Dionysius of Halicarnassus was a Greek
historian and teacher of rhetoric, who flourished during the reign of Caesar Augustus. His literary style followed the classical
Attic Greek in its prime.
His writings showed a definite intention to reconcile
the Greeks to the rule of Rome, adducing that the Romans were genuine
descendants of the older Greeks. According to him, history is philosophy
teaching by examples, and this idea he has carried out from the point of view
of the Greek rhetorician.
Being a master of rhetoric, grammar, and
history, he wrote not only tracts in each of these fields, but acute literary
criticism. His essays have been collected in a book collectively called Critical Essays; a book in which one can
find not only semblances of ancient
orators, but careful analysis of their writings and speeches—Demosthenes and
Thucydides are his most felicitous critical essays.
His essay on Thucydides is a courageous and yet scathing attempt to cut
down to size the exaggerated adulation that had been heaped over the years to
Thucydides’ book The History of the
Peloponnesian War. Although he attempts to be fair and balanced in his
assessment of Thucydides’ virtues as a writer, the overall tenor of the essay
cannot conceal Dionysius’ dislike for his famous subject—both as a historian
and writer; perhaps even as a person.
Dionysius wrote a treatise On
Imitation —of authors deserving of emulation— but the best example of
learning by imitating is by reading his essay of Thucydides, by absorbing his
literary principles, and then by applying them to one’s own writing.