I can see you yawning from here. Well, just hold your horses! John F. Dobson has done a fine job of making a boring subject fascinating in The Greek Orators.
I had no intention of putting this online, when I snatched it up in a bookstore in Eugene, Oregon. I saw that it had a few extracts of original speeches and thought those might come in handy some day and so I bought it. Behold! I got sucked right in after I started typing the first chapter out of boredom, being sick of proofreading.
Dobson has taken the ideal approach. He gives details and interesting biographies of the famous orators, then discusses their purpose and intent. Then he adds excellent translations of pertinent samples of their speeches that prove without a doubt why they were, and still are, famed for their abilities. There is some more technical discussion about the structure of the speakers’ different styles, in light of why it made their work so effective. It does not grow too wearisome, and there are probably some valuable hints to anyone wishing to improve their own skills on paper and aloud.
Having, like most, a bare idea that Demosthenes was a famous speaker, after he quit practicing with pebbles in his mouth, it was enlightening to read more about him and his work, along with the truth about his training. His arch-opponent throughout his political career was Aeschines, who also has a chapter devoted to him and his work. Surprisingly, I liked Aeschines even better. He had more to overcome to attain his high position in Athenian society and politics. He was an ex-actor born of poor parents. Shades of Ronald Reagan!
Anyway, besides these two, there are others worth reading about here. Truly, you will read some moving pleas, as well as other powerful and convincing arguments (whether true or not). It is now easy to imagine how persuasive these men were. Professor Dobson has made these men come alive. Ancient Greece, at its acme, is also personified and easily visualized by the life and work of these men. This picture is painted by a modern master throughout these pages.
Oratory, or rhetoric, has a justifiably important role and you can certainly see why in this book. There is also the typical trash talk about their opponents by some of them. So here you have the Classical roots of mudslinging, another gift of antiquity. Others rose above this, though, and long-lived Isocrates is still admirable in his life, philosophy, and his goals for a better, united Greece.
This is a book for the general reader, curious about some people who have gained perpetual fame in an obscure arena. However, there is matter for the serious student. Few others have Dobson’s skill, in making the whole subject such pleasant reading. He learned his lessons from his work and has achieved painless, profitable enlightenment.
About the online transcription, the Divine Thayer, my pal, has proofed the short bits of Greek text (scanty as it is and easily passed over without jeopardizing your understanding). Bill has also provided links to those texts he has on his site that Dobson cites.
There were a few typos, some significant, in both the Greek and the English, all have been emended with the places noted in the source code. The index had more typos, and some serious ones, and these, too, have been fixed.
If I haven’t convinced you to try this book, it means that I did not learn enough from it! If I did, you won’t be sorry. Let me know if you agree with me, please.
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