Logos in Greek culture is language that stakes a claim on the attention of its addressee. It therefore implies a question as to the authority of the utterer. This article investigates how the basis of that authority was distributed between utterer, audience, and the sense that the utterance makes, as well as how that distribution changed over time.
The basic development from archaic to classical culture in the sphere of logos is this: whereas in archaic culture the speaking-position and the position of authority are united in the same person or group, in classical culture they become separated. This occurs in the context both of the lawcourts and of political assemblies. The judging, articulate, authoritative kings and elders of Homer and Hesiod are replaced in court by the silent Athenian jury and in the Assembly by a popular audience, who are spectators of others’ speeches. When authority rests with the judges or voters, but these constitute the audience rather than the speakers, speaking becomes the principal means by which the ambitious could obtain authority for themselves — in effect, taking it over from those in whom it ultimately resided. Skillful public speaking was no longer primarily a professional calling with a special group definition and social place (e.g. that of poetry), but the all-purpose tool by which a man could make something of himself in society.
A man's logos had become, quite generally, his virtue; nevertheless, logos had maintained its traditional affiliation with deception. Paradoxically, the practice by which a man gained virtue and status in the eyes of its arbiters came itself to seem dangerously amoral, as shown both by hostile witnesses such as Aristophanes and Plato, and the efforts of friendly reformers such as Isocrates.
The article concludes by extending this pattern to two further contexts: resistance to the new technology of writing, which was seen as embodying the disconnection of logos from authority; and the attempt made by philosophers to transcend the pattern by becoming their own judges, thereby occupying the position both of speaker and of audience.