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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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Preciosity (χαριεντισµ ς) is always out of place in serious discussion and in unhappy situations, and tends to destroy all sympathy for the speaker (πολεµι τατον λ ω).” The speaker who voices his opinions in elegant and figured language might create the impression of being “many things which appear fine and admirable when considered on their own turn out to be less good than they had seemed when they are set side by side with other things that are better” (1).

In On Literary Composition, Dionysius refers to words of this sort as a “poetical vocabulary,” capable of lending charm to poetry but at times used to excess by prose writers. See Comp. 25.

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more concerned about art than the serious matters at hand. Such ´ expressions, according to Dionysius, are “untimely” (aoros).36 The trustworthy speaker, in contrast, uses ordinary language, with no adornment or ornamentation that might betray his amateur status or cast doubts upon his sincerity.

To this point, the discussion of style has focused on ethopoetic

words—clear, standard, and ordinary—and their opposites. Dionysius also mentions three types of unethopoetic words at Lysias 8:

´ pompous (onkos), strange (xenon), and contrived (ex epitedeuseos). The latter two terms, “strange” (or foreign) and “contrived,” reinforce ideas already noted in the discussion of standard, ordinary style.

Language should not contain unfamiliar foreign expressions, as in the speeches of Gorgias, for that will confuse ordinary listeners. Neither should it seem contrived, for that is unnatural. The one new term in the series is onkos, which has several meanings, any one of which could plausibly contribute to unpersuasive character. As noted in LSJ, onkos generally means bulk or mass, a quality that runs counter to the simplicity for which Lysias is praised. With respect to style, specifically, onkos can mean “loftiness and majesty,” on the one hand, and bombast on the other (consistent with Usher’s choice of “pompous”).

Dionysius’s comment about the “preciosity” of Isocrates’ style lends support to an interpretation of onkos as lofty, but the term could also conceivably mean “self-important” or “bombastic,” much like it has been translated. If the aim of ethopoetic style is to create an impression of favorable moral character, then arrogant, boastful wording would undoubtedly be out of place. The boastful speaker is likely to inspire envy or resentment, thereby compromising the chances of appearing upright, reasonable, and fair-minded. Dionysius offers indirect support for this interpretation with a curious digression in Lysias regarding the questionable authorship of two speeches attributed to Lysias (Lys. 12). In support of his claim that Lysias did not, in fact, write the speeches in question, both involving the general Iphicrates, Dionysius states, “I surmise that they are the work of Iphicrates himself, who was certainly a brilliant general, and was also by no means to be despised as an orator. Moreover, the style in both speeches contains much vulgar army slang, and reveals Dionysius supports his criticism of Isocrates’ untimely use of figures with the testimony of Philonicus the grammarian, who likens Isocrates to “a painter who portrays all his subjects wearing the same clothes and adopting the same pose” (Isoc.


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not so much the nimble wits of the rhetorician as the headstrong and boastful character of the soldier.” In this case, the presence of boastful language (alazdoneia, having “the character of a braggart,” LSJ) is a red flag; the skilled rhetorician would likely have avoided such language, as well as the army slang, in an effort to highlight the moderate and morally persuasive character of the speaker. The best words for such a portrayal (however onkos might be interpreted) do not draw attention to themselves but rather to the fair-minded qualities of the speaker.

As one might expect, Dionysius’s description of style in his model of ethopoeia differs from other ancient accounts that focus on propriety rather than persuasive character. Aristotle, for example, offers no advice on particular wording suitable for character portrayal, saying only that words must be well-suited to a speaker’s moral state and genus (Rh. 3.7.6). He might have elaborated on his observation that “a rustic and an educated person would not say the same thing nor [say it] in the same way,” but instead leaves it to readers to speculate about specifics. The authors of progymnasmata offer style advice similar to Aristotle’s: style should suit the nature of the particular type of character being portrayed. Illustrating this principle, Theon remarks that “the words of a Laconian, sparse and clear, differ from those of a man of Attica, which are voluble. We say that Herodotus often speaks like barbarians although writing in Greek because he imitates their ways of speaking” (116; Kennedy 48). In each of these cases, the style is suitable to a character type—Laconian, Athenian, barbarian.

Notably, some authors of progymnasmata, such as Aphthonius, offer advice similar to Dionysius’s, directing students to adopt a style that is “clear, concise, fresh, pure, free from any inversion or figure” (35; Kennedy 116).37 The desirability of this style is addressed by Nicolaus the Sophist, who observes that “to be fussy about style is alien to emotion” (66; Kennedy 166). Such is the case, as well, with style and character in Dionysius’s Lysias. When persuasive ethos is the aim, style should be clear, simple, and uncontrived, whatever the character type.

While Aphthonius argues for a style free of figures, Ps.-Hermogenes advises, “Let both figures and diction contribute to the portrayal” (22).

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The Third Element: Lifelike Composition The third and final element of Dionysius’s account of persuasive ethopoeia, lifelike composition, reinforces the importance of uncontrived language in the creation of persuasive ethos. This element is arguably the most striking feature of Dionysius’s account, primarily because it draws attention to the role of composition, which, as Dionysius maintains, was a neglected subject at the time he was writing. In On Literary Composition, a treatise on effective word arrangement, Dionysius points out that, while style “has been the subject of many serious investigations,” composition has not received similar attention (Comp. 2). He further observes: “When I decided to write a treatise on this subject, I tried to discover whether my predecessors had said anything about it... but nowhere did I see any contribution, great or small, to the subject of my choice, by any author of repute” (Comp. 4). He then reports “asserting [his] independence” and striking out on his own path.38 The same might be said about his account of ethopoeia. With his attention to lifelike composition, he puts a distinctive Dionysian stamp on discussions of ancient characterization.

In On Literary Composition, Dionysius maintains that composition, more so than style, produces “pleasing, persuasive, and powerful effects in discourse” (Comp. 2). He employs similar language at Lysias 8 when addressing natural, unaffected composition. According to Dionysius, Lysias’s word arrangement is absolutely simple and straightforward. He sees that characterisation ( θος) is achieved not by periodic structure and the use of rhythms, but by loosely connected sentences. As a further general comment on this quality, I may say that I do not know of any other orator—at least any who employs a similar sentence-structure—with greater charm ( διον) and persuasiveness (πιθαν τερον). The distinctive nature of its melodious composition seems, as it were, not to be contrived or formed by any conscious art ( πο ητ ς τις ε ναι κα τεχν τευτος), and it would not surprise me if every layman, and even many of those scholars who have not specialised in oratory, should receive the impression that this arrangement has not been deliberately and artistically devised, but is somehow spontaneous and fortuitous (α τοµ τως δ πως κα ς τυχε).

Yet it is more carefully composed than any work of art.

Some scholars have disputed Dionysius’s claim of independence, pointing to Stoic influences on his ideas regarding composition. See, e.g., Dirk Schenkeveld, “Linguistic Theories in the Rhetorical Works of Dionysius of Halicarnassus,” Glotta 61 (1983): 67–94.

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 Lysias is a master of the art of artlessness, which he achieves through simple, loosely constructed sentences that imitate the language of ordinary talk. Carefully wrought periods and rhythms may be appropriate for the rhetoric of display, but not for the portrayal of persuasive character.39 Dionysius offers a useful textual example of the power of artless syntax in his essay on the orator Isaeus. In the essay, Dionysius compares two speech introductions, one by Isaeus and one by Lysias, asserting that the comparison will allow readers to test his judgment. He concludes that Lysias’s words are pleasant because of their simplicity. Pointing to a particular line from the speech, Dionysius declares that it is “even more unaffected and like the words any ordinary man would use” (Is. 7). Isaeus, on the other hand, writes in a more elevated style that bears the marks of rhetorical art. Dionysius quotes a line from Isaeus—“Listen to a brief explanation from me, so that none of you may suppose that I interfered in Eumathes’s affairs in a spirit of petulance or from other wrong motive”—then asserts, “‘Spirit of petulance,’ ‘wrong motive,’ and ‘interfered in Eumathes’s affairs’ seem to have been artificially rather than spontaneously introduced.” The language seems too carefully chosen, an unconvincing representation of natural, spontaneous conversation. No orator excels Lysias in the art of artlessness, which Dionysius makes clear in his final comments at Lysias 8. After describing Lysias’s masterful skill at creating the illusion of spontaneous speech, Dionysius concludes that “the student of realism and naturalism would not go wrong if he were to follow Lysias in his composition, for he will find no model who is more true to life (τ ν λ θειαν ο ν τις πιτηδε ων κα φ σεως µιµητ ς γ νεσθαι βουλ µενος ο κ ν µαρτ νοι τ Λυσ ου συνθ σει χρ µενος τ ραν γ ρ ο κ ν ε ροι τα της ληθεστ ραν)” (Lys. 8).40 A more literal translation of this line underscores the mimetic talent required in character-making: “Therefore someone practicing the truth and wishing to become an imitator of nature (φ σεως µιµητ ς) would not go wrong using the composition of Lysias. For he could not find another [composition technique] truer than that one.” The connection between artless composition and truth in these lines calls to mind Alcidamas’s On the Sophists, a fourth-century treaSee Carey, Lysias, 66 for examples of this composition style, drawn from Lysias’s On the Murder of Eratosthenes. Carey notes that the style, which features short sentences and a lack of elaboration, “befits a simple man.” For a discussion of Dionysius’s views on natural style and composition, see de Jonge, Between Grammar and Rhetoric, ch. 5.

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tise with which Dionysius was likely familiar.41 In the essay, Alcidamas, a pupil of Gorgias and rival of Isocrates, addresses the persuasive implications of artificial composition, noting, “For speeches which have their text carefully worked out and are more like poetry than prose and have abandoned both the spontaneous and that which more closely resembles the truth (τ µ ν α τ µατον κα πλ ον ληθε ας µοιον) and seem to be moulded by and consist in pre-fabrication fill the minds of their hearers with distrust and resentment” (12).42 The speech that sounds scripted suggests advance preparation and rhetorical expertise, and as such, would have compromised good will and destroyed the illusion of amateurism so prized in democratic Athens.43 In light of the suspicion with which ancient Athenians regarded written speeches, Lysias’s ability to mimic extemporaneous, natural style undoubtedly served his clients well. Indeed, Alcidamas points to speechwriters as proof of his contention about the power of natural composition, saying, “those who write speeches for the courts seek to avoid precision and mimic the style of extempore speakers (µιµο νται τ ς τ ν α τοσχεδιαζ ντων ρµηνε ας), and they seem to be doing their best writing when they produce speeches which least resemble scripts” (13). The extemporaneous speaker, unlike the speaker with carefully crafted sentiments, arouses no suspicion that reality might have been altered and is thus more believable. In Dionysius’s estimation, no one employs this style of composition with greater persuasiveness than Lysias.

Dionysius’s familiarity with Alcidamas is attested in his First Letter to Ammaeus, wherein he observes, “I should not want them [those who study civil oratory] to suppose that all the precepts of rhetoric are comprehended in the Peripatetic philosophy, and that nothing important has been discovered by Theodorus, Thrasymachus, Antiphon and their associates; nor by Isocrates, Anaximenes, Alcidamas or those of their contemporaries who composed rhetorical handbooks and engaged in oratorical contests” (2).

Translation adapted from J.V. Muir, trans. and ed., Alcidamas: The Works and Fragments (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2001). Aristotle makes a similar observation, advising that speakers should “compose without being noticed and should seem to speak not artificially but naturally. (The latter is persuasive, the former the opposite; for people become resentful, as at someone plotting against them, just as they are at those adulterating wines)” (Rh. 3.2.4).

Johann Schloeman points out a tension in ancient Greece between the expectation that speeches should uphold an “ideal of amateurism” yet at the same

time be entertaining, which demands the very rhetorical skill and careful preparation that, if obvious, creates distrust. See “Entertainment and Democratic Distrust:

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