Life and work of Andocides
Andocides was born about 440 B.C., a member of a family which had been distinguished for three generations.
His great-grandfather, as he tells us, fought against the Pisistratidae; his grandfather Andocides was one of the envoys for the peace with Sparta in 445, and was twice subsequently a strategus; his father, Leogoras, is mentioned by Aristophanes as rearing pheasants (Aristoph., Clouds, 109
). The orator himself was a member of a ἑταιρεία
or club —probably a social rather than a political club, as the only meeting mentioned was purely for convivial purposes.
In 415, on the eve of the sailing of the Sicilian expedition, Athens was startled and horrified by a remarkable act of sacrilege. The images of Hermes which stood everywhere in the town were, all but one, mutilated and defaced in a single night. The superstitious citizens, with a deep feeling that the whole community must suffer for the guilty action of some of its members, considered this an evil omen for the fortunes of the Syracusan expedition, and, less reasonably, took it as an indication of impending revolution and an attempt to subvert the democracy. Their anxiety was increased by rumours that a profane parody of the Eleusinian mysteries was being celebrated in certain private houses. Such acts of impiety were likely to bring upon Athens the wrath of the gods who had hitherto protected her.
It will be remembered how Alcibiades, one of the leaders of the expedition, was accused of complicity in the plot, and how this accusation brought about his recall from Sicily and his estrangement from his native city, which led to the utter failure of the great enterprise of conquest, and ultimately, through the total loss of her best armies and fleets, to the downfall of Athens herself.
Andocides was accused of complicity both in the profanation of the mysteries and the mutilation of the Hermae. Of the former charge he apparently succeeded in clearing himself, but he confesses to a knowledge of the affair of the Hermae.
A certain Teucrus denounced eighteen persons as guilty of the mutilation of the busts. Of these some were put to death, the rest went into exile. The list included some members of the club to which Andocides belonged. Another informer, Dioclides, came forward with a tale that about three hundred persons were implicated, and he named forty-two of them, including Andocides and twelve of his near relations. Athens was in a panic, and eager for instant vengeance. The informers' victims were at once imprisoned, and their situation was grave indeed. Andocides describes how, to save his father and other innocent persons, he at last resolved to tell what he knew. He gave his information under a promise of immunity from punishment, but in accordance with the terms of a subsequent decree he suffered ‘atimia,’ comprising exclusion from the market-place and the temples; and being thus debarred from a public career he decided to go abroad.
In the de Reditu,
delivered in 410 B.C., five years after the outrage, Andocides implies that he was himself
concerned in the deed, and asks pardon for his ‘youthful folly’ (§ 7
). The language of Thucydides (vi. 60
) and others also implies that he accused himself along with others. The language of the de Reditu
is not, however, explicit, and does not necessarily disagree with the statement made twelve years later in the de Mysteriis.
Andocides there affirms that he knew of the plot and opposed its execution, but it was carried out without his knowledge. In proof of this he points out that the Hermes opposite his own house was the only one not mutilated.
‘So I told the Council that I knew the culprits, and I declared the facts—namely that Euphiletus suggested the plot while we were drinking, and I spoke against it, and for the moment prevented it. Some time later I was riding a colt I had in Cynosarges, and had a fall, and broke my collar-bone and cut my head, and was carried home on a stretcher. Euphiletus, hearing of my condition, told the others that I had been persuaded to join them, and had agreed to take a hand in the work and mutilate the Hermes beside the shrine of Phorbas. In this statement he deceived them, and this is the reason why the Hermes which you all see in front of our house, the one erected by the Aegeid tribe, was the only Hermes in Athens not to be mutilated, because it was supposed that I would do it, as Euphiletus said. The conspirators, when they heard of it, were highly indignant, considering that I knew of the affair, but had taken no part in it. On the next day Meletus and Euphiletus came to me and said:
‘“We have done it, Andocides, and it's all over. If you care to keep quiet and hold your tongue, you will find that we are as good friends to you as ever; if not, our enmity
will count much more than any friendship you could form by betraying us.”
‘I answered that, from what had occurred, I considered Euphiletus a scoundrel; but that they had much more to fear from the fact of their guilt than from my knowledge of it.’ (de Myst., §§ 61 sqq.
This story is at least a plausible one. The only suspicious detail is the orator's own candid admission that all of those whom he accused—with the exception of four—had already been named by Teucrus and punished, some by death, the rest by exile, so that his ‘confession’ could do them no further harm. The four others whom he included were not yet in prison, though they were known to be associates of those who had already paid the penalty. They had time to escape into exile (§ 68
). We may suspect that they received from the informer due notice of his intentions. Thus, at the expense of driving four men, who were probably guilty, into exile, Andocides undoubtedly saved the lives of himself, his father, his brother-inlaw, and the rest of the forty-two prisoners. The informer Dioclides now recanted, and said that he had been compelled by Alcibiades and Amiantus to lay false information. He was brought to trial and put to death (§ 66
). Andocides, suffering from partial disfranchisement, was for many years away from Athens. He engaged in commerce in many countries, and made money, sometimes by discreditable means. He had dealings with Sicily, Italy, the Peloponnese, Thessaly, Ionia, the Hellespont, and finally, Cyprus, where Evagoras, King of Salamis, bestowed a valuable property on him (§ 4
In 411 B.C. he made an attempt to recover his rights. He procured oars for the Athenian fleet at Samos, and returned to Athens to plead his cause. Unfortunately the Four Hundred had then just usurped the government, and they rejected his plea on the ground that he had helped their enemies. Later, in 410 or 408 B.C., he made another attempt, and delivered the speech de Reditu,
but was again unsuccessful. It was only after the amnesty of Thrasybulus (403 B.C.) that he resumed his full citizenship, and henceforward took an active part in public life, figuring now as an ardent democrat, speaking in the assembly and performing liturgies. In 399 B.C. old enmities burst into flame, and he was accused of impiety on two counts— as having taken part in the Eleusinian mysteries at a time when he was legally disqualified from doing so, and as having deposited a suppliant's branch on the altar at Eleusis during the time of the mysteries— which was a profanation. The penalty for either offence was death, and the de Mysteriis
is his successful answer to these charges.
In 391 B.C., as one of the envoys delegated to bring about a peace with Sparta, he delivered the de Pace.
The peace was not concluded. This is the last mention of this interesting adventurer, though the pseudo-Plutarch affirms that he went into exile again. If that is true, we know that he had comfortable places to retire to, in Cyprus and elsewhere.