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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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The Audience’s Attitude toward Oral and Written Oratory in Classical Athens,” in Ian Worthington and John Miles Foley, eds., Epea and Grammata: Oral and Written Communication in Ancient Greece (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 133–146.

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 The effects of Lysias’s artless composition are not only persuasive, however; they are also charming. As Dionsyius states, “I do not know of any other orator—at least any who employs a similar sentence structure—with greater charm or persuasiveness.” By drawing attention to charm at Lysias 8, Dionysius makes a novel move, departing from the theories of his ancient Greek predecessors and introducing an aesthetic dimension to persuasive ethopoeia.44 As J. W. H. Atkins points out, “nowhere does Dionysius reveal a keener artistic sensibility; for this quality in Lysias [his charm] was one that had been passed over by Roman critics, who had praised merely his simplicity, his elegance and polish.”45 The novelty of Dionysius’s move is underscored by his difficulty in describing charm. At Lysias 10, Dionysius opines that charm (charis) is Lysias’s “finest and most important quality, and the one above all which enables us to establish his peculiar character” (Lys. 10). In elaborating on this quality, Dionysius observes that it “blossoms forth in every word he [Lysias] writes” but is “beyond description and too wonderful for words.” He compares charm to other hard-to-define concepts such as beauty and good melody, then advises readers who wish to learn more “to banish reason from the senses and train them by patient study over a long period to feel without thinking” (Lys. 11).46 Charm is a hallmark of Lysias’s art, an excellence which “would improve the expressive powers of anyone who adopted and imitated [it]” (Lys. 10), including those whose aim is effective characterization.

Dionysius’s discussion of persuasive, charming, true-to-life composition helps to explain one other novel feature of his account: his use of the term apsychos, which appears in his initial description of ethopoeia. Recall Dionysius’s observation that he has found no speakers in Lysias’s texts who are “devoid of character ( νηθοπο ητον) or [devoid of] vitality ( ψυχον).” He echoes this idea later in his essay with a summary of Lysias’s stylistic virtues, one of which is “the Following Usher’s translation, I am employing “charm” here, but the Greek

term hedus can be translated as “pleasantness” or “attractiveness,” as it is in Dionysius’s On Literary Composition. Dionysius often uses the term charis when he is discussing charm, as illustrated by the following line from On Literary Composition:

“Under attractiveness (τ ν δον ν) I list freshness, charm (τ ν χ ριν), euphony, sweetness, persuasiveness, and all such qualities.” Whether one translates hedone at Lysias 8 as charm or pleasantness, the term suggests an aesthetic dimension of ethopoeia.

Literary Criticism in Antiquity: A Sketch of Its Development, vol. 2 (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1934), 125.

Dionysius offers a more well-developed account of attractiveness as an end of composition in his treatise On Literary Composition, ch. 11–12.

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investment of every person with life and character” (Lys. 13). Significantly, apsychos, “lifeless” or “inanimate,” appears in no other ancient account of ethopoeia discussed in this essay, and Dionysius rarely uses it elsewhere in his works on rhetoric, suggesting a strong association of animation with the persuasive ethopoeia of Lysias.47 This association is well-illustrated in Dinarchus, wherein Dionysius provides guidance for determining whether a speech was authored by Lysias or Dinarchus: “If he sees that the speeches are adorned with excellence and charm, and contain his [Lysias’s] careful choice of words and no lack of animation (τ µηδ ν ψυχον) in what is said, let him confidently assert that these are by Lysias. But if he finds no such qualities of charm or persuasiveness or precision of language or close adherence to reality (τ τ ς ληθε ας πτ µενον), let him leave them among the speeches of Dinarchus” (Din. 7). In this passage, apsychos is defined, by implication of the antithetical pairings, as lack of “close adherence to reality,” the very opposite of the lifelike, mimetic quality that Dionysius associates with Lysias at the end of Lysias 8.

Dionysius’s observation regarding lifelike character portrayal in Lysias raises an interesting question: How can a critic centuries removed from the texts of interest determine whether a portrayal is true-to-life? 48 Perhaps Dionysius, in his careful study of Lysias’s texts, noticed some of the subtle syntactical variations that contemporary scholars, equipped with more advanced conceptual categories, have labeled “individuality,” and on that basis declared Lysias’s portraits to be animated.49 While this possibility cannot be completely disApsychos” appears in the works of Aristotle and Theon, but not in their discussions of ethopoeia. In the Rhetoric, Aristotle employs the term when describing enargeia, or “bringing-before-the-eyes”; he notes that enargeia, “as Homer often uses it, is making the lifeless living (τ τ ψυχα µψυχα ποιε ν) through the metaphor (Rh.

3.11.2). In the progymnasmata of Theon, the term occurs in discussions of encomia (with respect to “inanimate things like honey, health, virtue, and the like”; sec. 112) and ecphrasis (which, in comparison to topos, deals with “inanimate things”; sec. 119). In the rhetorical works of Dionysius, forms of apsychos appear at Lys. 8, Lys. 13, Lys.

17 (the form of Lysias’s introductions are “ο κ ψυχος ο δ κ νητ ς”), Din. 7 (see text above), and Dem. 20 (on the lifeless style of Isocrates); the term also appears at Dem. 4 (an editorial insertion) and Ars. Rhet. 2.6 (of questionable Dionysian authorship).

Lysias (ca. 445–ca. 380 bc) began writing speeches in 403. Dionysius (ca. 60-after 7 bc) wrote in Rome from roughly 30–7 bc.

L. L. Forman, for example, argues that the speaker in “For the Disabled Man” (Lys. Or. 24) is an individual because, of all of Lysias’s characters, he alone places the word pas (every; all) after, rather than before, the noun, which is the expected syntactical pattern. Stephen Usher points to similarly subtle markers of individuality 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 counted, especially in light of Dionysius’s keen interest in texts, he makes no mention of such features in his writings. More likely, his judgment about the lifelike nature of Lysias’s characters simply reects his expectations regarding fourth-century Greek oratory, particularly with respect to oral performance. Dionysius was undoubtedly aware, as he read the texts of Lysias, that the speeches were written for performance by the very person being characterized; he thus would have been looking for evidence of an oral composition style that would enable such a performance. Dionysius makes a remark to this effect in his essay Demosthenes. After addressing common knowledge about Demosthenes’ efforts to improve his delivery, Dionysius states: “Now, what has this to do with his literary style? someone might ask: to which I should reply, that his style is designed to accommodate it [his delivery]” (Dem. 53). Likewise, the composition of Lysias was designed to accommodate performance, enabling the speaker to deliver the speech in a seemingly spontaneous, heartfelt manner.

Lysias himself apparently recognized the relationship between

performance and composition, as suggested by the following anecdote in Plutarch’s “Concerning Talkativeness”:

Lysias once composed a speech for a litigant and gave it to him. The man read it through a number of times and came to Lysias in despair and said that the first time he read it the speech seemed to him wonderfully good, but on taking it up a second and third time it appeared completely dull and ineffectual. “Well,” said Lysias laughing, “isn’t it only once that you are going to speak it before the jurors?”50 If uttered repeatedly, Lysias’s words may fall flat, but when read with the expectation of a one-time oral performance, the words spring to life, gaining their characteristic charm and persuasiveness. Dionysius clearly appreciated the difference between words intended for the ear and those intended for the eye, as Ronald Reid notes; his ability to “see” orality explains his praise of the lifelike quality of Lysias’s speeches. 51 In this interpretation of apsychos portrayal, Lysias’s charin Lysias’s speeches, suggesting that short syllables in “Against Simon” (Lys. Or. 3) signal shyness and nervousness, while polysyndeton in “On the Death of Eratosthenes” (Lys. Or. 1) indicates mental confusion. See Forman, “Ethopoiia,” and Usher, “Individual Characterisation.” Plutarch, “Concerning Talkativeness” in Plutarch’s Moralia, vol. 6, trans. W.C.

Helmbold (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1939), sec. 5.

Reid argues that Dionysius’s identification of three types of composition style— the austere, the polished, and the well-blended—reflects the development of literate

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acters are deemed lifelike not on the basis of their distinctive individual characteristics but rather on the degree to which they sound unscripted. Lysias, “the most persuasive of all the orators” (Lys. 10), executed this style more admirably than anyone else—hence Dionysius’s inclusion of apsychos, whose opposite, animation, is an ideal of persuasive ethopoeia.


To date, the ethopoetic practice of Lysias has received more attention than the account that fueled his reputation, yet Dionysius’s account deserves to be recognized for more than its role in the narrative of Lysianic excellence. Through his critical praise of Lysias’s ethopoetic skill, Dionysius calls attention to a distinctive type of characterization, persuasive ethopoeia. Arguably, all ethopoetic activity can be understood as dramatic, for all forms of ethopoeia involve scripting words for another character. The types differ, however, in their approach to “character,” which underscores the need for classification. Whereas propriety-oriented ethopoeia focuses on external character traits, persuasive ethopoeia focuses on trustworthiness of character, consistent with Aristotle’s description of ethos at Rhetoric 1.2.4. Lysias, a speechwriter, exemplifies the latter type, creating impressions of trustworthy ethos in practical oratory through reasonable thoughts, standard diction, and artless word arrangement. Of particular importance in persuasive ethopoeia, as suggested by the latter two elements, is ordinary, seemingly spontaneous language that does not call attention to itself or reflect negatively on the character of the speaker but rather contributes to an impression of moderation and fair-mindedness. The style of persuasive ethopoeia artfully mimics nature, and in so doing, enables convincing performance.

Dionysius’s comments on composition deserve special mention, for with these remarks, he makes his most unique contribution to a theory of effective characterization. Lysias’s mastery of the art of artlessness, through which he makes his speakers sound natural and unscripted, creates effects that, according to Dionysius, are not only persuasive but charming and lifelike. With his attention to charm

and animation, Dionysius expands the vocabulary of characterizaconsciousness in ancient Greece. See “Dionysius of Halicarnassus’s Theory of Compositional Style and the Theory of Literate Consciousness,” Rhetoric Review 15 (1996):


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tion, adding an aesthetic dimension to the portrayal of persuasive ethos. Although Dionysius is not typically remembered as an innovator, he makes an important contribution to ancient Greek rhetorical theory with his attention to charm and animation, a unique point of emphasis among ancient accounts of ethopoeia.

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