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Dionysius of Halicarnassus

(fl. 30—7 bc)


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Greek critic and historian, lived and taught rhetoric at Rome, arriving ‘at the time Augustus put an end to the civil war’, and publishing the first part of his Roman Antiquities (Rhōmaïkē archaiologia) 22 years later (Ant. Rom. 1. 7). This great work was in twenty books, going down to the outbreak of the First Punic War (i.e. Roman war against Carthage); we have the first eleven (to 441 bc), with excerpts from the others. Dionysius used the legends of Rome's origins to demonstrate that it was really a Greek city, and his whole history is an erudite panegyric of Roman virtues. It is also very rhetorical, abounding in long speeches. He doubtless thought of it as exemplifying his literary teaching, which was directed towards restoring Classical prose after what he saw as the aberrations of the Hellenistic period. The treatises in which he developed this programme seem mostly to have been written before the Antiquities, though their chronology is much disputed. These are: (1) On imitation (Peri mimēseōs), in three books, of which only fragments survive; the judgements on individual authors coincide largely with those in Quintilian Inst. 10. 1; (2) a series of discussions of individual orators (Lysias, Isocrates, Isaeus, Demosthenes), prefaced by a programmatic statement of distaste for ‘Asianic’ (florid) rhetoric, hope for an ‘Attic’ revival, and the writer's consciousness that this happy change is due to the good taste of the Roman governing class; (3) a group of occasional works: On Dinarchus, On Thucydides (important), two letters to Ammaeus (one on Demosthenes' alleged indebtedness to Aristotle, the other on Thucydides), and a letter to Cn. Pompeius on Plato, of whose ‘dithyrambic’ style Dionysius was very critical; (4) On Arrangement of Words (De compositione verborum, Peri syntheseōs onomatōn), the only surviving ancient treatise on this subject, full of interesting observations on euphony and onomatopoeic effects (note especially ch. 20, on Odyssey 11. 593–6); this was a fairly late work, but the second part of Demosthenes (35 ff.) presupposes it.

(1) On imitation (Peri mimēseōs), in three books, of which only fragments survive; the judgements on individual authors coincide largely with those in Quintilian Inst. 10. 1; (2) a series of discussions of individual orators (Lysias, Isocrates, Isaeus, Demosthenes), prefaced by a programmatic statement of distaste for ‘Asianic’ (florid) rhetoric, hope for an ‘Attic’ revival, and the writer's consciousness that this happy change is due to the good taste of the Roman governing class; (3) a group of occasional works: On Dinarchus, On Thucydides (important), two letters to Ammaeus (one on Demosthenes' alleged indebtedness to Aristotle, the other on Thucydides), and a letter to Cn. Pompeius on Plato, of whose ‘dithyrambic’ style Dionysius was very critical; (4) On Arrangement of Words (De compositione verborum, Peri syntheseōs onomatōn), the only surviving ancient treatise on this subject, full of interesting observations on euphony and onomatopoeic effects (note especially ch. 20, on Odyssey 11. 593–6); this was a fairly late work, but the second part of Demosthenes (35 ff.) presupposes it.

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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