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E. M. Cope on Alcidamas

We must now return to Plato's contemporaries, amongst whom was Alcidamas, a popular rhetorician of the school of Gorgias, Athen. XIII. 592 c. Suid. in voc. 'Alkidamas. He was born at Elaea, one of the Aeolian colonies on the coast of Asia Minor. The birth-place of Alcidamas connects itself with the explanation of an allusion in Plato, Phaedr. 261 c. d, which has been usually taken for granted by Platonic commentators: but as I think they have been somewhat over hasty in adopting their interpretation, I hope I may be allowed to urge what is to be said in favour of a different one.

The two passages run as follows

[Cope here quotes Greek from Phaedrus 261 b-d (See it at Perseus). Here is the passage as translated by Jowett, who adds the parenthetical "Zeno":

"Soc. Then I suppose that you have only heard of the rhetoric of Nestor and Odysseus, which they composed in their leisure hours when at Troy, and never of Palamedes?

Phaedr.No more than of Nestor and Odysseus, unless Gorgias is your Nestor, and Thrasymachus and Theodorus your Odysseus. ...Soc. Have we not heard of the Eleatic Palamedes (Zeno), who has an art of speaking which makes the same things appear to his hearers like and unlike, one and many, at rest and in motion too?"]

The author is here facetiously comparing the rhetoricians whose style of writing was most popular in his day, excluding therefore the rhetoricians of the Greek school from the list, to the heroes, of the Iliad and Cyclic poems who were most renowned for their subtle and artistic eloquence. The longlived Gorgias is therefore christened Nestor, Theodorus or Thrasymachus Ulysses, and some one whose name is not given is designated as the Eleatic Palamedes. All the Platonic commentators from the Scholiast downwards with great show of reason suppose Zeno to be referred to under the name of Palamedes: Schleiermacher is quite certain upon the point, and concisely recommends sceptics "only to look at the commencement of the Parmenides'': Heindorf is of opinion that the introduction of Zeno is in itself probable, and that the authority of the scholiast is decisive, that the words of Quintilian III. 1. 10, (to be presently quoted) are a gloss, and that Diogenes Laertius, ix. 25 wrote ho d' autos (Platôn) en tô Phaedrô [in the text it is en tô Sophistês, but Heind adopts Spalding's conjecture. In Cobet's revision of the text it stands en tô Phaidrô] kai 'Eleatikon Palamêdên auton (Zênôna) kalei; Stallbaum merely cites the Scholiast, and thinks the question is settled by the style of reasoning ascribed to Palamedes in Plato. I will at once admit this to be a reasonable interpretation, and not improbably the true one; and now proceed to state what I think may fairly be advanced on the other side. First, I do not at all agree with Heindorf in thinking that the allusion to Zeno "is in itself probable." On the contrary, Plato is here in no way concerned with philosophers, but dealing exclusively with rhetoricians. Secondly, if Alcidamas is not referred to in this passage, his name is omitted altogether from Plato's catalogue. But considering the celebrity of the man, the fair handle which his various defects offered for animadversion, and that all the other rhetoricians of note contemporary with Plato are included in his criticism, the absence of all reference to him would be strange indeed. Thirdly, though the balance of authority-- estimated by the number of references in ancient authors--may appear to [Cope 264/265] be in favour of the Scholiast's interpretation, it must be considered that on a point of this kind, where no positive evidence is attainable, authority cannot from the nature of the case have any great weight; a modern guess at Plato's meaning may as far as I can see, be entitled to as much consideration as the unsupported opinion of Diogenes Laertius or the Scholiast: such a question must be argued on its own merits, and can hardly be decided by authority. Fourthly, if authorities are to be adduced, Quintilian says expressly, Inst. Orat. III. 1. 10, Et quem Palamedem Plato appellat, Alcidamas Eleaites. True it is that Spalding conjectures that this may be a gloss introduced from the margin: but he gives no reason for the conjecture, and leaves us to suppose that it is due solely to his own opinion that the assertion made in it is untrue. Lastly it remains to be seen whether the mode of reasoning ascribed by Plato to the Eleatic Palamedes can with probability be attributed to Alcidamas. I think it will appear from the following considerations that it may. Alcidamas was a pupil of Gorgias who used the reasoning of Zeno and Melissus in establishing his strange theorem, 'nothing exists.' Diogenes Laertius, VII. 56, mentions a work of Alcidamas, to phusikon, by name, on which Gerlach, Hist. Stud. p. 86, remarks, "that the brief citations from it will not allow us to decide whether its contents were philosophical." However not only the name of the book, but also what Diogenes tells us of its contents lead directly to the supposition that it was a philosophical treatise upon the comprehensive subject which at that time usually occupied the speculations of philosophers and passed under the name of 'physics'; that is to say, the origin, system and nature of the universe and all things therein. The brief extract quoted gives an account of the relation which subsisted between Parmenides, Zeno and Empedocles. I suppose then that the to physikon of Alcidamas was a philosophical treatise written with the same object of his master Gorgias, and employing the same reasoning, viz. that of Zeno, to effect it: and I conclude that the style of argument ascribed by Plato to his 'Eleatic Palamedes,' viz. "to make his audience believe the same things to be equal and unequal, and one and many, and stationary and in motion," may readily be supposed to have been characteristic of Alcidamas' philosophy. If we adopt this view, we should perhaps read 'Elaiitên for 'Eleatikon in Plato: and that we may have less scruple in so doing I will quote the words of Spalding, Not. Crit. ad Quint. I.c. ''Graeculorum frequentissimo errore, Elea scribentium pro 'Elaia, qui est ipse apud Suidam, in voce Alkidamas, et Eudociam," p. 56.

In this long digression I trust that it has at any rate appeared that Alcidamas was the author of a philosophical work, probably of a similarly sceptical character to that of his master; he likewise imitated, and even outdid him, in the poetical extravagances of his style. Aristotle, Rhet. III. 3, illustrates all the four kinds of psychra from his writings, the abuse of double or compound words, of foreign or strange words (glôttai), of epithets (including all descriptive and ornamental additions to an onoma kurion, the naked statement of the fact), and of metaphors. The examples are so numerous that I cannot quote them all, and some of them have become so familiar to us by constant repetition--such as the phrase 'a fair mirror of human life' applied to the Odyssey--that they are no longer offensive to our taste, and are indeed now part of our common stock of language. The first instance given shows that Alcidamas imitated Gorgias as much in the employment of the figures which gave a symmetrical structure to his periods, as in the poetical language by which he was distinguished. It is, menous men tên psychên plêroumenên, pyrichrôn de tên opsin genomenên, which is a perfect specimen of antithesis, parisôsis or isolôlon and homoioteleuton, all combined in one short sentence, and exactly in the style of the fragment of Gorgias' funeral oration above quoted. The diploun onoma which Aristotle objects to is pyrichrôn, 'fire-coloured'; expressing the flush of the face which betrays the rage of the soul. He also quotes kuanochrôn applied to the surface of the sea as a viciously poetical compound word; and telesphoron 'end-fulfilling' 'thought-executing' (King Lear) attached to prothumian and peithô. The examples of glôttai are the phrases, only fit for poetry, athurma tê poiêsei, tên tês phuseôs atasthalian and akratô tês dianoias orgê tethêgmenon: the first a Pindaric (and Homeric) word, the second Homeric, and the third sounding very like a fragment of a tragedy. "His epithets," says Aristotle, "he employs not for the sauce but for the solid food"--the pièce de resistance--of his intellectual banquet: where it may be remarked that Aristotle himself is guilty of a paronomasia, whether intentionally or not I will not venture to decide: hou gar hêdusmati chrêtai all' hôs hedesmati tois epithetois. Instead of dromô, for example, he says, dromaia tê tês psychês hormê, and skuthrôpon tên phrontida tês psychês, and instead of kladois, tois tês hylês kladois, and so on. Lastly of the misuse of metaphor three examples are given, the description of philosophy as epiteichesma tôn nomôn, of the Odyssey as kalon anthrôpinou katoptron, and houden toiouton athurma tê poiêsei prospherôn, the meaning of which no commentator has succeeded in eliciting. Dionysius, de Isaeo Jud. c. 19, characterises his style as "somewhat coarse and vulgar," pachyteron kai koinoteron tên lexin.

These faults of style were exhibited in various declamations, of which only the names survive in a few instances. Two speeches which do not contain them pass current under his name; these are generally held to be the work of some later sophist, though Spengel, Art. Script. p. 173 sq., vigorously defends the genuineness of one of them, peri sophistôn, which he supposes to be directed against Isocrates. Aristotle twice mentions his logos Messêniakos, Rhet. I. 13, p. 47.3 (where the Scholiast, ap. Spengel, p. 175, supplies the quotation, which is wanting in the text,) and II. 23 init. It was, as the Scholiast explains, a declamation, epideiktikos logos, "in defence of the revolt of the Messenians from the Lacedemonians, and their refusal to submit to slavery." The only other extract from his works in Aristotle's Rhetoric is an illustration of the argument ex epagôgês, i.e. induction per enumerationem simplicem. The thesis to be proved is a very simple one, "that men of genius are held in universal esteem;" "at any rate the Parians have always paid honour to Archilochus, though a foul-mouthed railer; and the Chians to Homer, though he was not a fellow-citizen; and the Mytilenaeans to Sappho, though she was a woman; and the Lacedemonians, though anything but lovers of literature, made Chilon a member of their Council of Elders; and the Italian Greeks paid honour to Pythagoras; and the Lampsacenes bestowed the rites of sepulture upon a mere stranger, Anaxagoras, and honour him even to this day; and the Athenians flourished under the laws of Solon, and the Lacedaemonians under those of Lycurgus, and at Thebes the leading men became philosophers, and all that time the city flourished."

Another declamation of his in praise of the courtesan Nais, Athen. XIII. 592 c. seems to Gerlach, Hist. Stud. 1. c., to mark the degeneracy of the Sophists. If so they began to degenerate very soon; for Alcidamas, though somewhat younger, was probably contemporary with the earliest of them. A speech in praise of death "which consists of the enumeration of human ills," is also mentioned by Cicero, Tusc. Disp. 1. 48, 116. Gerlach's phrase, von Cicero wegen seines stiles viel bewundert, and Dr. L. Schmitz's (in Smith's Dict. of Biogr.) "of which Cicero seems to speak with great praise" are hardly justified by the author's words. He merely says, that the speech was wanting in those nice reasons which are accumulated by philosophers, but was not wanting in copiousness of language.

We learn from Plutarch, vit. Dem. (in Spengel and Gerlach II. cc.) and also from Dion. Hal. ad Amm. Ep. 1. c. 2, that Alcidamas emulated his rhetorical contemporaries and predecessors, in writing a technê. This treatise must have contained his division of the logos, or classification of modes of expression, into phasis, apophasis, erôtêsis, prosagoreusis, see ante, No. 7, p. 50, n. 2. It likewise contained his definition of rhetoric, dynamis tou ontos pithanou (Rhet. anon. ap. Spengel, p. 213); the form which the ordinary sophistical definition of the object of the art took with Alcidamas and his school, touton de ton oron hoi peri ton Alkidimanta elegon.

Scanned for Peithô's Web from The Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology, Vol. 3. December, 1856, pp. 263-268.

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