Greek Oratory: Tradition and Originality

By Stephen A. Usher | Go to book overview
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persuader. Euripides (55 lines from his Erechtheus) is invoked to dilate upon the glory of the sacrifice of a princess for her country; Homer, more briefly, affirms that to die in battle for one's country is no disgrace ( Il. 15. 494-9); and Tyrtaeus expounds similar sentiments in 32 lines, followed by two famous inscriptions by Simonides. A practice begun by Aeschines to display his histrionic skills has become in Lycurgus a source of rhetorical material, protreptic and emotional rather than strictly argumentative.

Exemplary instances of punishment of traitors (110-23) and aspirants to tyranny (124-7) maintain the diversion from Leocrates' special circumstances, but Lycurgus will still argue vehemently that he deserves death more than they (131-4). He piles on the rhetorical devices towards the end, including an original twist (141) when he says that the jury should be accompanied by their wives and children in cases of treason (instead of the defendant's traditional family parade). He makes the most of the outrage of Leocrates the runaway returning to share in the social and religious life of the city he has betrayed (141-3), and ends with the usual warning that acquittal would be tantamount to condonation, but not before a hypophora (144) in the usual place (cf. Andoc. I Myst.148) and a prosopopoiia closely modelled on Lysias 12 Ag. Eratos. 99. Read in isolation, the speech seems to be a rich and triumphant marriage of epideictic and forensic rhetoric, combining pathos and vividness in its narratives; but its debt to earlier oratory in both genres is always apparent, and it falls short of the best of those models in structural compactness.


The ancient critics compare Hyperides with the best models of oratorical style, Lysias and Demosthenes. In the evolutionary process conceived by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Hyperides is one of the 'perfecters' (teleiotai),14 a status which imposes limits on originality; but to the author of On Sublimity, whose critique of Hyperides is the best we have, he 'speaks with more voices'15 than Demosthenes, replicating all that master's good qualities except his word-arrangement. While he comes second in every accomplishment, like a pentathlete, his versatility enables him to span the

Isaeus20; Din.1.
34. I: πολυφωνότερος.


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Greek Oratory: Tradition and Originality


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