the rhetoricians, yet have absorbed from Isocrates and the philosophers a sense of the social function of literature, and it is upon literature as a whole, of which oratory is only a part, that they direct their attention. That the Roman rhetorical and literary theories remain derivative, while the Greeks still retained some originality, is proved by Dionysius and, gloriously so, by "Longinus" at the very end. Where, in this general line of development should we place the work known as "Demetrius on Style"?

The Treatise on Style

The author of our treatise obviously belongs to the rhetorical, not the philosophic tradition. Moreover, the moral concern for the character and education of the orator—the good man skilled in speech—which we have traced from Isocrates through Cicero to Quintilian, is totally absent. "Demetrius" is concerned with style exclusively. There is in his work no comparative criticism such as we have noted in Dionysius. His approach is quite objective: the theoretical framework is stated and illustrated from great and less great writers. On the other hand, he seems to be a man of letters rather than a professional rhetorician: he says nothing about types of cases, arguments, or issues, about ways of convincing a jury, or about methods of handling the different parts of a speech. His interests are obviously literary rather than rhetorical in the strict sense: the orators are frequently quoted, but only as practitioners of one kind of literature among many. We have here an example of literary criticism from a cultured man with a very good knowledge of Classical and early Alexandrian Greek literature, a man rhetorically trained, but not a mere rhetorician. The work is in many ways unique, the more so if it belongs to Hellenistic times, as it was traditionally thought to do, for we have no other extant critical text from this period.

The date of the work is, however, uncertain, and modern scholars have argued for various dates from the late third century B.C. to the middle of the second century A.D., but they have all but unanimously rejected the manuscript tradition which gives the author as Demetrius of Phalerum.26 This Demetrius was the pupil and friend of Theophrastus, a distinguished man of letters and a voluminous writer. He ruled Athens from 317 to 307 B.C. on behalf of Cassander, the king of Macedon. He then fled from Athens to Thebes and later, after the death of Cassander, to Alexandria, where he enjoyed the patronage and friendship of Ptolemy Soter. Nothing is known of his later life or the time of his death except what we are told by Diogenes Laertius (5.78):

Hermippus says that, after the death of Cassander, in fear of Antigonus, he made his way to Ptolemy Soter. There he stayed a considerable time, and advised Ptolemy, among other things, to hand on the kingly power to his children by Eurydice. The king did not take his advice but passed on the diadem to his son by Berenice (Ptolemy Philadelphus) who, after the death of his father, decided to have Demetrius kept under guard in the country, until he decided what to do with him. There Demetrius lived in discouragement. He was somehow bitten in the hand by an asp while he was asleep, and died.…

Diogenes (or Hermippus?) does not directly connect the death of Demetrius with the king's displeasure, though he may seem to imply it, but Cicero, in his speech against Rabirius Postumus (9.23) quotes the case of Demetrius as one of those who owed their death to the enmity of a despot, and clearly suggests that he was murdered (aspide ad corpus admota). Ptolemy Soter died in 283/2 B.C.

Before we consider the evidence, internal and external, for both date and author, however, let us first consider the content and nature of our treatise, and, to avoid awkward circumlocutions, we may as well call the author Demetrius without assuming him to be Demetrius of Phalerum.

Nature and Structure of the Work

It falls into five sections. The first, which is also the shortest (1-35), is introductory and deals with different kinds of sentence structure, while the other four discuss four different "styles" or manners of writing, the grand, the plain, the elegant, and the forceful.

It is natural enough that the treatment of sentence structure should form a general introduction, since, with some exceptions to be mentioned later, different kinds of sentences can be used in all four "styles," and Demetrius begins with the general advice that the structure of the sentence must correspond to the structure of the thought. This correspondence must apply also to the clauses (the kôla, the basic units in prose as the verses are in poetry) and even to the shorter phrases or kommata. After he has repeated, but in his own terms. the Aristotelian distinction between the periodic style and the looser, non-periodic sentence structure, he differentiates three kinds of periods (a formula not found elsewhere).

At one extreme is the involved, Demosthenic period which he calls rhetorical; at the other extreme the looser, simpler, apparently effortless period of dialogue or conversation, which approaches the loose, non-periodic style; intermediate between these is the period he calls historical. There are some further remarks on different kinds of clauses, on the relation of sentence to sense, and a correction of Aristotle's definition of a clause (34).

After these general remarks, Demetrius proceeds to a description of what he considers the four main manners or styles of writing. This is his notorious theory of four "styles." But the word "style" is misleading, first because we think of style as something peculiar to the individual writer whereas the ancients thought of it more objectively, but mainly because, in ancient criticism, we associate the word [kharacter] mostly with the formula of the "three styles" which is found in later and mostly Latin writers.27 There we find three separate styles rigidly differentiated, and while an orator is supposed to be able to use each of the three as the occasion demands, only one style can be used at a particular time.28 But the Greek term [kharacter] is very general in meaning, and Demetrius' use of it is much less rigid. His "styles" can, with the exception of the plain and the grand, be mixed, that is, used at the same time. One can be elegant and forcible, plain and elegant, forcible and plain. The same word [kharacter], which is applied to these four "styles," is also applied to the faults to which each of them is prone; and Demetrius speaks of the "frigid style," "the affected style," and so on. He also speaks of the "epistolary style." The point is of some importance if we are to understand his intention: he is not drawing up a list of four styles by which you may judge this author or that, or different writings. He believes that there are four main elements of style, four qualities or manners of writing or speaking, and he examines how these are to be practised.

Each "style" is analyzed under three aspects: diction or the choice of words, composition or the arrangement of words, and subject-matter. On this last he has least to say.29 And, somewhat irregularly under one heading or the other, he also brings in the figures of speech or thought that are most appropriate to each style.

The distinction between content and style is, as we have seen, found in Plato, and may be older. The subdivision of style into diction and word-arrangement is, if not explicitly formulated, certainly implicit in Aristotle, for chapters 2-7 of the third book of his Rhetoric deal with diction, while 8-9 deal with word-arrangement. The formula may have been clarified by Theophrastus.

It is important to realize that these subdivisions do not quite correspond to modern categories. Diction, which was later more precisely termed the choice of words, includes not only the choice of current or unusual terms, of rare or newly-coined words, but also words which express passion and character (an angry man uses different words from those he uses when sorrowful), different forms of the same roots, and so on. Further, diction also includes the use of loaded words, of metaphors and similes.30 It includes all this in Aristotle as well as in later critics. We have already seen that the Greeks were shrewdly aware of the importance of semantics, illustrated in Aristotle by the story of Simonides who refused to write an ode on the victors in a mule race, "half-asses" as he contemptuously called them, but when the fee was increased he wrote the poem beginning: "Hail, ye daughters of storm-footed steeds, …" but, the philosopher comments, they were still the daughters of asses.31 Diction then includes in part the expression of emotion as well as the writing in character, in so far as these follow from the use of certain words.

Synthesis, or the arrangement of words once chosen, ("composition" though etymologically correct, is a misleading translation) has three things in view: the structure of the sentence, the sound of the words in collocation, and rhythm. The first of these Demetrius has already discussed in the introductory section. The second (much neglected today) is part of that music of language to which we have seen that the Greeks were extraordinarily sensitive. It too has a part to play in the expression of emotion, for, though we are less aware of this, an angry man uses harsh, guttural sounds where a lover or a suppliant quite unconsciously will use mutes and labials. It is still true that words that can be run into one another, without pauses between, are softer than those that willy-nilly make us stop. No one, however hard he tries, can (meaning apart) put the same emotional tone into two phrases such as "You accursed crooked cur" on the one hand and "My lovely angel sweetheart" on the other. The third point, closely connected with the other two, is rhythm, and this, in Greek prose as in Greek poetry (except when it was set to music) has nothing to do with stress or pitch, but only with the length or shortness of syllables. Here Demetrius, like all ancient critics, repeats the Aristotelian dictum that prose must be rhythmical but not metrical, that is, its rhythms must be more varied and never repeated regularly. It is then with these three things in view—word-arrangement, diction, and content—that Demetrius discusses each "style."

"Neighbouring" each successful style or manner is a particular vice or faulty style into which an unsuccessful attempt will fall. An unsuccessful attempt at grandeur or impressiveness is apt to fall into frigidity, attempted elegance into affectation, simplicity into dryness or aridity, and forcefulness will become bad taste. This theory of the "neighbouring vice" is found in other critics too—we know it best in Horace and Longinus32—but whether Demetrius was the first to put it forward we cannot tell. As in so many things, our...

(The entire section is 24453 words.)

G. P. Goold (essay date 1961)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Greek Professorial Circle at Rome," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. XCII, 1961, pp. 168-92.

[In the following essay, Goold explores what can be determined about the author of On Style and its date of composition, arguing against some of G. M. A. Grube's positions (see previous excerpt).]

To establish beyond a shadow of doubt the date and authorship of the tractates On the Sublime and On Style is a task which has long defied—and in all probability will continue to defy—the best endeavors of scholarship. But the seeker after truth is a detective, not a magistrate; and like a detective, he...

(The entire section is 5855 words.)

J. M. Rist (essay date 1964)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Demetrius the Stylist and Artemon the Compiler," The Phoenix, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Spring, 1964, pp. 2-8.

[In the following essay, Rist attempts to determine the date of composition of On Style by investigating Artemon, an editor of Aristotle's Letters mentioned by Demetrius.]

The appearance of G.M.A. Grube's book1 on Demetrius the Stylist has revived interest in the date of his work. Grube dates it at about 270 B.C. whereas G. P. Goold holds2 that it was written in the Augustan Age. Such a discrepancy is disturbing; two hundred and fifty to three hundred years is a wide margin of error. This note therefore is intended to...

(The entire section is 3394 words.)

G. M. A. Grube (essay date 1964)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Date of Demetrius on Style," The Phoenix, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, Winter, 1964, pp. 294-302.

[In the following essay, Grube reasserts his position regarding the date of On Style, responding to opposing arguments made by Goold and Rist (see two previous excerpts).]

Since the publication of my A Greek Critic, Demetrius on Style,1 two of my Toronto colleagues have published articles challenging my dating of the treatise in 270 B.C. or not much later; both G. P. Goold's "A Greek Professorial Circle at Rome," TAP A 92 (1961) 168-192 and J. M. Rist's "Demetrius the Stylist and Artemon the Compiler" in Phoenix 18 (1964) 2-8,...

(The entire section is 3889 words.)