III. 2. On the Property of Aristophanes, Or. XIX
2. On the Property of Aristophanes.
[Or. XIX.]—Nikophêmos, father of Aristophanes, was the friend of Konon, and his comrade in the naval campaigns of 394—390 B. C. When Konon visited the Persian Court in 394, he left Nikophêmos and Hierônymos in joint command of the Persian fleet1
; and when he took Kythêra in 393 Nikophêmos was appointed harmost (Xen. Hellen. IV. viii. 8
). While Konon and Nikophêmos had their home at Cyprus (§ 36), their sons, Timotheos and Aristophanes, lived at Athens; the latter poor, until
the battle of Knidos in 394 and the campaigns of the following years brought some wealth to his father and himself (§ 28). On two important occasions Aristophanes was engaged in the service of the State. He went on an embassy to Sicily (in what year is doubtful) with proposals from Evagoras, king of Cyprus, to Dionysios; and succeeded in dissuading the latter from affording his promised aid to Sparta (§§ 19, 20). Again in 389 B. C. he sailed with an Athenian expedition to the aid of Evagoras (§§ 21— 23). From this expedition he never returned. He and his father Nikophêmos were suddenly put to death at Cyprus without trial (§ 7); doubtless on a suspicion of treachery or of embezzlement similar to that which raised a storm of indignation against Thrasybulos and his colleagues in 390 B. C.
After the death of Aristophanes, one Aeschines proposed the confiscation of his property. The proposal, like that of Poliochos in the case of the property of Eukrates, was resisted on the ground of illegality, and a speech was written by Lysias against it2
. It was, however, carried into effect, and so stringently that not even the debts left by Aristophanes were discharged, nor was the dowry of his widow repaid to her family (§ 32). But the amount of property which was found disappointed the general belief in the wealth of Nikophêmos (§§ 11, 53). It was
thought that something must have been withheld; and suspicion fell upon the father-in-law of Aristophanes. A writ was therefore issued against him for the recovery of moneys due to the treasury (§ 11). Before the trial came on, he died, at the age of more than seventy (§ 60); and his only son, a man of thirty (§ 55), was left to defend the action. The Fiscal Board of Syndici were the presidents of the court.
The date is indicated by § 50. It is there
said that Diotimos had lately (ἔναγχος
) been accused of having forty talents unaccounted for in his possession; but had, on returning to Athens, disproved the charge. Diotimos had held a command in the Hellespont in 388 and 3873
B. C.; 387 is therefore probably the year of the speech.
The defence is approached with timidity, as if under
the consciousness that a strong prejudice has to be met. The speaker represents the gravity of the task which has devolved upon him; his father's good fame, his own, and all his fortunes are at stake. He sets forth the restless malice of his accusers, and reminds the court that experience has proved how little such accusations are to be trusted4
. The cruel fate of Nikophêmos and Aristophanes;—the destitution of his brother-in-law's children, and the persecutions to which his own family have been exposed in addition to the burden thus thrown upon them;—the current delusions, lastly, about the wealth of Nikophêmos, delusions so dangerous in the present impoverished state of the Treasury—all these are urged as claims to the sympathetic attention of the court. (§§ 1—11.)
The next division of the speech is devoted to showing that Aristophanes was not originally a rich man, and was at all times lavish. He was not chosen by the speaker's father as a son-in-law on account of his wealth: indeed, his last act before sailing for Cyprus was to come to their house and borrow seven minae; and it could be proved that shortly afterwards he was in want of a very small sum of ready money. Then follows a formal inventory of the property left by the deceased (§§ 12—27).
But why, it may be asked, was this property so small? Aristophanes had scarcely any fortune until four years before his death; and within these four years he was twice choregus, besides buying a house and lands. The defendant had taken precautions for the due transference to the Government of every article left in the house of Aristophanes: a watch had even been set to see that the doors were not torn off, as sometimes happened to confiscated houses. He is ready to take the most solemn oath before the Syndici that nothing remains in his hands; nay, that his sisters' dowry and the debt of seven minae still remain unpaid. Supposing that the property of Timotheos, son of Konon, were confiscated and only four talents realized, would his
relatives be thought to deserve ruin? Yet the father of Timotheos was at least ten times as rich as the father of Aristophanes (§§ 28—41). There are many instances in which the popular estimate of a man's fortune has been proved, at his death or on inquiry during his lifetime, to have been enormously exaggerated. The recent case of Diotimos (§ 50) and the case of the great Alkibiades (§ 52) are among those in point. (§§ 42—54.)
The good character borne by himself and by his father ought to be remembered. If their property were confiscated now, the State would not get two talents. At this moment he is a trierarch: his father spent his fortune on the State and for its honour; he kept good horses, had athletes in his pay, and won victories at the Isthmos and at Nemea (§ 63). On all these grounds the defendant claims the protection of the court against a malignant attach (§§ 55—64).
This very clever speech gives a formidable idea
Light thrown by the speech on a danger of public service abroad.
of the dangers to which an Athenian of the time was exposed if he or any member of his family was supposed to have made a fortune on foreign service. The city was poor5
; it was full of informers, ready to prefer any accusation on the chance of sharing the spoil; and by a vague charge of treachery or embezzlement abroad it was easy to inflame the ekklesia6
. There is nothing to show why Aristophanes or his father were put to death without trial. The point which is most strikingly brought out by this defence is the strength of the popular feeling which it had to combat. It is remarkable in how diffident a tone the speaker begins, how careful he is to put in the front of his case everything that can excite compassion, how he avoids directly praising or even defending Aristophanes. He gradually insinuates that Aristophanes was a worthy man—poor, but generous and patriotic. The speech is nearly half over before it comes directly to the real issue (§ 28), and argues that Aristophanes cannot, in fact, have left more property than appeared. Perhaps the modesty of the speaker is a little overwrought; but there is consummate art in the sketch of his father, the quiet citizen of the
old school, and of Aristophanes, the adventurous patriot of the new. On the whole, this is one of the masterpieces of Lysias, in which all the resources of his tact were brought into play by a subject difficult enough to be worthy of them.