The speeches of the renowned orator, Lysias, (c. 459-380 BCE) are key windows into the past for uncovering facts of social, economic and political concern. Lysias’ speeches cover a wide range of topics; from private suits of injustices to matters of public concern. The speech, Against Eratosthenes (403 BCE) has been regarded as one of his most extensive and powerful cases and is fundamental in providing us with inordinate insights into the period of the Thirty Tyrants to the Athenian amnesty. Within this speech, Lysias references a variety of historical figures and characters while giving his account. Indeed, it is clear, as it will be proven, that to a great extent the interplay of these characters is essential in uncovering more information of the political affairs, historical condition and everyday life concerning this period.
Against Eratosthenes, supposed to be derived in the latter part of 403 BCE , concerns the subject matter of Lysias brings a case to the Athenian courts in order to prosecute Eratosthenes, a moderate member of the Thirty for the murder of his brother Polemarchos. The speech can be divided into 4 main parts; (1) the proem, (2) the narrative; where he outlines his case, (3) the proofs; based on the killing of Polemarchos; based on the character of Eratosthenes; based on the character of Theramenus and (4) the epilogue . However, in order to thoroughly examine the extent that the reference to characters plays in providing information, it is necessary to examine the historical conditions which Lysias was writing about. Succinctly, this was as follows.
Following the Athenian loss to Sparta in the Peloponnesian war in 404 BC and surrender to Lysander, a tyranny of Thirty pro Spartan Oligarchs was established. During their rule, the Thirty aimed to draft a new oligarchic code of laws and a strict interim government. In order to sustain their rule, the government was regulated through their council of 500 to serve the judicial functions formerly belonging to all the citizens. Further, the Thirty’s government led to the destruction of Athens’ long walls and the looting of private property for funds. This was mostly done to the wealthy Metic class. It also saw the closure of the parliament or boule and the law courts; and the exile and murder of democratic citizens. A Spartan garrison was introduced in the Acropolis to be marinated by the funds of the city. Although, however, not all Athenian men had their rights removed. Rather, the Thirty chose 3,000 Athenian men to help in government duties . During this time Lysias’ brother Polymarchus was killed by Eratosthenes.
The Thirty were in government for approximately eight months before their defeat by a revolt led by exiled democrats under Thrasybulus in 403 BCE. The speech was believed to have been delivered in the latter part of 403 BCE, sometime following the restoration of democracy, during the period known as the Amnesty of 403 , where democracy was being restored, primarily under the influence of Eucleides. During this time The Thirty were not included in the Amnesty unless they passed a hearing to review their conduct in office. All Athenians swore an oath of reconciliation, which as references in the Andocides 1 On the Mysteries mentioned “I will not bear malice for past wrongs against any citizen except the Thirty and the Eleven, nor against any of those who are willing to give an account of his conduct”, conduct in the office he held”; The notion of ‘forgive and forget ‘was established.
Thus, at this time, Lysias was keen to bring a case against one of the original Thirty Eratosthenes, to seek justice for all the injustices that had occurred during the tyranny to the citizens and the state, including the murder of his brother. Though, at this time the amnesty judicial examinations were also occurring . This meant that the burden of proof on trial was on the defendant (Lysias) to explain their motives of enmity towards the city rather than the accuser explaining why they have involved the defendant in the lawsuit. Hence, the model of the case gives us insight into the structure, roles, and function of the courts at the time of the Amnesty. Through the reference of the characters mentioned, we can gain further insight into this time.
One of the first characters mentioned which give us an insight into the political affairs, the historical conditions and the everyday life aspects of the period is in Chapter 4, Lysias’ father, Cephalus . In this chapter, he reveals how his family, metics; wealthy foreigners dwelling in a city-state without full citizen rights , were invited to Athens by Pericles and dwelled as prudent democratic citizens. Hence, he gives us insight into the historical condition by touching on the status of the metics; i.e. prudent and respected people. Further, as in this chapter Lysias juxtaposes his family’s prudence to the irreverence of the Thirty, we can understand the disdain that would have been felt by most of the Athenian Jury towards them and the importance placed on the virtue of civic duties as explained by his family.
The next character who is mentioned by Lysias is his brother, Polemarchos, whose death is described in an effort to accentuate the malice of the Thirty. Through his reference, we are given insight into the political affairs of the Thirty and their aims; e.g. to loot and seize property due to their sycophancy. Though contextually, this was done in order to help secure their place in governance as they needed funding. This was because of the resistance at Phyle in early 403 BCE meant the end of their reign was imminent . For example, this is evident in the line in Chapter 7 ‘They had no difficulty in persuading their hearers, for those men thought nothing of putting people to death, but a great deal of getting money”. Here, Lysias further elucidates our contextual assumption that the money was primarily to hold their place in governance as he suggests their sycophancy as being a root cause. Hence this builds our knowledge of the political affairs of the Thirty. This revelation is further augmented upon by Professor LeCaire in the paper Tyranny and terror: the failure of Athenian democracy and the reign of the Thirty Tyrants ,. In this, LeCaire claims that their desire to act out violently against metics ‘out of their cruel, cunning and Machiavellian character”. This is further corroborated in Aristotle’s ‘Constitution of Athens’ s 35 , as it outlines that the Thirty, ‘put to death any persons who were eminent for wealth or birth or character.’ Hence, this supports how the reference of characters is indispensable in being able to corroborate and uncover insight into political affairs.
Furthermore, during this section of the speech, Lysias also mention two of the moderate Tyrants; Theogonis and Peison who were involved in his brother’s death. Despite them being moderate, Lysias colours them as malicious sycophants. For example, in Chapter 6 he reveals ‘therefore they had an excellent pretext for appearing to punish while in reality making money; in any case, the State was impoverished, and the government needed funds”. Through this odd remark, Lysias suggests the maliciousness within their aims as to further amplify this point of the evil within the whole Thirty and urges the judges to condemn. (This is a very crucial point that is elucidated during the proof against the character of Tharamenus). Hence, within this revelation through the characters of Theogonis and Peison, we are given insight into the political actions of even the moderate Tyrants and the heated historical condition that Lysias was in currently; that is the impact and the perceived unjustness they served.
Further, Lysias comments on Peison’s dishonesty. As a character in Chapter 10, e.g. after agreeing to save him for a price, Peison instead loots Lysias’ goods. For example, “on seeing its contents, he called two of his underlings and bade them take what was in the chest”. Thus, through Lysias’ abhorrence to the dishonesty and abruptness of Peison’s action, this also gives us historical insight into the importance of values such as honesty and loyalty at the period of delivery.
In addition, through the role of the character of Polemarchuo, we are also exposed to essential details of everyday life in this period. For instance, the working places of metics. This is seen in Chapter 8 where Lysias mentions how his family owned a shields factory and were wealthy as a result of this.
The next character mentioned is Damnippus, who was a friend of the Thirty but also an acquaintance of Lysias. Thus, his reference proves us with awareness into the relations between classes. In Chapter 14 it is mentioned that it was, in fact, Damnippus’ where Lysias was able to escape to. For example, Lysias quotes ‘You are in friendly relations with me, and I have come into your house; I have done no wrong, but am being destroyed for the sake of my money. This being my plight, exert your own utmost efforts for my salvation.”. This perplexing statement by Lysias is vital in providing historical information on the every-day relationship between citizens, especially the metic class within the period of the Oligarchy.
Through the interplay of the mentioned characters more light is shed on aspects of everyday life within this period: particularly burial rites. In Chapter 18, Lysias explodes with loath to the irreverent manner that the Thirty did not permit his brother to have a proper funeral. For example, he says that ‘aand when he was being brought away dead from the prison, although we had three houses amongst us, they did not permit his funeral to be conducted from any of them, but they hired a small hut in which to lay him out”. Thus through this revelation, he further enhances the Thirty’s brutality and irreverence while stressing the importance of burial rite. This importance has been often seen throughout literature, for example, the incorrect delivery of burial rites is the central conflict within Sophocles play “Antigone” (442 BC)**. Moreover, this is corroborated in an article entitled ‘Death, Burial, and the Afterlife in Ancient Greece” published in 2003 by the Department of Greek and Roman Art, MET, New York, which highlights the importance of burial rites in Ancient Greece. For example it quotes Homer’s Iliad ‘ the omission of burial rites is an insult to human dignity”‘ . This emphasises the imperative role they played in their cultural and spiritual life. Thus, this highlights how the interplay of characters was essential in offering us further knowledge of the importance of social and cultural traditions of everyday life.
Further to this, in this section, Lysias is also able to give us further awareness of the wealth of metics. For example, he uses antithesis in the line ‘We had plenty of cloaks, yet they refused our request of one for the funeral; but our friends gave either a cloak, or a pillow, or whatever each had to spare, for his interment”. Here Lysias contrasts his wealth and ability to provide funeral rites with the malice of the Thirty and consequently provides us knowledge into the metic’s wealth and status.
Through the section of the proofs, Lysias proceeds to give insight into aspects of his time period through his political and historical analysis of other characters. This is mainly seen though Eratosthenes; the moderate oligarch accused, and Critias; the severe oligarch.
Lysias gives insight on the historical perspective as he accounts for the rise and fall of the Thirty. In Chapter 43 he describes the Thirty’s rise. He accounts how Eratosthenes and Critias, along three other oligarchs, were set up irregularly by the political clubs with total power. This is made salient when he divulges ‘five men were set up as overseers not by the so-called “club men,” to be organisers of the citizens as well as chiefs of the conspirators and opponents of your commonwealth; and among these were Eratosthenes and Critias’. Proceeding this, he analyses proof to establish his argument that although a moderate, Eratosthenes was indeed very brutal by comparing his deeds to the universally acknowledged brutal deeds of Critias. Critias was unanimously accepted as a brutal oligarchy. For example, an article published by the Ancient History Encyclopaedia by Joshua J. Mark claims ‘Critias was the most ruthless. He was held in especially low esteem for his practice of confiscating citizen’s property by misusing his power and executing those who disagreed with or challenged him’ Thus through the interplay of these two characters, our political and historical understanding of the members of the Thirty’s actions, especially Eratosthenes, is profoundly deepened
Further to this, within the proof against Eratosthenes, Lysias also makes minor reference to Lysander, when explaining the reign of the tyrants; the man believed to have instigated the oligarchy in Athens. Lysander was a Spartan general who effectively won the Peloponnesian war and was known to be a very malicious character . For example, Lysias remarks in Chapter 59 that he “was a strong supporter of the oligarchy and a bitter foe of the city, who felt a special hatred towards the part of Piraeus”. This characterisation of Lysander’s malice is supported as he was known to “cheat boys with dice, but men with oaths” (Lysander, 293 ). Lysias thus does this to remind the Jury of his evil attempts to destroy the city and rouse feelings of indignation. However, this also draws on our political and historical understanding of the period, as it adds accuracy historically to Lysias’ account, our understanding of his tale of the Thirty’s subversion chronologically as well as insight into the current political atmosphere; that by referencing him there would be much upset brought back to the judges.
Moreover, more is drawn from Lysias’ mention of Thrasybulus ; the general who ultimately led the uprising against the Thirty and resulted in their retreat at Eleusis. For instance, in Chapter 51, through a thought-provoking rhetorical question, Lysias states “at what moment could a ruler have more gloriously displayed his loyalty than on the seizure of Phyle by Thrasybulus?. Thus, he aims to remind the Jury of the bravery and glory of Thrasybulus, but in doing this provides us with a great understanding of the current political situation; i.e. the reverence of democracy as well as the events of the time he speaks of and the defeat of the oligarchy. Further, through his repeated mention of Thrasybulus’s ‘bravery’ and ‘heroism’, he also gives us insight into these traits deemed importance in society. Lysias further elucidates these events in Chapters 53-56 where he describes how after the defeat of the Thirty, their place was taken by ten magistrates who “they set up far sharper dissension and warfare between the parties of the town and of the Piraeus”. This account is corroborated within Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens, as in section 38 it is recorded that ‘elected ten citizens with full powers to bring the war to a termination”. Once, the Ten had seized the government they did fulfil their electoral promises, rather they sent envoys to Sparta to request loans of money. Hence, through the mention of Thrasybulus, Lysias is able to give keen insight into the historical conditions that led to their Thirty’s demise as well as insight into the current political condition of the want to remind his jury of these great defeats, i.e. the reverence and glorification of bravery and heroism.
Lastly, in the second part of the proofs, Lysias draws reference to another ‘moderate’ oligarch, Theramenes , to augment the gravity of the deeds of both of the ‘moderates’ to assert his case. From even a superficial reading it can be deduced that in Chapters 66-78 Lysias’ attack on Theramenes is very calculatingly brutal and harsh. It has been noted Theramenes was the first supporter of oligarchy in 411 BCE and was closely aligned with the arrangement of the humiliating peace treaties with Sparta in 404 BCE. This is referenced in Chapter 78 as a two-fold attack on the Athenian city, e.g. “Twice over did he enslave you, despising what was present, and longing for what was absent, and, while giving them the fairest name, setting himself up as an instructor in most monstrous acts”. His use of strong high modality words of a negative sense suggests the hatred of his actions.
Yet, other historical accounts of Theramenes present a less-harsh perspective. For instance, Xenophon portrays Theramenes as a moderate oligarch who combatted the violent radicalism of Critias, including the execution of innocent democrats e.g. “Theramenes opposed him Critias, saying that it was not reasonable to put a man to death because he was honoured by the commons, provided he was doing no harm to the aristocrats”(Hell. 2.3.15-16). . Thus, this points to the bias in Lysias’ account, that may have been born out of personal victimisation or taking advantage on the predisposed ill feelings against the thirty by the Jury to accelerate their indignation further. Nonetheless, through his reference, much valuable knowledge is gained into Lysias own experience, the probable feelings of the judges as well as generally the nature of alternative perspective of these historical accounts surrounding the Thirty oligarchs.
Thus, it can be concluded that the interplay of characters within Lysias’ speech Against Eratosthenes is to a large extent key in understanding the political affairs, historical conditions and everyday life if the period of its delivery. As, through their reference, Lysias is able to give corollary of events with historical accuracy, comment and compare on the actions of the oligarchy, give cultural and social insights to everyday life as well as allow modern readers to understand the intended effect and appeal to the judges, as to understand the political climate he delivers in.