Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.01.29

Ian Rutherford, Canons of Style in the Antonine Age: Idea-Theory in its Literary Context.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1998.  Pp. vii + 168.  ISBN 0-19-814729-5.  $55.00.  



Reviewed by Charles Weiss, Corpus Christi College.
Word count: 2447 words

"So, my dear Lord," he continued, settling himself comfortably in his chair and rubbing the wine-glass between his fingers, "we must make the best of it, cherish the past and honour those writers -- there are still a few left of 'em -- who take antiquity for their model and write, not for pay, but for Glawr." (Orlando could have wished him a better accent.) "Glawr," said Greene, "is the spur of noble minds. Had I a pension of three hundred pounds a year paid quarterly, I would live for Glawr alone. I would lie in bed every morning reading Cicero. I would imitate his style so that you couldn't tell the difference between us. That's what I call fine writing," said Greene; "that's what I call Glawr. But it's necessary to have a pension to do it."

The Antonine sophist Hermogenes, to his discredit, would have found Virginia Woolf's Thomas Greene easy company. Ian Rutherford even offers to forgive readers of his new book "for thinking that the real subject of [Hermogenes'] Peri Ideon is to praise Demosthenes" (p. 18), and claims that "Hermogenes ... believes that perfect rhetorical skill is an accomplishment beyond the range of ordinary mortals, so that his attitude to Demosthenes, whom he believes embodies it, is more like that of a worshipper to a god" (p. 87). But Hermogenes was not alone in holding this view of "Glawr," for his age represents for many the apex of Philostratus' "Second Sophistic" (Vitae Sophistarum 481), that "renaissance of Greek culture" (p. 1), when "one of the most striking features of the prose literature ... is its strong allegiance to ... the great prose-writers of the fifth-fourth century" (p. 2).

In his characterization of this age, Rutherford essentially follows what has come to be the standard account, perhaps best represented in English by Graham Anderson's The Second Sophistic, Maud Gleason's Making Men, and Simon Swain's Hellenism and Empire (all to be added to the references on p. 1 n. 1), but recently (and rightly) subverted by P. A. Brunt's "The Bubble of the Second Sophistic" in BICS 1994, required reading for anyone interested in this period and its literature. Rutherford has not, however, been content with standard accounts of Hermogenes and the body of literature that constitutes what Rutherford calls "idea-theory." Canons of Style is full of well-researched detail and new arguments to the end that this material reflects, more than previously appreciated, these authors' responses "to the cultural values of the Antonine Age" (104). It is a complex little book, and rather than summarize each chapter, I hope to unravel some of its argumentation by starting from the first folds.

Rutherford is keen to write about the "Literary Context" of his title, but his fundamental subject is the trio of Hermogenes' Peri Ideon, Ps.-Aristides' Peri Politikou Logou, and his Peri Aphelous Logou. Although I ultimately agree with him in taking these tracts as a unified set, Rutherford could have done more to convince me that they truly belong together, and that they alone constitute "idea-theory."

Rutherford bases his claim to unity on three further claims (p. 6): 1) the tracts belong to the same period, 2) they share "a modified terminology," and 3) "all three of these works apply the system of qualities to a single preferred author." But each of these is debatable. We have no solid dates for Ps.-Aristides, and elements of this shared terminology can be found in other rhetorical tracts: Rutherford himself acknowledges that "[t]he practice of formulating judgements about texts in terms of a system of qualities (usually called ἀρεταί or ἰδέαι) of style is very old in the Greek world" (p. 5). (What justification, furthermore, is there for subjecting Hermogenes' Peri Ideon to an analysis that leaves the rest if his work largely untouched [though see below on Peri Heureseos]? It may be legitimate, but Rutherford doesn't make it completely clear that it is.) Finally, neither Hermogenes nor Ps.-Aristides seems uniquely interested in demonstrating the virtues of their "preferred author": to offer one small counter-argument among many, if this were the case, how would we reconcile Ps.-Aristides' supposed preference for Demosthenes in Peri Politikou Logou with his supposed preference for Xenophon in Peri Aphelous Logou? Who does he ultimately prefer? It seems more likely that these rhetoricians were simply interested in demonstrating the virtues of their rhetorical systems, and the more an acknowledged authority could substantiate that system the better. But more on this below. What matters now is that Rutherford could have argued a little more vigorously from the outset for taking these tracts together as a group, for he comes to argue later that they were influenced by phenomena practically exclusive to his title's "Antonine Age." Those phenomena will in turn be less exclusive if, say, Ps.-Aristides could be shown to have been written much later.

Rutherford might also have done a little more in analyzing the particular qualities of each tract. Peri Politikou Logou largely disappears from the book after the introductory remarks (even from chapter three, where Rutherford illuminates "The Origin of the Categories Πολιτικός and Πανηγυρικός"), and the best introduction in English to Peri Ideon remains Cecil Wooten's translation. Too much of that text's essence lies underneath the arguments for a beginner to get his own feel for it here. What gets the most direct attention is Ps.-Aristides' largely unknown Peri Aphelous Logou, and Rutherford is to be thanked for bringing so much of it to light. His appendixed translation of this second book of Ps.-Aristides' τέχνη (of which Peri Politikou Logou forms the first) is the only one I know of in English and it is excellent. As Rutherford states in an introductory footnote, the Greek is difficult and highly technical, but he has made it comprehensible. He has even had the courage to print question marks where the sense eludes him (which happens very rarely, though I wonder if the one at section 135 might be explained by sec. 112?), and he has raised several text-critical points in the footnotes that future editors of the text will have to take into account. My few complaints are these: I wish Rutherford had explained the rationale for his section headings, and I often wish he had printed in parentheses the interesting Greek for a term or expression put into English, as he does in a few of his headings. ἐπαλλαγαί, for instance, is paraphrased in sec. 23, ἐκ τόπων is "from details" at 69, and ἐκ τῶν βιβλίων is "in classical literature" at 78. These are good translations, I only wish the reader could see the Greek more often. And though Rutherford's "genus" and "species" are probably best for Ps.-Aristides' most interesting and recurrent ἐν γένει and κατ' εἶδος (e.g. 24, 58, 69), his unwillingness to translate some words puzzles me. Translating πάθος as "pathos" (78) is uncharacteristically unadventurous, and why not take τὸ ἐπισημαίνεσθαι as something like "predication," and περιβολή as "abundance?" These latter two words seem to haunt the entire book, in fact, in Greek alone. Why is Rutherford so shy with them?

The reason that these components of "idea-theory" end up getting less attention separately than they might deserve is that Rutherford's main intention is to subordinate such analysis to contextualization. As he says in his first sentence: "The subject of this study is the relationship between a literature and a stylistic theory" (p. 1), and for looking ahead to this task he is once again to be thanked.

I have already mentioned the problem of how these tracts relate among themselves. A more definitive date for Ps.-Aristides is a real desiderandum, and I suspect that more can be done with the themes shared by Ps.-Aristides and Hermogenes. In his comparisons in Appendix C of "ways of expressing emotion" and of the concepts of technique in Peri Aphelous Logou and in Peri Ideon, and in his arguments there that the latter depends on the former, Rutherford might not convince all his readers that the opposite may not be just as true, but he has opened up some new issues for debate here and he has brought to light along the way some material that will stimulate interest (I will return to the concept of technique below). Rutherford has, furthermore, a great deal to say about the relationship between Ps.-(?)Hermogenes' Peri Heureseos (see pp. 6-7) and Peri Ideon in Appendix A; all of this too is for me equally subject to refutation, but again Rutherford has introduced a wealth of interesting material in an original way (see further on ἀκμή below).

There is in fact so much detail on display in Rutherford's arguments for contextualization that his most exciting ideas might go unnoticed, but this is where he has made a significant contribution. Rutherford has taken up the "challenge," as he rightly puts it in his introduction (p. 4), to trace broader literary and rhetorical developments in these tracts. These developments seem to me to fall into two categories: stylistic models and the practice of declamation.

Though Rutherford acknowledges that the word κανών is not actually used in "idea-theory" to mean a model of style (p. 3), he is right to use the concept here, and he backs this up with much interesting material (n.b. especially the valuable discussion of reading lists on pp. 37-43). Imitation or emulation of a model was of course a central feature of ancient rhetoric, so much so that rhetorical guides often read like commentaries on a particular author (see pp. 18-21), and, as is well-known, for Greek declamation Demosthenes was the central paradigm for what Woolf's Greene calls "fine writing." For Hermogenes this is especially the case, and in Rutherford's discussion the sophist comes off as a hermeneutic hero, laboring for his god, even daring to question the prudish obelizers on the principle that Demosthenes could say whatever he wanted to say (pp. 83-7). But since we know that commentaries and essays on particular authors were written in abundance in antiquity (cf. Metrophanes on p. 72), I suspect that Hermogenes' attitude is more a confirmation of contemporary taste than covert polemics on behalf of the master, and that he simply wanted to sell his system. Rutherford is least convincing on this point when he compares Hermogenes' supposed snubbing of Plato to Galen's (p. 48; in this light later ages should be grateful that Galen considered Hippocrates "the true master"), or when he takes Hermogenes to say that inspiration from the Muses is a matter of "pretending" (p. 57) and "merely" a technique (p. 58). Though I sympathize with the suggestion, these words are simply not in Hermogenes' Greek (Peri Ideon 2.10/393.7). Rutherford has much of interest to say about "The Position of Poetry" in the Antonine age (chapter four), and he brings Aelius Aristides and Ps.-Lucian into the discussion in an illuminating way, but his Hermogenes may have too much to say. (The novel in general [cf. pastoral in Longus] and Apuleius in particular belong here too: the Metamorphoses appears figured as a ship absoluta strophis ancoralibus at Met. 11.16, and new research on Apuleius and poetry has appeared in Ellen Finkelpearl's The Metamorphosis of Language in Apuleius and in Hendrik Müller's Liebesbeziehungen in Ovids Metamorphosen und ihr Einfluss auf den Roman des Apuleius, brutalized in BMCR 99.5.2.) Rutherford also argues for a controversy over the status of another κανών of style, Xenophon (chapter five), and here again there is a great deal of interesting material, but at points I sense that it is being slightly forced into shape. The apparent craze for the plain style, after all, was probably influenced by wider cultural trends than scholarly debate over Xenophon: ἀφέλεια is practically Marcus Aurelius' watchword (cf. esp. Med. 1.7.5) and it dominates Aelius Aristides' self-representation in his hyper-plain and hyper-pious Hieroi Logoi.

The same goes for Rutherford's attempt to trace the influence of contemporary Greek declamation on idea-theory. At the level of small detail, he suggests that the terms ἀκμή, βαρύτης, and περιβολή each reflect some particular practice of contemporary sophists. His arguments for ἀκμή are probably the strongest (pp. 27-8 and 105-12), while those for περιβολή (p. 27) seem weak: even if the term actually reflects sophists' "costume[s]," it would have been helpful to have been given at least one example of such a "get-up." More research along these lines will be valuable. On a more general level, Rutherford discerns the influence of the sophistic preoccupation with "technique and its appearance" in Hermogenes (pp. 31-6). It may be that Antonine sophists like Aristides were extraordinarily concerned with showing off, but Rutherford needs more comparative evidence to establish this: were they really more showy than the first sophists, or even the elder Seneca's Romans? And might not rhetoric be defined as a matter of technique anyway? These questions point to two of the deepest folds tucked away in Rutherford's argumentation: his practically exclusive focus on only one literature of the period (though Quintilian briefly peeks in twice and Tacitus appears in an intriguing footnote at p. 104 n. 27), and his own definition of rhetoric. "Stylemes," "prosaics," and "strata" appear fleetingly passim, and Rutherford makes some brilliant suggestions on the nature of rhetoric and its development in general on pp. 112 and in Appendix B, and he even out-Hermogenizes Hermogenes (cf. p. 76 ad fin.) with a sensitive stylistic analysis of passages from Against Leptines on pp. 88-93. Rutherford has collected a wealth of material on the definition of technique in "idea-theory" (particularly in Appendix B), and I find his suggestion that Hermogenes "uses a philosophical veneer" persuasive (p. 16): might not the sophist's concept of μέθοδος owe something to science as well? But Rutherford could have gone a little further in probing Hermogenes' motives. I would like to have seen a little more of Philostratus' Hermogenes here, more of the man who, like Thomas Greene, needed "a pension," and who, like Greene, got one (VS 577). Rutherford is right to see the popularity of Against Leptines as a testimony to the importance of immunity to the sophists (pp. 94-5); is it possible that Peri Ideon owes its existence to the same? We know from Philostratus that Hermogenes had a brief career as a declaimer, but his manuals might have preserved his title as a sophist, and his claim to immunity.

I have noticed almost three dozen typos in this stimulating little book: the dust-jacket and the title page even offer slightly different sub-titles ("and" vs. "in"). These and several misplaced footnotes should be overlooked at a time when authors must produce digital copies of their manuscripts, but I expect more from the Press, especially for books that deserve the extra attention.

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