previous next

Or. XXXIV., a Plea for the Constitution.

The speeches of Lysias for the ekklesia have had the same fate as his epideictic speeches. These, too, are represented by one fragment alone—that which now stands last in the collection as Oration XXXIV. Like the fragment of the Olympiakos, it is given by Dionysios as a specimen of a class. The title which it usually bears describes it as a Plea against abolishing the ancient Constitution of Athens. When, after the fall of the Thirty, the democracy was restored in 403, it was the aim of Sparta to restrict it. One Phormisios proposed in the ekklesia that only landowners should have the franchise, a measure which, according to Dionysios, would have excluded about five thousand citizens. The speech from which he gives an extract was made against this motion during a debate in the ekklesia. It appears to have been written by Lysias for some wealthy citizen who was not personally affected by the proposal, and may probably be regarded as the earliest of the orator's works now known.

A censure on the proposers and supporters of the motion

is followed by a statement of the speaker's political faith. Nothing but a full democracy, he says, can save the country. When Athens was imperial, did she limit the franchise? On the contrary, she gave one of the special privileges of citizenship to the Euboeans. Then, to take the landowners' point of view, it is not they who have ever profited by oligarchies. In fact it is just on their property that the advocates of this, as of former oligarchies, have designs. (§§ 1—5.)

If it is said that Athens can be safe only by obeying Sparta, it should be remembered how desperate are the terms which Sparta would like to impose. Surely it is better to die fighting for one's rights than to pass sentence of death upon oneself. But there is a danger for Sparta also, which will to a certain extent restrain her. She leaves Argos and Mantineia at peace, because she knows that nothing can be gained, and that much would be risked, by driving them to extremities: she will feel the same in regard to Athens. This was the policy of Athens herself when she was greatest. (§§ 6—9.) It would be strange if the democrats who fought bravely in exile should lose heart now that they are restored; if the sons of men who saved Hellas should shrink from delivering Athens. (§§ 10, 11.)

Dionysios remarks on this speech that there is nothing to prove that it was actually delivered on the occasion supposed, but that ‘at all events it is in a style suitable for debate.’1 For that very reason, the smooth finish of the extract from the Olympiakos is not to be looked for here; a rougher vigour takes its place. Regarded historically, it has one point of interest—the analogy suggested between Sparta's contemptuous forbearance towards Argos and Mantineia and her probable attitude towards Athens. Nothing could show more strikingly the prostrate condition in which Athens was left by the Thirty Tyrants than that a speaker in the ekklesia should have ventured to use such an illustration.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: