1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lysias

LYSIAS, Attic orator, was born, according to Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the author of the life ascribed to Plutarch, in 459 B.C. This date was evidently obtained by reckoning back from the foundation of Thurii (444 B.C.), since there was a tradition that Lysias had gone thither at the age of fifteen. Modern critics would place his birth later,—between 444 and 436 B.C.,—because, in Plato’s Republic, of which the scene is laid about 430 B.C., Cephalus, the father of Lysias, is among the dramatis personae, and the emigration of Lysias to Thurii was said to have followed his father’s death. The latter statement, however, rests only on the Plutarchic life; nor can Plato’s dialogue be safely urged as a minutely accurate authority. The higher date assigned by the ancient writers agrees better with the tradition that Lysias reached, or passed, the age of eighty.[1] Cephalus, his father, was a native of Syracuse, and on the invitation of Pericles had settled at Athens. The opening scene of Plato’s Republic is laid at the house of his eldest son, Polemarchus, in Peiraeus. The tone of the picture warrants the inference that the Sicilian family were well known to Plato, and that their houses must often have been hospitable to such gatherings.

At Thurii, the colony newly planted on the Tarentine Gulf (see Pericles), the boy may have seen Herodotus, now a man in middle life, and a friendship may have grown up between them. There, too, Lysias is said to have commenced his studies in rhetoric—doubtless under a master of the Sicilian school—possibly, as tradition said, under Tisias, the pupil of Corax, whose name is associated with the first attempt to formulate rhetoric as an art. In 413 B.C. the Athenian armament in Sicily was annihilated. The desire to link famous names is illustrated by the ancient ascription to Lysias of a rhetorical exercise purporting to be a speech in which the captive general Nicias appealed for mercy to the Sicilians. The terrible blow to Athens quickened the energies of an anti-Athenian faction at Thurii. Lysias and his elder brother Polemarchus, with three hundred other persons, were “accused of Atticizing.” They were driven from Thurii and settled at Athens (412 B.C.).

Lysias and Polemarchus were rich men, having inherited property from their father; and Lysias claims that, though merely resident aliens, they discharged public services with a liberality which shamed many of those who enjoyed the franchise (In Eratosth. 20). The fact that they owned house property shows that they were classed as ἰσοτελεῖς, i.e. foreigners who paid only the same tax as citizens, being exempt from the special tax (μετοίκιον) on resident aliens. Polemarchus occupied a house in Athens itself, Lysias another in the Peiraeus, near which was their shield manufactory, employing a hundred and twenty skilled slaves. In 404 the Thirty Tyrants were established at Athens under the protection of a Spartan garrison. One of their earliest measures was an attack upon the resident aliens, who were represented as disaffected to the new government. Lysias and Polemarchus were on a list of ten singled out to be the first victims. Polemarchus was arrested, and compelled to drink hemlock. Lysias had a narrow escape, with the help of a large bribe. He slipped by a back-door out of the house in which he was a prisoner, and took boat to Megara. It appears that he had rendered valuable services to the exiles during the reign of the tyrants, and in 403 Thrasybulus proposed that these services should be recognized by the bestowal of the citizenship. The Boulē, however, had not yet been reconstituted, and hence the measure could not be introduced to the ecclesia by the requisite “preliminary resolution” (προβούλευμα). On this ground it was successfully opposed.

During his later years Lysias—now probably a comparatively poor man owing to the rapacity of the tyrants and his own generosity to the Athenian exiles—appears as a hardworking member of a new profession—that of writing speeches to be delivered in the law-courts. The thirty-four extant are but a small fraction. From 403 to about 380 B.C. his industry must have been incessant. The notices of his personal life in these years are scanty. In 403 he came forward as the accuser of Eratosthenes, one of the Thirty Tyrants. This was his only direct contact with Athenian politics. The story that he wrote a defence for Socrates, which the latter declined to use, probably arose from a confusion. Several years after the death of Socrates the sophist Polycrates composed a declamation against him, to which Lysias replied. A more authentic tradition represents Lysias as having spoken his own Olympiacus at the Olympic festival of 388 B.C., to which Dionysius I. of Syracuse had sent a magnificent embassy. Tents embroidered with gold were pitched within the sacred enclosure; and the wealth of Dionysius was vividly shown by the number of chariots which he had entered. Lysias lifted up his voice to denounce Dionysius as, next to Artaxerxes, the worst enemy of Hellas, and to impress upon the assembled Greeks that one of their foremost duties was to deliver Sicily from a hateful oppression. The latest work of Lysias which we can date (a fragment of a speech For Pherenicus) belongs to 381 or 380 B.C. He probably died in or soon after 380 B.C.

Lysias was a man of kindly and genial nature, warm in friendship, loyal to country, with a keen perception of character. and a fine though strictly controlled sense of humour. The literary tact which is so remarkable in the extant speeches is that of a singularly flexible intelligence, always obedient to an instinct of gracefulness. He owes his distinctive place to the power of concealing his art. It was obviously desirable that a speech written for delivery by a client should be suitable to his age, station and circumstances. Lysias was the first to make this adaptation really artistic. His skill can be best appreciated if we turn from the easy flow of his graceful language to the majestic emphasis of Antiphon, or to the self-revealing art of Isaeus. Translated into terms of ancient criticism, he became the model of the “plain style” (ἰοχνὸς χαρακτήρ, ἰοχνὴ, λιτὴ, ἀφελὴς λέξις: genus tenue or subtile). Greek and then Roman critics distinguished three styles of rhetorical composition—the “grand” (or “elaborate”), the “plain” and the “middle,” the “plain” being nearest to the language of daily life. Greek rhetoric began in the “grand” style; then Lysias set an exquisite pattern of the “plain”; and Demosthenes might be considered as having effected an almost ideal compromise.

The vocabulary of Lysias is pure and simple. Most of the rhetorical “figures” are sparingly used—except such as consist in the parallelism or opposition of clauses. The taste of the day—not yet emancipated from the influence of the Sicilian rhetoric—probably demanded a large use of antithesis. Lysias excels in vivid description; he has also a happy knack of marking the speaker’s character by light touches. The structure of his sentences varies a good deal according to the dignity of the subject. He has equal command over the “periodic” style (κατεστραμμένη λέξις) and the non-periodic or “continuous” (εἰρομένη, διαλελυμένη). His disposition of his subject-matter is always simple. The speech has usually four parts—introduction (προοίμιον), narrative of facts (διήγησις), proofs (πίστεις), which may be either external, as from witnesses, or internal, derived from argument on the facts, and, lastly, conclusion (ἐπίλογος). It is in the introduction and the narrative that Lysias is seen at his best. In his greatest extant speech—that Against Eratosthenes—and also in the fragmentary Olympiacus, he has pathos and fire; but these were not characteristic qualities of his work. In Cicero’s judgment (De Orat. iii. 7, 28) Demosthenes was peculiarly distinguished by force (vis), Aeschines by resonance (sonitus), Hypereides by acuteness (acumen), Isocrates by sweetness (suavitas); the distinction which he assigns to Lysias is subtilitas, an Attic refinement—which, as he elsewhere says (Brutus, 16, 64) is often joined to an admirable vigour (lacerti). Nor was it oratory alone to which Lysias rendered service; his work had an important effect on all subsequent Greek prose, by showing how perfect elegance could be joined to plainness. Here, in his artistic use of familiar idiom, he might fairly be called the Euripides of Attic prose. And his style has an additional charm for modern readers, because it is employed in describing scenes from the everyday life of Athens.[2]

Thirty-four speeches (three fragmentary) have come down under the name of Lysias; one hundred and twenty-seven more, now lost, are known from smaller fragments or from titles. In the Augustan age four hundred and twenty-five works bore his name, of which more than two hundred were allowed as genuine by the critics. Our thirty-four works may be classified as follows:—

A. Epideictic.—1. Olympiacus, xxxiii. 388 B.C.; 2. Epitaphius, ii. (purporting to have been spoken during the Corinthian War; certainly spurious), perhaps composed about 380–340 B.C. (“soon after 387,” Blass).

B. Deliberative.—Plea for the Constitution, xxxiv., 403 B.C.

C. Forensic, in Public Causes.—I. Relating to Offences directly against the State (γραφαὶ δημοσίων ἀδικημάτων); such as treason, malversation in office, embezzlement of public moneys. 1. For Polystratus, xx., 407 B.C.; 2. Defence on a Charge of Taking Bribes, xxi., 402 B.C.; 3. Against Ergocles, xxviii., 389 B.C.; 4. Against Epicrates, xxvii., 389 B.C.; 5. Against Nicomachus, xxx., 399 B.C.; 6. Against the Corndealers, xxii., 386 B.C. (?) II. Cause relating to Unconstitutional Procedure (γραφὴ αρανόμων). On the Property of the Brother of Nicias, xviii., 395 B.C. III. Causes relating to Claims for Money withheld from the State (ἀπογραφαί). 1. For the Soldier, ix. (probably not by Lysias, but by an imitator, writing for a real cause), 394 B.C. (?); 2. On the Property of Aristophanes, xix., 387 B.C.; 3. Against Philocrates, xxix., 389 B.C. IV. Causes relating to a Scrutiny (δοκιμασία); especially the Scrutiny, by the Senate, of Officials Designate. 1. Against Evandrus, xxvi., 382 B.C.; 2. For Mantitheus, xvi., 392 B.C.; 3. Against Philon, xxxi., between 404 and 395 B.C.; 4. Defence on a Charge of Seeking to Abolish the Democracy, xxv., 401 B.C.; 5. For the Invalid, xxiv., 402 B.C. (?) V. Causes relating to Military Offences (γραφαὶ λιποταξίου, ἀστρατείας). 1. Against Alcibiades, I. and II. (xiv., xv.), 395 B.C. VI. Causes relating to Murder or Intent to Murder (γραφαὶ φόνου, τραύματος ἐκ προνοίας). 1. Against Eratosthenes, xii., 403 B.C.; 2. Against Agoratus, xiii., 399 B.C.; 3. On the Murder of Eratosthenes, i. (date uncertain); 4. Against Simon, iii., 393 B.C.; 5. On Wounding with Intent, iv. (date uncertain). VII. Causes relating to Impiety (γραφαὶ ἀσεβείας). 1. Against Andocides, vi. (certainly spurious, but perhaps contemporary); 2. For Callias, v. (date uncertain); 3. On the Sacred Olive, vii., not before 395 B.C.

D. Forensic, in Private Causes.—I. Action for Libel (δίκη κακηγορίας). Against Theomnestus, x., 384–383 B.C. (the so-called second speech, xi., is merely an epitome of the first). II. Action by a Ward against a Guardian (δίκη ἐπιτροπῆς). Against Diogeiton, xxxii., 400 B.C. III. Trial of a Claim to Property (διαδικασία). On the property of Eraton, xvii., 397 B.C. IV. Answer to a Special Plea (πρὸς παραγραφήν). Against Pancleon, xxiii. (date uncertain).

E. Miscellaneous.—1. To his Companions, a Complaint of Slanders, viii. (certainly spurious); 2. The ἐρωτικός in Plato’s Phaedrus, pp. 230 E–234. This has generally been regarded as Plato’s own work; but the certainty of this conclusion will be doubted by those who observe (1) the elaborate preparations made in the dialogue for a recital of the ἐρωτικός which shall be verbally exact, and (2) the closeness of the criticism made upon it. If the satirist were merely analysing his own composition, such criticism would have little point. Lysias is the earliest writer who is known to have composed ἐρωτικόί; it is as representing both rhetoric and a false ἔρως that he is the object of attack in the Phaedrus.

F. Fragments.—Three hundred and fifty-five of these are collected by Sauppe, Oratores Attici, ii. 170–216. Two hundred and fifty-two of them represent one hundred and twenty-seven speeches of known title; and of six the fragments are comparatively large. Of these, the fragmentary speech For Pherenicus belongs to 381 or 380 B.C., and is thus the latest known work of Lysias.[3]

In literary and historical interest, the first place among the extant speeches of Lysias belongs to that Against Eratosthenes (403 B.C.), one of the Thirty Tyrants, whom Lysias arraigns as the murderer of his brother Polemarchus. The speech is an eloquent and vivid picture of the reign of terror which the Thirty established at Athens; the concluding appeal, to both parties among the citizens, is specially powerful. Next in importance is the speech Against Agoratus (399 B.C.), one of our chief authorities for the internal history of Athens during the months which immediately followed the defeat at Aegospotami. The Olympiacus (388 B.C.) is a brilliant fragment, expressing the spirit of the festival at Olympia, and exhorting Greeks to unite against their common foes. The Plea for the Constitution (403 B.C.) is interesting for the manner in which it argues that the wellbeing of Athens—now stripped of empire—is bound up with the maintenance of democratic principles. The speech For Mantitheus (392 B.C.) is a graceful and animated portrait of a young Athenian ἱππεύς, making a spirited defence of his honour against the charge of disloyalty. The defence For the Invalid is a humorous character-sketch. The speech Against Pancleon illustrates the intimate relations between Athens and Plataea, while it gives us some picturesque glimpses of Athenian town life. The defence of the person who had been charged with destroying a moria, or sacred olive, places us amidst the country life of Attica. And the speech Against Theomnestus deserves attention for its curious evidence of the way in which the ordinary vocabulary of Athens had changed between 600 and 400 B.C.

All MSS. of Lysias yet collated have been derived, as H. Sauppe first showed, from the Codex Palatinus X. (Heidelberg). The next most valuable MS. is the Laurentianus C (15th century), which I. Bekker chiefly followed. Speaking generally, we may say that these two MSS. are the only two which carry much weight where the text is seriously corrupt. In Oratt. i.-ix. Bekker occasionally consulted eleven other MSS., most of which contain only the above nine speeches: viz., Marciani F, G, I, K (Venice); Laurentiani D, E (Florence); Vaticani M, N; Parisini U, V; Urbinas O.

Bibliography.—Editio princeps, Aldus (Venice, 1513); by I. Bekker (1823) and W. S. Dobson (1828) in Oratores Attici; C. Scheibe (1852) and T. Thalheim (1901, Teubner series, with bibliography); C. G. Cobet (4th ed., by J. J. Hartman, 1905); with variorum notes, by J. J. Reiske (1772). Editions of select speeches by J. H. Bremi (1845); R. Rauchenstein (1848, revised by C. Fuhr, 1880–1881); H. Frohberger (1866–1871); H. van Herwerden (1863); A. Weidner (1888); E. S. Shuckburgh (1882); A. Westermann and W. Binder (1887–1890); G. P. Bristol (1892), M. H. Morgan (1895), C. D. Adams (1905), all three published in America. There is a special lexicon to Lysias by D. H. Holmes (Bonn, 1895). See also Jebb’s Attic Orators (1893) and Selections from the Attic Orators (2nd ed., 1888) and F. Blass, Die Attische Beredsamkeit (2nd ed., 1887–1898); W. L. Devries, Ethopoiia. A rhetorical study of the types of character in the orations of Lysias (Baltimore, 1892).  (R. C. J.; X.) 

  1. [W. Christ, Gesch. der griech. Litt., gives the date of birth as about 450.]
  2. See further Jebb, The Attic Orators from Antiphon to Isaeus, i. 142–316.
  3. [Some remains of the speech against Theozotides have been found in the Hibeh papyri; see W. H. D. Rouse’s The Year’s Work in Classical Studies (1907)].