Lysias (Greek: Λυσίας) (ca. 445 BC – ca. 380 BC) was a logographer (speech writer) in Ancient Greece. He was one of the ten Attic orators included in the "Alexandrian Canon" compiled by Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace in the third century BC.
According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the author of the life ascribed to Plutarch, Lysias was born in 459 BC, which would accord with a tradition that Lysias reached, or passed, the age of eighty. This date was evidently obtained by reckoning back from the foundation of Thurii (444 BC), since there was a tradition that Lysias had gone there at the age of fifteen. Modern critics, in general, place his birth later, ca. 445 BC, and place the trip to Thurii around 430 BC.
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 set at the house of his eldest son, Polemarchus, in Piraeus. 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. Further, Plato's Phaedrus opens with Phaedrus coming from conversation with Lysias at the house of Epicrates of Athens: he meets Socrates, with whom he will read and discuss the speech of Lysias he heard.
At Thurii, the colony newly planted on the Tarentine Gulf, 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 BC 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 BC).
Lysias and Polemarchus were rich men, having inherited property from their father, Cephalus; and Lysias claims that, though merely resident aliens, they discharged public services with a liberality which shamed many of those who enjoyed the franchise (Against Eratosthenes xii.20). The fact that they owned house property shows that they were classed as isoteleis (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 Piraeus, 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 a 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 Boule, 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.
The Athenian political climate during Lysias’s life cannot be looked upon in modern terms. Modern politics means constant and open competition between organized rival factions with their own ideologies and memberships. The members of these parties label themselves a certain name which implies that they will vote and pay dues to a certain organization who share the same basic social and political outlooks on society. The terms that best render political opposites at the time were “Oligarch” and “Democratic.” Politics as described by Lysias meant that “no human being is by nature oligarchical or democratic, but whatever constitution brings advantage to an individual is the one he would like to see established.” This passage illustrates that whatever ideology a person chose to support is not based on their core beliefs or principles. Overall, two of the key terms of Athenian politics were popular participation and collective rule. Every male Athenian citizen, irrespective to birth, occupation, and with a few exceptions, economic status, had the right to wield power as an official or Council member and actively participate in the decision-making process at the Assembly whether or not he currently held any official position. Voting was egalitarian—‘one man, one vote’—and because Athens was a direct democracy, voting outcomes remained relatively unpredictable. A Greek person was likely to support one or the other at any given time based on specific economic and social cases. 
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 hard-working member of a new profession—that of logographer, writer of speeches to be delivered in the law-courts. The thirty-four extant are but a small fraction. From 403 to about 380 BC 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 BC, 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 BC. He probably died in or soon after 380 BC.
Lysias displays literary tact, humour, and attention to character in his extant speeches, and is famous for using his skill to conceal 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 language is crafted to flow easily, in contrast to his predecessor Antiphon's pursuit of majestic emphasis, to his pupil (and close follower in many respects) Isaeus' more conspicuous display of artistry and more strictly logical manner of argumentation, and later to the forceful oratory of Demosthenes.
Translated into terms of ancient criticism, he became the model of the plain style (ἰσχνὸς χαρακτήρ, ἰσχνὴ/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 relatively simple and would later be regarded as a model of pure diction for Atticists. 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 the knack of marking the speakers 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. His style has attracted interest from modern readers, because it is employed in describing scenes from the everyday life of Athens.
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Table of extant speeches
From Lysias we have thirty-four speeches. Three fragmentary ones 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.
The table below shows the name of the speech (in the ordered listed in the Lamb translation), the suggested date of the speech, the primary rhetorical mode, the main point of the speech, and comments. Forensic is synonymous with judicial and denotes speeches made in law courts. Epideictic is ceremonial and involves the praise or, less often, the criticism, of the subject. Deliberative denotes speeches made in legislatures. Notes (e.g., A1, B3, etc.) refer to the list of qualifications below the table.
|Speech||Suggested date||Primary rhetorical mode||Main point of speech||Comment|
|1. On the Murder of Eratosthenes||uncertain||forensic, in public cases [A6]; in private cases [B4]||Euphiletos tries to prove that the murder he committed was not premeditated|
|2. Funeral Oration||ca. 392 BCE ?||epideictic||Praise of fallen soldiers, purported to have been spoken during the Corinthian War.||Authorship uncertain (style and approach are very different from Lysias' other speeches).|
|3. Against Simon||393 BCE or later||forensic, in public cases [A6]; in private cases [B4]|
|4. On a Wound by Premeditation||uncertain||forensic, in public cases [A6]||Defendant is on a charge of wounding his friend, with intent to kill.|
|5. For Callias||uncertain||forensic, in public cases [A7]||A friend defends Callias against accusations of impiety.||Preserved fragmentarily.|
|6. Against Andocides||400/399 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A7]||certainly spurious, but perhaps contemporary; beginning lost|
|7. Defense in the Matter of the Olive Stump||396 BCE or later||forensic, in public cases [A7]|
|8. Accusation of Calumny||uncertain||forensic, in private cases [B3]||spurious|
|9. For the Soldier||ca. 395-387 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A3]|
|10. Against Theomnestus 1||ca. 384–383 BCE||Forensic, in private cases [B1]|
|11. Against Theomnestus 2||ca. 384–383 BCE||Forensic, in private cases [B1]||an epitome (abstract) of Lys. 10|
|12. Against Eratosthenes||403 BCE or soon after||forensic, in public cases [A6]||Perhaps a pamphlet meant for circulation (reading).|
|13. Against Agoratus||ca. 399 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A6]|
|14. Against Alcibiades 1||395 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A5]|
|15. Against Alcibiades 2||395 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A5]|
|16. In Defense of Mantitheus||ca. 392-389 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A4]||before the Council (Boule)|
|17. On The Property Of Eraton||ca. 397 BCE||forensic, in private cases [B3]|
|18. On The Property Of The Brother Of Nicias: Peroration||ca. 396 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A2]|
|19. On the Property of Aristophanes||ca. 388-387 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A3]|
|20. For Polystratus||ca. 410 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A1]||Polystratus is prosecuted for his acts against democracy. Polystratus' son defends him.|
|21. Defense Against a Charge of Taking Bribes||403/2 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A1]||Defendant pleads the court not to condemn him for corruption.|
|22. Against the Corn-Dealers||386 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A1]|
|23. Against Pancleon||uncertain (400/399?)||forensic, in private cases [B4]|
|24. On the Refusal of a Pension||soon after 403 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A4]||An allegedly disabled man defends himself against accusations of not being eligible for a pension before the Council (Boule).|
|25. Defense Against a Charge of Subverting the Democracy||ca. 401-399 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A4]||A man defends himself against a charge of treason; he is accused of being a supporter of the Thirty Tyrants.|
|26. On the Scrutiny of Evandros||382 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A4]|
|27. Against Epicrates and his Fellow-Envoys||ca. 390 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A1]|
|28. Against Ergocles||388 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A1]|
|29. Against Philocrates||388 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A3]|
|30. Against Nicomachus||399 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A1]|
|31. Against Philon||ca. 403–398 BCE||forensic, in public cases [A4]||Philon have been elected to the council by lot. The speaker objects his election.|
|32. Against Diogeiton||399/8 BCE?||forensic, in private cases [B2]||A guardian is accused of holding out the money belonging to his wards.|
|33. Olympic Oration||388 BCE||epideictic|
|34. Against the Subversion of the Ancestral Constitution||403 BCE||deliberative||Lysias speaks against a proposal that citizenship of Athens should only be confined to land owners.|
NOTES "A": FORENSIC, RELATING TO PUBLIC CASES
- Relating to Offences directly against the State (γραφαὶ δημοσίων ἀδικημάτων); such as treason, malversation in office, embezzlement of public moneys.
- Cases relating to Unconstitutional Procedure (γραφὴ παρανόμων)
- Cases relating to *Claims for Money withheld from the State (ἀπογραφαί).
- Cases relating to a Scrutiny (δοκιμασία); especially the Scrutiny, by the Senate, of Officials Designate
- Cases relating to Military Offences (γραφαὶ λιποταξίου, ἀστρατείας)
- Cases relating to Murder or Intent to Murder (γραφαὶ φόνου, τραύματος ἐκ προνοίας)
- Cases relating to Impiety (γραφαὶ ἀσεβείας)
NOTES "B": FORENSIC, RELATING TO PRIVATE CASES
- Action for Libel (δίκη κακηγορίας)
- Action by a Ward against a Guardian (δίκη ἐπιτροπῆς)
- Trial of a Claim to Property (διαδικασία)
- Answer to a Special Plea (πρὸς παραγραφήν)
To his Companions, a Complaint of Slanders, viii. (certainly spurious).
The speech attributed to Lysias in Plato's Phaedrus 230e–234. This speech has generally been regarded as Plato's own work; but the certainty of this conclusion will be doubted by those who observe:
- the elaborate preparations made in the dialogue for a recital of the erōtikos which shall be verbally exact,
- 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 erōtikoi; it is as representing both rhetoric and a false erōs that he is the object of attack in the Phaedrus.
Three hundred and fifty-five of these are collected by Hermann 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 BC, and is thus the latest known work of Lysias. In literary and historical interest, the first place among the extant speeches of Lysias belongs to that Against Eratosthenes (403 BC), 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 (388 BC), one of our chief authorities for the internal history of Athens during the months which immediately followed; the defeat at Aegospotami. The Olympiacus (388 BC) 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 BC) is interesting for the manner in which it argues that the well-being of Athens—now stripped of empire—is bound up with the maintenance of democratic principles. The speech For Mantitheus (392 BC) is a graceful and animated portrait, of a young Athenian hippeus, making a spirited defence of his honor 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 mona, 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 BC.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Debra Nails, The People of Plato (Hackett, 2002), p. 190, and S.C. Todd, "Lysias," in Oxford Classical Dictionary 3rd ed. (1996).
- Gabriel Hermann, Morality and Behaviour in Democratic Athens. Cambridge University Press (2006) 52
- Flensted-Jensen, P., T.H. Nielsen, and L. Rubinstein. Polis and Politics:Studies in Ancient Greek History. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2000
- John Addington Symonds, A problem in Greek Ethics, XII, p.64
- Cf. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Isaeus 61 and Jebb, Attic Orators (1893), vol. 2, pp. 290ff.
- Aldus (Editio princeps, Venice, 1513)
- with variorum notes, by J. J. Reiske (1772)
- Immanuel Bekker (1823)
- W. S. Dobson (1828) in Oratores Attici
- Johann Georg Baiter and Hermann Sauppe, Oratores Attici, vol. 1, Zurich, 1839, pp. 59 ff.
- C. Scheibe (1852)
- T. Thalheim (1901, Teubner series, with bibliography) – PDF
- C. G. Cobet (4th ed., by J. J. Hartman, 1905)
- Karl Hude (da), Oxford Classical Texts, 1912
- W.R.M. Lamb, Loeb Classical Library, 1930
- Umberto Albini, Greek text and Italian translation, Florence: Sansoni, 1955
- Louis Gernet and Marcel Bizos (fr), Collection Budé, 2 vols., 1959–1962
- Enrico Medda, Greek text and Italian translation, 2 vols., Milan: BUR, 1992–1995
- Christopher Carey, Oxford Classical Texts, 2007
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)
- Andreas Weidner (1888)
- Evelyn Shirley Shuckburgh (1882) – PDF
- A. Westermann and W. Binder (1887–1890)
- G. P. Bristol (1892)
- M. H. Morgan (1895) – PDF
- W. H. Wait (1898) – PDF
- C. D. Adams (1905) – PDF
There is a special lexicon to Lysias by D. H. Holmes (Bonn, 1895, online). See also Jebb's Attic Orators (1893, vol. 1, vol. 2) and Selections from the Attic Orators (2nd ed.; 1st ed. online). The first volume of a full commentary on the speeches is S. C. Todd, A Commentary on Lysias, Speeches 1–11. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. ix, 783. ISBN 978-0-19-814909-5.