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Lysias a non-citizen born in Athens, perhaps 459 B.C.

Lysias, though he passed most of his years at Athens, did not possess the citizenship, and, except in the impeachment of Eratosthenes, appears to have had no personal contact with the affairs of the city. Yet, as in literary style he is the representative of Atticism, so in his fortunes he is closely associated with the Athenian democracy. He suffered with it in its two greatest calamities—the overthrow in Sicily and the tyranny of the Thirty; he took part in its restoration; and afterwards, in his speeches for the law-courts, he became perhaps the best, because the soberest, exponent of its spirit—the most graceful and most versatile interpreter of ordinary Athenian life.

Kephalos, the father of Lysias, was a Syracusan, who settled at Athens as a resident alien on the invitation of Perikles (Lys. in Eratosth. § 4). Such an invitation would scarcely have carried much weight before Perikles had begun to be a leading citizen,—i.e. before about 460 B. C.; and the story which represented Kephalos as having been driven from Syracuse when the democracy was overthrown by Gelon (485 B. C.) is therefore not very probable1.

Lysias was born at Athens after his father had come to live there. The year of his birth cannot be determined. Dionysios assumes the same year as the pseudo-Plutarch—Ol. 80. 2., 459 B. C.; but admits, what the latter does not, that it is a mere assumption2. And the ground upon which the assumption rested is evident. Lysias was known to have gone to Thurii when he was fifteen. Thurii was founded Ol. 84. 1., 444 B. C.: it was inferred, then, that Lysias was born in 459 B. C. But there is nothing to prove that Lysias went to Thurii in the year of its foundation. The date 459 B. C. must be regarded, therefore, as a mere guess. It is the guess, however, which had the approval of the ancients; and it is confirmed by this circumstance—that Lysias was reported to have died at about eighty3, and that, in fact, his genuine works, so far as they are extant, cease at about 380 B. C.4 In the absence of certainty, then, it seems probable that the date 459 is not far wrong.

This is not, however, the prevalent modern view. Lysias was said to have gone to Italy after his father's death5; and this fact is the criterion for the date of his birth on which C. F. Hermann6 and Baur7 rely, as the ancient writers relied on the foundation-year of Thurii. Kephalos is introduced in Plato's Republic, of which the scene is laid (C. F. Hermann thinks) in 430 B. C. Lysias, then, it is agreed, cannot have gone to Thurii before 429, or have been born before 444. Blass justly objects to a dialogue of Plato being used as an authority for a date of this kind; but he himself arrives at the same conclusion on another ground— viz. because Kephalos cannot have come to Athens earlier than 460, and had lived there (as his son says, Lys. in Eratosth. § 4) thirty years. Again, Lysias was certainly older than Isokrates8, who was born in 436. The birth of Lysias must therefore be put (Blass thinks) between 444 and 436.

This view depends altogether on the statement that Lysias remained at Athens till his father's death—a statement vouched for only by the Plutarchic biographer, who is surely untrustworthy on such a point. Further, it assumes both the date and the literal biographical accuracy of the Republic; or else—what is at least doubtful—that Kephalos could not have come to Athens before 460. Lastly, it makes it difficult to accept the well-accredited account of Lysias having reached, or passed, the age of eighty; since all traces of his industry, hitherto constant, cease when, at this rate, he would have been no more than sixty-six9. The question must be left uncertain. But the modern hypothesis that Lysias was born between 444 and 436 B. C. does not seem, at least, more probable than the ancient hypothesis that he was born about 45910.

Besides Lysias, Kephalos had two other sons, Polemarchos and Euthydêmos11—Polemarchos being the eldest of the three; and a daughter, afterwards married to Brachyllos. The hospitable disposition of Kephalos is marked in the opening of the Republic, of which the scene is laid at the house of his eldest son. He complains that Sokrates does not come often now to see them at the Peiraeus, and begs that in future he will come to them without ceremony, as to intimate friends12. It is easy to believe that, in the lifetime of Perikles, the house of the wealthy Sicilian whom his friendship had brought to Athens was an intellectual centre, the scene of many such gatherings as Plato imagined at the house of Polemarchos; and that Lysias really grew up, as Dionysios says, in the society of the most distinguished Athenians13.

1 [Plut.] Vit. Lys. ὡς δέ τινες, ἐκπεσόντα τῶν Συρακουσῶν ἡνίκα ὑπὸ Γέλωνος ἐτυραννοῦντο.

2 Dionys. Lys. c. 1 says that in the archonship of Kallias (412 B.C.) Lysias was forty-seven, “as one might conjecture” — ὡς ἄν τις εἰκάσειεν. Again in c. 12 he supposes that Lysias may have died in 379 at the age of 80. The pseudo-Plutarch Vit. Lys. says boldly:—γενόμενος Ἀθήνησιν ἐπὶ Φιλοκλέους ἄρχοντος τοῦ μετὰ Φρασικλῆ, κατὰ τὸ δεύτερον ἔτος τῆς ὀγδοηκοστῆς Ὀλυμπιάδος.

3 Dionys. Lys. c. 12: [Plut.] Vit. Lys.

4 The speech Against Evandros (382 B.C.), and that For Pherenikos, of which a fragment remains, (381 or 380 B.C.)—are his latest known works. The two lost speeches For Iphikrates (Sauppe, Frag. XVIII. and LXV, Att. Or. II. pp. 178, 190) belonged respectively to the years 371 and 354; but the judgment of Dionysios in rejecting them (Lys. c. 12) has been generally confirmed by modern writers.

5 τοῦ πατρὸς ἤδη τετελευτηκότος: pseudo-Plut. Vit. Lys.

6 Gesammelte Abhandlungen, p. 15.

7 Uebersetzung d. Reden d. Lys. pp. 5 ff.—Blass, Attisch. Bereds. p. 333.

8 A dialogue of Plato can seldom be safely cited to prove that one of the persons of the imaginary conversation was, or was not, alive at a given time long before. But when, in such a dialogue, one of two persons contemporary with Plato is represented as very decidedly older than the other, it must be assumed that this was the case. To infer from the Republic that Kephalos was alive in 430 B.C. would be rash. But it is perfectly safe to infer from the Phaedros (p. 278 E, &c.) that Lysias was an orator of matured powers when Isokrates was a boy.

9 Blass distinctly admits this:— ‘Starb also Lysias bald nach diesem Jahre, so sind freilieh jene Angaben über das Alter, welches er erreichte, vollig aufzugeben.’ Att. Bereds. p. 336.

10 Stallbaum, in his Lysiaca ad illustrandas Phaedri Platonici origines (Leipzig, 1851) pp. 6 f, takes the following dates: Birth of Lysias, 459: Foundation of Thurii, 446: Kephalos comes to Athens, 444: Lysias goes to Thurii, 443: Death of Lysias, 378.

11 Plato (Rep. p. 328 B) mentions Lysias and Euthydêmos as the brothers of Polemarehos. Dionysios (Lys. 1) speaks of two brothers of Lysias. But the pseudo-Plutarch gives him three — Polemarchos, Eudidos (Euthydêmos), and Brachyllos. Blass seems right in concluding from Demosth. Neaer. § 22 that Brachyllos was not brother, but brother-in-law, of Lysias. It is there said that Lysias married the daughter of Brachyllos, his own nieee (ἀδελφιδῆ.) Hence, probably, the mistake of the so-called Plutarch.

12 Plat. Rep. p. 328 D.

13 Dionys. Lys. 1: συνεπαιδεύθη τοῖς ἐπιφανεστάτοις Ἀθηναίων. The pseudo-Plut. repeats the words: τὸ μὲν πρῶτον συνεπαιδεύετο τοῖς ἐπιφ. Ἀθην.

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    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Selections from the Attic Orators, 12.4
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Selections from the Attic Orators, 12.8
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