Greek Oratory: Tradition and Originality

By Stephen A. Usher | Go to book overview
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The biographers indicate an unbroken tradition of forensic speech- writing between Isaeus and his pupil Demosthenes. Indeed, the early start which his fraudulent guardians obliged him to make to his career in the courts caused doubt to be cast on the authenticity of his first speeches: some sources suspected their precocity, and concluded that Isaeus had written them.1 In this chapter, however, while clear echoes of Isaeus will be noted as they are found, attention will be directed mainly towards any signs of a new and individual approach to the standard procedures. Style also assumes particular importance in an author who had observed the growing acceptance of oratory as a literary genre, and was able to draw on his own studies of the best prose writers of recent years in creating for himself an individual voice.2

Demosthenes was born perhaps five years after the first extant speech of Isaeus, in 384/3.3 The family misfortunes which culminated in his early forensic debut began with the death of his father and namesake when he was 7 years old, leaving him a decade of minority ( 377/6-367/6). By the will of Demosthenes senior, of the deme of Paeania, his nephews Aphobus and Demophon were appointed trustees of his estate. Aphobus was to marry his widow Cleobule with a dowry of 80 minae and the family home, and

Vit. X Or. 839f; Libanius Vit. Dem. p. 3 R; Zosimus Vit. Dem. p. 147 R. On the authenticity of 29 Ag. Aphobus III, see E. M. Burke, "'A Further Argument on the Authenticity of Demosthenes 29'", CJ 70. 2 ( 1974), 53-6.
Thucydides and Isocrates were, in their very different ways, the strongest influences on his style. See Dion. Hal. Dem.9-10; 16-22; Thuc. 52-5; and Usher GO v. 21-3.
So Blass AB iii. 4-10; Sealey DT247. MacDowell DAM370-1 prefers 385/4. Inclusive or exclusive counting from fixed dates produces the difference.


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