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«Persuasive Ethopoeia in Dionysius's Lysias Author(s): Kristine S. Bruss Source: Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric, Vol. 31, No. 1 ...»

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Although the primary impetus for this examination is to produce a clearer understanding ethopoeia, particularly in Dionysius’s Lysias, the study also aims to foster greater appreciation for Dionysius’s insights regarding the role of style and composition in the creation of persuasive ethos. In the Rhetoric, Aristotle states that ethos exists “whenever the speech is spoken in such a way as to make the speaker worthy of credence” (2.1.4; ital. added).17 While Aristotle addresses what to say, he offers limited guidance on how to say it. Dionysius fills this gap with an account of character-making reflective of his strong interest in composition as well as his commitment to Attic standards of style. As a result, he is an important voice in discussions of character, style, and persuasion in ancient Greek rhetorical theory.

The First Element: Persuasive Ethos

Dionysius addresses ethopoeia at Lysias 8, wherein he attributes to Lysias that “most pleasing quality” ( ε πρεπεστ τη ρετ ; “most fitting virtue”) called characterization ( θοποι α), adding that he is “quite unable to find a single person in this orator’s speeches who is devoid of character ( νηθοπο ητον) or vitality ( ψυχον).” Put differently, all of the characters in Lysias’s speeches (presumably meaning the speakers themselves rather than characters appearing in the narration) possess recognizable character and are presented in a lifelike and animated manner. Dionysius thus defines ethopoeia indirectly in Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse, 2nd ed., trans. George A.

Kennedy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). Subsequent references will appear in the text.

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these lines as a stylistic virtue aimed at creating a persuasive and lifelike sense of character. Dionysius’s inclusion of “vitality” as a characteristic of ethopoeia might suggest that he sees colorful individuality or authenticity in Lysias’s characters, but translator Stephen Usher argues to the contrary, maintaining in a footnote on Lysias 8 that “ θοποι α never means individual or personal characterisation.”18 Instead, Usher argues, ethopoeia involves “favourable characterisation, portraying the moral qualities which will win the audience’s good will, e.g. πιε κεια (Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.2.4).”19 Although Dionysius makes no explicit reference to Aristotle at Lysias 8, his description of ethopoeia clearly supports Usher’s claim.20 As Dionysius explains, “there are three departments or aspects in which this quality [ethopoeia] manifests itself: thought, language and composition (διανο ας τε κα λ εως κα τρ της τ ς συνθ σεως), and I declare him [Lysias] to be successful in all three. Not only are the thoughts he ascribes to his clients worthy, reasonable, and fair (χρηστ κα πιεικ κα µ τρια), so that their words seem to reflect their good moral character (τ ν θ ν), but he also makes them speak in a style which is appropriate to these qualities” (Lys. 8).

Dionysius’s second trio of Greek terms in the passage above— chrestos (upright), epieikes (reasonable), and metrios (moderate; eventempered)—clearly reflects the sense of ethos Aristotle describes at Rhetoric 1.2.4; the term epieikes, in particular, directly links ethopoeia to Aristotelian ethos. At Rhetoric 1.2.4, Aristotle presents his initial

account of ethos, or persuasion through character, explaining:

There is persuasion through character whenever the speech is spoken in such a way as to make the speaker worthy of credence ( ι πιστον); for we believe fair-minded people to a greater extent and more quickly [than we do others], on all subjects in general and completely so in cases where See Usher, “Individual Characterisation,” wherein he addresses this claim more fully.

See n. 3 above, p. 33. Usher’s conclusion is generally sound, although technically, good will is not the result of the portrayal of moral qualities; rather, it is one of three elements of ethos that Aristotle discusses at Rhetoric 2.1.5–7. Epieikeia, or fair-mindedness, may well contribute to good will, but in the Rhetoric passage to which Usher refers, fair-mindedness creates an impression of trustworthiness, not good will.

Dionysius may not mention Aristotle’s Rhetoric, but he was clearly a diligent student of Aristotle’s work, as evidenced by his First Letter to Ammaeus. In the letter, Dionysius disputes a claim, purportedly circulated by a Peripatetic philosopher, that Demosthenes learned rhetoric from Aristotle. Dionysius supports his argument, in part, with various quotations and examples from Aristotle’s Rhetoric, through which he displays a detailed familiarity with the text.

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there is not exact knowledge but room for doubt. And this should result from the speech, not from a previous opinion that the speaker is a certain kind of person; for it is not the case, as some of the handbook writers propose in their treatment of the art, that fairmindedness ( πιε κεια) on the part of the speaker makes no contribution to persuasiveness; rather, character ( θος) is almost, so to speak, the most authoritative form of persuasion. (Rh. 2.1.4)21 As Aristotle makes clear, speakers create persuasion through character by speaking in a way that makes them appear trustworthy (axiopiston).22 When the truth is in doubt, as is the case in forensic pleadings, the fair-minded, reasonable speaker will be most persuasive. The task of the ethopoet, then, is to create this sort of character when writing for a client. Although Dionysius provides no specific illustrations of this quality from Lysias’s speeches, they are not difficult to find. In “Against Simon,” for example, the defendant, accused of assault, conveys a sense of merciful character by observing, “My attitude towards disputes like this is that although I had often been abused and assaulted by Simon [the prosecutor], and had even had my head broken, nevertheless I did not venture to take legal action” (Lys. Or. 3, 40; Todd trans.). Intensifying the impression of reasonableness and moderation, the same defendant later tells the jury that “it would be a terrible thing if you were to impose such severe penalties, including expulsion of citizens from their fatherland, when people are wounded while fighting because of drunkenness or quarreling or games or insults or over a hetaira (courtesan)—the sorts of things that everyone regrets when they recover their senses” (43). Such thoughts illustrate the sort of morally persuasive character well-suited for the courtroom.

Aristotle’s other account of ethos occurs at Rhetoric 2.1.5–7, wherein he identifies practical wisdom, virtue, and good will as the three elements of ethos. Although the two accounts can be understood as constituting Aristotle’s general account of persuasive ethos, William Fortenbaugh makes a compelling case for understanding each account as genre-specific, with forensic ethos described at 1.2.4 and deliberative ethos at 2.1.5–7; see “Aristotle’s Accounts of Persuasion through Character,” in C. L.

Johnstone, ed., Theory, Text, and Context: Issues in Greek Rhetoric and Oratory (Albany:

SUNY Press, 1996), 147–168. Dionysius’s description of ethopoeia, which focuses primarily on the qualities Aristotle describes at 1.2.4, supports the idea of a type of ethos particularly well-suited to courtroom proceedings.

Cope explains that the sense of epieikes in this passage is “equitable,” referring to “one who has a leaning to the merciful side and of an indulgent disposition, as opposed to one who takes a strict and rigorous view of an offence.” See Edward M.

Cope, The Rhetoric of Aristotle (Salem, NH: Ayer Company, 1877), 30.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 4 Mar 2014 17:03:51 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Persuasive Ethopoeia in Dionysius’s Lysias Dionysius elaborates on the role of well-chosen thoughts in the creation of persuasive ethos at Lysias 19, one of only two other passages outside of Lysias 8 that includes the term ethopoeia.23 Dionysius here turns his attention to “what are called rhetorical proofs... the factual, the emotional, and the moral (τ πρ γµα κα τ π θος κα

τ θος).”24 With respect to the latter, Dionysius observes:

He [Lysias] also seems to me to show very notable skill in constructing proofs from character (τ ν θ ν γε π στεις). He often makes us believe in his client’s good character by referring to the circumstances of his life and his parentage, and often again by describing his past actions and the principles (προαιρ σεων) governing them. And when the facts fail to provide him with such material, he creates his own moral tone, making his characters seem by their speech ( θοποιε ) to be trustworthy and honest. He credits them with civilised dispositions (προαιρ σεις) and attributes controlled feelings to them; he makes them voice appropriate sentiments, and introduces them as men whose thoughts befit their status in life, and who abhor both evil words and evil deeds. He represents them as men who always choose the just course (τ δ δ καια προαιρουµ νους ποι ν) and ascribes to them every other related quality that may reveal a respectable and moderate character ( πιεικ ς... κα µ τριον θος).

Dionysius’s remarks in this passage reinforce his earlier comments regarding the fair-mindedness of Lysias’s clients, and in so doing, solidify the connection between persuasive ethopoeia and ethos as a means of persuasion. The influence of Aristotle’s theory of ethos is unmistakable in this passage, particularly in the comment that Lysias “creates his own moral tone, making his characters seem by their speech to be trustworthy and honest,” which echoes Aristotle’s observation at Rhetoric 1.2.4. In another noteworthy link to Aristotle, Dionysius uses forms of the word proairesis, or choice, three times in the passage. Lysias attributes to his clients strong principles and The other occurs at Lysias 13, wherein Dionysius summarizes Lysias’s praiseworthy qualities covered to that point, including “the investment of every person with life and character” (phrased in the negative in the Greek text: τ µηδ ν ψυχον ποτ θεσθαι πρ σωπον µηδ νηθοπο ητον, literally “to represent a person as neither lifeless nor lacking in character”).

These three proofs mirror Aristotle’s three means of persuasion—ethos, logos, and pathos—with the exception of the substitution of pragma (“that which has been done,” LSJ) for the more familiar logos (argument). William Grimaldi adopts the term pragma in his discussion of the Aristotelian pisteis, arguing that the label is fitting, in part, because logical proof “is elucidated by Aristotle in such a way (1356a 19–20) as to justify some such term.” See “A Note on the Pisteis in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, 1354–1356,” The American Journal of Philology, 78 (1957): 188–192 (p. 189).

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deeds; they “always choose the just course,” as Dionysius observes.

This is precisely what Aristotle advises in the Rhetoric with respect to creating character in judicial narratives. According to Aristotle, “The narration ought to be indicative of character [ethike]. This will be so if we know what makes for character [ethos]. One way, certainly, is to make deliberate choice [proairesis] clear: what the character is on the basis of what sort of choice [has been made]” (Rh.

3.16.8).25 That character, in the speeches of Lysias, is fair-minded, moderate, and trustworthy, precisely what is required for success in the courtroom.

As the foregoing discussion makes clear, when Dionysius speaks of ethopoeia, the “character” in character-making is persuasive ethos, an emphasis that distinguishes his account from other ancient accounts of characterization, which, as noted earlier, focus on the fitting imitation of a speaker’s attributes. To sharpen this distinction, I turn now briefly to other well-known accounts, beginning with Aristotle’s discussion of propriety (to prepon) at Rhetoric 3.7.1–7. In the passage, Aristotle remarks, “The lexis will be appropriate if it expresses emotion and character and is proportional to the subject matter” (Rh.

3.7.1). He goes on to explain that there is an appropriate style for each genus and moral state. By genus I mean things like age (boy, man, old man; or woman and man or Spartan and Thessalian) and by moral state [hexis] the principles by which someone is the kind of person he is in life; for lives do not have the same character in accordance with [each and] every moral state. If then, a person speaks words appropriate to his moral state, he will create a sense of character. A rustic and an educated person would not say the same thing nor [say it] in the same way. (Rh. 3.7.6–7) Initially, this passage appears to be quite consistent with Lysias 19, particularly with respect to choosing words appropriate to a speaker’s moral state. There is a question, however, about whose character Aristotle is describing at Rhetoric 3.7.1–7. Whereas Dionysius is clearly describing persuasive speaker-centered character creAristotle makes a similar connection between choice and character in the Poetics, wherein he defines character as “that which reveals moral choice—that is, when otherwise unclear, what sort of thing an agent chooses or rejects” (Poet. 6; see also Poet. 15). One way of revealing character, as noted in the Rhetoric, is through maxims, which Aristotle defines as assertions “about things that involve actions and are to be chosen or avoided in regard to action” (Rh. 2.21.2). Aristotle concludes, “If the maxims are morally good, they make the speaker seem to have a good character” (Rh. 2.21.16).

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