Greek Oratory: Tradition and Originality

Greek Oratory: Tradition and Originality

Greek Oratory: Tradition and Originality

Greek Oratory: Tradition and Originality

Synopsis

Some of the finest Greek writers - Demosthenes, Lysias, Antiphon - were also great orators. However, a number of other Greek writers who specialized purely in oratory have largely been overlooked by classicists. Dr. Stephen Usher addresses this imbalance by showing the diversity of the inherited rhetorical tradition, and by demonstrating through close critical examination how the individual characteristics of the orators were developed.

Excerpt

The immense vitality and inventiveness of the Greek orators ensured their popularity in their own times, and also the transmission of some, at least, of their work, initially through the stalls of the fourth- and third-century booksellers, and later into the Hellenistic libraries. Interest in them survived the movement of the cultural centre of gravity to Rome, where Greek men of letters, under the enlightened patronage of a philhellenic Roman aristocracy, maintained the literary status of their language and even enhanced it. of these men, one of the most interesting is Dionysius of Halicarnassus, whose literary circle studied the orators as the prime models for eclectic imitation ('Which characteristics of each should we imitate, and which should we avoid?' (On the Ancient Orators, 4)). His essays on the individual orators (Lysias, Isocrates, Isaeus, Dinarchus, and Demosthenes) also contain judgements of literary merit which are purely aesthetic and not directed towards practical utility.

The influence of Dionysius, and of other critics, of whom the greatest was the author of On Sublimity, was strong enough to prevail through the Renaissance and affect the attitudes of nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars. Dionysian opinions provide the first point of reference for many of their discussions, with the consequence that these incorporate not only his strengths but also his weaknesses. These latter include technical vagueness in stylistic criticism, and generalization instead of detailed examination.

Such an examination is attempted in the present book. It includes most of Greek oratory, considering each speech from two main standpoints: as its author's response to the difficulties of the case, which depends on his ability to present the facts favourably, deploy the most persuasive arguments, and display his rhetorical skills; and, more importantly, the degree of adaptation and innovation which he brings to his oratory, bearing in mind the richness of the early tradition that he inherited, the content of which is assembled in the opening chapter. This emphasis on each orator's . . .

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