Department Colloquium: Johanna Hanink (Brown)

Thursday, January 30, 2020 - 4:30pm

Cohen Hall, Room 402


Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the Athenian funeral orations


Dionysius of Halicarnassus is the only ancient author who comments upon both the Athenian institution of the public funeral and upon specific orations allegedly composed for those occasions. In Roman Antiquities, he expresses moral discomfort with the Athenian public funerals and with the imperial policies that the epitaphioi logoi implicitly celebrated. In his rhetorical works, he condemns aesthetic flaws in three such speeches: the Periclean funeral oration preserved by Thucydides, Socrates’ speech in Plato’s Menexenus, and the funeral oration transmitted under the name of Demosthenes.

An unusual conflation of ethical, stylistic and historical judgments seems to inform Dionysius’ view of the funeral orations, and this mixture of critical criteria sheds light on both Dionysius’ own classicism and the possibilities of ancient classicisms more generally. What is more, by situating Dionysius’ criticism of Athenian funeral orations within his broader intellectualprogram, we can better understand why he would have dismissed the funeral oration attributed to Demosthenes (Dem. 30) as inauthentic—and why his influential judgment on that score is not entirely credible.