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Lysias

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Attic orator, d. c.380 bc. His work is discussed in Plato's Phaedrus; in Plato's Republic, his father Cephalus is an elderly Syracusan, resident as a metic in Athens, and friend of assorted Athenian aristocrats. Lysias and his brother Polemarchus left Athens after Cephalus' death to join the panhellenic colony (see panhellenism) of Thurii in south Italy, where he is said to have studied rhetoric. They were expelled as Athenian sympathizers after the Sicilian Expedition, and returned to Athens as metics in 412/11. In 403 the Thirty Tyrants arrested both brothers, alleging disaffection but really (acc. to Lys. 12. 6) in order to confiscate their substantial property. Polemarchus was put to death; Lysias escaped, and gave financial and physical support to the democratic counter‐revolutionaries. He was rewarded by Thrasybulus' decree granting citizenship to all those who had assisted in the restoration, but this grant was promptly annulled as unconstitutional.

Works

Modern editions contain 34 numbered speeches, although the titles of about 130 others are known. After 403, like his fellow metics Isaeus and Dinarchus, Lysias composed speeches for litigants to deliver in court; but his versatility was great. Like Demosthenes (2) and Hyperides, he wrote for both public and private cases. The two categories, however, are not formally distinguished in the collection, where few private speeches remain: most striking is 1, in which a cuckolded husband pleads justifiable homicide after killing his wife's lover, and the attack in 32 on an allegedly dishonest guardian. Underlying the public speeches are a variety of legal procedures, esp. the dokimasia or vetting of prospective officials, many of them compromised by their record under the oligarchies of the Four Hundred or the Thirty Tyrants; other cases concern official malpractice (most notably 12, in which Lysias personally charged Eratosthenes, ex‐member of the Thirty, with having killed Polemarchus). The shadow of the Thirty, indeed, hangs over much of Lysias' work.

Lysias' reputation attracted speeches. It is very hard to be sure which of those that survive are really the work of Lysias, but, with one or two exceptions, all the forensic pieces seem to be genuine speeches, written to be delivered on the occasion they purport to be.

Characteristics

Lysias was noted in antiquity as a master of the language of everyday life: this ‘purity’ of style led to his being regarded by later rhetoricians as the pre‐eminent representative of ‘Atticism’, as opposed to the florid ‘Asiatic’ school (see asianism and atticism). By the time Lysias has finished telling a story, the audience has been beguiled by his apparent artlessness into accepting as true the most tendentious assertions.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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