Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Article excerpt

In his inaugural speech last week, the new President Trump said, among much else, the 'American carnage' of poverty, ignorance and criminal gangs 'stops right here and stops right now'.

Since nobody with the slightest intelligence would offer such hostages to fortune, there is no point in paying attention to what he says, any more than to what he tweets.

This disrespect for words would have appalled the ancient Greeks, who were well aware of the power of language, both for good and ill. The sophist Gorgias, for example (d. c. 380 bc), talked of the superhuman might of logos ('speech, utterance') which was such that it could make you feel happy, putan end to fear, remove feelings of grief,and so on.

Logos had another important meaning for the ancient Greeks: 'reason, debate' (cf. our 'logic'). The orator Isocrates (d. 338 bc) put persuasion by logos -- rational, public debate -- as the driving force behind law and therefore also behind justice, without which civilisation and all it stood for were impossible. …

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