Demetrius: On Style

    - CHAPTER 1

Translated by W. Rhys Roberts (1902).

See the key to translations for an explanation of the format.   Click on the G symbols to go to the Greek text for each section.

[1] G   As verse is articulated by measures (such as the hemistich, the hexameter, and the like), so also is prose articulated and differentiated by what are called 'members' [kôla]. These members give rest, one might say, to the speaker and his discourse; they set bounds to its various parts, since it would otherwise extend itself without limit and would simply run the speaker out of breath.

[2] G   But the proper function of such members is to mark the conclusion of a thought or sentence. Sometimes a member forms a complete sentence in itself, as for example Hecataeus opens his 'History' with the words 'Hecataeus of Miletus thus relates' (Hecat. Fragm. 332, C. F. Müller F. H. G. I. p. 25), where a complete member coincides with a complete sentence and both end together. Sometimes, however, the member constitutes not a complete sentence, but a part of it, yet a complete part. For just as the arm, which is a whole of a certain kind, has parts such as fingers and forearm which themselves again are wholes, inasmuch as each of them has its proper limits, and itself is made up of parts; so also a complete sentence, when it is extensive, may very well comprise within itself parts which themselves are integral.

[3] G   At the beginning of the 'Anabasis' of Xenophon an example will be found, in the words 'Darius and Parysatis' down to 'the younger Cyrus' (Anabasis. 1.1.1.). This is a fully completed sentence, of which the two members contained in it are parts; but each of these, within its own limits, conveys a meaning which is in a measure complete. Take the first words: 'Darius and Parysatis had sons.' The thought that sons were born to Darius and Parysatis has its own completeness. The second member, in the same way, conveys the complete thought that 'the elder was Artaxerxes, the younger Cyrus.' Accordingly, as I maintain, a 'member' must be understood to comprise a thought which either is a complete sentence or forms an integral part of one.

[4] G   Members should not be made very long; otherwise the composition becomes unwieldy or hard to follow. With rare exceptions, poetry is not written in measures of greater length than six feet, since it would be absurd that measure should be without measure, and that by the time the line comes to an end we should have forgotten when it began. But if long members are out of place in discourse owing to their unwieldy character, so also are brief members for the reason that they produce the so-called 'arid' composition, exemplified in the words 'life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting' (Hippocrates, Aphorisms. 1. 1.). The composition here seems to be minced fine, and may fail to impress because everything about it is so minute.

[5] G   Occasionally a lengthened member is appropriate. For example, in elevated passages, as when Plato says: 'At times God himself guides this universe and helps to roll it in its course' (Politicus 269c). The elevation of the language corresponds, it may be said, to the length of the member. It is because its length fits it for heroic subjects that the hexameter is called heroic verse. The 'Iliad' of Homer could not fittingly be written in the brief lines of Archilochus, e.g.

Staff sorrow-stricken;
          (Fragm. 89, Bergk)


Who made thy wits swerve from the track?
          (Fragm. 94, Bergk).

nor in the lines of Anacreon, e.g.:

Bring water, bring wine too, page-boy.
          (Anacr. Fragm. 62, Bergk)

That is just the rhythm for an old man drunk, but not for a hero in battle.

[6] G   Sometimes, then, a long member may be appropriate for the reasons given; at other times a short one may be fitting, as when our subject is something small. Xenophon, for example, says of the river Teleboas, in the passage where he describes the arrival of the Greeks on its banks: 'it was not large; beautiful it was, though'(Anabasis 4. 4. 3). The slight and broken rhythm brings into relief both the smallness and the beauty of the river. If Xenophon had expanded the idea and said: 'this river was in size less than other rivers, but in beauty it surpassed them all,' he would have failed in propriety, and we should have had the so-called frigid writer. Concerning frigidity, however, we must speak later.

[7] G   Short members may also be employed in vigorous passages. There is greater vigour and intensity when much meaning is conveyed in a few words. Accordingly it is just because of their vehemence that the Lacedaemonians are chary of speech. Orders are given concisely and briefly, every master being curt towards his slave. Supplication, on the other hand, and lamentation are lengthy. Homer represents the Prayers as wrinkled and lame (Iliad 9.502) in allusion to their tardiness, which is tantamount to saying their prolixity. Old men, too, are prolix owing to their feebleness.

[8] G   As an instance of concise wording the following may be given, 'The Lacedaemonians to Philip: Dionysius at Corinth.' This brief expression is felt to be far more forcible than if the Lacedaemonians had said at full length that Dionysius, although once a mighty monarch like yourself, now resides at Corinth in a private station. Once the statement is given in full, it resembles not a rebuke but a narrative; it suggests the instructor rather than the intimidator. The passion and vehemence of the expression are enfeebled when thus extended. As a wild beast gathers itself together for the attack, so should discourse gather itself together as in a coil in order to increase its vigour.

[9] G   From the point of view of composition such brevity is termed a `phrase.' A `phrase' is commonly defined as `that which is less than a member,' for example the already quoted words `Dionysius at Corinth,' and the two sayings of the sages `Know thyself' and `Follow God.' For brevity suits apophthegms and maxims; and it is a mark of superior skill to compress much thought in a little space, just as seeds contain potentially entire trees. Draw out the maxim at full length, and it becomes a homily or a piece of rhetoric rather than a maxim.

[10] G   From the union of a number of these members and phrases are formed what are called `periods.' Now the period is a collection of members or phrases, arranged dexterously to fit the thought to be expressed. For example: `Chiefly because I thought it was to the interest of the State that the law should be abrogated, but also for the sake of Chabrias' boy, I have agreed to plead, to the best of my ability, my clients' case' (Demosthenes, Against Leptines 1). This period, consisting of three members, has a certain bend and concentration at the end.

[11] G   Aristotle defines the period thus: `a period is a form of expression which has a beginning and an end' (Rhetoric 1409 a ). The definition is good and fitting. The very use of the word `period' implies that there has been a beginning at one point and will be an ending at another, and that we are hastening towards a definite goal as runners do when they leave the starting-place. For at the very beginning of their race the end of the course is manifest. Whence the name `period,' the image being that of paths traversed in a circle. It may be said in general that a period is nothing more or less than a particular arrangement of words. If its circular form is destroyed and the arrangement changed, the subject-matter remains the same, but the period will have disappeared. This may be illustrated by some such alteration as the following in the period of Demosthenes already quoted: `I will support the complainants, men of Athens. For Chabrias' son is dear to me, and much more so is the State, whose cause it is right for me to plead' (Cp. 10 supra.). No longer is there any period to be seen.

[12] G   The origin of the period is as follows. There are two kinds of style. The first is termed the `compacted' style, as for example that which consists of periods. It is found in the discourses of Isocrates, Gorgias and Alcidamas, in which the periods succeed one another with no less regularity than the hexameters in the poetry of Homer. The second style bears the name of `disconnected,' inasmuch as the members into which it is divided are not closely united. Hecataeus is an example; and so for the most part is Herodotus, and the older writers in general. Here is an instance: `Hecataeus of Miletus thus relates. I write these things as they seem to me to be true. For the tales told by the Greeks are, as it appears to me, many and absurd' (Fragm. 332; cp. 2 supra). Here the members seem thrown upon one another in a heap without the union or propping, and without the mutual support, which we find in periods.

[13] G   The members in a periodic style may, in fact, be compared to the stones which support and hold together a vaulted roof. The members of the disconnected style resemble stones which are simply flung carelessly together and not built into a structure.

[14] G   Consequently there is something polished and clean-cut in the older method of writing. It resembles ancient statues, the art of which was held to consist in their severe simplicity. The style of later writers is like the sculpture of Pheidias, since it already exhibits in some degree the union of elevation and finish.

[15] G   My own view is that composition should neither, like that of Gorgias, consist wholly of a string of periods, nor be wholly disconnected like the ancient writings, but should rather combine the two methods. It will then be elaborate and simple at the same time, and possess the charm of both manners, being neither too untutored nor too artificial. Public speakers who employ accumulated periods are as giddy-pated as tipsy men, and their hearers are sickened by the idle trick; sometimes, indeed, they audibly anticipate the conclusions of the orator's periods and declaim them in advance.

[16] G   The shorter periods consist of two members, the longest of four. Anything beyond four would trespass beyond the symmetry of the period.

[17] G   There are also periods composed of three members; and others consisting of a single member, which are called 'simple' periods. Every member which possesses the requisite length and is rounded at the end forms a single-membered period. For example: `Herodotus of Halicarnassus sets forth in this History the result of his inquiries' (Herod. 1.1. init.) Again: `Clear expression floods with light the hearer's mind' (Scr. Inc). For the simple period these are the two essentials, the length of the member and its final rounding. If either of these conditions be wanting, there is no period.

[18] G   In composite periods the last member should be longer than the rest, and should as it were contain and embrace them all. When the concluding member is long and stately, the period itself will be stately and impressive; otherwise it will be broken and as it were halting. The following is an instance of the period here recommended:

`True grandeur consists not in saying grand things, but in doing things said, after saying them.'
          (Scr. Inc.)

[19] G   There are three kinds of period: the historical, the conversational, the rhetorical. The historical period should be neither too rounded, nor yet too relaxed, but between the two; so framed that it does not seem rhetorical and unconvincing through its rounded form, but draws its dignity and power of exposition from its simplicity. An instance of such a period is furnished by the words `Darius and Parysatis' down to `the younger Cyrus' (Xenophon, Anabasis. 1.1.1., cp. 3 supra). The cadence of the period here resembles a sure and well-based termination.

[20] G   The form of the rhetorical period is close-knit and circular; it needs an ample utterance and a gesture which corresponds to the movements of the rhythm. For example: `Chiefly because I thought it was to the interest of the State that the law should be abrogated, but also for the sake of Chabrias' boy, I have agreed to plead, to the best of my ability, my clients' case' (Demosthenes, Against Leptines, init, cp. 10 supra.) From the very outset such a period contains something compact-something which clearly intimates that it will not come to a simple ending.

[21] G   The period of dialogue is one which remains lax, and is also simpler than the historical. It scarcely betrays the fact that it is a period. For instance: `I went down yesterday to the Peiraeus' as far as the words `since they were now celebrating it for the first time' (Plato, Republic 327a). The members are flung one upon another as in the disjointed style, and when we reach the end we can hardly realise that the words formed a period. For the period used in dialogue should be a form of writing midway between the resolved and the compacted style, and compounded of both in equal measure.-Such are the different kinds of period.

[22] G   Periods can also be formed of contrasted members. The antithesis may lie in the thought, e.g. `sailing across the mainland and marching across the sea.' (Isocrates, Panegyricus 89). Or it may be twofold, of thought and of expression, as in this same period.

[23] G   Members which are only verbally contrasted may be illustrated by the comparison drawn between Helen and Hercules: `to the man he gave a laborious and perilous life, while he caused the woman's beauty to be admired and coveted' (Isocrates, Enc. Helen 17.). Here article is opposed to article, connective to connective, like to like, from the beginning to the end: 'caused' to `gave,' `admired' to `laborious,' 'coveted' to `perilous.' The correspondence of one thing with another, of like with like, runs throughout.

[24] G   There are some members which, although not really opposed to one another, are apparently antithetical owing to the antithetic form in which they are written. Such is the pleasantry of the poet Epicharmus: `One time in their midst was I, another time beside them I' (Epich. Fragm. 147, G. Kaibel C. G. F.) A single thought is here expressed, and there is no real opposition. But the turn of the phrase, which apes an antithesis, suggests a desire to mislead. Probably the poet employed the antithesis by way of jest, and also in mockery of the rhetoricians.

[25] G   There are also symmetrical members. Among these the symmetry may be found at the beginning, e.g.:

Yet might they by presents be won, and by pleadings be pacified:
          (Homer, Iliad 9. 526)

or at the end, as in the opening passage of the `Panegyric': `I have often wondered at the conduct of the men who convened the assemblies and instituted the gymnastic contests' (Isocrates, Panegyricus 1). Under the heading of symmetry of members comes equality of members, which occurs when the members contain an equal number of syllables, as in the following sentence of Thucydides: `This implies that neither those who are asked disown, nor those who care to know censure the occupation' (Thucyd. 1.5.2). This is an instance of equality of members.

[26] G   'Homoeoteleuta' are members which have a similar termination. They may end with the same word, as in the sentence: `You are the man who, when he was alive, spoke to his discredit, and now that he is dead write to his discredit' (Scr. Inc.: cp. Aristotle, Rhetoric 1410a), or they may end with the same syllable, as in the passage already quoted from the Panegyric of Isocrates.

[27] G   The use of this kind of members is not free from risk. They are ill-suited for vigorous declamation, since the artifice and study which they involve impairs the energy of discourse. Theopompus proves our point when, in arraigning the friends of Philip, he exclaims: 'Men-slayers in nature, they were men-harlots in life; they were called comrades, but were concubines' (Theopomp. Fragm. 249, Müller, F.H.G. I. p. 320). The similarity in the members, and the antithesis between them, impairs the vigour of the expression through the trick of art. For indignation needs no art; in such invectives the words should be simple and, in a manner, impromptu.

[28] G   Such devices, as I have shown, do not contribute to vigour of style. They are not appropriate to outbursts of passion, or to delineations of character. Simplicity and naturalness is the mark alike of passion and of character-drawing. In the treatise of Aristotle On justice, for instance, a speaker laments the fate of Athens. If he asks 'what city had they taken from their enemies as great as their own city which they had destroyed' (Aristot. Fragm. 71, ed. Berol. v. p. 1487), he will have spoken with feeling and from the heart. But if he makes the members of the sentence symmetrical: 'what so great city from their enemies had they taken as their own city which they had forsaken,' you may depend upon it that he will not excite pity or compassion, but rather the so-called 'mirth amid tears.' For ill-judged ingenuity of this kind in emotional passages is no better than the proverbial 'jest at a funeral.'

[29] G   There are, however, cases in which symmetry of members is useful, as in the following passage of Aristotle: `I went from Athens to Stageira because of the great king, and from Stageira to Athens because of the great storm' (Aristot. Fragm. 619, ed. Berol. v. p. 1582). If you take away the word `great' in either case, you will at the same time destroy the charm. The reason is that such members, like the many antithetical ones of Gorgias and Isocrates, tend to heighten expression.- Thus much, then, with regard to symmetrical members.

[30] G   The 'enthymeme' differs from the period in the fact that the latter is a rounded structure, from which indeed it derives its name; while the former finds its meaning and existence in the thought. The period comprehends the enthymeme in the same way as other subject-matter. The enthymeme is a thought expressed either controversially or consequentially.

[31] G   A word in proof. If you break up the structure of the enthymeme, you destroy the period, but the enthymeme remains intact. Suppose, for instance, the following enthymeme in Demosthenes to be broken up: `Just as you would not have made this proposal if any of the former parties had been convicted, so if you are convicted now no one will do so in future' (Against Aristocrates 99). Let the enthymeme run thus: `Show no indulgence to those who make illegal proposals; for if they were habitually checked, the defendant would not be making these proposals now, nor will anyone in future make them if he is convicted now.' Here the round of the period has been destroyed, but the enthymeme remains where it was.

[32] G   In general, the enthymeme is a kind of rhetorical syllogism, while the period is not reasoning at all, but simply a combination of words. Nor is this the only point of distinction. We use periods in every part of the discourse, for example in exordiums; but we do not so use enthymemes. The one-the enthymeme-is as it were an additional utterance, while the period is an independent utterance. The former may be called an incomplete syllogism, while the latter corresponds to no syllogism, whether perfect or incomplete.

[33] G   It may, indeed, happen that an enthymeme is at the same time a period because its construction is periodic. Still it is not identical with the period. A building may be white if it so chance, but a building, as such, is not necessarily white.-So much for the distinction between enthymeme and period.

[34] G   The `member' is thus defined by Aristotle: `A member is one of the two parts of a period.' He then adds: `A period is also occasionally simple' (Rhetoric 1409b.). The reference in his definition to 'one of the two parts' makes it clear that he preferred the period to have two members. Archedemus, combining the definition of Aristotle and its supplement, produced a clearer and fuller definition of his own: `A member is either a simple period, or part of a compound period' (Archedem. Fragm.).

[35] G   The simple period has been already described. In saying that a member may be part of a compound period, Archedemus seems not to confine the period to two members, but to include three or a greater number.- We have given our views concerning the limits of the period; let us now describe the types of style.

Chapter 2

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