Anytus and the Rhetoric of Abuse in Plato’s Apology and Meno

Håkan Tell, Dartmouth College

πεφύκασι δ’ οἱ πλεῖστοι τῶν φιλοσόφων τῶν κωμικῶν κακήγοροι μᾶλλον εἶναι.
Most philosophers are naturally more disposed to slander than the comic playwrights.
Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 5.220a
The subject of this paper is the rhetorical strategies of abuse that Socrates employs in the Apology and Meno, strategies ubiquitous in Plato’s writings that have not yet been afforded proper critical attention. [1] In what follows, I shall offer an exploration of the rhetoric of abuse in Plato, particularly in relation to the figure of Anytus, and provide some suggestions as to the role it plays in Plato’s characterization of Socrates and his intellectual activities in fifth-century BCE Athens. I shall pursue this exploration by taking as my starting point in section one the manifestation of διαβολή, “slander,” in the Apology. This word is exclusively associated with Socrates’ prosecutors and connected with the ill-will directed at him. From there I shall proceed in section two to considering how Socrates characterizes his own abusive discourse, and I shall argue that it is envisioned as being in line with the practices typically found in iambic poets such as Archilochus, Hipponax, and Semonides. Finally, I shall turn to the practical implementation of the Socratic abusive discourse in relation to Anytus, Socrates’ main prosecutor, in the Meno, to explore how it effectively turns him into the butt of Socratic mockery.


The function of διαβολή—traditionally translated as “slander” [2] —in ancient oratory has been well studied and understood. [3] Chris Carey highlights the stark difference between its frequent occurrence in the orators and the subordinate position it holds in the theoretical accounts found in the rhetorical handbooks, notably Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Anaximenes’ Rhetorica ad Alexandrum (both fourth century BCE texts). [4] Given the perfunctory treatment in the rhetorical tradition, any study of διαβολή would do better to focus on its practical application at the hands of active orators and logographers. Drawing on this material, Carey elaborates on the typical connotations of διαβολή, a practice that was generally seen as depraved and aiming at “the perversion of justice.” [5] In the ancient sources, διαβολή is generally considered “as irrelevant material intended to create prejudice, generally by distortion or falsification,” but it is important to note that there is no inherent implication of truth or falsehood in the word. [6] It is mainly employed in an attempt to create a distance between one’s legal adversary and the jury, and to prevent the formation of εὔνοια, “goodwill,” on the part of the jury, which might sway them to side with the opposing party.
It is thus not surprising to discover that διαβολή figures prominently in Plato’s Apology. [7] After all, this text is meant to be read, among other things, as an account of the historical trial for impiety and corruption of the youth that Socrates underwent in 399 BCE, and it would be only natural if it employed rhetorical tropes in current circulation at the time of the trial. In the last few decades, however, increasing emphasis has been placed on the distinct literary qualities of Plato’s writings and on the ways in which he appears to co-opt for the purposes of his own philosophical project the authoritative voice of other genres. [8] With such a perspective in mind, it might not be unreasonable to explore the prominence of διαβολή in the Apology as an expression of Plato’s literary sensibilities. Or, to put it differently, it makes good sense to pay attention to how Plato constructs the discourse of philosophy by way of entering into dialogue with other genres, in this case oratory.
From a different perspective, G. E. L. Owen has called attention to the literary influences of διαβολή on the fourth century BCE “philosophical pamphleteers.” [9] In respect to this abusive philosophical discourse Owen writes that, “if we had been considering the orators and not the philosophers it would have seemed no more than a commonplace that there are stock forms of abuse and fourth-century invective, conventional slanders which can be employed with little or no care for the facts.” [10] Owen traces this abuse back to the comic writers of the fifth century. [11] To understand the fourth-century philosophical pamphleteers, Owen argues, we must appreciate the distorting effect of comic influences on these writers. In other words, philosophy must be read as literature, and an astute reader requires literary sensibilities to decipher its content—in this case the detrimental effects of invectives. [12]
It is against the background of these two approaches—both stressing, though in different ways, the significance of literary conventions on the discourse of philosophy—that I suggest that we undertake an investigation into the meaning of διαβολή in the Apology. This word is exclusively linked with the prejudice directed at Socrates, never with any activity on his part. Socrates frequently refers to ἡ ἐμὴ διαβολή, “the slander/prejudice against me,” and assigns it a decisive role in supporting the charges brought by Meletus (19a8–b2). [13] The purpose of his defense speech is, as he says in typical oratorical fashion, to remove the slander (ἐξελέσθαι τὴν διαβολήν) against him that the Athenians have harbored for a long time (19a1; cf. 37b2: μεγάλας διαβολὰς ἀπολύεσθαι). Socrates divides his speech between first defending himself against his old accusers and then against the more recent ones (18a–e). Of the sixteen occurrences of διαβολή and διαβάλλω in the Apology, only one instance refers to the recent accusers (33a4), and thirteen occurrences are clustered in a short passage at the beginning of the speech that addresses the early accusations (18d2–24a8). From these observations, two conclusions can be drawn: 1) that Socrates identifies his διαβολή, that is, the διαβολή directed at him, as providing the real substance behind Meletus’ charge, and 2) that this διαβολή originates with old accusations that predate his recent accusers. Next, let us turn to these old accusations and investigate their origin.
When accounting for the initial false accusations (ψευδῆ κατηγορημένα, 18a8) against him, Socrates traces them back to an imaginary, original indictment (18b6–18c1) that alleges that he is a wise man (σοφὸς ἀνήρ) who ponders (φροντιστής) [14] the things in the sky and investigates (ἀνεζητηκώς) all the things below the earth, and that he makes the weaker argument stronger. He then goes on to identify the disseminators of this rumor (ταύτην τὴν φήμην) as his most dangerous accusers, since those who listen to them (οἱ γὰρ ἀκούοντες, 18c2–3) will draw the conclusion that people engaged in such investigations do not believe in the gods. [15] This is an important distinction: Socrates does not say that the initial accusations made any explicit allegations about his religious views, only that the listeners came to this conclusion. As to the identity of those who spread this rumor, Socrates cannot tell, except in the case of a certain comic playwright (τις κωμῳδοποιός, 18d2)—clearly an allusion to Aristophanes.
Socrates then makes another distinction in introducing a new group of people (ὅσοι δέ, 18d2) who are described as being motivated by envy and slander (φθόνῳ καὶ διαβολῇ χρώμενοι)—and this is the first time that διαβολή occurs in the Apology. This new group of people persuaded others, who (οἱ δέ, 18d3), once they were themselves convinced, continued to spread the false accusations. This is a very dense passage, and it might be worthwhile to clarify exactly how this process is envisioned. We seem to be dealing with three distinct groups: 1) The original accusations are attributed to, among other people, Aristophanes. Socrates is very careful to specify that these accusations are not true (ψευδῆ κατηγορημένα, 18a8; οὐδὲν ἀληθὲς λέγοντες, 18b2; μᾶλλον οὐδὲν ἀληθές, 18b6). The real danger of these accusations resides in insinuating, without explicitly stating, practices on his part that are anathema to Athenian religious beliefs. 2) There is then another group whose real motivations are envy and slander (φθόνῳ καὶ διαβολῇ). They deliberately distort already existing prejudices against Socrates in a concerted effort to discredit him. 3) Finally there is the third group—those convinced by the second group—who continue to spread the διαβολή against Socrates. The people of this group do so in good faith, however, since they are themselves convinced (αὐτοὶ πεπεισμένοι, 18d3) about the truth of the allegations—in sharp contrast to the second group, whose real objective is character assassination. [16] These three groups taken together (οὗτοι πάντες, 18d4), says Socrates, are most difficult to deal with (ἀπορώτατοι, 18d4), since he cannot bring any one of them to trial to refute their charges. This, then, is Socrates’ first attempt to clarify who his early detractors are. [17]
Only a few lines later (19a8), Socrates seemingly commences a second definition of his early accusers. This time διαβολή plays a prominent role. Socrates pledges to start from the beginning (ἐξ ἀρχῆς), and asks what the accusation (κατηγορία) was out of which arose his διαβολή—the διαβολή that Meletus later could exploit (19a8–b2). To emphasize the significance of διαβολή at this juncture, Socrates asks what exactly his early detractors said to slander him (τί δὴ λέγοντες διέβαλλον οἱ διαβάλλοντες), and for the second time Socrates envisions an imaginary charge against himself. This time, though, the charge is phrased in stronger legal language: it is introduced as a sworn testimony (ἀντωμοσία, 19b3) containing an accusation against Socrates of being guilty of wrongdoing (ἀδικεῖ, 19b4) in his dealings with his fellow Athenians. The same allegations as before are reiterated with the additional charge that he teaches others these same things. The sharpened legal rhetoric in conjunction with the stress on διαβολή is a clear indication that we are moving away from the innocuous—though false—characterization by his first accusers, including Aristophanes (group one above), to a more serious and slanderous portrayal by a subsequent group of people (group two above). Socrates acknowledges that the substance of the second accusation is derived from an already existing popular opinion of him, and he refers in 19c specifically to the Aristophanic characterization—adding that he is there portrayed as talking a lot of rubbish (φλυαρίαν φλυαροῦντα, 19c4). The second charge thus formalizes the preexisting, mainly derisive picture of Socrates into a proto-legal indictment with elements of character assassination. Also, the additional charge of teaching others is appended.
There follows a short digression, in which Socrates professes not to have any knowledge of the things he is made to discuss in the Clouds, though, he hastens to add, he is in no way disrespectful (ἀτιμάζων, 19c5) if someone possesses such knowledge. He also claims never to have taught anyone or to have made money from instruction, though he thinks it a marvelous thing if someone is able to do this, like Gorgias, Prodicus, and Hippias. [18] After this parenthesis (20c4), Socrates returns to the topic of διαβολή, ventriloquizing a question about whence, if he has done nothing out of the ordinary (περιττότερον), his διαβολαί have come. Socrates then sets out to explain what has caused his reputation and slander (τί ποτ’ ἐστὶν τοῦτο ὃ ἐμοὶ πεποίηκεν τό τε ὄνομα καὶ τὴν διαβολήν, 20d3–4). He reassures the jury that he will speak the whole truth (πᾶσαν ὑμῖν τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἐρῶ, 20d5–6), though it will probably seem to some that he is joking (παίζειν, 20d5). We shall have more to say about παίζειν later, but for now I would like to note the use of ἀλήθεια, “truth,” which stands in sharp opposition to the long list of false and untruthful accusations that Socrates has chronicled up to this point. This is a theme that runs through the Apology, and Socrates repeatedly stresses his intent, as well as his obligation, to tell the truth, as opposed to the many untruthful statements of the prosecutors, old and new. [19] Concomitant with this shift from falsehood to truth is the transition from the question “what are the διαβολαί?” to “why are there διαβολαί?”
In setting out the real reasons for his reputation and διαβολή, Socrates ignores the old accusations and states instead that it is his σοφία, “wisdom,” that fueled them. He goes on to clarify in a somewhat tentative language that his is probably mere human wisdom (ἴσως ἀνθρωπίνη σοφία, 20d8), as opposed to that of the people he mentioned earlier (19c5–7 and 19e1–4), who seem to possess something greater than human wisdom (μείζω τινὰ ἢ κατ’ ἄνθρωπον σοφίαν σοφοὶ εἶεν, 20e1). Anyone who claims that he possesses this latter wisdom is lying and says so in order to slander him (ψεύδεταί τε καὶ ἐπὶ διαβολῇ τῇ ἐμῇ λέγει, 20e3). Socrates then provides the god at Delphi as witness (μάρτυρα) to his wisdom (20e6–8), and narrates the story of Chaerephon’s dealings with the Delphic oracle, according to which Chaerephon asked the oracle if anyone is wiser (σοφώτερος) than Socrates. Socrates finds it necessary at this point to remind the jurors why he is relating this story, namely to inform them of the reason for his διαβολή (ὅθεν μοι ἡ διαβολὴ γέγονεν, 21a2). Puzzled at Delphi’s answer that no one is wiser than he is—but reassured that it is not a lie (οὐ γὰρ δήπου ψεύδεταί γε, 21b6)—Socrates undertakes an investigation (ζήτησις, 21b8; ἐξέτασις, 22e6) with the aim of refuting the oracle (ἐλέγξων τὸ μαντεῖον, 21c1) by finding someone who is wiser than he is.
In the process of investigating people who seem wise—especially to themselves—Socrates keeps returning to the same conclusion: that they are wise in appearance only, not in reality. But he also keeps evoking the same emotional response in his interlocutors and bystanders: when trying to point out to the person he just refuted that, although he thinks himself wise, he is not, Socrates incurs their hatred (ἀπηχθόμην, 21d1). The verb ἀπεχθάνομαι is used four times in the Apology and the noun ἀπέχθεια twice. All of the instances occur in the context of the negative emotional response to the Socratic refutation (ἐλέγχω). [20] It is also noteworthy that every occurrence figures in close proximity to forms of the words διαβολή and διαβάλλω, thereby linking the discourse of hatred with that of slander. Indeed, Socrates professes that it is precisely this negative emotional response on the part of his interlocutors that is the real reason for his διαβολή (22e6–23a3). [21] It is also this cumulated hostility that Meletus (on behalf of the poets), Anytus (on behalf of the craftsmen), and Lycon (on behalf of the orators) channel in the lawsuit against Socrates, though the verb used to describe their emotional state is ἄχθομαι, “to be vexed, annoyed” (23e4–6). This same verb also figures in the description of the vexation that might motivate the Athenians to be convinced by Anytus and put Socrates to death, and it is likened to the feeling of people who are awakened from their sleep by an annoying gadfly (31a3–5). We shall have more to say about this passage in section two below. In addition to this, Socrates also incurs hatred for the behavior of the wealthy young men who regularly follow him. They take such pleasure in witnessing people being questioned that they often mimic Socrates and attempt to question others. In doing this, they discover much folly (πολλὴν ἀφθονίαν, 23c6), which, in turn, makes the people who are questioned angry with Socrates (ὀργίζονται, 23c8).
But why, if this is the real reason for the hatred and slander against Socrates, do his many detractors levy accusations against him that are either entirely unrelated (such as investigating the things in the sky and under the earth) or only indirectly germane (such as corrupting the youth)? This is most fully answered in 23d, where Socrates says that if one were to ask those who accuse Socrates of corrupting the youth in what way he does this, they would have nothing to say (ἔχουσι μὲν οὐδὲν εἰπεῖν, 23d3). But in order not to seem to be at a loss (ἀπορεῖν, 23d4), they resort to the stock accusations against all philosophers (τὰ κατὰ πάντων τῶν φιλοσοφούντων πρόχειρα, 23d4-5), namely that he corrupts the youth by teaching them the “things in the sky and under the earth” and “not to worship the gods” and “to make the weaker argument stronger” (23d5-7). The truth, however, they are not willing to tell – namely, that they have been exposed as laying claim to a wisdom they do not possess (23d7-9). [22]
In the Apology, then, we see how the discourse on διαβολή transitions from the acknowledgement of the existence of slander against Socrates to the exploration of the reasons for its existence. Initially, we are told that sundry false accusations against Socrates have been in wide circulation for a long time. It is only when a certain group of people starts exploiting these accusations for the purpose of διαβολή, however, that the situation turns from being mildly annoying to serious. The real motivation for the διαβολή is almost entirely disconnected from the way it is expressed, though Socrates elaborates on the indirect relationship between the earlier accusations and the formal charges brought against him by Meletus. [23] He first addresses the charge of not worshiping the gods (18c2–3), and says that the listeners (οἱ ἀκούοντες) of the earliest accusations, which includes Aristophanes’ Clouds, will come to the conclusion that anyone studying the things in the sky and under the earth, as well as making the weaker argument stronger, does not worship the gods. Such popular impressions were later explored to sustain the more serious charge of ἀσέβεια, “impiety.” Socrates also asserts that they are stock accusations that are frequently used against all philosophers (23d), and that they result from an unwillingness on the part of his accusers to express their real grievance: hatred against Socrates for exposing their false claim to wisdom. As for the charge of corrupting the youth, Socrates connects it with the habit of his wealthy young followers to imitate his method of refutation, which has the effect of making the Athenians hate him even more, not only for exposing their own folly but also for serving as a positive exemplum to the young Athenian elite (23c2–d2). [24]
Socrates’ goal in his defense speech—at least as he himself expresses it—is to remove the slander against him (18e5–19a2). This he does in two ways. First, he argues for a split between what his prosecutors say and their reasons for saying it. This split, once opened up, allows him largely to ignore the formal charges, while addressing his defense against issues of his own choosing. Second, he claims a divine sanction for his own way of life by referring to Apollo as the guarantor of his σοφία (20e6–8) and the instigator of his investigation (ζήτησις, ἐξέτασις) and refutation (ἐλέγχω) (23a5-b7). By claiming that the real motivation for his διαβολή is the hatred that he incurs when questioning his fellow citizens (22e6–23a3), Socrates is effectively deflecting the hatred from himself onto the god and the σοφία he authorizes. There is, he says, no greater good for Athens than his service to the god (30a5–7) [25] —indeed, he is god’s gift to Athens (τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ δόσιν ὑμῖν, 30d7–e1)—and if he provokes anger by his investigation, it is a divinely authorized provocation and must be endured—both by Socrates and those whom he questions:
After that I proceeded systematically. I realized, to my sorrow and alarm, that I was getting unpopular, but I thought that I must attach the greatest importance to the god’s oracle, so I must go to all those who had any reputation for knowledge to examine its meaning. [26]
Trans. G. M. A. Grube (in J. M. Cooper 1997)
Coextensive with the referral to the divine authority of Apollo is, very appropriately, the emphasis on the truthfulness of Socrates’ account. Socrates is obliged to tell the truth (δεῖ γὰρ πρὸς ὑμᾶς τἀληθῆ λέγειν, 22a2) and this obligation is owed as much to his service to the god as to his own claim to σοφία. The untruthful account of the prosecutors is thus tied to the untruthful expressions of διαβολή, while the Socratic truth is matched with the true account of the prosecutors’ real grievance. Finally, if Socrates is only following the god’s command when exposing the Athenians’ false claim to wisdom, then the Athenians’ misguided anger and desire to silence him by death leave them in the ominous role of someone waging an ill-advised war against the divine will.
The analysis thus far helps us see the role that Socrates assigns to διαβολή in accounting for the popular hostility directed at him, which resulted in Meletus’ lawsuit. As we have already noted, διαβολή is exclusively associated with the hostility directed at Socrates and never with any action on his part – not even with the semi-abusive practices of his wealthy young hangers-on. It is clear, then, that since διαβολή carries only negative connotations—“Diabole is what you do, not what I do” [27] —it would never be appropriate to use in relation to the invective strategies employed by Socrates. Instead, when characterizing Socratic invectives, Plato uses language familiar from the iambic tradition, where we are wont to find socially peripheral figures who dole out abuse against their chosen targets. Next we shall explore further how Socrates employs the rhetoric of abuse in the Apology.


Before exploring Socrates’ abusive strategies, however, we need briefly to outline how abuse was conceptualized in ancient Greece and highlight some key words and phrases used to describe invective discourse. Plutarch, in his discussion of Sparta, gives us a good sense of how invectives functioned in the Spartan messes:
Εἰς δὲ τὰ συσσίτια καὶ παῖδες ἐφοίτων, ὥσπερ εἰς διδασκαλεῖα σωφροσύνης ἀγόμενοι, καὶ λόγων ἠκροῶντο πολιτικῶν καὶ παιδιὰς ἐλευθερίους ἑώρων, [28] αὐτοί τε παίζειν εἰθίζοντο καὶ σκώπτειν ἄνευ βωμολοχίας καὶ σκωπτόμενοι μὴ δυσχεραίνειν. σφόδρα γὰρ ἐδόκει καὶ τοῦτο Λακωνικὸν εἶναι, σκώμματος ἀνέχεσθαι· μὴ φέροντα δὲ ἐξῆν παραιτεῖσθαι, καὶ ὁ σκώπτων ἐπέπαυτο.
In Sparta, even the children would attend the communal meals (messes) as if to get lessons in self-control. They would listen to political conversations and observe jokes worthy of free men. They got used both to joking and mocking without buffoonery, and to being a target of mockery without getting annoyed. For this seemed very much to be a Spartan characteristic, to put up with mockery. If someone could not endure it, he only needed to ask, and the one mocking would stop. [29]
Besides the importance of abuse as an educational tool to teach children self-control (σωφροσύνη), we also learn from this passage that it is crucial not to go too far when dishing out abuse nor to overreact when being an object of abuse. The latter seems especially significant and, lest the situation get out of control, one could always request that the abuse stop. Aristotle, in his discussion of εὐτραπελία, “wittiness,” in Magna Moralia (1.30.2), seems to capture perfectly the quality that the Spartans sought to inculcate in their young:
Εὐτραπελία δ’ ἐστὶ μεσότης βωμολοχίας καὶ ἀγροικίας, ἔστιν δὲ περὶ σκώμματα. ὅ τε γὰρ βωμολόχος ἐστὶν ὁ πάντα καὶ πᾶν οἰόμενος δεῖν σκώπτειν, ὅ τε ἄγροικος ὁ μήτε σκώπτειν βουλόμενος δεῖν μήτε σκωφθῆναι, ἀλλ’ ὀργιζόμενος· ὁ δ’ εὐτράπελος ἀνὰ μέσον τούτων, ὁ μήτε πάντας καὶ πάντως σκώπτων μήτ’ αὖ ἄγροικος ὤν. ἔσται δὲ ὁ εὐτράπελος διττῶς πως λεγόμενος· καὶ γὰρ ὁ δυνάμενος σκῶψαι ἐμμελῶς, καὶ ὃς ἂν ὑπομείνῃ σκωπτόμενος, εὐτράπελος· καὶ ἡ εὐτραπελία τοιαύτη.
Wittiness is a mean between buffoonery and boorishness, and it relates to mockery. For the buffoon thinks that one should mock everyone and everything, while the boor does not want either to mock or be mocked, but responds with anger. The witty man is in between them, neither mocking everyone in every way nor again being boorish. Being witty involves two qualities: he who has both the capacity to mock appropriately and to endure being mocked is witty. Such, then, is wittiness. [30]
Though both passages emphasize the desirability of being able both to give and take abuse without excess, it seems that it is only the overly aggressive response to abuse that poses a real concern. It is only by abstaining from excessive behavior that social cohesion can be maintained, and this is a quality that requires training and habituation. Indeed, in the Rhetoric, Aristotle writes that wittiness is well-bred insolence (εὐτραπελία πεπαιδευμένη ὕβρις ἐστίν, 1389b), that is, without mediation through a properly educated disposition, mockery is simply insolence. This is also stressed in a passage from Xenophon’s Cyropaideia (5.2.18), where the behavior of Cyrus’ soldiers is described in admiring terms. [31] They are said to engage in abuse (ἔσκωπτον) and jest (ἔπαιζον) while abstaining from insolence (ἅ τε ἔπαιζον ὡς πολὺ μὲν ὕβρεως ἀπῆν) and disgraceful behavior (πολὺ δὲ τοῦ αἰσχρόν τι ποιεῖν), when abusing, and from responding angrily (πολὺ δὲ τοῦ χαλεπαίνεσθαι πρὸς ἀλλήλους), when being abused. Appropriate behavior in an invective context thus puts a premium on anger management, a quality that Plutarch ascribes to the Athenian people:
τοῖς μὲν ἐπαινοῦσιν αὐτὸν μάλιστα χαίρει [sc. ὁ Ἀθηναίων δῆμος], τοῖς δὲ σκώπτουσιν ἥκιστα δυσχεραίνει.
While the Athenian people take most delight in those who praise them, they are least likely to be annoyed at those who mock them. [32]
Mockery could easily spiral out of control, as witness the destructive sequence chronicled by Epicharmus (fr. 148, Kaibel) that started with a sacrifice, proceeded to a feast, drinks and mockery (μῶκος), which then deteriorated into swinish behavior (ὑανία), lawsuit and judgment (δίκα and καταδίκα), shackles, and finally damages (ζαμία). Lysias (3.43), too, talks about how frequent are the bodily injuries contracted from brawls (ὅσοι … μαχόμενοι ἕλκος ἔλαβον) resulting from abuse (λοιδορίας)—and, one may assume, lawsuits in their wake. [33] εὐτραπελία, “wittiness,” then, was a highly touted ideal, but there are many examples when what seemed like innocent mockery took a life of its own and turned into destructive aggressiveness.
From this admittedly cursory survey of Greek attitudes to invective, we are now in a better position to appreciate how Socrates situates himself in respect to this discourse in the Apology. To begin with, Socrates repeatedly laments the fact that his interaction with fellow Athenians has resulted in enmities and outright hostility (ἀπέχθεια, ἀπεχθάνομαι, ὀργίζομαι). [34] In his view, the interlocutors respond with unwarranted anger, and the lawsuit as a whole is framed as an exchange gone terribly wrong—which evokes the fragment of Epicharmus quoted above, especially the legal consequences (δίκα and καταδίκα) resulting from the fracas. In conjunction with the emphasis on the hatred that Socrates has incurred, he also calls attention to the Athenians’ inability to endure his discourses. They have found them too burdensome and hateful, and so are attempting to get rid of them. [35] These two features—excessive anger and inability to endure Socrates’ conversations—fit well the discussion of εὐτραπελία above, where these reactions would be classified as the behavior of the ἄγροικος, “the boor.” The contrast between this behavior and that of Socrates is significant. Socrates never responds with anger, as he reassures the jury twice in the Apology, once after the announcement of his verdict (μὴ ἀγανακτεῖν, 35e1) and once at the end of the speech (καὶ ἔγωγε τοῖς καταψηφισαμένοις μου καὶ τοῖς κατηγόροις οὐ πάνυ χαλεπαίνω, 41d6-7).
So far, we have only talked about the negative emotional response of the Athenians to Socrates, but we have yet to indicate that this was a reaction in response to perceived mockery and that Socrates understood his behavior that way. In other words, in what ways, if any, does Socrates signal that he is adopting an invective discourse? This can be gauged by considering a remark in 29e5–30a2 that details Socrates’ interaction with his interlocutors. Right before this passage (29d7–e3), Socrates asserts that his normal procedure is to walk up to any citizen he encounters and ask if he is not ashamed (οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ) for being more concerned with worldly success than wisdom, truth, and caring for his soul. If someone disputes this accusation, Socrates will not let him go, but he will question, examine, and cross-examine him (ἐρήσομαι αὐτὸν καὶ ἐξετάσω καὶ ἐλέγξω, 29e4–5):
καὶ ἐάν μοι μὴ δοκῇ κεκτῆσθαι ἀρετήν, φάναι δέ, ὀνειδιῶ ὅτι τὰ πλείστου ἄξια περὶ ἐλαχίστου ποιεῖται, τὰ δὲ φαυλότερα περὶ πλείονος.
If I think that he has not acquired excellence, but says that he has, I will blame him for neglecting what is most important, while prioritizing baser things.
ὀνειδίζω, “to reproach, abuse, blame,” and ὄνειδος, the noun of the same root (and with the same meaning), are staples of abusive discourse, as can be gleaned from the Homeric formula ὀνειδείοις ἐπέεσσιν, “with words of abuse/blame.” [36] In addition, Agamemnon refers to his abusive treatment at the hands of Achilles as ὀνείδεα (Iliad 1.291), and Athena advises Achilles against fighting Agamemnon with the sword but encourages him instead to abuse him with words (ἔπεσιν μὲν ὀνείδισον, Iliad 1.211). Menelaus is described as abusing (ὀνειδίζων, Iliad 7.95) the Achaeans when he chides them for not being willing to face Hector in battle and calls them women (Ἀχαιΐδες οὐκέτ’ Ἀχαιοί, Iliad 7.96). Finally, Diomedes complains that Agamemnon once abused (ὀνείδισας, Iliad 9.34) him by questioning his valor and by calling him unwarlike and a coward (ἀπτόλεμον καὶ ἀνάλκιδα, Iliad 9.34–35). [37] That the words ὀνειδίζω and ὄνειδος are key words in signaling an invective discourse is thus beyond doubt, and that is clearly how Socrates’ employment of the word in the Apology should be understood. But my contention is more specific than that. I am not simply arguing that Socrates’ use of ὀνειδίζω is abusive, in the broad sense of the word, or that it points to a general invective discourse. Instead, I argue that Socrates means to imply a particular register of abuse with his use of ὀνειδίζω, namely, blame poetry.
Gregory Nagy has shown that the Thersites episode in Iliad 2 “stands out as the one epic passage with by far the most overt representation of blame poetry.” [38] According to this interpretation, Thersites functions as a blame poet and operates in the same tradition as Archilochus, Hipponax, and Semonides. The Iliad preserves traces of an old, unattested form of blame poetry (ψόγος) that predated Archilochus—a tradition that developed in parallel with its matching genre, praise poetry (ἔπαινος). [39] Traces of this tradition of blame poetry can be found not only in Homer, but also in the praise poetry of Pindar and Bacchylides. By analyzing the embedded language of blame in epic and praise poetry, Nagy has attempted a partial reconstruction of the diction of blame. One of the most significant words in this diction is ὄνειδος (as well as the verbal form ὀνειδίζω). It is thus particularly relevant that these words are used four times to describe Thersites’ abusive speech against Agamemnon. [40]
But it is not only in epic and praise poetry that ὄνειδος and ὀνειδίζω are used to designate blame poetry or abusive speech in the iambographic tradition. Demosthenes, for example, identifies ὄνειδος as the functional opposite of ἔπαινος in a passage where he protests that he is more worthy of praise (ἔπαινος) than of the blame (ὀνείδιζε) that he receives. [41] This contrast is common in Greek literature. [42] But it is Lucian who provides us with the clearest association between iambic abuse and ὄνειδος. After referring to the Archilochean expression, “you caught a cicada by the wings,” [43] Lucian goes on to describe Archilochus as a man who was free and freespoken (ἄνδρα κομιδῇ ἐλεύθερον καὶ παρρησίᾳ συνόντα), and as one who never hesitated to be abusive (μηδὲν ὀκνοῦντα ὀνειδίζειν) even if inflicting severe pain (μάλιστα λυπήσειν). We shall have more to say about blame poetry as inflicting pain (λυπεῖν) later.
In the passage from the Apology quoted above, Socrates singles out as the reason for his blame (ὀνειδιῶ, 29e4) the fact that his fellow citizens value base things over truth, excellence, and the well-being of their soul. The word used in Greek to mean “base things” is φαυλότερα. This is the adjective that Aristotle associates with early blame poetry (ψόγοι) in the Poetics (1448b 24–27), though he so designates both the poets and those whose actions the poets represented (ἐμιμοῦντο). [44] This is also the adjective he uses when defining comedy as a representation of baser men (φαυλοτέρων). [45] Without validating Aristotle’s in my view all too schematic outline of the development of Greek poetry, I simply want to call attention to the potential connotations that the adjective φαῦλος has with blame poetry and comedy in these two passages. Such connotations, in turn, help narrow the meaning of ὀνειδιῶ from a general abuse word to one with iambic and comic range.
There are more occasions in the Apology where Socrates describes his own activity by using the verb ὀνειδίζω. At 30e, he discusses the role that he sees himself fulfilling in Athens. He says that he is administering the task that the god has assigned him and, when specifying this task, he likens himself to a gadfly (μύωψ, 30e5) who sits on a big and noble horse (ἵππῳ μεγάλῳ μὲν καὶ γενναίῳ, 30e4). Just like a gadfly, says Socrates, he stirs up the Athenians, persuades them, and blames each one of them (ὀνειδίζων ἕνα ἕκαστον), and this is an activity he does not cease to do all day long, as he settles everywhere on the imagined Athenian body. [46] This invokes the passage quoted from Plutarch at the beginning of this section, where we are told that anyone who had had enough only had to ask for the blame to stop (μὴ φέροντα δὲ ἐξῆν παραιτεῖσθαι, καὶ ὁ σκώπτων ἐπέπαυτο). Socrates, in contrasts, will do no such thing (οὐδὲν παύομαι, 31a1), but promises to continue all day long. [47] This determination on Socrates’ part to dole out blame no matter what belies the idea that he sees himself as engaged in abusive bantering among equals. Instead, he seems to envision himself as possessing the kind of outspokenness typically afforded blame poets.
Before likening himself to a gadfly that blames the polis, Socrates signals that what he is about to say is rather laughable (εἰ γελοιότερον εἰπεῖν, 30e2–3). This is reminiscent of the description of Thersites in the Iliad, where we hear that he would say whatever he thought would cause to the Argives to laugh (ἀλλ’ ὅ τι οἱ εἴσαιτο γελοίϊον Ἀργείοισιν / ἔμμεναι, 2.215–216). As Nagy has pointed out, this corresponds “to Aristotle’s term for the function of comedy,” τὸ γελοῖον. [48] This same term can also be found at the beginning of Archilochus’ fragment 168 (West): χρῆμά τι γελοῖον ἐρέω, “I am about to say something laughable.” [49] It thus seems reasonable to interpret Socrates’ use of γελοιότερον as another vestige of comic abuse and to see it as a programmatic statement, together with the participial form ὀνειδίζων, that he alludes to the iambic tradition when describing his own activities.
Toward the end of the Apology, after the verdict has been handed down, Socrates brings up the topic of his two surviving sons. He asks that the Athenians take vengeance on them by causing them the same pain that he caused the Athenians (ταὐτὰ ταῦτα λυποῦντες [τοὺς ὑεῖς μου] ἅπερ ἐγὼ ὑμᾶς ἐλύπουν, 41e3), and that the Athenians blame them as he blamed the Athenians (ὀνειδίζετε αὐτοῖς ὥσπερ ἐγὼ ὑμῖν, 41e6) if the sons are found to be of no worth (οὐδενὸς ἄξιοι, 41e7). The two verbs used to describe the activities that Socrates wishes the Athenians to expose his sons to if they prove to be of no account—λυπῶ and ὀνειδίζω—are exactly parallel to the ones Lucian uses to describe Archilochus’ abusive strategies in Pseudologista 1 (ὀνειδίζειν and λυπήσειν). [50]
But it is not only on the level of diction that we find references to blame discourse in the Apology. Todd Compton has shown how Socrates’ trial draws on a recurring theme in the biographical tradition of the poets: “the righteous poet brought to trial by a corrupt society which has found him and his poetry intolerable.” [51] Most of the material collected by Compton centers around the similarities between Aesop and Socrates, where Compton finds striking parallels. [52] Like Aesop, [53] Socrates is under the divine patronage of Apollo, and his company is hateful to a community that is trying to get rid of him, though his criticism is justified. It is interesting to note that the charge against Aesop is blasphemy (that is, of being a βλάσφημος). [54] Like Aesop, Socrates is brought to trial and condemned to death, and he dies without resistance, drinking the hemlock voluntarily. Aesop throws himself off the cliff to his death without being pushed. [55] Compton also discusses how Socrates’ physical appearance is described in terms that evoke Aesop, [56] and he notices that in the Phaedo (60c–d) Socrates is said to have spent the last days in jail, while awaiting his death penalty, versifying Aesop’s fables. [57] Even from a thematic perspective, then, there is compelling evidence for seeing the portrayal of Socrates in the Apology as invoking traditional figures of blame. [58]
In the next and final section, we shall make use of our insights into Socrates’ abusive strategies in a close analysis of his characterization of one of his main prosecutors, Anytus, in the Meno.


At 89d–e, in a discussion about virtue and its ability to be taught, Socrates asks Meno if it is not the case that, if a subject matter is teachable, there must be teachers of it and, conversely, if there are no teachers of a subject matter, then it cannot be taught. Meno retorts by asking Socrates if he does not think that there exists teachers of virtue. Socrates answers that he has yet to find one, though he is constantly on the lookout. At this moment in the dialogue, Socrates heralds the opportune arrival of Anytus, and invites him to join in their search. Socrates explains that Anytus is ideally suited to assisting in their investigation, since he is the son of the distinguished Athenian Anthemion, who, in addition to being wise himself, gave Anytus a good education. Anytus then takes Meno’s place as Socrates’ main interlocutor, and Socrates asks him where they should send Meno to be educated in virtue. What about the sophists? Anytus responds with a strong denunciation of the sophists, and declares that he has never met any one of them and that he would never allow anyone in his family to do so either. But to whom should Meno go then, queries Socrates. To any Athenian gentleman (ὅτῳ γὰρ ἂν ἐντύχῃ Ἀθηναίων τῶν καλῶν κἀγαθῶν, 91e4–5), answers Anytus. Socrates then brings up concrete examples, and asks about Themistocles—who they agree is a gentleman—whether he was able to teach his own son Cleophantus to be good and wise (ἀγαθὸς καὶ σοφός, 93e3–4). No, concedes Anytus. What about Aristides, continues Socrates, and his son Lysimachus, or Pericles and his sons Paralus and Xanthippus, or Thucydides and his sons Melesias and Stephanus? From these examples Socrates concludes that virtue cannot be taught, since none of these distinguished Athenians could teach their sons successfully. Anytus balks at this conclusion and accuses Socrates of abusing people (κακῶς λέγειν ἀνθρώπους, 94e3). He then promptly disengages himself from the conversation with what scholars are wont to call a “veiled threat,” [59] advising Socrates to be careful since it is easier to harm people than to benefit them. Socrates then turns to Meno and comments that Anytus seems to be angry (Ἄνυτος μέν μοι δοκεῖ χαλεπαίνειν, 95a2). The reason for this, explains Socrates, is that Anytus thinks that Socrates is slandering (κακηγορεῖν, 95a3) illustrious Athenians, and that he further thinks that he is one of them.
This guest-appearance of Anytus in the Meno has caused scholars much perplexity. Dominic Scott suggests that “Plato must have some special interest in the figure of Anytus himself, and it is here that the real purpose of the passage is to be found.” [60] He then goes on to explore three reasons for this interest: 1) Plato is defending Socrates by “lambasting his principal accuser,” and this he does by implying that Anytus has not raised his own son well. [61] 2) Anytus “represents an anti-intellectual tendency that goes to the heart of Plato’s concerns about contemporary Athens.” [62] 3) “Socrates stages a mini-dialogue to act as an object lesson” in which Anytus highlights some of Meno’s own faults. In other words, “Meno has the opportunity to learn something about himself and to acquire a greater degree of self-consciousness by witnessing a dialogue sufficiently similar to the one he has been having with Socrates.” [63] Christina Ionescu, on the other hand, argues for a more straightforward relationship between Anytus and Meno: “Anytus serves as Meno’s Athenian counterpart, sharing the same superficial moral understanding, uttering unreflectively common opinions, and assuming that teaching virtue is similar to the kind of instruction suitable for any craft.” [64] While Ionescu, just like Scott, highlights the father-son relationship as crucial to the introduction of Anytus, she identifies the relationship between Anytus and his father—not his son—as the crucial one for the dialogue. [65]
Connected with the enigma of Anytus’ appearance in the dialogue is the puzzlement over his anger at Socrates. Jacob Klein at first proposes that it is motivated by an insinuation by Socrates that Anytus failed to educate his son properly, that is, since he thinks that he is one of the distinguished men that Socrates slighted, “there is good reason for Anytus to suspect that he himself may also be a target of Socrates’ abusive way of speaking.” [66] But Klein then settles on a slightly different explanation: “But is not the primary source of his anger the impression, which neither he nor we can avoid having, of Socrates’ hardly disguised contempt for all the celebrated political figures that made Athens the great city it is in the eyes of the world?” [67]
Both Scott and Klein—following Socrates’ remark in 95a3—entertain the idea that Anytus’ anger might be personal, but both ultimately settle on other, in their view more compelling, reasons. But let us take this intimation of a personal grudge between Anytus and Socrates seriously and explore Anytus’ hostile response in this light. As we have seen, Socrates suggests that Anytus’ reason for responding with anger is not only that he is resentful over Socrates’ remarks about the illustrious Athenian statesmen, but also that he feels personally abused. His emotional response, described with the verb χαλεπαίνειν, fits the pattern of what we outlined above in section two: an excessively aggressive remark in response to mockery by someone who is not able to endure being the object of abuse.
But if his reaction indeed is in response to abuse, what is the insult? Both Scott and Klein suggest that Socrates implied that Anytus had not educated his son properly, and Klein probes a little further by asking, “Is not the upbringing of his own son, if Xenophon’s account is to be believed, liable to being added to Socrates’ list of educational failures?” [68] Klein here refers to a passage in Xenophon’s Apology (30–31), where Socrates prophesies that Anytus’ son will end up living a depraved life. The authorial voice of Xenophon then intervenes to say that Socrates’ prediction was correct: Anytus’ son developed an addiction to wine and kept drinking until he was of no use either to his polis, his friends, or to himself. This, according to Klein, is the passage we should keep in mind when understanding Anytus’ hostile response in the Meno.
But this makes little sense, especially against the background of what Socrates himself says in Xenophon’s Apology, only a few lines before the prophecy. In chapter 29, Socrates claims that Anytus sought to have him killed because of a comment he made regarding Anytus’ son:
Ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν ἀνὴρ ὅδε κυδρός, ὡς μέγα τι καὶ καλὸν διαπεπραγμένος, εἰ ἀπέκτονέ με, ὅτι αὐτὸν τῶν μεγίστων ὑπὸ τῆς πόλεως ὁρῶν ἀξιούμενον οὐκ ἔφην χρῆναι τὸν υἱὸν περὶ βύρσας παιδεύειν.
Here is a man who is proud, as if he had accomplished some great and noble deed by having me killed, because seeing him being deemed worthy of the highest honors by the polis, I said that he should not teach his son tanning. [69]
Socrates thus imputes as the reason for Anytus’ hatred against him the comment he made about the upbringing of his son. The prophecy about the son’s subsequent depravity, on the other hand, is uttered only after Socrates had been condemned to death and can thus not be construed as the reason for Anytus’ pre-trial anger in the Meno, which is set several years before Socrates’ trial, in 402 BCE. [70]
But if this is right, why would Socrates’ remark regarding Anytus’ son—as reported by Xenophon—cause Anytus to hate Socrates? We have already seen that Anytus responds to Socrates’ discussion in the Meno as if he had been insulted. It is my contention that the background to this insult is reported in Xenophon, but not in Socrates’ prophesy as Klein argues, but in the previous chapter (29), where Socrates established a clear relationship between his own remark about Anytus’ son and Anytus’ subsequent anger. This suggestion seems to gain support from the scholion on Plato’s Apology (18b), where we hear about Anytus that:
πλούσιος ἐκ βυρσοδεψικῆς· ὅθεν καὶ σκωπτόμενος ὑπὸ Σωκράτους, διὰ τοῦτο ἔπεισε μισθῷ Μέλητον ἀσεβείας γραφὴν δοῦναι κατὰ Σωκράτους.
he was rich from his tanning business, for which he was mocked by Socrates. Because of this mockery Anytus persuaded Meletus by bribing him to bring a charge of impiety against Socrates.
Diogenes Laertius (2.38), when mentioning Anytus’ sorry figure in the Meno, says that he could not stand being mocked by Socrates (οὗτος [Ἄνυτος] γὰρ οὐ φέρων τὸν ὑπὸ Σωκράτους χλευασμὸν) and so first stirred up the people around Aristophanes against him, and then persuaded Meletus to bring a charge of impiety and corrupting the youth. From these testimonia, we can draw two conclusions: 1) that Anytus interpreted Socrates’ remark about the education of his son as reported in Xenophon’s Apology as an insult, to which he responded with anger; and 2) that he felt personally insulted—and not just vicariously offended that Socrates slandered celebrated Athenian statesmen. Furthermore, the insult reported in Xenophon has to be chronologically prior and be seen as informing the passage in the Meno. [71]
Assuming that this interpretation is right—and that Socrates’ comment that Anytus should not teach his son tanning is at the core of Anytus’ hatred of Socrates—we have yet to explain why this remark could be seen as being so incendiary. We shall explore this issue by first considering the cultural connotations associated with tanning, and then return to the figure of Anytus to review the historical sources that connect him with this profession.
First, then, let us briefly explore how tanning was regarded in ancient Greece. In surveying the material I have found no single approving comment. As a rule, our sources are disparaging in the extreme. Aristophanes, for example, in the Knights (lines 44–45), illustrates well tanning’s negative connotations. It is here linked with the social position of a slave of barbarian origin, who has the most villainous disposition and a strong penchant for slander (δοῦλον βυρσοδέψην, Παφλαγόνα / πανουργότατον καὶ διαβολώτατόν τινα). It is important to note that “tanner” (βυρσοδέψης) is not used in the Knights as a value-neutral reference to Cleon’s profession, but that it is abusive. In line 197, the compound βυρσαίετος, “tanner-eagle,” figures, and the scholiast notes that Aristophanes employs it to slander Cleon (βυρσαίετον τὸν Κλέωνα λέγει διαβάλλων αὐτόν). The scholiast then explains that both elements of the compound are slanderous: Aristophanes ridicules Cleon both as tanner (ἅμα μὲν ὡς βυρσοδέψην κωμῳδῶν αὐτόν) and as thief and a robber of the public goods (ἅμα δὲ καὶ ὡς κλέπτην καὶ ἅρπαγα τῶν κοινῶν), thereby sharing the eagle’s thieving disposition (ἁρπακτικὸν γὰρ ζῷον ὁ ἀετός). The Suda adds (s.v. βυρσαίετος) that Aristophanes uses the compound to slander Cleon as foul-smelling (δύσοσμος) and to reveal his worthlessness, that he became the most prominent Athenian after starting out from such a humble origin (διαβάλλει οὖν ὡς δύσοσμον, ἄλλως τε καὶ τὴν εὐτέλειαν ἀντιδεικνὺς Κλέωνος, ἀφ’ οἵας τύχης ὁρμώμενος πρωτεύει τῶν Ἀθηναίων). In the Peace (line 48), finally, Cleon is said to eat shit, σπατίλην ἐσθίει. [72] The scholiast notes that Aristophanes slanders Cleon as a shit-eater (διαβάλλει οὖν τὸν Κλέωνα ὡς σκατοφάγον), and the Suda gives as the reason for this slander that Cleon was a tanner, and that tanners cured hides with excrement (σκατοφάγος δὲ ὁ Κλέων, ἐπεὶ βυρσοδέψης ἦν· ἐπεὶ μετὰ κόπρου τὰς βύρσας εἰργάζοντο). [73] Whether this observation is historically correct or not is not relevant; it speaks to the negative connotations of tanning in antiquity, and its scatological innuendos are exploited to great effect in old comedy. It seems clear, then, that even in respect to Cleon—history’s other notorious tanner—references to his occupation are always abusive, especially when occurring in old comedy.
Pollux in Onomasticon (6.128) lists tanning as one of the professions for which a practitioner might be abused. Other professions in this category include brothel-keepers, retail-traders, tax-collectors, and pimps. [74] Finally, Artemidorus in Interpretation of Dreams (1.51.29–30) notes that dreaming about tanning is universally bad, for the tanner touches dead bodies and lives outside of the city (τὸ δὲ βυρσοδεψεῖν πᾶσι πονηρόν· νεκρῶν γὰρ ἅπτεται σωμάτων ὁ βυρσοδέψης καὶ τῆς πόλεως ἀπῴκισται). [75]
In light of these disapproving attitudes toward tanning, let us review our sources on Anytus to see how his professional status is characterized. In addition to Xenophon, the only other evidence that explicitly links Anytus with the profession of tanning is the scholion to Plato’s Apology (18b), quoted above, where the main point is that Socrates mocked Anytus for his profession. The information in the scholion is presumably derived from the passage in Xenophon’s Apology (29), where, as we have seen, Socrates does not mock Anytus for being a tanner. Instead, he advises Anytus against teaching his son tanning, and this is interpreted by Anytus as an insult. If this is correct, the only non-derivative ancient evidence that links Anytus with tanning is Xenophon’s Apology, so it might be worthwhile to review the context of this passage at some length. [76]
After Socrates’ educational advice to Anytus in chapter 29, Socrates prophesies that Anytus’ son will not remain in the servile profession (δουλοπρεπεῖ διατριβῇ) that his father procured for him. Since he does not have a good guardian (σπουδαῖον ἐπιμελητήν), he will embrace some depraved desire (προσπεσεῖσθαί τινι αἰσχρᾷ ἐπιθυμίᾳ) and no doubt advance further on the road of depravity (προβήσεσθαι μέντοι πόρρω μοχθηρίας, 30). At this point Xenophon’s authorial voice affirms that Socrates’ prophecy was accurate (οὐκ ἐψεύσατο): the son took such liking to wine that he did not stop drinking day or night (ἡσθεὶς οἴνῳ οὔτε νυκτὸς οὔτε ἡμέρας ἐπαύετο πίνων, 31). In the end he was of no worth (ἄξιος οὐδενός) either to his city, his friends, or to himself. Xenophon proceeds to tell the future fate of Anytus, who, even after death, is held in ill repute (τυγχάνει κακοδοξίας) because of the worthless education he gave his son and his own arrogance (διὰ τὴν τοῦ υἱοῦ πονηρὰν παιδείαν καὶ διὰ τὴν αὑτοῦ ἀγνωμοσύνην).
The invective of this passage is striking: Anytus’ son will live a worthless, depraved life as a drunk, while Anytus will earn eternal infamy for his failure as a father. This one and only mention of Anytus’ professional status is thus embedded in an abusive discourse, much like the other passages in which tanning is brought up. Indeed, tanning seems to be referenced almost exclusively for invective purposes. The connotations that it brings are well suited to this end: It is a trade suitable for slaves; its practitioners are of humble, possibly foreign, origin; it has a foul smell and requires contact with dead things and excrement and exile outside the bounds of the city. In other words, tanning seems to connote moral and physical depravity in equal parts and provide an ideal image for abusive use.
It is precisely this image, I contend, that Anytus responds to in Xenophon’s Apology, when Socrates brings up tanning. He clearly recognizes the invective nature of Socrates’ remark and reacts with anger, just as all the other Athenians are said to do in Plato’s Apology. In Xenophon the mention of tanning is only a prelude to heavy editorializing on the part of the author, who spells out the invective context. Elsewhere, tanning could be shorthand for a cluster of negative connotations and be programmatic for a generally abusive discourse. But what are the abusive strategies at work in Xenophon? Socrates abuses Anytus for being incapable of giving his son an adequate education. Not only can he not match the son’s strong disposition (οὐκ ἄρρωστος τὴν ψυχήν, 30) with an adequate profession; he can only offer him a future worthy of slaves (δουλοπρεπεῖ διατριβῇ, 30). In addition, he can neither provide nor serve as a good guardian (σπουδαῖον ἐπιμελητήν, 30) himself, and so the son is destined for depravity (μοχθηρία, 31). Notice the parallel between Xenophon’s comment that Anytus’ son finally was worthy of nothing (ἄξιος οὐδενός, 31) and Socrates’ parting request in Plato’s Apology that the Athenians abuse (ὀνειδίετε, 41e6) his sons if they prove themselves to be of no worth (οὐδενὸς ἄξιοι, 41e7). In Plato, this is only a possibility, in Xenophon, it is a reality. In Xenophon, then, the negative connotations associated with tanning are employed to undermine Anytus’ educational qualifications.
In the Meno, on the other hand, tanning is not mentioned at all, but the topic of conversation is almost identical to that in Xenophon’s Apology 29–31 when Anytus makes his unannounced appearance in 89e: the failure of the καλοὶ κἀγαθοί to pass on excellence to their sons. It is only in reference to the invective encounter between Socrates and Anytus as reported in Xenophon that we can fully appreciate Anytus’ hostile reaction to Socrates in the Meno. Socrates first questions the ability of excellence to be taught. After involving Anytus in the discussion, the topic immediately turns to fathers as the ideal purveyors of excellence. Socrates then uses four examples of distinguished Athenian statesmen to question the validity of the father-son relationship for intergenerational transmission of excellence. After mentioning the first three examples of unsuccessful fathers—Themistocles, Aristides, and Pericles—Socrates says that he will bring up a fourth example, Thucydides, lest Anytus think that there are only a few utterly base Athenian men (τοὺς φαυλοτάτους, 94b8) who are not capable of transmitting their excellence to their sons. Socrates later asks Anytus rhetorically if Thucydides was perhaps a base man (ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἴσως ὁ Θουκυδίδης φαῦλος ἦν, 94d3). We have already seen that in Plato’s Apology (29e4) Socrates gives as reason for blaming the Athenians their propensity to value base things (φαυλότερα) over truth, and in the passage from the Apology Socrates uses the same adjective he applies to the distinguished Athenian statesmen in the Meno. We have further noted that Aristotle connects the same adjective with early blame poetry (ψόγοι) as well as the proper topic for comedy.
In the Meno, Socrates thus uses charged vocabulary to signal his abusive intent, a fact that is not lost on Anytus. It is after the second mention of φαῦλος that Anytus grows angry, accuses Socrates of slander, and abandons the discussion. The same question of Anytus’ quality as father—and as moral guide to his son—as was posed in Xenophon is posed in the Meno about Themistocles, Aristides, Pericles, and Thucydides. The abusive context is already implicit from the earlier, Xenophontic encounter, and Socrates only needs to bring up the same topic again—without either mentioning Anytus’ son or in any other way personalizing the abuse—to trigger the previous offense. Although the abuse is vicarious, it is still personal. Interwoven with the broader philosophical discussion of the teachability of virtue, then, is a personal, abusive discourse aimed at Anytus. [77]
This invective discourse against Anytus is pursued by Socrates in Xenophon’s Apology and Plato’s Meno, but it is also reflected in later sources. Most revealing, perhaps, are the accounts of the evils that befell Socrates’ accusers after his death. Diodorus Siculus (14.37.7) relates how the Athenians regretted putting Socrates to death and, since the accusation was unjust, grew angry with the accusers and ultimately put them to death without trial (τέλος ἀκρίτους ἀπέκτεινεν). Plutarch writes that the Athenians hated those who had brought false charges against Socrates so much that they refused to commune with them. This hatred got the better of the accusers until they finally hanged themselves (ἕως ἀπήγξαντο μὴ φέροντες τὸ μῖσος). [78] Diogenes Laertius (2.43), in turn, writes that the Athenians put Meletus to death and expelled the other accusers. [79] Anytus fled to Heraclea in Pontus but was immediately expelled from that place too. Themistius (20.239c), finally, narrates how Anytus fled from Athens to Heraclea in Pontus, where he was stoned to death. Anytus also enjoys the reputation of being the spurned lover (ἐραστής) of Alcibiades, [80] and the first person in history to have secured an acquittal by bribing the jury. [81] This abusive tradition surrounding Anytus is especially striking when contrasted with his heroic status in the democratic tradition, where he is celebrated for restoring the democracy with Thrasybulus after the Thirty, [82] and for being a staunch supporter of the amnesty in 401. [83]

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Frese, R. 1926. “Die ‘aristophanische Anklage’ in Platon’s Apologie.” Philologus 81:377–90.
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Mafredini, M. and Piccirilli, L., eds. 1980. Plutarco: Le vite di Licurgo e di Numa. Milano.
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Nussbaum, M. 2001.
Owen, G. E. L. 1986. “Philosophical Invective.” Logic, Science, and Dialectic: Collected Papers in Greek Philosophy (ed. M. Nussbaum) 347–364. Ithaca.
Pelling, C. 2007. “Aristagoras (5.49–55, 97).” Reading Herodotus: A Study of the Logoi in Book 5 of Herodotus’ Histories (eds. E. Irwin and E. Greenwood) 179-201. Cambridge.
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Strycker, E. de. 1994. Plato’s Apology of Socrates. Edited and completed from the papers of the late de Strycker by S. R. Slings. Leiden.
Süss, W. 1910. Ethos: Studien zur älteren griechischen rhetorik. Leipzig.
Tell, H. 2009. “Wisdom for Sale? The Sophists and Money.” Classical Philology 104:13–33.
Vlastos, G. 1995. Studies in Greek Philosophy. Edited by Daniel W. Graham. Vol. 2. Princeton.
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[ back ] 1. Leslie Kurke (2006) is an exception to this trend. She has recently argued for an Aesopic tradition lurking behind the Platonic portrayal of Socrates and for the genre of fable as a model for Plato’s adoption of mimetic prose as philosophy’s medium par excellence. Nancy Worman (2008), too, has explored insults in Plato, though her focus is not on the rhetoric of abuse in the broader sense, but only as it relates to the mouth. Of particular interest to me, however, is her broad coverage of multiple genres. Ralph Rosen (2007), in contrast, limits himself to poetic mockery. He acknowledges that mockery occurs in other genres, including prose texts, but chooses not to consider these expressions “because they are qualitatively very different from poetic forms and operate according to entirely different dynamics” (p. 21) (my italics). It is the assumption of this study that there are significant overlaps in how invectives operate in different genres, and that such overlaps warrants a cross-generic consideration.
[ back ] 2. For a lexicographical study of this word, see J. Chadwick 1996:87–94. See also C. Pelling’s (2007:179–201) discussion of διαβολή in Herodotus. For the legal context and διαβολή as an offense liable to prosecution, see D. M. MacDowell 1978:126–130.
[ back ] 3. To give only a few examples of such studies: W. Süss 1910; W. Voegelin 1943; S. Koster 1980; S. Halliwell 1991a; and C. Carey 2004.
[ back ] 4. C. Carey 2004. He explains this discrepancy mainly in two ways: 1) The moral slipperiness of the subject: “Though one cannot prove it, it looks as though rhetoricians are uncomfortable with outright espousal of diabole (even under another name) as a practice” (p. 8). Rhetoric was already viewed with a great deal of suspicion in fourth century Athens, and the rhetorical theorists did not want to deal with topics that could further alienate their practices (pp. 8–9); and 2) For the most part, the rhetorical treatises were not written by politicians or politically involved logographers, so it is understandable if they not always adequately reflect current practices (pp. 12–13). Cf. W. Süss (1910) who posits a similar divide between “rhetorische Theorie” and “rednerische Praxis.”
[ back ] 5. C. Carey 2004:3.
[ back ] 6. C. Carey 2004:2, 5.
[ back ] 7. Forms from the noun διαβολή occur twelve times in the Apology: 18d2, 19a1, 19b1, 20c5, 20d4, 20e3, 21b2, 23a2, 24a3, 24a8, 28a7, and 37b2; and forms from the verb διαβάλλω occur four times: 19b2, 19b3, 23e3, and 33a4.
[ back ] 8. I am thinking here, of course, of the pioneering work of Andrea Nightingale 1995, but many other studies could also be included, such as C. L. Griswold 1986; R. Blondell 2002; D. Clay 1994; M. Nussbaum 1986/2001.
[ back ] 9. G. E. L. Owen 1986:348. Examples of these pamphleteers are the Isocratean student Theopompus and the peripatetic philosopher Aristoxenus.
[ back ] 10. G. E. L. Owen 1986:357.
[ back ] 11. “But at once a new blood-relationship suggests itself for fourth-century polemic: a very obvious one. In drawing our rhetorical parallels we illustrated the ancestry of the methods from another kind of writing, the comedy,” G. E. L. Owen 1986:359.
[ back ] 12. Before getting too much mileage out of Owen, however, it is important that we add two qualifiers. First, Owen was confident that the invective discourse in fourth century philosophical pamphleteers was absent from the earlier philosophical tradition (1986:347), and his discussion does not include Plato. It is thus not certain that he would have identified an invective discourse in Plato. Second, it is not clear to me that Owen saw invectives as much more than distortions, that is, as a literary imposition that prevented a correct interpretation of the material. For Nightingale, on the other hand, the literary qualities of Plato’s writing are at the very core of this intellectual project: “Plato uses intertextuality as a vehicle for criticizing traditional genres of discourse and, what is more important, for introducing and defining a radically different discursive practice, which he calls ‘philosophy’,” Nightingale 1995:5.
[ back ] 13. διαβολή is frequently coupled with φθόνος, “envy, jealousy” (18d2 and 28a8) and ὄνομα, “reputation” (20d3 and 23a3).
[ back ] 14. For the relevance of φροντιστής as an epithet of Socrates, see L. Edmunds 2006.
[ back ] 15. The distinction between the two different meanings of νομίζειν as in 1) believing in the existence of the gods, and 2) conforming to traditional beliefs, is not germane to my argument. For a discussion of this distinction, see R. Frese 1926, J. Burnet 1924, and E. Strycker 1994, esp. pp. 87–88.
[ back ] 16. To this third group I would also add the listeners (οἱ γὰρ ἀκούοντες) mentioned in 18c2–3. The difference is that they draw their own conclusions based upon the false characterization of Socrates without being actively deceived by slanderous accounts. This interpretation of the passage is similar to that of J. Burnet 1924, who notes regarding ὅσοι δέ (18d2) that “these anonymous accusers are distinguished from the comic poets because the latter may merely have meant their attacks in fun” (p. 79). Burnet also argues for a third group of people, saying that “[b]esides the comic poets who attacked him in fun, and those who attacked him malevolently, Socrates admits that there may have been some who attacked him seriously and in good faith” (p. 79). Cf. R. Frese 1926.
[ back ] 17. Where, then, does this leave Aristophanes? The word διαβολή is crucial in understanding Socrates’ distinctions among his old accusers: Aristophanes is carefully distanced from anyone who misrepresented Socrates out of envy and with a view to slander. Socrates does thus not hold Aristophanes responsible, at least not directly, for his conviction. He credits him with spreading false accusations but does not address his motives for doing so. It seems reasonable to suggest that Socrates implies that Aristophanes does this in his capacity as comic poet—and that would also be the reason why Socrates refers to Aristophanes by his title (κωμῳδοποιός) in 18d2 before mentioning him by name in 19c2.
It is also not clear to me that Aristophanes is envisioned as the first person to spread false accusations against Socrates. Regarding Socrates’ claim in 18b–c that his earliest accusers got hold of and persuaded the jurors when they were still children and teenagers (παῖδες ὄντες ἔνιοι ὑμῶν καὶ μειράκια, 18c6–7), Burnet (1924:74–75) makes the astute observation that, “As no one could be a δικαστής before the age of thirty, it follows that, though some of the judges may have been mere boys, most of them must have been considerably older in the year the Clouds was produced.” Based on this observation Burnet (1924:75) concludes that, “It follows that Aristophanes represented Socrates in accordance with the popular impression of him which had already been formed a considerable time before he produced the Clouds” (cf. S. Halliwell 2008:253–254 and n94). It thus seems that Socrates pictures Aristophanes as a representative of his first group of detractors—perhaps its most important member, since he codified and made publicly available in the Clouds accusations already in wide circulation. It is of course precisely this representation of Socrates that later serves as ammunition for those of his earlier accusers who were motivated by διαβολή, and it is also this representation that indirectly supplies the ammunition for Meletus’ charge.
[ back ] 18. For a discussion of the invective nature of the charge of teaching for money, see H. Tell 2009.
[ back ] 19. For Socrates as a speaker of truth: 17b5, 22a2, 22b6, 24a5, 24a7, 28a6, 31c3, 31e1, and 32a8. For the prosecutors as untruthful: 17a4, 17b7, 18b2, 18b6, 19e1, and 33b8.
[ back ] 20. ἀπεχθάνομαι: 21d1, 21e2, 21e4, 24a7; ἀπέχθεια: 23a1, 28a5. In addition to these, ὀργίζομαι is also used twice (23c8 and 34c8). Its first occurrence also refers to the hostile reception of the Socratic refutation, this time executed at the hands of Socrates’ young followers.
[ back ] 21. ἐκ ταυτησὶ δὴ τῆς ἐξετάσεως, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, πολλαὶ μὲν ἀπέχθειαί μοι γεγόνασι καὶ οἷαι χαλεπώταται καὶ βαρύταται, ὥστε πολλὰς διαβολὰς ἀπ’ αὐτῶν γεγονέναι, ὄνομα δὲ τοῦτο λέγεσθαι, σοφὸς εἶναι, 22e6–23a3.
[ back ] 22. τὰ γὰρ ἀληθῆ οἴομαι οὐκ ἂν ἐθέλοιεν λέγειν, ὅτι κατάδηλοι γίγνονται προσποιούμενοι μὲν εἰδέναι, εἰδότες δὲ οὐδέν, 23d7-9.
[ back ] 23. The formal charge is found in 24b8–c1, where Socrates refers to the sworn testimony (ἀντωμοσία): Σωκράτη φησὶν ἀδικεῖν τούς τε νέους διαφθείροντα καὶ θεοὺς οὓς ἡ πόλις νομίζει οὐ νομίζοντα, ἕτερα δὲ δαιμόνια καινά.
[ back ] 24. This charge is still felt some fifty years after Socrates’ death in Aeschines 1.173, where Aeschines says that the Athenians put the sophist Socrates (Σωκράτην μὲν τὸν σοφιστὴν) to death for educating Critias, one of the Thirty who dissolved the democracy.
[ back ] 25. καὶ ἐγὼ οἴομαι οὐδέν πω ὑμῖν μεῖζον ἀγαθὸν γενέσθαι ἐν τῇ πόλει ἢ τὴν ἐμὴν τῷ θεῷ ὑπηρεσίαν.
[ back ] 26. μετὰ ταῦτ’ οὖν ἤδη ἐφεξῆς ᾖα, αἰσθανόμενος μὲν [καὶ] λυπούμενος καὶ δεδιὼς ὅτι ἀπηχθανόμην, ὅμως δὲ ἀναγκαῖον ἐδόκει εἶναι τὸ τοῦ θεοῦ περὶ πλείστου ποιεῖσθαι—ἰτέον οὖν, σκοποῦντι τὸν χρησμὸν τί λέγει, ἐπὶ ἅπαντας τούς τι δοκοῦντας εἰδέναι.
[ back ] 27. C. Carey 2004:6.
[ back ] 28. I here adopt the reading of Manfredini and Piccirilli instead of the Perrin’s παιδευτὰς ἐλευθερίας.
[ back ] 29. Plutarch, Lycurgus 12.4.
[ back ] 30. Even if Magna Moralia is spurious, very similar discussions of εὐτραπελία are found in the genuine Ethica Nicomachea (1108a) and Ethica Eudemia (1234a). These sentiments can thus be attributed to Aristotle with some degree of certainty.
[ back ] 31. Though this passage deals with Persian habits, Xenophon is discernibly—as Stephen Halliwell has pointed out (1991a, p. 280)—“using Greek concepts.”
[ back ] 32. Plutarch, Praecepta gerendae reipublicae 799c.
[ back ] 33. I owe these references to S. Halliwell 1991a:284n12, where more references are listed. Halliwell refers to this development from verbal abuse to scuffle as “something of a Greek topos” (p. 284).
[ back ] 34. See discussion above, and especially n19, for documentation of the negative emotional response on the part of the Athenians to Socrates’ questioning.
[ back ] 35. ὑμεῖς μὲν ὄντες πολῖταί μου οὐχ οἷοί τε ἐγένεσθε ἐνεγκεῖν τὰς ἐμὰς διατριβὰς καὶ τοὺς λόγους, ἀλλ’ ὑμῖν βαρύτεραι γεγόνασιν καὶ ἐπιφθονώτεραι, ὥστε ζητεῖτε αὐτῶν νυνὶ ἀπαλλαγῆναι (37c7–d2).
[ back ] 36. This exact phrase is used four times in the Iliad (1.519, 2.277, 16.628, 21.480) and once in the Odyssey (18.326).
[ back ] 37. It is of course not only in Homer that the words ὀνειδίζω and ὄνειδος are used in this meaning; they are to be found throughout Greek literature, both in poetry and prose. I draw my examples from Homer to emphasize the prevalence of these words in an abusive context from an early age.
[ back ] 38. G. Nagy 1979:263.
[ back ] 39. “The resemblances in poetic form between the Archilochean Iambos and the Homeric Epos suggest that blame poetry may have evolved away from an old (and unattested) form corresponding to that of praise poetry (as still attested in Pindar and Bacchylides) into its newer form resembling comedy,” Nagy 1979:253. For praise and blame poetry as binaries in early Greek society, see Nagy 1979:22, who credits Georges Dumézil and Marcel Detienne as the pioneers in recognizing and studying these traditions from the Indo-European and ancient Greek perspectives, respectively.
[ back ] 40. Iliad 2.222 (ὀνείδεα), 2.251 (ὀνείδεα), 2.255 (ὀνειδίζων), and 2.277 (ὀνειδείοις, from ὀνείδειος).
[ back ] 41. In Stephanum 78: μὴ οὖν μοι ταῦτ’ ὀνείδιζε, ἐφ’ οἷς ἐπαίνου τύχοιμ’ ἂν δικαίως.
[ back ] 42. To give only a few examples: Euripides, Heraclidae 300-301, Troades 418; Plato, Laws 643d; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1174a1.
[ back ] 43. τέττιγα τοῦ πτεροῦ συνείληφας, Pseudologista 1. This refers to Archilochus fr. 223 West: τέττιγος ἐδράξω πτεροῦ.
[ back ] 44. διεσπάσθη δὲ κατὰ τὰ οἰκεῖα ἤθη ἡ ποίησις· οἱ μὲν γὰρ σεμνότεροι τὰς καλὰς ἐμιμοῦντο πράξεις καὶ τὰς τῶν τοιούτων, οἱ δὲ εὐτελέστεροι τὰς τῶν φαύλων, πρῶτον ψόγους ποιοῦντες, Poetics 1448b24–27. For a critical discussion of the problems associated with Aristotle’s description of early blame poetry, see G. Nagy 1979:253–264.
[ back ] 45. Ἡ δὲ κωμῳδία ἐστὶν ὥσπερ εἴπομεν μίμησις φαυλοτέρων μέν, οὐ μέντοι κατὰ πᾶσαν κακίαν, ἀλλὰ τοῦ αἰσχροῦ ἐστι τὸ γελοῖον μόριον, Poetics 1449a32–34. Note that Aristotle here uses the comparative form of the adjective, just as Socrates does in the passage from the Apology, although Socrates uses the neuter form, talking about things, whereas Aristotle uses the masculine form, indicating human beings.
[ back ] 46. οὐδὲν παύομαι τὴν ἡμέραν ὅλην πανταχοῦ προσκαθίζων, 31a1.
[ back ] 47. Although S. J. Strycker 1994:337 is no doubt right in pointing out that, grammatically speaking, προσκαθίζων is the supplementary participle going with παύομαι, while ἐγείρων, πείθων, and ὀνειδίζων are circumstantial participles, the meaning of the passage is clearly that Socrates is not ceasing in his attempts at rousing Athens from its slumber. To this effect, abusive speech is a powerful tool.
[ back ] 48. G. Nagy 1979:262. Aristotle uses τὸ γελοῖον in this sense in Poetics 1448b37, 1449a34, and 1449a36. Although Aristotle seems to contrast the role of comedy (and τὸ γελοῖον) with that of blame poetry (and ψόγος), Nagy interprets this to mean that, “blame poetry has a potential for the comic element, and comedy formalizes this element of blame poetry. But blame poetry itself is more inclusive and thus cannot be equated with comedy. Blame poetry can be serious as well as comic; it can condemn as well as ridicule” (p. 256).
[ back ] 49. Cf. G. Nagy 1979:244.
[ back ] 50. The connection between abuse and pain is stressed by Plutarch in Quaestiones convivales 631f, where, again with reference to Sparta, he writes that one was supposed to know how to mock without offence (τὸ σκώπτειν ἀλύπως). A few paragraphs before this passage (631d), he says that mockery bites (τὰ σκώμματα δάκνει).
[ back ] 51. T. Compton 1990:330.
[ back ] 52. “In many ways, the Platonic Socrates fits into the pattern of Aesop, the mythical blame poet who is moral, called by god, yet rejected by a corrupt society,” T. Compton 2006:154. Compton 1990 also considers material on Archilochus and Homer, pp. 333–338. For a larger scale-investigation of the scape-goating of poets, see Compton 2006.
[ back ] 53. Whether Aesop (and, by analogy, Socrates) is described as a poet or not, is irrelevant to the present investigation. For my purposes, it is sufficient to acknowledge the elements of formalized blame with which the figure of Aesop is associated—elements that locate him in the tradition of blame (whether poetic or prose). For Compton’s definition of poet, see Compton 1990:330, and 2006:xi-xiii and 19. But see L. Kurke 2006:8, esp. n11.
[ back ] 54. Vita G 134 (Perry); cf. T. Compton 1990:332.
[ back ] 55. Vita G 142 (Perry); cf. T. Compton 1990:132–133.
[ back ] 56. T. Compton 2006:156–157.
[ back ] 57. T. Compton 1990:341 and 2006:159–160.
[ back ] 58. For the association of Aesop with abusive speech, see G. Nagy 1979, esp. pp. 279-288 and pp. 309-316; T. Compton 1990 and 2006; L. Kurke 2006.
[ back ] 59. For example, J. Klein 1965:239; R. E. Allen 1980:20; G. Vlastos 1995:22; D. Nails 2002:38.
[ back ] 60. D. Scott 2006:166.
[ back ] 61. “We are given not four examples of fathers with unsuccessful sons, but five.” D. Scott 2006:168.
[ back ] 62. D. Scott 2006:169.
[ back ] 63. D. Scott 2006:171. Scott postulates a similarity between the “advice-cum-threat” uttered by Meno in 94e4–95a1 and that of Anytus in 80b4–7.
[ back ] 64. C. Ionescu 2007:125.
[ back ] 65. C. Ionescu 2007:126.
[ back ] 66. J. Klein 1965:237.
[ back ] 67. J. Klein 1965:238. A little later he concludes: “We have to understand the meaning of his anger as provoked by Socrates’ expression of contempt for Athens’ famous statesmen” (p. 238).
[ back ] 68. J. Klein 1965:237.
[ back ] 69. Xenophon, Apology 29.2–5.
[ back ] 70. For the dramatic date of the Meno, see D. Nails 2002:318–319.
[ back ] 71. This is not to say that Xenophon wrote his Apology before Plato’s Meno, only that the abusive context that informs the Meno is provided by Xenophon. John Burnet comes to a different conclusion in his commentary on the Apology. He reasons that, since Plato is silent about the personal grudge between Anytus and Socrates as reported in Xenophon, it is likely that the account in Xenophon “is only an inference from the Meno, where the subject under discussion is just why great statesmen usually fail to communicate their own ἀρετή to their sons,” J. Burnet 1924:74. Olof Gigon, too, comments on the interconnectedness between the two accounts in the Meno and Xenophon’s Apology and raises the possibility that they go back to a lost Socratic dialogue. In this dialogue, Socrates answered Anytus with a snide remark after he mentioned that he intended to teach his son tanning. Gigon is reluctant to adopt this possibility, however, since, as he says, it is “a bit embarrassing to see Socrates’ death merely as a result of the hypersensitivity of a single philistine” (“Es ist ein wenig peinlich, Sokrates bloss wegen der Überempfindlichkeit eines einzelnen Banausen sterben zu sehen”), O. Gigon 1947:76.
[ back ] 72. For the difficulties of this passage, see M. Platnauer 1964:71.
[ back ] 73. It is not entirely clear what this means but, according to an article in Wikipedia on ancient tanning, it is noted that hides were often soaked in urine to ease the removal of the hair fibers from the skin and that dung would later be pounded or kneaded into the skin to make it supple. [provide better reference]
[ back ] 74. Βίοι ἐφ’ οἷς ἄν τις ὀνειδισθείη, πορνοβοσκός, κάπηλος, ὀπωρώνης ὀπωροπώλης,τελώνης δεκατώνης, δεκατηλόγος εἰκοστολόγος πεντηκοστολόγος ἐλλιμενιστής, κῆρυξ, ναύτης, πανδοκεύς, πορθμεύς, μαστροπός, ὑπηρέτης, βυρσοδέψης σκυτοδέψης, ἀλλαντοπώλης.
[ back ] 75. Artemidorus adds a phrase that Robert White translates as “It indicates, moreover, that secrets will be revealed, because of the smell” (ἔτι καὶ τὰ κρυπτὰ ἐλέγχει διὰ τὴν ὀδμήν). I am not convinced about this translation, but the only thing that matters to me is the association between tanning and foul smell.
[ back ] 76. According to the scholion on Plato’s Apology (Arethae Plato, Apology 18b) Theopompus and Archippus—both predating Xenophon—poked fun at Anytus’ profession. Theopompus (ca. 410–370 BCE) called him a Ἐμβάδαν, which Meineke emended to ἐμβαδᾶς, and he explains the meaning of the emendation as someone who makes and sells shoes (PCG 7.735). Based on this comment, Davies concludes that Anytus inherited from his father in addition to a tannery also a “shoemaker’s business” (APF: 41). Archippus in his Ikhthusin (Fishes), dateable to 403 BCE (PCG 2.542), is said to have mocked Anytus for being a σκυτεύς, “cobbler,” (Ἄρχιππος Ἰχθύσιν εἰς σκυτέα αὐτὸν σκώπτει). Though both of these sources are earlier than Xenophon, they do not link Anytus with tanning specifically.
[ back ] 77. Although invectives against fathers for not properly raising their sons are not listed as a common topic in the two major monographs treating invectives in Greek and Roman literature, Wilhelm Süss’ 1910 Ethos: Studien zur älteren griechischen Rhetorik, and Severin Koster’s 1980 Die Invektive in der griechischen und römischen Literatur, it seems that this line of criticism is not uncommon. For example, Strepsiades’ failure to give Pheidippides a good education is at the core of the abusive strategies in Aristophanes’ Clouds. In the philosophical tradition, the teacher-disciple relationship is substituted for the father-son bond—both pertaining to the intergenerational transmission of knowledge and excellence—and here invectives directed at teachers for producing subpar students are legion. Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae 5.220b–c), for example, relates how Aeschines the Socratic mocked Prodicus and Anaxagoras for their students Theramenes, Philoxenus, and Ariphrades. The reason for this mockery, explains Athenaeus, was a desire on the part of Aeschines to expose the poor education that Prodicus and Anaxagoras offered by calling attention to the depravity (μοχθηρία) and desire for insignificant things (τὰ φαῦλα) in their students. It is significant that the adjective φαῦλος is used to describe the moral predilection of poorly educated individuals. As we have seen, it is the same adjective used in the Meno (94b–d) in respect to Themistocles, Aristides, Pericles, and Thucydides for not being able to pass on excellence (ἀρετή) to their sons, and it also occurs in the Apology (29e4) as the trigger for Socratic abuse. μοχθηρία, in turn, is the noun used to describe the deplorable outcome of Anytus’ son in Xenophon’s Apology (31).
Can we perhaps here glean the real target of Plato’s abuse: his attack on the family as a viable educational institution in Athens, and his concomitant insistence that education is a task that is best entrusted to philosophy and the philosophical schools? It is difficult to distinguish between Socrates and Plato, but it seems safe to say that even though Socrates does not validate an alternate educational institution, his criticism of the family is nevertheless severe. For example, in Xenophon’s Apology (20), Meletus accuses Socrates of turning sons against their fathers, to which charge Socrates admits guilt (see B. Strauss 1993:206-207). Eric Havelock 1952 has argued that Socrates was tried because he infringed on the prerogative of the households (οἰκίαι) to supervise the children’s education: “the execution of Socrates served notice on Greece that higher education was going to be organized as a private venture, not a civic enterprise” (p. 104). Plato would thus extend Socrates’ criticism of the educational failure of the family, while endorsing the rival alternative offered by his own school, the Academy, or philosophical schools in general.
[ back ] 78. Plutarch, De invidia et odio 538a.
[ back ] 79. Diogenes Laertius further relates that Antisthenes was responsible for Anytus’ exile and Meletus’ death (6.9).
[ back ] 80. Plutarch, Alcibiades 4.4–6 and Amatorius 762c; Athenaeus 12.534e–f; Scholion Arethae Plato, Apology 18b. For Alcibiades’ love life, see R. Littman 1970.
[ back ] 81. Ath. Pol. 27.5; and Diodorus Siculus 13.64.6. In the scholion to Plato’s Apology (Arethae Plato, Apology 18b) we also hear that it was by bribes that Anytus persuaded Meletus to bring a charge of impiety against Socrates (ἔπεισε μισθῷ Μέλητον ἀσεβείας γραφὴν δοῦναι κατὰ Σωκράτους).
[ back ] 82. For a discussion of Anytus’ role in the restoration of the democracy, see P. J. Rhodes 1981:431–32.
[ back ] 83. Isocrates In Callimachum 23. Though it seems clear that Anytus abided strictly by the amnesty, I fail to see the evidence that he was “one of the authors and leading supporters of the Amnesty,” (J. Burnet 1924:101) or that “he was the architect of the very Reconciliation Agreement and amnesty that supposedly would have prevented a political prosecution of Socrates,” (N. Smith and P. Woodruff 2000:4). For 401 as the year of the amnesty (as opposed to 403), see P. Krentz 1982:104.