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‘Asianist’ Prose Rhythm from the Hellenistic Era to the ‘Second Sophistic’

Lawrence Kim

Trinity University

The study of Greek prose rhythm was popular in the early part of the twentieth century, but has received only sporadic attention since; in recent years, however, there are signs that it is again attracting interest (cf. the important article of Hutchinson 2015).  This paper aims to clarify the relationship between Hellenistic (sometimes called ‘Asianist’) prose rhythm and that of Imperial Greek sophistic writers.  An underlying presumption in much of the scholarly discussion of Imperial prose rhythm (e.g., Norden 1909; Winterbottom 2011) is its dependence on a so-called ‘Asianist’ canon of clausulae, the invention of which is traditionally attributed to Hegesias of Magnesia in the third century BCE, and which is held to have greatly influenced Cicero’s practice.  By collating the results obtained by older scholarship (Heibges 1911, Groot 1921, etc.) and supplementing it with new analyses of my own, I have discovered that Imperial Greek practice was not simply adhering to the rhythmic strictures laid down in the Hellenistic period. In fact, I demonstrate that in the second and third centuries CE, ‘sophistic’ writers nearly all (1) favor certain clausulae—those ending in a cretic (‒ ⏑ ×)—that are relatively rare among the Hellenistic ‘Asianists’ and (2) avoid one of the patterns (the cretic-trochee and its resolutions) that scholars have always considered an essential element of the Hellenistic and Imperial rhythmical ‘canon’.   While the consistency with which these clausulae are used in each era set them apart from the relative chaos of the classical period, I argue that Imperial sophists should be seen as engaged in something different from their Hellenistic forebears. At the conclusion of the paper, I suggest some possible explanations for this discrepancy.

While no two scholars agree on exactly which clausulae belong to the ‘Asianist’ canon, the three that are most often cited (and relevant for this paper) are the dichoreus or double trochee (‒ ⏑ | ‒ ×), the cretic-trochee (‒ ⏑ ‒ | ‒ ×), and the double cretic (‒ ⏑ ‒ | ‒ ⏑ ×). I begin by pointing out (via a chart) the curious fact that, of the four undeniably Hellenistic ‘Asian’ texts cited by scholars—the fragments of Hegesias, and first century BCE inscriptions at Maroneia, Nemrud Dagh, and Mantinea—only Nemrud Dagh shows a preference for the double cretic.  In fact, the other three avoid any clausula ending with a cretic. This naturally complicates the whole issue of the so-called ‘canon’, but I emphasize only that clausulae ending in trochees are more characteristic of Hellenistic ‘Asian’ writing than those ending in cretics. 

When we turn to writers of the second and third centuries CE we see something different.  My collation of statistics compiled by scholars on the rhythmical tendencies of ‘sophistic’ authors—Polemo, Favorinus, Lucian, Longus, and Maximus of Tyre—and my own analysis of the rhetorical fragments of Pollux, Iamblichus, and Hadrian of Tyre show that the so-called ‘Asianist’ cretic-trochee and its resolutions, which dominate the sentence-endings of the Hellenistic authors, are consistently avoided by their Imperial counterparts.  Conversely, clausulae ending in cretics—not only the double cretic, but the molossus-cretic and the dactyl-cretic—are favored to a significant degree by every author.  Both sets of authors (Hellenistic and Imperial) could be said to be adhering to an ‘Asianist’ canon, but within those boundaries they take up nearly opposite positions.   The relationship between the two periods’ rhythmic practices is thus not as straightforward as generally believed.

What could account for this Imperial preference?  A more detailed examination of individual authors is required to properly answer this question, but one hypothesis is that the influence of particular classical authors might be pertinent.  Shewring 1934 had suggested that imitation of Plato could account for Lucian’s distribution of clausulae, and among classical writers, Plato displays a marked preference for cretic-endings and a concomitant aversion to trochaic ones.

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Rhythm and Style

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