Persuasiveness- Plato, Pseudo-Xenophon, Herodotus

Whatever purpose for which one is writing, and for every text that has been produced, one aspect of the writing never changes, and that is the necessity to be persuaded. Whether it is in convincing the readers that your version of a history is more correct, or whether the philosophical argument that you are trying to put forward is the most believable or even if you want to demonstrate the shortcomings of the social experiment of democracy, each of these has a need to be persuasive. While the actual execution of the art of persuasion is different between Plato’s Crito, Herodotus 1 and Pseudo-Xenophon’s Athenaion Politeia, the features which are used to sway the audience one way or another are strangely similar. This is possibly because there was a certain formula in order to convince an audience, something that the audiences were expecting to hear about a story, or how it is delivered in order to let themselves be persuaded by what was being told to them.

One way on which these texts are made persuasive by the writers is through the personal approach to the purpose of the text itself. This would have made whatever the writers had to tell more persuasive because they believed in something strongly enough to try to communicate their beliefs not only through oral methods, but by writing it down. In a society with such a strong oral culture which had lasted for hundreds of years, the act of writing a piece of literature may have given it greater credence. This is especially true when considering the Hippolytus play by Euripides: the incriminating wax tablet which Phaedra writes upon before her suicide is enough to incriminate Hippolytus enough for exile. By extension, it is reasonable to believe that this was a common practice or belief, not only in law courts but in the general public. A personal approach to the argument is one which is present in all three of the texts. The Histories begins with the words “these are the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, which he publishes”, while written in the third person, it can be interpreted as a sort of false humility. This is because without being able to put a name to a work, it would have surely disappeared and been forgotten by the populace. Nonetheless, by putting this claim straight at the beginning of the book, it is quite effectively persuasive because whatever is written after that is immediately associated with the purpose that the author had in mind, that is “preserving from decay” the deeds of men. By facilitating the ties between the two, Herodotus has rendered his writing persuasive because it is impossible to forget what he has mentioned at the beginning of this book and therefore anything written is assumed to be the truth that is needed to be preserved. The personal touch can also be seen at the start again in the Athenaion Politeia  who says that “I praise [democracy] not.. I repeat, I withhold my praise” which has a similar effect as in the Histories. However, it is possibly more effective in this text because by being so clear from the offset in his stance, it makes it much easier to understand later arguments which may be considered more unclear as when he says that “festivals are twice as numerous”. This out of context may seem like a compliment but when remembering the initial words, it becomes clear that it is not. By making an argument easier to understand, it becomes more persuasive immediately because it appeals to a greater audience.

Another way in which these texts are made persuasive is through the reference to other genres and styles of writing within the text itself. By doing this, the writers are able to play to what the audience may be familiar with, which would render the writing much more convincing because the audience would have been able to associate a certain section of the text with another and would then expect the ending of that particular story to be similar or the same as something they had heard before. This is very clear in both the Crito and the Athenaion Politeia because of their similarities to law court speeches, while still keeping the essence of philosophical dialogue and opinionated history alive in the text. In the Crito it is very clear that when the laws are “speaking” that they are presenting less of a philosophical argument, but more of a legal one. Crito and Socrates themselves also keep referring to breaking and following the laws that have been set up in the city of Athens. However, the more telling part is when giving Socrates the alternative to accepting the laws of the state and that is exile, they mention how Socrates ” ὑπερχόμενος  δὴ  βιώσῃ  πάντας  ἀνθρώπους  καὶ  δουλεύων“. The idea is so ridiculous, a reductio ad absurdum, which is a common technique in Greek law court speeches, that it helps to persuade the audience of the argument because not only a law speech more serious and official, but that everyone would realise that Socrates would never lower himself to such standards, especially considering what he demanded his ‘punishment’ to be during his trial. This approach is similar to Lysias 1, in which Eratosthenes demonstrates how thieves “would claim to be adulterers” if he is not cleared of murdering his wife’s lover. The Old Oligarch has a different approach to the law court speech, his is more a full on, unrelenting attack on democracy, which is understandable as in the Crito it is more of a private law speech, rather than a crime against the state. He uses broader brushstrokes in his law oratory claiming poverty as “acting as a stronger incentive to base conduct” and how the allies of Athens are “more and more in the position of slaves”. This is persuasive on a different level because rather than a subtle implication by the proposition of alternatives, Pseudo-Xenophon manages to persuade the audience by his conviction and his bold position against the most powerful state of the time. In Herodotus, during the narration of the episode of Croesus and Atys, he displays tragedic elements such as the attempt to stop fate from occurring by “ἀκόντια  δὲ καὶ δοράτια καὶ τά τοιαῦτα πάντα τοῖσι  χρέωνται ἐςπόλεμον  ἄνθρωποιἐκ τῶν ἀνδρεώνων ἐκκομίσας ἐς τοὺς θαλάμους συνένησεμή τί οἱκρεμάμενον  τῷ  παιδὶ ἐμπέσῃ“. This is persuasive as people realised that history has a pattern and precedent was important, which meant they could predict how the story would end, and when this proved to be the case, it would have been clear to them that some things do not change, such as trying to flee from fate. Association to other genres is present in Lysias 1 because the presentation of Eratosthenes as a chump and his wife as being cleverly deceitful is typical of comedy. This may make his story because it has the ring of the familiar, and in a society in which the status quo was preferred, it is possible that his innocence may have been more likely because of the precedent  that has been set in past theatre productions.

A further way in which these texts try to be persuasive is through by presenting arguments through the mouths of others or by distancing oneself from the interpretation that has been written down. In the Athenaion Politeia, it occurs, which is quite strange as one would think that on such a seemingly personal attack, the Old Oligarch would not bring into account the opinions  of others. However, he mentions that the bolstering of the many “is something that the is sometimes felt that the Athenians are ill-advised” and that “other objections are brought against the Athenians by certain people”. This is a very impersonal and distant commentary in a very one minded, really makes the argument that Athenian democracy is a negative force more persuasive  because it demonstrates to the people that there are others, and possibly more who think the same way. Herodotus uses exactly the same technique throughout the first book of the Histories. At the very beginning he writes how “According to the Persians… the Phoenicians started the war” and later on that the “Lydians say that Croesus…”, which very clearly demonstrate that he is employing the opinions and stories of other sources in order to add to his own narrative of the history. This would be considered very persuasive because in other parts, he tells the story as if knows it in first person, which after a while becomes hard to suspend belief that he was there all this time. This is clear when he writes ” ὣς δὲ τὰ κατὰ τὸν  Τέλλον προετρέψατο  Σόλων τὸν Κροῖσον εἴπας πολλά τε καὶ ὀλβία” after putting the story in Solon’s mouth and recounting it to Croesus. This seems to suggest a personal

Overall, it is clear that all these texts have had to persuade huge audiences, both when they were written and in the modern day. The similarities between the techniques that were used in these texts which were written for different purposes, across a huge period of history and by very diverse writers, are quite strange which would imply that there were certain criteria that a writer had to approach in order to persuade his audience that his particular version of events was more credible and more accurate than others. The use of the personal and the impersonal arguing of the facts is very clever because by doing so, not only captivates the audience through the sheer power of conviction of the writer but highlights at the same time some different, possibly weaker arguments that nevertheless bolster the overall argument. It is impossible to know if these are the masqueraded opinions of the writer, but that is almost irrelevant when considering their effectiveness. Furthermore, the playing with other genres helps to convince the audience because by reminding them of the canonical and popular parts of other types of writing, it means that they expect a certain outcome, which when it arrives, satisfies the audience.

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