Chapter 3: Natural and Artificial Speech from Homer to Hyperides; A Brief Sketch

From Homer to the Mid-Fifth Century

The continuity of Greek rhetorical tradition has become controversial, with much of the controversy centering around those Plato identifies as teachers of rhetoric in the Phaedrus. [1] Others take a broader view and see abundant material in the earliest texts, including Homer and the Homeric hymns. I have nothing to contribute here to the question of the definition of rhetoric, but will only present a few passages, most of them obligatory items in any survey of persuasive speech, that confirm the antiquity, at least in Greek “high culture,” of several notions of public speech before the advent of the canonical Athenian texts: style as an index of a speaker’s intrinsic worthiness, skilled and unskilled speech, natural and artificial speech, and the role of instruction and practice in the development of speech style.
The testimony of archaic Greece is unanimous: poetic skill is a divine gift, often bestowed on a man in an epiphany he can later make the very subject of a song, as in the proem of Hesiod’s Theogony, or in anecdotes told about the poets, for instance the story of Archilochus’ encounter with the “fat ladies.” [2] Eloquent speech might be a gift presented at birth:
Καλλιόπη θ᾽· ἡ δὲ προφερεστάτη ἐστὶν ἁπασέων.
ἡ γὰρ καὶ βασιλεῦσιν ἅμ᾽ αἰδοίοισιν ὀπηδεῖ.
ὅντινα τιμήσουσι Διὸς κοῦραι μεγάλοιο
γεινόμενόν τε ἴδωσι διοτρεφέων βασιλήων,
τῷ μὲν ἐπὶ γλώσσῃ γλυκερὴν χείουσιν ἐέρσην,
τοῦ δ᾽ ἔπε᾽ ἐκ στόματος ῥεῖ μείλιχα· οἱ δέ νυ λαοὶ
πάντες ἐς αὐτὸν ὁρῶσι διακρίνοντα θέμιστας
ἰθείῃσι δίκῃσιν·
Calliope, preeminent among all [the Muses], since she accompanies the respected kings. Whomever of the god-nourished kings the daughters of great Zeus honor and mark out at his birth, on his tongue they pour sweet dew, and from his lips words flow like honey. And the people look upon him as he administers the rules with straight judgments.
Hesiod Theogony 79–86
On this account, beauty of speech is a divine gift, selectively bestowed on certain well-born men. [3] The people appreciate such speech for its aesthetic qualities, which are in fact employed for just ends.
Hesiod does not here portray eloquence as granted even to all aristocrats. In Homer the few relevant passages suggest that even the best born might not speak well without instruction. That is at least one interpretation of Phoenix’s words to Achilles at Iliad 9.442–443:
τοὔνεκά με προέηκε διδασκέμεναι τάδε πάντα,
μύθων τε ῥητῆρ᾽ ἔμεναι πρηκτῆρά τε ἔργων.
For this reason [your father] sent me to teach you all things, to be both a speaker of words and a doer of deeds.
These words might, just possibly, refer exclusively to content, perhaps matters of strategy.
There is no ambiguity, however, in Antenor’s description (Iliad 3.216–22) of how Menelaus and Odysseus spoke when they came to Troy, presumably to negotiate Helen’s return. Antenor commends Menelaus’ speech for excelling in what we might suppose were the usual criteria, clarity and persuasiveness:
ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε δὴ πολύμητις ἀναΐξειεν Ὀδυσσεὺς
στάσκεν, ὑπαὶ δὲ ἴδεσκε κατὰ χθονὸς ὄμματα πήξας,
σκῆπτρον δ᾽ οὔτ᾽ ὀπίσω οὔτε προπρηνὲς ἐνώμα,
ἀλλ᾽ ἀστεμφὲς ἔχεσκεν ἀΐδρεϊ φωτὶ ἐοικώς·
φαίης κε ζάκοτόν τέ τιν᾽ ἔμμεναι ἄφρονά τ᾽ αὔτως.
ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε δὴ ὄπα τε μεγάλην ἐκ στήθεος εἵη
καὶ ἔπεα νιφάδεσσιν ἐοικότα χειμερίῃσιν,
οὐκ ἂν ἔπειτ᾽ Ὀδυσῆΐ γ᾽ ἐρίσσειε βροτὸς ἄλλος·
But when wily Odysseus leaped up, he stood there, his eyes fixed on the ground, and looked up from under his eyebrows. He did not move the scepter back and forth, but held it immobile, like an ignorant man. You could say that he was surly and witless. But when his voice came, loud, from his chest, his words like snow, no other man could compete with Odysseus.
There was, then, a way one was expected to speak, or at least to wield the scepter, the physical object that, as it were, gave one the floor. Odysseus succeeds in part by playing off against an established mode to trick his audience into taking him for a dolt, or at least an amateur in the grip of embarrassment and fear. [4]
Odysseus glares at Thersites, the non-aristocrat par excellence, with the same up-from-below look (Iliad 2.245), and after a bit of sarcastic praise (λιγύς περ ἐὼν ἀγορητής, “though you are a clear-voiced speaker” [Iliad 2.246]), joins the poet (Iliad 2.213–214) in excoriating him for his disorderly speech. In general, a speech can be disordered on the level of content or style. As Thersites’ speech repeats lines already spoken by Achilles (Iliad 1.232 = 2.242; 1.356–357 = 2.240), one might exonerate at least that part of the content that speaks of the dishonor Agamemnon has done Achilles. Thersites’ speaking voice is characterized as loud, presumably too loud, and shrill (Iliad 2.223–224), two qualities skilled speakers of the classical period worked to avoid. (Of course, Thersites has also offended speech protocol simply by addressing the army without having been given the scepter, a point made explicit only when Odysseus beats him with it [Iliad 2.245].) [5]
Solon, the first Athenian whose own words are preserved (Antiphon will be the next – more than a hundred years later), had a choice between poetry and prose. He chose the more artificial form:
αὐτὸς κῆρυξ ἦλθον ἀφ᾽ ἱμερτῆς Σαλαμῖνος,
κόσμον ἐπ<έω>ν †ὠιδὴν ἀντ᾽ ἀγορῆς θέμενος.
I have come as a herald from fair Salamis, having composed a song, ornament of words, in place of a speech.
Solon fragment 1 West
I think it just possible that the word κόσμον was meant not only as a way of denoting verse, in this instance elegiac couplets, but for its suggestion of an orderliness in expression that comported with the orderliness of the speaker and his political agenda.
In another elegiac poem, Solon berates the Athenians for quite literally misapprehending the wiliness of “a man,” presumably Pisistratus. When assembled in a mass and listening to his words, they abandon their usual individual good judgment by ignoring the testimony of their own eyes:
ὑμέων δ᾽ εἷς μὲν ἕκαστος ἀλώπεκος ἴχνεσι βαίνει,
σύμπασιν δ᾽ ὑμῖν χαῦνος ἔνεστι νόος·
ἐς γὰρ γλῶσσαν ὁρᾶτε καὶ εἰς ἔπη αἱμύλου ἀνδρός,
εἰς ἔργον δ᾽ οὐδὲν γιγνόμενον βλέπετε.
Each one of you follows in the footsteps of the fox; everyone’s mind is empty. You gaze at the tongue and words of a crafty man, but do not look at any of his deeds.
Solon fragment 11.5–8 West
This fragment has a certain historical value as an early reference to synaesthesia, here the sense of sight yielding its place to the sense of hearing (cf. Cleon’s complaint at Thucydides 3.38.4). A curious irony is that Pisistratus is likely to have make a pitiable display of his wounds, falsely attributed to his enemies – a visual datum (see Plutarch Life of Solon 30). If so, Pisistratus would have exploited the Athenians’ sense of sight, and the ergon to which Solon would direct their gaze would have to be something else. It also speaks, though not with any specificity, of an effect attributed to a large audience.
As we round the corner into the fifth century, we encounter several prosecutions of prominent politicians that might have called for the genos dikanikon, [6] but fate has robbed us of the sort of evidence useful for this study. Miltiades was the defendant in the first two actions, but we know nothing of the speeches made before, respectively, the dikastêrion and the Ecclesia that heard the cases. Indeed, Herodotus (6.136) reports that at the Ecclesia Miltiades, too sick to speak, left the defense to be spoken by his friends as he lay on a stretcher. Even if he labored to wring the maximum advantage from the piteous sight, it was insufficient to win his acquittal.
Plutarch relates a charming (or perhaps horrifying) anecdote about the boy Themistocles playing a sort of forensic solitaire:
However humble his birth, it is generally agreed that as a boy he was impetuous, naturally clever, and strongly drawn to a life of action and public service. Whenever he was on holiday or had time to spare from his lessons, he did not play or idle like the other boys, but was always to be found composing or rehearsing speeches by himself. These took the form of a prosecution or defense of the other boys, so that his teacher remarked to him more than once: “At least there will be nothing petty about you, my boy. You are going to be a great man one way or the other, either for good or evil.”
Life of Themistocles 2.1–2 (translation by Scott-Kilvert, with slight adaptations)
Not a story to be taken seriously, except perhaps as showing what later generations would consider a plausible event in the life of this particular boy. Only a little less easy to dismiss is Plutarch’s account toward the end of the same chapter of instruction in oratory Themistocles took from Mnesiphilus:
This man was neither an orator nor one of the so-called natural philosophers, but had made a special study of what at that time went by the name of “wisdom” [sophia]. This was really a combination of political acumen and practical intelligence, which had been formulated and handed down in unbroken succession from Solon, as though it were a set of philosophical principles. His successors combined it with various forensic techniques and transferred its application from public affairs to the use of language and were termed Sophists.
Life of Themistocles 2.6–7 (translation by Scott-Kilvert)
Thucydides, whose information on Themistocles’ youth may not have been vastly better than Plutarch’s, despite being some five hundred years closer in time, attributes Themistocles’ expository success, presumably in symbouleutic oratory, to inborn talent, not instruction:
ἦν γὰρ ὁ Θεμιστοκλῆς βεβαιότατα δὴ φύσεως ἰσχὺν δηλώσας καὶ διαφερόντως τι ἐς αὐτὸ μᾶλλον ἑτέρου ἄξιος θαυμάσαι· οἰκείᾳ γὰρ ξυνέσει καὶ οὔτε προμαθὼν ἐς αὐτὴν οὐδὲν οὔτ᾽ ἐπιμαθών, τῶν τε παραχρῆμα δι᾽ ἐλαχίστης βουλῆς κράτιστος γνώμων καὶ τῶν μελλόντων ἐπὶ πλεῖστον τοῦ γενησομένου ἄριστος εἰκαστής· καὶ ἃ μὲν μετὰ χεῖρας ἔχοι, καὶ ἐξηγήσασθαι οἷός τε, ὧν δ᾽ ἄπειρος εἴη, κρῖναι ἱκανῶς οὐκ ἀπήλλακτο·
Themistocles was a man in whom most truly was manifested the strength of natural judgment, wherein he had something worthy of admiration different from other men. For by his natural prudence, without the help of instruction before or after, he was both of extemporary matters upon short deliberation the best discerner, and also of what for the most part would be their issue the best conjecturer.
Thucydides 1.138.3 (translation by Hobbes)
This remark is likely to be an implicit rejoinder to those who preferred to portray Themistocles as reliant on others.
Some decades later pity was again at work, if we can believe Plutarch’s account of Pericles weeping and begging the jurors to win the acquittal of Aspasia (Life of Pericles 32.5). [7] Plutarch himself gives us reason for skepticism about the anecdotes regarding Aspasia (24.12 and 32.6; see Henry 1995:16, 24–25), but even if the story is credible, Pericles himself was not a litigant, and this fact clouds the issue of a speaker’s self-presentation. Plutarch presumably intended the story to illustrate both Pericles’ devotion to his mistress and his skill at getting his way with democratic audiences. (On the general matter of appeals to pity, see chapter 6.)

“Tragic” Oratory from Antiphon to Hyperides

It is clear beyond question that no verbal art affected ordinary Athenians, the men who manned the democratic juries, as intensely as the tragedies performed at the city’s dramatic festivals throughout the period of the canonical Attic orators. Though it is often said that tragedy died with Sophocles and Euripides in the last decade of the century, new tragedies and revivals of earlier plays continued into the fourth century and beyond. Of course, music and spectacle played a large part in the affective mechanisms of tragedy, but the words alone played so strongly on the audience’s emotions that it would be strange if courtroom speakers did not sometimes look to the vocabulary, phraseology, or delivery of tragic poetry as resource or inspiration. [8] Aeschines, himself a skilled actor, seems to have been particularly inclined to make such borrowings, but at the risk of exposing himself to his opponents’ ridicule. In 346/5, Demosthenes quoted (or pretended to quote) Aeschines (19.189):
“ποῦ δ᾽ ἅλες; ποῦ τράπεζα; ποῦ σπονδαί;” ταῦτα γὰρ τραγῳδεῖ περιιών . . .
“But what of the salt? What of the table? What of the libations?” That is his tragic lament . . .
The quoted words themselves, though metonymic in their function, are not proper to the tragic lexicon and they are not metrical, or even recognizably iambic in rhythm. [9] Presumably Demosthenes expressed his sarcasm by mimicking Aeschines’ delivery in a style appropriate to the stage, but not an Athenian courtroom (see below n27).
I begin my discussion with some of the earliest preserved speeches, which conveniently exhibit the clearest examples of forensic rhetoric with (attempted) affinities with tragedy, other than quotations of tragedy explicitly identified as such or Demosthenes’ partisan scoffing at Aeschines. Among professional orators, Lysias and his successors, I argue, were careful to avoid stepping out of their genre, as it were; I conclude with a short discussion of Hyperides, whom a prominent scholar has claimed made use of tragic language.


Sometime, perhaps around 425, [10] a man just old enough to take legal action on his own behalf stepped before the Areopagus and delivered a speech written for him by Antiphon in which he accuses his stepmother of poisoning his father. In the speech he wrote for his young client, Antiphon (1.1) has him open with an emphatic statement of the duress under which he is addressing the court:
νέος μὲν καὶ ἄπειρος δικῶν ἔγωγε ἔτι, δεινῶς δὲ καὶ ἀπόρως ἔχει μοι περὶ τοῦ πράγματος, ὦ ἄνδρες, τοῦτο μὲν εἰ ἐπισκήψαντος τοῦ πατρὸς ἐπεξελθεῖν τοῖς αὑτοῦ φονεῦσι μὴ ἐπέξειμι, τοῦτο δὲ εἰ ἐπεξιόντι ἀναγκαίως ἔχει οἷς ἥκιστα ἐχρῆν ἐν διαφορᾷ καταστῆναι, ἀδελφοῖς ὁμοπατρίοις καὶ μητρὶ ἀδελφῶν.
I am still so young and inexperienced in legal matters, gentlemen, that I face a terrible dilemma in this case: either I fail in my duty to my father, who instructed me to prosecute his murderers, or, if I do prosecute, I am forced to quarrel with people who should least of all be my opponents – my own half-brothers and those brothers’ mother.
Just before ending his speech (§§29–30), he refers again to the prosecution of his stepmother as undertaken in obedience to his father, but now adding two pathetic details: his father was dying when he gave his son the order to seek vengeance, and he himself was still a boy (πᾶις) at the time. My contention is that Antiphon witnessed, and probably experienced himself, the strong emotional effects tragedians worked on their audience; because his client was a novice, and the young man’s case was weak, he elected to raise the rhetorical temperature. The narrative is especially rich in such features, among them:
— the speaker’s referring to his stepmother as “Clytemnestra” (§17)
— a stretch of iambic rhythm at §19: ἡ δὲ παλλακὴ τοῦ Φιλόνεω τὴν σπονδὴν
ἅμ᾽ ἐγχέουσ᾽ ἐκείνοις εὐχομένοις ἃ οὐκ ἔμελλε τελεῖσθαι,
— similarly at §20: ἐκπίνουσιν ὑστάτηνν πόσιν (see Barigazzi 1955)
— the use of words in a sense they bear almost exclusively in poetry: ἐπίχειρα for ‘punishment’ and ἤδη for ‘forthwith’ (see Gagarin 1997)
— the use of a historical present at §20 (see Barigazzi 1955), in the manner of a Euripidean messenger speech [11]
— the description of the disguised poison as a human killer (φονεύς) at §20.
Against the Stepmother is not unique among the speeches attributed to Antiphon for the occurrence of poeticisms: see especially Cucuel 1886:22–23. [12] And there is a degree of emotionalism in all of them, even in the Tetralogies, which have no direct connection to actual persons and events. Nevertheless, the concentration of affective features found in Against the Stepmother cannot be paralleled in any other logographic text. [13] Perhaps if we had his complete oeuvre we would be less startled by blanket descriptions of Antiphon’s style as eschewing emotion, e.g. Caecilius as quoted in [Plutarch] Lives of the Ten Orators 832 E5, assuming this text is correct in supplying the negating word οὐ, which is underlined in the Greek and in the translation: [14]
Καικίλιος δ᾽ ἐν τῷ περὶ αὐτοῦ συντάγματι Θουκυδίδου τοῦ συγγραφέως καθηγητὴν τεκμαίρεται γεγονέναι ἐξ ὧν ἐπαινεῖται παρ᾽ αὐτῷ ὁ Ἀντιφῶν. ἔστι δ᾽ ἐν τοῖς λόγοις ἀκριβὴς καὶ πιθανὸς καὶ δεινὸς περὶ τὴν εὕρεσιν καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἀπόροις τεχνικὸς και ἐπιχειρῶν ἐξ ἀδήλου καὶ ἐπὶτοὺς νόμους καὶ οὐ τὰ πάθη τρέπων τοὺς λόγους τοῦ εὐπρεποῦς μάλιστα στοχαζόμενος.
In his treatise on Antiphon, Caecilius concludes from Thucydides’ praise of Antiphon that he was Thucydides’ teacher. Antiphon is precise [akribês] in speech, persuasive, and clever in invention, [15] skillful in difficult circumstances, stealthily going on the offensive, and directing his words [or arguments] to the laws, not the emotions, aiming above all at the seemly [to euprepês].
But the crucial difference between what Caecilius saw in the generality of Antiphon’s style and what we see in Antiphon 1 lies in the immediate context, which provides a clear rationale for an affective usage, and thereby a link affording a very useful control for moderns, who must work by conjecture from scanty evidence. Contrast, for example, ὀπτήρ (‘witness’) at 5.27.3. The word is, as commentators say, of almost exclusively poetic provenance; but Antiphon’s narrative at that point is objective and logical, hence not an appropriate location for an attempt at poignancy. We may conclude that the word was not chosen for its pathos – in the normal sense of the English word.
Similarly, ἄθλιος: as a glance at the LSJ entry for the word shows, it can apply to the cause of misery or, more frequently, a person suffering misery, [16] and its denotation therefore makes it a candidate for use in the complaints de rigueur in forensic oratory. Forms of the adjective and the adverb ἀθλίως are quite common in fifth- and fourth-century texts of various genres, but appear rarely in the genos dikanikon and other branches of oratory. The word is by its very meaning affective, but the distribution does not signal a specifically tragic or even more generally poetic word. Though there are many occurrences in tragedy (Euripides has over one hundred), its use in Aristophanes is not paratragic. [17] The word appears six times in Antiphon (once in a speech for a real case, five times in the Tetralogies), but though the passages are emotionally charged, ἄθλιος by itself does not appear unmistakably poetic. ἄθλιος, then, is not in the same category as, say, usages in Antiphon whose proper provenance is unquestionably poetic, e.g. ὁρῶσι τοῦ ἡλίου τὸ φῶς (1.68) or πρόρριζον (1.146).
The outcome of Antiphon’s Against the Stepmother, like that of virtually all cases known from the surviving speeches, is unknown. I believe that the prosecution failed, not only because the case looked flimsy, but also because the emotionalism Antiphon instilled in the speech, far from compensating for the speaker’s lack of evidence and inexperience, damaged the case further. This speech might be a statistical outlier in its concentration of affective devices, comparable to few or none of the other professionally composed speeches heard or read in the first decades of logographic activity; but that it was Antiphon, as far as we know the preeminent logographos of his time, who had (if I am right) stumbled so badly would have made the impression all the stronger among those in the know, and above all among the other logographoi. I conjecture, therefore, that the affective style provoked distaste, possibly mixed with derision. Whether an outlier or not, the far more restrained style [18] exhibited by the other preserved speeches of the late fifth and early fourth centuries seems to me strong evidence that, other things being equal, an overemotional style was likely to fail in Athenian courts.
Antiphon’s preserved speeches are filled with devices or mannerisms that make his Greek distinctive. There is a streak of residual Ionic, especially in the Tetralogies (see Meillet 1975:237–241); he makes considerable use of doublets augmented by homoioteleuton; and with Thucydides, but no other prose writer, he shares a penchant for abstract expression, most notably in the use of abstract nomina actionis as the grammatical subject of a verb (see e.g. Denniston 1952:28–34; Gagarin 1997:24–32). All these features put his language at a considerable distance from routine Attic speech, without marking it as specifically emotional. The affective quality of Antiphon 1 derives almost entirely from verbal devices borrowed from tragic poetry. Obviously the speaker might have tried to amplify the poeticisms by a theatrical delivery, though we cannot often make that claim from the bare text: see the excursus on putative tragic features in forensic speeches later in this chapter. But the tragic theater was by no means the only place or occasion where an Athenian could hear men speaking emotionally. In the many courts of classical Athens one could, I will argue, often see men to varying degrees inflamed or stymied, even to the point of falling silent, when their turn came to speak. These were, for the most part, men who could not afford the full set of rhetorical armor provided by professional logographoi, and so had to rely on their own, often inadequate, resources. Of course, for all the advantages they gave, a good speech and professional training guaranteed nothing, as Antiphon’s own fate shows (Thucydides 8.68.2).


Andocides was not a logographos in the usual sense, since he is not known to have written any speeches for other men to deliver, [19] and his membership in the Canon has been regarded as unmerited, almost scandalous. [20] He too inserted some poetic words and phrases into his oratory. A few look like borrowings from tragedy appropriate to their immediate context, [21] but two are probably sarcastic ways of referring to his enemies’ overblown accounts. [22] At 3.34, a symbouleutic speech, Andocides has an anastrophe of preposition, a turn that Aristotle mentions as a tragic usage, and not part of routine language. [23] Blass (1887–98:1.301) points to a single metaphorical usage at 2.2, [24] but the run of the sentence makes it clear that Andocides was at this point too being sarcastic, not poignant in the manner of the tragic stage. [25] And there are no other candidates for poetic, let alone tragic, borrowings in that speech. I see no reason to think that the outcome of Andocides’ two forensic cases was much influenced by his stylistic choices. [26] How the juries saw his political activities and associations was probably decisive. [27]
Isaeus introduced (or reintroduced, if my reading of the style of Antiphon 1 and reaction to it are correct) a more affective style into professional forensic oratory sometime in the second decade of the fourth century. The freer use of oaths (see chapter 7) are an objective measure of this change, and perhaps we can put some credence in the ancient reports that speak of his use of emotional appeals and his influence on Demosthenes (e.g. Dionysius of Halicarnassus Isaeus 3). But even the forensic speeches in the Demosthenic corpus, excepting those that are formally forensic, but in a deeper sense belong to the symbouleutic branch, do not exhibit the cruder expressions of emotion that I believe were common in amateur speech.

Excursus: Other Opinions on Tragedy and Forensic Oratory

Starting in the mid-1980s, many important discussions of the relation of tragedy to oratory have veered toward an inaccurate assessment of the role tragic poetry played in oratory. I offer here a highly condensed and schematized set of examples of this approach. My comments will center on forensic oratory, the subject of this monograph, but the overlaps between symbouleutic and dicanic cloud the issue when the speakers are prominent political figures battling their opponents in the dikastêria, as in all three surviving speeches written and delivered by Aeschines and the two corresponding speeches by Demosthenes, 18 On the Crown and 19 On the Dishonest Embassy.
One error, in my view, is claiming that evocation of tragedy – by which I mean precisely the plays so called [28] – is a motive for speakers’ references to situations that might be compared to elements of tragic plot. In their remarks on Andocides 1 On the Mysteries, Ober and Strauss (1990:256–257) read the appeal (§§49–50) that Charmides makes to the speaker, his cousin, as “vaguely” recalling a number of tragic scenes depicting characters faced with terrible choices involving personal safety and the fates of friends and relatives. In “exciting times” – and the profanation of the Mysteries and the mutilation of the Hermae as Athens prepared to invade Sicily certainly made 415 exciting – such dilemmas, I insist, are rather part of real life. Ober and Strauss go on to say that Andocides “sees himself as someone who has suffered but learned through his vicissitudes,” and that his words “call to mind the clichés of a tragic chorus.” To my eye and ear – and I acknowledge that this matter cannot be decided by objective measures – the tragic passages they adduce lack the resemblance in content and form to justify this claim. A man’s summary of his hard times, such as Andocides 1.144–145, cited by Ober and Strauss, is vastly different from a song performed by a group of twelve or fifteen dancers, metrically complex, with vocabulary, phonology, and syntax that set it off from the spoken dialogue, itself strongly distinguished from routine language. Given that tragedies depict human beings reflecting on their ups and down (or in the case of the Prometheus, a divinity sympathetic to humans and one suffering human), we cannot on the evidence of choral reflection show more than that Andocides’ experiences and tragic plots do not come from different universes. [29]
In the same speech, Andocides tells a lurid story of despicable abuse visited by Callias on his own family (§§124–128). He concludes the section by asking the jury what such a miscreant should be called – Oedipus? Aegisthus? Quite reasonably, Wilson cites this as an example of “the tragic . . . to some extent detached . . . from particular tragedies” (1996:317–318). The significant point, though, is that Andocides is trying to depict an enemy as a monster. This is the rhetoric of sophisticated name-calling, in a form far removed from the intricate craft of tragic poetry and, even more important, from the use of mimêsis to create an illusion that transports the audience to another world. [30]
The same point can be made even more emphatically about the occasional direct quotation of tragic passages, a practice well known from Aeschines (1.151–152), Demosthenes (19.247), and Lycurgus (Against Leocrates 100). Though there is of course no question that these trimeters are of tragic provenance, they are explicitly set off from the speaker’s own language. Moreover, it is often the clerk, not the speaker, who actually recites some of these passages, and also passages from Homer and other poets. Observing that these orators are often queasy about introducing poetry, Ober and Strauss conjecture that they feared appearing to be giving “lessons in culture to the ignorant masses” (1990:252–254). Perhaps, but if the anecdotes about Athenian prisoners in Syracuse are to be believed, at least some ordinary soldiers and sailors knew passages of Euripides by heart [31] and would not have taken umbrage at hearing men of great stature (one of them an ex-actor) showing command of poetry, including poetry of the tragic stage.
In the course of arguing that there was “a certain displacement or readjustment of the sphere of theatre and politics,” Wilson (1996:322–323) adduces Aeschines’ complaint that under Ctesiphon’s proposal Demosthenes is to be crowned in the Theater of Dionysus, just before the tragic performances, rather than in the Ecclesia’s meeting place (Aeschines 3.153–156). In Wilson’s elegant formulation, “The theatre has become the place of the tragic politics of Athens, and the disasters of Athenian international affairs of state are depicted in the shape of tragic scenarios.” But I contend that these exploitations of the theatrical space by both Demosthenes and his circle and, with the valences reversed, by Aeschines, do not amount to a court speech that mimics the fundamental mechanics of tragic drama. Menander instructs the audience of his comedy to suppose that the “place is Phyle, in Attica” (Dyscolus 1–2); Shakespeare opens Henry V by asking the audience to let its “imaginary forces” transcend the narrow theatrical space and compress many years “into an hourglass.” But an Attic tragedian never asks his audience to imagine that they are in the theater attending to the herald. [32] For an orator, even a former actor, to play off of tragedy is not for him to confuse the genres. In their practice, professionals evidently agreed with the complaint voiced by author of Andocides 4.23 and Isocrates at Panegyricus 4.168 that Athenians were more likely to pity characters in tragedy than actual human beings. Out of ignorance of this tendency, and desperate to persuade the jurors, the unaided amateur might have tried to mimic the theatrical mode – to his cost. [33]
At a more detailed level of lexicon, David Whitehead (2000:131n144) takes me to task in his commentary on Hyperides for not recognizing the orator’s taste for “tragic flavoring”:
In his contribution to Persuasion [= Bers 1994] . . . V. Bers makes a measured but insistent protest against facile assumptions of rhetorical interplay between the lawcourts and the tragic stage. As in the volume as a whole, H[yperides] goes unmentioned, and Bers’ thesis that, after the excesses of Antiphon 1, “forensic speech [was] purged of tragic flavouring” flies in the face of H’s apparent liking for precisely that taste (cf. generally Pohle 53–6). What the present passage shows is him having his cake – deploring the importation of melodrama (literally: tragedies) into litigation – as well as eating it.
I see the cake, but not Hyperides eating that cake. The allusion to tragedy, or more properly mockery of an opponent for injecting melodrama on an inappropriate occasion, is clear enough, indeed explicit, in Hyperides and other fourth-century orators, [34] but Whitehead has not made it clear how in this passage or elsewhere the orator is exhibiting his own taste for tragic flavor.
More generally, Pohle’s 1928 dissertation on Hyperides’ language, Die Sprache des Redners Hypereides in ihren Beziehungen zur Koine , by no means demonstrates such a backwards-looking taste, but rather, as the title indicates, the relation of the orator’s language to the developing koinê:
Zusammenfassend ist über Laute und Formen bei Hypereides zu bemerken: Verhältnismässig zahlreiche Abweichungen von der üblichen Literatursprache des IV. Jh, verraten den Übergang zur Koine.
In summary, we can remark on phonology and morphology in Hyperides that the relatively frequent deviations from the common literary language of the fourth century betray the transition to koinê.
Pohle 1928:31
At the level of syntax, Pohle (86) observes that the imprecise designation of subject or object reflects the usage of everyday language.
Whitehead’s claims that Hyperides exploits “the language of tragedy” (to use the rubric in his general index) are, however, almost all lexical. The section of Pohle to which he directs the reader, a list of words in Hyperides first attested in tragedy, is but one part of a chapter (pp. 33–60) that collects “new and unattic words,” including words (a) attested only in Hyperides and grammarians, (b) attested in Hyperides and later authors, and (c) already attested before Hyperides in the Attic orators, and also found in epic, lyric, comedy, Thucydides, and inscriptions. This bouquet of authors and genres does not, of course, preclude a penchant for tragic language, but at the very least it should remind us that our knowledge of Greek lexicon is imperfect and that many apparent phenomena of word choice may be mere accidents of transmission (cf. Dover 1973:12–13 and 1975:125–126). As I argued in Greek Poetic Syntax in the Classical Age (Bers 1984:6, 11), inspection of the context provides a valuable control. If the general drift of the passage gives no motive for the presence of affect or elevation, as in, say, a narration or statement of fact in which we can see no reason for the speaker to stir the emotions or motive for him to indulge in stylistic parody, there is little chance that a lexical or syntactic usage is a poeticism. The role of affect is what I was particularly calling attention to in the Persuasion essay. [35] To this principle we can add a further criterion: a court speaker’s putative injection of a word drawn from tragic language and likely to be recognized by the jury as such is more probable if the word has a strong association with tragic diction, e.g. χθών for “earth” or, to take an example from Antiphon 1.21, ἡ εἱμαρμένη for “fate, i.e. death.”
Let us examine first the words Whitehead has identified as an instance of tragic language, and then turn to others in Pohle’s list of words in Hyperides that are first attested in tragedy.
Against Philippides fragment 21.7 Jensen (Whitehead 2000:58–59): κορδακίζων καὶ γελ[ωτ]οποιῶν. The second verb is attested in Aeschylus fragment 180 Radt, and evidently on that ground alone Whitehead writes that it “seems to have dramatic origins.” Perhaps, but as Whitehead notes, that fragment might be satyric. Moreover, “capering and joking” (Whitehead’s translation) does not suggest the characteristic (which is not to say inevitable) tone of tragic drama.
Defense of Lycophron fragment 3 Jensen (Whitehead 2000:98): πολλοὺς λόγους ἀναλώσω, “expend lots of words.” “This particular metaphor appears to be of tragedic origin (Sophocles Ajax 1049, Euripides Medea 325), but in a courtroom context what speakers ‘expend’ is inexorably quantified by the waterclock.” I am skeptical of any association with tragedy, and the temperature of the words certainly does not suggest drama.
Prosecution of Athenogenes fragment 13 Jensen (Whitehead 2000:306): περίφοβον πεποίηκας, “making me fearful.” The first attestation of the adjective, Whitehead points out, is in Aeschylus (Suppliants 736), and he might have added that the passage is lyric. The prefix is not, of course, a high-style feature (the adjectival component without the prefix would be φοβερός). A strong word, certainly, but the context in Hyperides does not suggest high style. The speaker reports himself as so frightened that he turned to something he implies he would never have done under normal circumstances – throwing himself into assiduous study of the law.
Prosecution of Athenogenes fragment 22 Jensen (Whitehead 2000:312): ἂν ἐγγυήσι τις ἐπὶ δικαίοις δάμαρτα. That the noun δάμαρ (‘wife’) is archaic and poetic is beyond doubt, but the motive is exactly (and merely) what Whitehead himself points out: “the quotation or citation of laws.” Tragic flavor is not at issue.
Prosecution of Athenogenes fragment 12 Jensen (Whitehead 2000:329): πρὸς δὲ τούτων εἰς ὠνὴν ἐνεσείσθην “‘I was plunged into the sale’. This verb is apparently another of H[yperides’] borrowings from the language of tragedy. . . .” Whitehead objects to translations like Carey’s “I was bounced into the purchase” as lacking in gravity. There are indeed many tragic attestations of the verb ἐνσείω and, what may be significant, no other fourth-century prose attestations. Moreover, the verb occurs in a passage Pohle could not know, Menander Dyscolus 583–584, where Simiche exclaims, ἐνσέσεικα θ᾽ ἀθλίαι καὶ τὴν δίκελλαν εἰς τὸ φρέαρ μετὰ τὸν κάδοι, might signal one of those moments of silly mock tragic diction found from time to time in New Comedy – “Woe! Woe! I have dropped the dibble deep down into the bowels of this cruel well,” as it were: the word ἄθλιος is very familiar from tragedy (occurring about 116 times in Euripides), and though found often in Plato, it is not common in oratory. But the very idea of a litigant portraying his imprudent buying of a perfume shop in tragic language, especially when the language of his narration otherwise looks entirely free of affect, seems to me improbable in the extreme.
Against Demosthenes fragment 7 Jensen (Whitehead 2000:30): . . . ὥστ᾽ ἀυτὸς ὑπὸ τῆς τύχης ἀφαιρεθεὶς τὸν στέφανον, ἡμῶν ὃν ἔδωκεν οὐκ ἀφείλετο. Whitehead writes (452) of the “tragedic origins of the imagery” and cites a number of relevant passages from Sophocles and Euripides. The literal bestowing of a garland as a mark of gratitude for beneficence to the city, which could include not much more than the satisfactory performance of a liturgy, was a very familiar civic event (see Demosthenes 18.120: exaggeration of how often the ceremony took place in the theater, Demosthenes’ claims notwithstanding [see Wankel 1976 and Yunis 2001 ad loc.]). It therefore seems an unnecessary stretch to speak of a poetic image with an origin in tragedy or any other poetic genre.
Whitehead writes as if Hyperides employed diction otherwise consistent with the earlier, canonical Attic orators, but deviated from time to time take over words from tragedy, complete with that genre’s elevated affect. I am not persuaded.


[ back ] 1. Cole 1991, a challenge to the orthodox opinion, sees “rhetoric” in the sense of discursive treatment of persuasive speech, rather than model texts, as starting only with Plato’s Phaedrus.
[ back ] 2. Preserved in the Mnesiepes Inscription (Archilochus T 4.27–30 Tarditi).
[ back ] 3. Two readers tell me that they doubt that Hesiod means that the people admire the kings’ eloquence, “rather than the beauty of their judgments.” I cannot see how sweetness of divinely endowed speech can be treated as merely a metaphor for appreciation of content alone after the poet describes the effect of their gift as localized in the vocal mechanism.
[ back ] 4. Commentators do not agree on precisely what the comparison to snow is meant to convey. In any case, the delivery was something very unusual.
[ back ] 5. Regrettably, there is no mention of speech style in the description of a legal procedure on the shield of Achilles (Iliad 18.497–508).
[ back ] 6. The historical facts are conveniently tabulated at Hansen 1975:69–70.
[ back ] 7. Plutarch cites Aeschines Socraticus (fragment 25 Dittmar) as his source.
[ back ] 8. Aristotle’s Rhetoric surprises modern readers with its frequent quotation of tragic lines, particularly by the fourth-century rhetorician and poet Theodectes. This does not mean that Aristotle or those who may have had a part in producing the text of the Rhetoric expected speakers to compose, or even often quote, tragic lines: ῥυθμὸν δεῖ ἔχειν τὸν λόγον, μέτρον δὲ μή· ποίημα γὰρ ἔσται̣ (“Speech should have rhythm, but not meter, for if it does it will become a poem,” 1408b30–31).
[ back ] 9. Aeschines 2.22 attributes “salt” and “table” to Demosthenes’ own expostulations.
[ back ] 10. Usher 1999:27 writes, “There has been little scholarly opposition to the tentatively expressed opinion of Blass . . . that the speech Against the Stepmother is the earliest,” but cf. Dover 1950:49–53.
[ back ] 11. Gagarin cites de Jong 1991:38–45.
[ back ] 12. His list is based strictly on distribution by genre, which is not in my view a sufficient criterion: see Bers 1984:10 on φροῦδοςand the extended vocative I quote there, Tetralogy 2.3.3: ὦ ἄνδρες ἀνοσίων ἔργων τιμωροί, ὁσίων δὲ διαγνώμονες (incorrectly attributed to 6.1; cf. Tetralogy 1.2.13), that I believe recalls the extended vocative phrases familiar in tragedy, and so is likely to be felt as meant to recall tragedy’s stylistic level.
[ back ] 13. The press’s reader asks whether Lysias 32 Against Diogeiton might not be similar. The abbreviated text preserved by Dionysius of Halicarnassus certainly has drama, in the nontechnical sense of the word, particularly in the long oratio recta quotation of the speaker’s mother at §§15–17 (Bers 1997:185–186; Usher 1999:80–82). But even in this speech, Lysias does not use the linguistic devices specific to tragedy. In his commentary (1989:208) Carey speaks of Lysias’ “restrained use of overt appeal to emotion,” which seems an accurate formulation.
[ back ] 14. Gernet supplied οὐ, which is printed by Mau in the Teubner (1971). Aside from any consideration of how the author of this spurious work viewed Antiphon, the internal logic of the sentence seems to me to require the negative; if the point was really that the appeal to emotion did not compromise the dignity of the writing, I would expect some explicit concessive marker, e.g. καίπερ. Cuvigny in his Budé edition of Plutarch Moralia (Paris, 1981) removes Gernet’s suppletion and rather mistranslates τοῦ εὐπρεποῦς as “impression de noblesse.” Similar views of Antiphon’s style as natural, direct, and orderly appear in two fragments of uncertain authorship in Photius: see Smith 1994.
[ back ] 15. For the technical meaning of the term see Kennedy 1994:4–5.
[ back ] 16. A subsidiary meaning is ‘foolish’: see MacDowell ad Demosthenes 21.66.
[ back ] 17. None of the nineteen occurrences of ἀθλ- in Aristophanes is cited by Rau 1967 as signaling paratragedy.
[ back ] 18. Often cited is Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ characterization of Antiphon’s style as “austere” (On Literary Composition 22.1), a term I do not find useful. In his influential book on the orators, Jebb (1876:33–34) sees both “tragic” and “austere” in Antiphon’s style: “It is tragic, yet it is not dramatic. . . . The vinegar and the oil refuse to mingle.”
[ back ] 19. MacDowell (1962:19n3) remarks that “whereas And[ocides] was one of the last of the amateurs, Antiphon was one of the first of the professionals.” Aeschines’ professionalism, though acquired by nonconventional means (see Fisher 2001:12–16), was beyond question. There is no positive evidence that he wrote speeches for others, but in exile near the end of his life he well might have supplemented his income as a teacher of rhetoric ([Plutarch] Aeschines 840e) by doing some logographic work.
[ back ] 20. Blass 1887–98:1.299 calls his inclusion “a marvel.”
[ back ] 21. E.g. at 1.68: ὁρῶσι τοῦ ἡλίου τὸ φῶς (a phrase one meets again in oratory at Lycurgus fragment 12.17).
[ back ] 22. 1.29, οἱ λόγοι τῶν κατηγόρων ταῦτα τὰ δεινὰ καὶ φρικώδη ἀνωθριάζον, and 1.130, κληδών.
[ back ] 23. εἰρήνης πέρι; cf. Poetics 1458b31.
[ back ] 24. περικάονται of men waxing wroth.
[ back ] 25. MacDowell’s translation with the verb in question italicized: “I simply can’t understand why they flare up so strangely if you’re to get the advantage of some service of mine.”
[ back ] 26. As it happens, he failed in the first, Andocides 2 On His Return, delivered sometime between 410 and 407, but succeeded in the second, On the Mysteries, delivered in 400 or 399.
[ back ] 27. Histrionic delivery can, obviously, make any word, even “salt” or “table,” sound like an importation from the tragic stage. Whether or not Aeschines had in fact spoken in court in the manner he had used on the tragic stage, Demosthenes could at least claim he had done so, as at 18.13 (also of Aeschines): ἡλίκα νῦν ἐτραγῴδει; 19.189: “ποῦ δ᾽ ἅλες; ποῦ τράπεζα; ποῦ σπονδαί;” ταῦτα γὰρ τραγῳδεῖ περιιών . . . (MacDowell ad loc. explains the verb as “a sarcastic word for excessive lamentations, used here also because Ais[chines] had been a tragic actor”).
[ back ] 28. Referring to Andocides 4.21–23 (its authenticity is controversial), where the speaker scolds the audience for treating real events as if they might be theatrical fictions, P. J. Wilson 1996:320 usefully distinguishes between “the tragic and . . . what might term the tragedic (that which relates to tragedy as a theatrical institution.”
[ back ] 29. To their credit, the authors do some hedging. For instance, the “reference to cries and moans” that Andocides mentions at §48 “perhaps evokes a subliminal nod of recognition of similar behavior in dramatic choruses” (emphasis added).
[ back ] 30. To put it another way, Andocides is not executing the deception (ἀπάτη) that Gorgias called an attribute of “just” tragedy (fragment 23 D-K).
[ back ] 31. Satyrus Life of Euripides 39.29, Plutarch Life of Nicias 29. Taplin 1999:43 describes these accounts as “both positively plausible.”
[ back ] 32. Aeschines 3.153: γένεσθε δή μοι μικρὸν χρόνον τῃ διανοίᾳ μὴ ἐν τῷ δικαστηρίῳ, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν τῷ θεάτρῳ, καὶ νομίσαθ᾽ ὁρᾶν προϊόντα τὸν κήρυκα.
[ back ] 33. See the discussion at Halliwell 2002:213–214.
[ back ] 34. Examples at Whitehead 2000:130–131 and Wilson 1996.
[ back ] 35. Bers 1994:189: “There is an abundance of poetic words at charged moments”; “The intense affect which contributed to success in one civic occasion, the tragic performance, was found to be unsuccessful in litigation.”