The Difference between Dialogues and Letters

Demetrius, On Style 223-224

“Then we will talk about the style of a letter which also needs to be simple. Artemôn who edited the letters of Aristotle, says that we ought to write letters the same way as dialogues since a letter is similar to one side of a dialogue.

Perhaps he speaks the truth in this, but not all of it. For a letter ought to be a little more formalized than a dialogue. For a dialogue imitates speaking extemporaneously while a letter is written and sent as a gift in some way.”

(223) Ἐπεὶ δὲ καὶ ὁ ἐπιστολικὸς χαρακτὴρ δεῖται ἰσχνότητος, καὶ περὶ αὐτοῦ λέξομεν. Ἀρτέμων μὲν οὖν ὁ τὰς Ἀριστοτέλους ἀναγράψας ἐπιστολάς φησιν, ὅτι δεῖ ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ τρόπῳ διάλογόν τε γράφειν καὶ ἐπιστολάς· εἶναι γὰρ τὴν ἐπιστολὴν οἷον τὸ ἕτερον μέρος τοῦ διαλόγου.

(224) καὶ λέγει μέν τι ἴσως, οὐ μὴν ἅπαν· δεῖ γὰρ ὑποκατεσκευάσθαι πως μᾶλλον τοῦ διαλόγου τὴν ἐπιστολήν· ὁ μὲν γὰρ μιμεῖται αὐτοσχεδιάζοντα, ἡ δὲ γράφεται καὶ δῶρον πέμπεται τρόπον τινά.

 

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A Word Overwrought: Longinus on Verbal Tumescence

Longinus, On the Sublime 1.3.3-5

‘For although they often believe that they are inspired, they are not carried away by a god but they are fooling around. As a general rule, it seems that being puffed up is among the the most difficult things to avoid. For, naturally, all those who strive to be grand are carried away into this fault as they attempt to avoid the accumulation of weakness or dryness, perhaps believing in the idea that “slipping in the pursuit of great things is still a noble mistake.”

Ah, but tumors are evil things if they are in bodies or words, those empty voids all misshapen and most often compelling us to the opposite of what we wanted. For, as they say, “there’s nothing dry as dropsy”. But while overwrought writing aims to surpass the sublime, childishness is the polar opposite of aiming high. It is completely ugly, small-minded, and in truth the least noble evil of all.”

πολλαχοῦ γὰρ ἐνθουσιᾶν ἑαυτοῖς δοκοῦντες οὐ βακχεύουσιν ἀλλὰ παίζουσιν. ὅλως δ᾿ ἔοικεν εἶναι τὸ οἰδεῖν ἐν τοῖς μάλιστα δυσφυλακτότατον. φύσει γὰρ ἅπαντες οἱ μεγέθους ἐφιέμενοι, φεύγοντες ἀσθενείας καὶ ξηρότητος κατάγνωσιν, οὐκ οἶδ᾿ ὅπως ἐπὶ τοῦθ᾿ ὑποφέρονται, πειθόμενοι τῷ “μεγάλων ἀπολισθαίνειν ὅμως εὐγενὲς  ἁμάρτημα.” κακοὶ δὲ ὄγκοι καὶ ἐπὶ σωμάτων καὶ λόγων οἱ χαῦνοι καὶ ἀναλήθεις καὶ μήποτε περιιστάντες ἡμᾶς εἰς τοὐναντίον· οὐδὲν γάρ, φασί, ξηρότερον ὑδρωπικοῦ. Ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν οἰδοῦν ὑπεραίρειν βούλεται τὰ ὕψη, τὸ δὲ μειρακιῶδες ἄντικρυς ὑπεναντίον τοῖς μεγέθεσι· ταπεινὸν γὰρ ἐξ ὅλου καὶ μικρόψυχον καὶ τῷ ὄντι κακὸν ἀγεννέστατον.

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Sometimes a good editor is like a medieval surgeon: brutal.

Describing Cicero (and His Style)

Longinus, On the Sublime, 1

“Cicero also departs from Demosthenes in the size of his constructions. For Demosthenes impresses more in his chunks of sublimity, while Cicero does it more generally. Our orator most clearly burns thanks to his violence, speed, and strength, and he leaves a path of destruction like a lightning strike or a thunderbolt.

Cicero, I think, is more like a large wildfire, consuming everything and laying waste around him. He has a strong fire, always burning, and it is allotted evenly from one place to another, rekindled by steady refueling. You [Romans] may be able to judge these matters better, but the real power of Demosthenes’ sublimity and tension arises in his terrifying and earnest emotions where it is necessary that he surprises his audience; diffusion is when you need to overwhelm [the audience] at length. The latter is most harmonious for general topics, going on at length, description and performance pieces, as well as for history, scientific writing, and many other kinds.”

καὶ ὁ Κικέρων τοῦ Δημοσθένους ἐν τοῖς μεγέθεσι παραλλάττει. ὁ μὲν γὰρ ἐν ὕψει τὸ πλέον ἀποτόμῳ, ὁ δὲ Κικέρων ἐν χύσει· καὶ ὁ μὲν ἡμέτερος διὰ τὸ μετὰ βίας ἕκαστα ἔτι δὲ τάχους ῥώμης δεινότητος οἷον καίειν τε ἅμα καὶ διαρπάζειν σκηπρῷ τινι παρεικάζοιτ᾿ ἂν ἢ κεραυνῷ· ὁ δὲ Κικέρων ὡς ἀμφιλαφής τις ἐμπρησμὸς οἶμαι πάντη νέμεται καὶ ἀνειλεῖται, πολὺ ἔχων καὶ ἐπίμονον ἀεὶ τὸ καῖον καὶ διακληρονομούμενον ἄλλοτ᾿ ἀλλοίως ἐν αὐτῷ καὶ κατὰ διαδοχὰς ἀνατρεφόμενον. ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μὲν ὑμεῖς ἂν ἄμεινον ἐπικρίνοιτε, καιρὸς δὲ τοῦ Δημοσθενικοῦ μὲν ὕψους καὶ ὑπερτεταμένου ἔν τε ταῖς δεινώσεσι καὶ τοῖς σφοδροῖς πάθεσι καὶ ἔνθα δεῖ τον ἀκροατὴν τὸ σύνολον ἐκπλῆξαι, τῆς δὲ χύσεως ὅπου χρὴ καταντλῆσαι· τοπηγορίαις τε γὰρ καὶ ἐπιλόγοις κατὰ τὸ πλέον καὶ παρεκβάσεσι καὶ τοῖς φραστικοῖς ἅπασι καὶ ἐπιδεικτικοῖς, ἱστορίαις τε καὶ φυσιολογίαις, καὶ οὐκ ὀλίγοις ἄλλοις μέρεσιν ἁρμόδιος.

 

Julian, Misopogon 339C

“I would tell you if I had a wart like Cicero”

εἶπόν γ᾿ ἂν ὑμῖν, εἴ τις ἦν μοι καὶ ἀκροχορδὼν ὥσπερ τῷ Κικέρωνι·

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“He Does Not Prefer Thucydides out of Love”: Romans on the Greek Historian

In my discussions of Thucydides with students over the years, we have focused on the typical modern topoi, his rivalry with Herodotus and Homer, his notion of the representation of speeches which were “appropriate to what was needed for the situation” (ὡς δ’ ἂν ἐδόκουν ἐμοὶ ἕκαστοι περὶ τῶν αἰεὶ παρόντων τὰ δέοντα μάλιστ’ εἰπεῖν, 1.22), the scientific presentation of the causes of the Peloponnesian War, his belief that his history was a “possession for eternity” (κτῆμά τε ἐς αἰεὶ), Perikles’ rhetorical power in Athens, the suspenseful danger of the Mytilenean debate (book 3), and the depressing logic of power in the Melian dialogue (5.84-116). But most of all, we have read his history as a tragedy: Athens falls just as much if not more because of herself as because of Sparta.

Roman authors did not see this Thucydides. (One is tempted to say they value the style far beyond the substance.) Here are some samples of their views.

Cicero, de optimo genre oratorum 17

“This is why if there is ever anyone who claims that he will plead legal cases in the style of Thucydides, he will show that he is completely ignorant of what happens in political and legal matters. If he will merely praise Thucydides, let him record my opinion with his.”

Qua re si quis erit qui se Thucydideo genere causas in foro dicturum esse profiteatur, is abhorrebit etiam a suspicione eius quod versatur in re civili et forensi; sin Thucydidem laudabit, ascribat suae nostram sententiam.

 

Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 9

“Roman orators, historians, and poets have not ripped off many words from the Greeks, but rather they have improved upon them. Then he offered a saying by Thucydides “success is adept at hiding and cloaking everyone’s mistakes” followed by Sallust’s version: “success is a miraculous cover for vice”. Although the chief virtue in Thucydides is brevity, Sallust has done better and has overcome him in his own territory. The Greek saying is brief enough that you can shorten it without losing the sense. You may take out “hiding” or “shadowing” and then “everyone” and the sense remains, perhaps not as polished, but still whole. You cannot take anything away from Sallust’s version without losing the sense.”

Multa oratores, historici, poetae Romani a Graecis dicta non subripuerunt sed provocaverunt. Tunc deinde rettulit aliquam Thucydidis sententiam: δειναὶ γὰρ αἰ εὐπραξίαι συγκρύψαι καὶ συσκιάσαι τὰ ἑκάστων ἁμαρτήματα, deinde Sallustianam: res secundae mire sunt vitiis obtentui. Cum sit praecipua in Thucydide virtus brevitas, hac eum Sallustius vicit et in suis illum castris cecidit; nam in sententia Graeca tam brevi habes quae salvo sensu detrahas: deme vel συγκρύψαι vel συσκιάσαι, deme ἑκάστων: constabit sensus, etiamsi non aeque comptus, aeque tamen integer. At ex Sallusti sententia nihil demi sine detrimento sensus potest.

Contr. 9

“He does not prefer Thucydides out of love for him, but he praises one he does not fear and believes he may defeat Sallust more easily if he appears to be conquered by Thucydides first.”

Nec hoc amore Thucydidis facit, ut illum praeferat, sed laudat quem non timet et facilius putat posse a se Sallustium vinci si ante a Thucydide vincatur.

 

Pliny, Natural History 7.111

“The Athenians drove Thucydides the general into exile but recalled the historian. They appreciated the eloquence of a man whose bravery they had condemned.”

Thucydiden imperatorem Athenienses in exilium egere, rerum conditorem revocavere, eloquentiam mirati cuius virtutem damnaverant.

 

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Dressing Up or Dressing Down, Vanity Abounds

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 9.35-6

“When Diogenes went to Olympia and observed some young Rhodians dressed very finely, he laughed and said “That is vanity.” When at the same time he came upon some Spartans in poorly made and filthy coats, he said, “This is a different kind of vanity.”

Διογένης ἐς ᾿Ολυμπίαν ἐλθὼν καὶ θεασάμενος ἐν τῇ πανηγύρει ῾Ροδιακούς τινας νεανίσκους πολυτελῶς ἠσθημένους, γελάσας ‘τῦφος’ ἔφη ‘τοῦτό ἐστιν.’ εἶτα περιτυχὼν Λακεδαιμονίοις ἐν ἐξωμίσι φαύλαις καὶ ῥυπώσαις ‘ἄλλος’ εἶπεν ‘οὗτος τῦφος.’

“When Socrates saw that Antisthenes was always making the ripped section of his cloak obvious, he said “Won’t you stop showing yourself off to us?” “

῾Ο δὲ Σωκράτης ἰδὼν τὸν ᾿Αντισθένη τὸ διερρωγὸς τοῦ ἱματίου μέρος ἀεὶ ποιοῦντα φανερὸν, ‘οὐ παύσῃ’ ἔφη ‘ἐγκαλλωπιζόμενος ἡμῖν;’

It seems that Socrates and Diogenes might have been some  of the first proponents of #normcore. Certainly the former might wonder if the unexamined cloak is worth wearing…

Aelian? Claudius Aelianus was a third-fourth century BCE author who in addition to writing “On the Nature of Animals” made a collection of historical (literary, mythical, etc.) oddities and anecdotes less polished than the Saturnalia of Macrobius or the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, but no less fascinating.

 

Go here for a great anecdote about the style-choices of the emperor Julian.

Impossible Plausible Events are Better than Implausible Possible Ones

Aristotle, Poetics 1460a26

“Narratives ought to prefer likely events, even if impossible, to improbable possible ones. Stories should not be made from illogical parts: in the best case, they should contain nothing illogical, unless it comes from outside the plot itself as when Oedipus is not aware how Laios died, instead of in the play itself, as when they report the events at Delphi in the Elektra or when the silent man comes from Tegea to Mysia in the Mysians. To say that otherwise the plot would be wrecked is ridiculous—it isn’t right to set up these sorts of events from the beginning. If a poet does this, and there is a more logical option available, it is strange. Even those illogical events in the Odyssey when Odysseus is put ashore [asleep by the Phaeacians] would have been manifestly intolerable if a lesser poet had created it. In the poem now, Homer softens and erases the strangeness with his other good traits.”

προαιρεῖσθαί τε δεῖ ἀδύνατα εἰκότα μᾶλλον ἢ δυνατὰ ἀπίθανα· τούς τε λόγους μὴ συνίστασθαι ἐκ μερῶν ἀλόγων, ἀλλὰ μάλιστα μὲν μηδὲν ἔχειν ἄλογον, εἰ δὲ μή, ἔξω τοῦ μυθεύματος, ὥσπερ Οἰδίπους τὸ μὴ εἰδέναι πῶς ὁ Λάιος ἀπέθανεν, ἀλλὰ μὴ ἐν τῷ δράματι, ὥσπερ ἐν ᾿Ηλέκτρᾳ οἱ τὰ Πύθια ἀπαγγέλλοντες ἢ ἐν Μυσοῖς ὁ ἄφωνος ἐκ Τεγέας εἰς τὴν Μυσίαν ἥκων. ὥστε τὸ λέγειν ὅτι ἀνῄρητο ἂν ὁ μῦθος γελοῖον· ἐξ ἀρχῆς γὰρ οὐ δεῖ συνίστασθαι τοιούτους. †ἂν δὲ θῇ καὶ φαίνηται εὐλογωτέρως ἐνδέχεσθαι καὶ ἄτοπον† ἐπεὶ καὶ τὰ ἐν ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ ἄλογα τὰ περὶ τὴν ἔκθεσιν ὡς οὐκ ἂν ἦν ἀνεκτὰ δῆλον  ἂν γένοιτο, εἰ αὐτὰ φαῦλος ποιητὴς ποιήσειε· νῦν δὲ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἀγαθοῖς ὁ ποιητὴς ἀφανίζει ἡδύνων τὸ ἄτοπον.