Though we attempt a chronological arrangement of the orators, such a treatment is apt to be misleading, for their lives and the periods of their activity overlap considerably. About the year 390 B.C. Andocides was still composing speeches, Lysias was yet in his prime; Isocrates had already made himself a reputation, and Isaeus had at least begun to be known. It would be rash therefore to attempt to trace in the work of any one the influence of any of the others. Speaking and writing as contemporaries all may have had something to teach and something to learn, but we can hardly say that one is in the fullest sense the literary predecessor or the disciple of another.
Lysias was by descent a Syracusan; his father Cephalus, of whom Plato gives us a charming picture in the opening chapters of the Republic,
was induced by Pericles to settle in Athens, and there Lysias was born. The Pseudo-Plutarch gives the date as 459 B.C., and Dionysius gives the same year; but this is founded on an assumption. He was known to have gone to Thurii at the age of fifteen, and Thurii was founded in 443 B.C. But there is no proof that Lysias went to
Thurii in the year of its foundation; we only know that he cannot have been born earlier than 459 B.C. Tradition, however, made him live to the age of eighty or eighty-three, and his latest known speech is dated, probably, in 380 B.C., so that if we assume his death to have occurred shortly after 380 B.C., we shall be consistent.1
The modern view, supported by Blass, that Lysias was born not earlier than 444 B.C., has little evidence to support it. It is based chiefly on the statement of the Pseudo-Plutarch that Lysias did not go to Thurii till after his father's death, and the belief that Cephalus was alive in 430 B.C., the date in which the scene of the Republic
is supposed to be laid. But Blass has himself collected instances of Plato's untrustworthiness about dates, and the biographer by himself is a poor authority.
Lysias, then, went to Thurii with his brothers Polemarchus and Euthydemus. He is said to have studied under the Syracusan rhetorician Tisias. After the loss of the Athenian armies in Sicily, 413 B.C., Lysias and his brothers were among three hundred persons accused of ‘Atticizing,’ and were expelled from Thurii. They returned to Athens in 412 B.C. From this year till 404 B.C., the brothers lived in prosperity and happiness, making a considerable fortune as proprietors of a shield-factory, where they employed 120 slaves.
They had many friends; they belonged to the highest class of aliens—the isoteleis—and the evidence of Plato and Dionysius makes it clear that they mixed
with the most cultivated society. They took pride in the performance of all public services which fell to their share.
Fortune changed for the sons of Cephalus when in 404 B.C. a successful revolution brought the Thirty into power; the orator himself gives a graphic description of the way in which their ruin was brought about.
The Thirty, he tells us, ‘avowed that they must purge the city of wrongdoers, and turn the rest of the citizens towards virtue and justice.’ Two of the leaders pointed out that some of the metoeci were discontented with the new constitution; these metoeci were rich, so that their execution was not only a moral duty but a sound financial move. They easily prevailed on their colleagues, who, as Lysias neatly puts it, ‘thought nothing of taking life but thought a lot of making money.’ The orator's name was on the list, and he was arrested at a dinner-party in his own house. He describes what followed:
‘I asked Piso whether he would save my life for money; he said he would, if it was a large sum. So I said I was ready to pay a talent, and he agreed to the terms. I knew well enough that he regarded neither god nor man, but I thought my only chance lay in trusting him. So when he had sworn by his own and his children's hope of salvation that he would save me if he got a talent for it, I went into my strong-room and opened the chest.’
The sight of its contents, amounting to about six talents' worth of gold and silver as well as a quantity of plate, was too much for Piso's honesty. ‘I begged him to allow me enough for my journey, but he said I ought to be well satisfied if I saved my skin.’
The prisoner was handed over by Piso to the keeping of Damnippus and Theognis in the former's house, and Damnippus, who seems to have been softerhearted than the rest, agreed to speak with Theognis on Lysias' behalf. He knew his man, and ‘thought he would do anything for money.’ While they were bargaining, Lysias managed to slip away unnoticed through the back-door, and on the following day escaped on ship-board to Megara; his brother Polemarchus was arrested by Eratosthenes and put to death (Against Eratosthenes, §§ 5-17
During his exile, which lasted something less than a year, Lysias showed himself a true friend of the democracy. He gave two hundred shields to the army and obtained recruits and gifts of money. When the oligarchy fell in 403 B.C. the ecclesia, on the motion of Thrasybulus, passed a vote conferring the citizenship on Lysias; but owing to some informality the decree was declared illegal, and he lost his privilege immediately. From this time till about 380 B.C. he was actively employed in writing speeches, very few of which he delivered himself. His industry must have been considerable, since Dionysius attributed to him not less than two hundred forensic speeches.
The prosecution of Eratosthenes in 403 B.C. marks, so far as we know, his only personal contact with Athenian politics. The occasion of the Olympiacus
shows us Lysias appealing to a far wider audience at the Olympic festival of 388 B.C. He died, according to the computation of the ancients, soon after 380 B.C., at the age of about eighty years.