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The Encomium of Demosthenes: A Dialogue Worthy of Lucian

Brad L. Cook

The Encomium of Demosthenes included in the manuscripts of Lucian’s works is an unusually layered dialogue. At different layers within the dialogue appear different characters and both the layering of reported speech and the multiplicity of speakers are directly supportive of the content. Too many scholars, however, instead of analyzing the sophistication of these formal features and the resulting significance for the content have found the structure suspect and, along with questions about diction, the avoidance of hiatus, and, what Macleod calls, “lack of inspiration,” have stripped Lucian’s name from the text, thereby pushing it off the shelf of studied works. The broader loss arising out of this situation is that the creative layering of the dialogue and the concomitant multiplicity of characters have been neglected, as has the unique significance of this work for the ancient Demosthenic tradition. This paper will explain (1) the function of the layering in the whole text, (2) how the characterization of each speaker, both typical and historical figures, at each layer within the dialogue has been creatively designed to enhance the encomiastic content, and (3) the significance of these aspects of the work relative to Lucianic authorship (supporting other arguments by Baldwin, Hall, Pernot).

The pairing of the narrator, an unnamed rhetor, and a poet named Thersagoras, opens the text as a typical Lucianic dialogue. It will be shown, though, that while these two look like the sort of characters that we would expect, an expert of poetry and a master of rhetoric, they are made to upend our expectations both in how and in what they say. The poet Thersagoras, for instance, after proving that he can all by himself perform a synkrisis of the two paradigmatic authors of the two great and incomparable genres of the ancient classroom and lecture hall, overwhelms the first half of the dialogue by enthusiastically expounding an encomium of Demosthenes for the rhetor. The standard design for the dialogue would be the facing off of the two genres’ proponents, as in an agon in Aristophanes; but here the poet preempts the rhetor with the very sort of oration he was struggling to write. The result is both amusing and effective: Demosthenes’ excellences are even on the tongue of the spokesman for the poetic tradition and we are saved being subjected to the same old eulogies.

In the second half of the dialogue, this upending of expectation continues in an even more unusual way. The rhetor’s role as encomiast is now filled by his reading of dialogue from a supposedly royal Macedonian transcript from Demosthenes’ own day. This transcript contains dialogue with speeches and speeches within speeches that are delivered by figures who speak contrary to character, just as Thersagoras praises Demosthenes rather than Homer. But the effect is that the counter-character encomia give the speeches even greater authority. Form and character are thus creatively upended throughout to fashion a new-fangled sort of encomium of Demosthenes. It is crucial, however, to see that the rhetor reads not simply a nearly five-hundred year old transcript of Demosthenes’ post mortem by Antipater and Archias but that within that post-mortem dialogue the author has also carefully embedded a series of reported speeches: four speeches by Philip, one of Aristotle, and, in closing, Demosthenes’s swansong before Archias. Each of these speeches serves a distinct role in the reported transcript, praising a different aspect of Demosthenes, and the different speakers, Antipater, Philip, Aristotle, and Demosthenes himself, are characterized so as to substantiate and magnify their praise, unexpected from the mouths of the first three. The resulting, seemingly organic, assemblage of praise creates an encomium far beyond what the narrating rhetor could have himself invented but certainly worthy of Lucian.

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Representation and Self-Representation in Imperial Greek and Latin Dialogues

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