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
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
Lysias at Thurii.
At the age of fifteen14
—his father, according to one account, being dead15
—Lysias went to Thurii, accompanied certainly by his eldest brother Polemarchos; perhaps also by Euthydêmos16
. At Thurii, where he passed his youth and early manhood, he is said to have studied rhetoric under Tisias17
of Syracuse, himself the pupil of Korax, reputed founder of the art. If, as is likely, Tisias was born about 485 B. C. and did not go to Athens till about 418, there is nothing impossible in this account. At any rate it is probable that Lysias had lessons from some teacher of the Sicilian school, a
school the trammels of which his maturer genius so thoroughly shook off. The overthrow of the Athenian arms in Sicily brought into power an anti-Athenian faction at Thurii. Lysias and his brother, with three hundred persons accused of ‘Atticising18
,’ were driven out, and fled to Athens in 412 B. C.19
. A tradition, idle, indeed, but picturesque, connected the Athenian disaster in Sicily with the last days of Lysias in southern Italy. To him was ascribed a speech, possessed by the ancients, in which the captive general Nikias implored the mercy of his Sicilian conquerors20
His life at Athens from 412 to 405 B C.
The next seven years at Athens—from 412 to 405—seem to have been years of peace and prosperity for the brothers. They were the owners of three houses, one in the town, in which Polemarchos lived21
; another in the Peiraeus, occupied by Lysias; and, adjoining the latter, a shield-manufactory, employing a hundred and twenty slaves. Informers— who were especially dangerous to rich foreigners— did not vex them22
; they had many friends; and, in the liberal discharge of public services, were patterns to all resident-aliens23
. The possession of house
shows that they belonged—as their father Kephalos had doubtless belonged—to that privileged class of resident-aliens who paid no special tax as such, and who, as being on a par in respect of taxes with citizens, were called isoteleis. If Lysias continued his rhetorical studies during this quiet time, he probably had not yet begun to write speeches for the law-courts. A rich man, as he then was, had no motive for taking to a despised drudgery; and the only extant speech ascribed to him which refers to a date earlier than 403—that for Polystratos—is probably spurious. Cicero25
, quoting Aristotle, says that Lysias once kept a rhetorical school, but gave it up because Theodôros surpassed him in technical subtlety. If this story is worth anything, there is perhaps one reason for referring it to the years 412—405; it certainly imputes to Lysias the impatience of a wealthy amateur. At any rate the ornamental pieces enumerated in the lists of his works—the encomia, the letters, the show-speeches—may have belonged in part to this period of his life. After 403 he wrote for the lawcourts as a profession, and wrote with an industry which can have left little time for the rhetoric of display.
Soon after the Thirty had taken power in the
spring of 404, two of them, Theognis and Peison, proposed that measures should be adopted against the resident-aliens; nominally, because that class was disaffected—really, because it was rich. Ten resident-aliens were chosen out for attack, two poor men being included for the sake of appearances. Lysias and Polemarchos were on the list. When Theognis and Peison, with their attendants, came to the house of Lysias in the Peiraeus, they found him entertaining a party of friends. The guests were driven off, and their host was left in the charge of Peison, while Theognis and his companions went to the shield-manufactory close by to take an inventory of the slaves. Lysias, left alone with Peison, asked if he would take a sum of money to save him. ‘Yes,’ said Peison, ‘if it is a large sum.’ They agreed on a talent; and Lysias went to bring it from the room where he kept his money-box. Peison, catching sight of the box, called up two servants, and told them to take its whole contents. Thus robbed of more than thrice the amount bargained for, Lysias begged to be left at least enough to take him out of the country. Peison replied that he might consider himself lucky if he got off with his life. They were then going to leave the house, when they met at the door two other emissaries of the Thirty. Finding that Peison was now going to the house of Polemarchos in the town, these men relieved him of Lysias, whom they took to the house of one Damnippos. Theognis was there already with some other prisoners. As Lysias knew Damnippos, he took him aside, and asked him to assist his
escape. Damnippos thought that it would be best to speak directly to Theognis, who, he was sure, would do anything for money. While Theognis and Damnippos were talking in the front-hall, Lysias slipped through the door, which chanced to be open, leading from the first court of the house to the second26
. He had still two doors to pass through— luckily they were both unlocked. He escaped to the house of Archeneôs, the master of a merchantship, close by, and sent him up to Athens to learn what had become of Polemarchos. Archeneôs came back with the news that Polemarchos had been met in the street by Eratosthenes, one of the Thirty, and taken straight to prison. The same night Lysias took boat to Megara.
Polemarchos received the usual message of the Thirty27
—to drink the hemlock. Although the property of which the brothers had been despoiled was so valuable—including almost the whole stock of the shield-manufactory, gold and silver plate, furniture, and a large sum of money—the decencies of burial were refused to Polemarchos. He was laid out in the prison on a common stretcher,—one friend gave a cloth to throw over the body, another a cushion for the head, and so forth. A pair of gold earrings were taken from the ears of his widow28
Lysias aids the Exiles.
During the ten or twelve months of the exile— from the spring of 404 to the spring of 403—Lysias seems to have been active in the democratic cause. According to his biographer29
—whose facts were probably taken from Lysias himself—he presented the army of the patriots with two hundred shields, and with a sum of two thousand drachmas; gained for it, with the help of one Hermon30
, upwards of three hundred recruits; and induced his friend Thrasydaeos of Elis31
to contribute no less than two talents. Immediately upon the return from the Peiraeus to the city in the spring of 403, Thrasybulos proposed that the citizenship should be conferred upon Lysias; and the proposal was carried in the ekklesia. In one respect, however, it was informal. No measure could, in strictness, come before the popular assembly which was not introduced by a preliminary resolution (probouleuma) of the Senate. But at the moment when this decree was passed, the Senate had not yet been reconstituted after the anarchy32
; and the probouleuma had therefore been wanting. On this ground Archînos, a
colleague of Thrasybulos, arraigned the decree (under the Graphê Paranomôn) as unconstitutional, and it was annulled33
. The whole story has been doubted34
; but it is difficult to reject it when the Plutarchic biographer expressly refers to the speech made by Lysias in connection with the protest of Archînos35
. Whether this speech was or was not identical with that of Lysias On his own Services36
cannot be decided; but the latter must at least have been made upon this occasion.
The professional life of Lysias.
Stripped of a great part of his fortune by the Thirty Tyrants, and further straitened, probably, by his generosity to the exiles, Lysias seems now to have settled down to hard work at Athens. His activity as a writer of speeches for the law-courts falls—as far as we know—between the years 403 and 380 B. C. That it must have been great and constant is shown by the fact that Dionysios speaks of him as having written ‘not fewer than two hundred forensic speeches37
.’ No other of the Attic orators was credited with so many as a hundred compositions of all kinds38
. First in time and first, too, in importance among the extant orations of
Lysias is that Against Eratosthenes, in whom he
The impeachment of Eratosthenes.
saw not only one of the Thirty Tyrants but the murderer of his brother Polemarchos. It was probably in 403 that Eratosthenes was impeached. The speech of Lysias, memorable as a display of eloquence, valuable, too, as a sufferer's picture of a dreadful time, has this further interest, that it is the only forensic speech known to have been spoken by Lysias himself, and that it marks his only personal contact with the politics of Athens.
Lysias had probably been a professional speech-writer
for about four years when Sokrates was brought to trial in 399. According to the popular account, Lysias wrote a defence for Sokrates to speak in court, but Sokrates declined to use it39
. In the story itself there is nothing improbable; Kephalos and his son Lysias had been the intimate friends of Sokrates. But it may be suspected that the story arose from a confusion. At some time later than 392 B. C. the sophist Polykrates published an epideictic Accusation of Sokrates40
, and, in reply to it, Lysias wrote a speech In Defence of Sokrates41
. This was extant in antiquity; and some one who
had heard of it, but who knew nothing of the circumstances under which it was written, probably invented the story that it had been offered to, and declined by, the philosopher. The self-denial of Sokrates would be complete when, after rejecting the aid of money, he had rejected the aid of the best contemporary rhetoric42
Lysias is named in the ordinary text of his own speech On the Property of Aristophanes as taking part in an embassy to Dionysios the elder of Syracuse, an embassy of which the date cannot be put below 389 B. C. But there can be little doubt as to the correctness of the emendation which removes his name from that passage43
. There is better reason for believing another story in which the name of Lysias is associated with that of the elder
Dionysios. We have good authority44
for the statement that the Olympiakos,
of which a large fragment remains, was spoken by Lysias in person at the Olympic festival of 388 B.C., to which Dionysios had sent a splendid embassy. In that speech Lysias pointed out that two great enemies—the despot of Syracuse in the west, the king of Persia in the east— threatened Greece; and urged union among Greeks with all the eagerness and with more than the sagacity of Isokrates.
Chronological limit of his known work.
As has already been noticed, the indisputably genuine works of Lysias, so far as they are known, cease about 380 B.C. The latest, the speech for Pherenikos of which a fragment remains, belongs to 381 or 380. Of the two speeches for Iphikrates, also represented by fragments only, one belonged to 371, the other to 35445
; but Dionysios pronounced both spurious, partly on the external ground that Lysias could not then have been living; partly— which, for us, is the important point—on the internal evidence of style46
. It seems probable that Lysias died in, or soon after, 380 B.C., at the age of about eighty47
Character of Lysias.
The character, as well as the capacity, of Lysias must be judged from the indirect evidence of his own writings. Circumstances kept him out of political life, in which his versatility and shrewdness would probably have held and improved the position which great powers of speech must soon have won. The part which he took during the troubles under the Thirty proved him a generous friend to Athens, as the Olympiakos
shows him to have been a wise citizen48
of Greece; but his destiny was not that of a man of action. It is not likely that he regretted this much, though he must have felt his exclusion from the Athenian franchise as the refusal of a reward to which he had claims. His real strength—as far as can be judged now—lay in his singular literary tact. A fine perception of character in all sorts of men, and a faculty for dramatising it, aided by a sense of humour always under control; a certain pervading gracefulness and flexibility of mind; rhetorical skill, masterly in a sense hardly dreamed of at that day, since it could conceal itself—these were his most distinctive qualities and powers. His liberal discharge of public services, and his generosity to the exiles in 404, accord with the disposition which is suggested by the fragments of his letters. He was a man of warm nature, impulsive, hospitable, attached to his friends; fond of pleasure, and freely indulging in it; but, like
Sophokles at the Chian supper-party described by Ion49
, carrying into social life the same intellectual quality which marks his best work—the grace and the temperate brightness of a thoroughly Athenian mind.