Monday, January 06, 2020



A.M. Dale, ed., Euripides, Alcestis (1954; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. xxvii-xxviii:
For in a well-constructed Euripidean tragedy, what controls a succession of situations is not a firmly conceived unity of character but the shape of the whole action, and what determines the development and finesse of each situation is not a desire to paint in the details of a portrait-study but the rhetoric of the situation—what Aristotle calls διάνοια. Rhetoric is a concept which we tend to hold in some suspicion, as if in its nature there must be something bogus; but we shall never properly understand Greek tragedy unless we realize how closely related were the rhetoric of Athenian life, in the assembly and law-courts and on other public occasions, and the rhetoric of the speeches in drama. Nourished on the psychological novel, we tend to assume that the poet had brooded on the story until the characters took shape in his mind, as if he had asked himself: What would X, being such a man, be likely to say in such a situation? whereas we might sometimes get nearer to the meaning by imagining the question: Suppose a man involved in such a situation, how should he best acquit himself? How gain his point? Move his hearers? Prove his thesis? Convey information lucidly and vividly? The aim of rhetoric is Persuasion, Πειθώ, and the poet is, as it were, a kind of λογογράφος who promises to do his best for each of his clients in turn as the situations change and succeed one another. This does not by any means exclude an interest in character; the skilful λογογράφος takes that into account in its proper place. But the dominating consideration is: What points could be made here? The points may be developed in a set speech, a ῥῆσις, or made and countered in stichomythia. Fertility in arguments, a delight in logical analysis—these are the essentials, though they may be skilfully made to produce an effect of spontaneity.

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