The eloquence of Lysias rarely passionate.
After inquiring how far Lysias fails in pathos, it remains to speak of the other principal defect noticed above. How far, and in what sense, does he want fire? By ‘fire’ is meant here the passion of a speaker
stirred with great ideas. Dionysios says (in effect) that, besides pathos, Lysias wants two other things, grandeur and spirit1
. He has not—we are told— the intensity or the force2
of Demosthenes; he touches, but does not pierce, the heart3
; he charms, but fails to astonish or to appal4
. This is true; but it should be remembered that in a great majority of the causes with which he had to deal the attempt at sublimity would have been ridiculous. It may be granted that, had Lysias been called upon to plead for Olynthos or to denounce Philip, he would not have approached even distantly the lofty vehemence of Demosthenes. The absence of passion cannot properly be regarded as a defect in his extant speeches; but they at least suggest that under no circumstances could he have excelled in passionate eloquence. They indicate a power which sufficed to elaborate them, rather than a power which gave them their special qualities out of an affluence of resource. Two speeches, however, must be named, one of which shows (in what remains of it) the inspiration of a great idea, the other, the inspiration of an ardent feeling. These are the Olympiakos
and the speech Against Eratosthenes. If in each of these Lysias has shown himself worthy of his subject, the inference in his favour should be strengthened by the fact that, so far as we know, these are the noblest subjects which he treated.
In the Olympiakos
he is enforcing the necessity of union among Greeks and calling upon Sparta to take the lead:—
‘It befits us, then, to desist from war among ourselves and to cleave, with a single purpose, to the public weal, ashamed for the past and apprehensive for the future; it befits us to imitate our forefathers, who, when the barbarians coveted the land of others, inflicted upon them the loss of their own; and who, after driving out the tyrants, established liberty for all men alike. But I wonder most of all at the Lacedaemonians, and at the policy which can induce them to view passively the conflagration of Greece. They are the leaders of the Greeks, as they deserve to be, both for their inborn gallantry and for their warlike science; they alone dwell exempt from ravage, though unsheltered by walls; unvexed by faction; strangers to defeat; with usages which never vary; thus warranting the hope that the freedom which they have achieved is immortal, and that, having proved themselves in past perils the deliverers of Greece, they are now thoughtful for her future.’5
In the speech Against Eratosthenes, he concludes the impeachment with an appeal to the two parties who had alike suffered from the Thirty Tyrants;— the Townsmen, or those who had remained at Athens under the oligarchy; and the democratic exiles who had held the Peiraeus:—
‘I wish, before I go down, to recall a few things
to the recollection of both parties, the party of the Town and the party of the Peiraeus; in order that, in passing sentence, you may have before you as warnings the calamities which have come upon you through these men.
‘And you, first, of the Town—reflect that under their iron rule you were forced to wage with brothers, with sons, with citizens a war of such a sort that, having been vanquished, you are the equals of the conquerors, whereas, had you conquered, you would have been the slaves of the Tyrants. They would have gained wealth for their own houses from the administration; you have impoverished yours in the war with one another; for they did not deign that you should thrive along with them, though they forced you to become odious in their company; such being their consummate arrogance that, instead of seeking to win your loyalty by giving you partnership in their prizes, they fancied themselves friendly if they allowed you a share of their dishonours. Now, therefore, that you are in security, take vengeance to the utmost of your power both for yourselves and for the men of the Peiraeus; reflecting that these men, villains that they are, were your masters, but that now good men are your fellow-citizens,—your fellow-soldiers against the enemy, your fellow-counsellors in the interest of the State; remembering, too, those allies whom these men posted on the acropolis as sentinels over their despotism and your servitude. To you—though much more might be said—I say thus much only.
‘But you of the Peiraeus—think, in the first
place, of your arms—think how, after fighting many a battle on foreign soil, you were stripped of those arms, not by the enemy, but by these men in time of peace; think, next, how you were warned by public criers from the city bequeathed to you by your fathers, and how your surrender was demanded of the cities in which you were exiles. Resent these things as you resented them in banishment; and recollect, at the same time, the other evils that you have suffered at their hands;—how some were snatched out of the marketplace or from temples and put to a violent death; how others were torn from children, parents, or wife, and forced to become their own murderers, nor allowed the common decencies of burial, by men who believed their own empire to be surer than the vengeance from on high.
‘And you, the remnant who escaped death, after perils in many places, after wanderings to many cities and expulsion from all, beggared of the necessaries of life, parted from children, left in a fatherland which was hostile or in the land of strangers, came through many obstacles to the Peiraeus. Dangers many and great confronted you; but you proved yourselves brave men; you freed some, you restored others to their country.
‘Had you been unfortunate and missed those aims, you yourselves would now be exiles, in fear of suffering what you suffered before. Owing to the character of these men, neither temples nor altars, which even in the sight of evil-doers have a protecting virtue, would have availed you against wrong;— while those of your children who are here would
have been enduring the outrages of these men, and those who are in a foreign land, in the absence of all succour, would, for the smallest debt, have been enslaved.
‘I do not wish, however, to speak of what might have been, seeing that what these men have done is beyond my power to tell; and indeed it is a task not for one accuser, or for two, but for a host.
‘Yet is my indignation perfect for the temples which these men bartered away or defiled by entering them; for the city which they humbled; for the arsenals which they dismantled; for the dead, whom you, since you could not rescue them alive, must vindicate in their death. And I think that they are listening to us, and will be aware of you when you give your verdict, deeming that such as absolve these men have passed sentence upon them,
and that such as exact retribution from these have taken vengeance in their
‘I will cease accusing. You have heard—seen— suffered: you have them: judge.’6