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Andocides (c. 440-c. 390 BC), an Athenian aristocrat and political figure, is best known for his role in the scandal of 415, when, apparently, a band of young men one night mutilated sacred Herms (stylized statues of the god Hermes) and revealed information about the secret rites, or mysteries, of Demeter. In the ensuing uproar Andocides was forced to leave Athens. Two of his surviving speeches are connected with this exile: one pleads for his return and another argues against a second period of exile. All of Andocides’ speeches were written for his own delivery; to our knowledge he was not a logographer writing speeches for others. Andocides’ significance is that his speeches are the earliest surviving examples of political oratory (since only fragments of his predecessor Antiphon's political speeches survive) and that they give us the fullest contemporary account of the affair of the mutilation of the Herms, which had a dramatic impact on Athens just before the departure of the fateful expedition to Sicily.


Andocides came from an old distinguished family. He was presumably raised and educated in traditional, aristocratic fashion; we know nothing of his education, but his speeches show little sign of the influence of the sophists. In 415, when he was about twenty-five, his role in Athens’ greatest religious and political scandal changed the course of his life. The mutilation of the Herms and the profanation of the mysteries occurred shortly before the Athenian fleet was to set sail for Sicily. It is not certain exactly who was behind the incident or what political motives (if any) the perpetrators had, but in any case, Andocides and other members of a prominent social club were implicated. In order, he tells us, to gain immunity and save his father, Andocides gave a complete account of the affair and confessed to his role in it. Despite being granted immunity, however, he could no longer participate in public life, and so he left Athens and lived in exile, becoming a successful merchant. He returned briefly to Athens during the aristocratic takeover in 411 but failed to persuade the oligarchs to restore his rights. He tried again a few years later to persuade the restored democracy, but his speech, On His Return (2), was unsuccessful. He finally was able to return to Athens after the general amnesty in 403. In 399 he was accused of violating a prohibition against participating in religious ceremonies after having confessed to his earlier impiety. Lysias’ Against Andocides (6) was written for this prosecution, but Andocides successfully defended himself in On the Mysteries (1), his most famous and most highly regarded speech. He remained in Athens at least until 391, when he delivered On the Peace (3) urging (unsuccessfully) acceptance of peace terms that had been negotiated with Sparta. We know nothing of his life thereafter.


Andocides’ most important speech by far is On the Mysteries (see MacDowell 1962). In 399 he was accused of violating a decree enacted in 415 prohibiting anyone who had been convicted of impiety from entering a temple or the agora. Andocides argued (a) that he was not guilty of impiety (and he reviews the whole affair of the Herms in making this argument); (b) that the decree of 415 had been invalidated by the amnesty of 403; and (c) that an acquittal would be in the best interest of Athens, especially in view of his recent public service. He was acquitted by the jurors, and his publication of the text of this speech may have been intended to improve his reputation in the court of public opinion.

In addition to this and Andocides’ two other speeches mentioned above, a fourth speech attributed to him, Against Alcibiades (4), is often assumed to be a later forgery, since it was apparently written for an occasion earlier than 415 and gives a list of the speaker's accomplishments that would have been impossible for a man in his early twenties. But Raubitschek and Furley have presented strong arguments that the speech was written by Andocides for delivery by a certain Phaiax. Finally, a few fragments of Andocides are preserved, which may all come from one speech, To His Friends. If so, this speech together with the three complete speeches may represent all that Andocides ever published, and perhaps all the speeches he ever delivered.


Andocides evidently did not study rhetoric per se or pursue a career as a speaker. Gildersleeve aptly called him a “gentleman orator” (cited by MacDowell 1962: 19n1), and MacDowell sees him as a transitional figure from the time when all speakers were amateurs to the growing professionalization of public speaking. Andocides was a well-to-do merchant and minor public figure, who spoke in public only to defend himself or (once) to support a specific cause. In this he is a more typical Athenian than the better known logographers who wrote speeches for others, for there must have been dozens, even hundreds of others who occasionally participated in debates in the assembly or became involved in legal cases, but generally avoided these activities and would certainly see no reason for any extensive study of rhetoric. Thus Andocides’ speeches lack the complexity of Antiphon's or the sophistication of Lysias’, and (though it needs qualification) Kennedy has a valid point in saying that Andocides’ language “illustrates what pure Attic prose would be like if the sophists had never lived” (Kennedy 1985: 504). There is, to be sure, an increase in Andocides’ use of logical arguments during the nearly twenty years from On His Return to On the Peace (Kennedy 1958), but in general he seems to rely more on a natural, direct approach to his speeches. The effect can be powerful, especially in his vivid narratives, but his arguments can also become awkward and confused. In sum, Andocides is primarily read today not for his style, but for his participation in one of the most significant and least understood events in Athenian history.

    Blass, Friedrich, Die attische Beredsamkeit, 2nd ed. vol. 1. Leipzig 1887. Furley, W. D. “Andokides IV (‘Against Alkbiades’): Fact or Fiction?” Hermes 117 (1989) 138-56. Jebb, R. C. The Attic Orators from Antiphon to Isaeus, vol. 1. London 1893. Kennedy, George, “The Oratory of Andocides,” AJPh 79 (1958) 32-43. Kennedy, George, “Oratory” in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature I: Greek Literature. Ed. by P. E. Easterling and B. M. W. Knox (Cambridge 1985), pp. 498-526. MacDowell, D. M. Andokides, On the Mysteries. Oxford 1962. Missou, Anna, The Subversive Oratory of Andokides: Politics, ideology and decision-making in democratic Athens. Raubitschek, A. E. “The Case against Alcibiades (Andocides IV),” TAPA 79 (1984) 191-210.
Michael Gagarin
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