Bers, Victor. 2009. Genos Dikanikon: Amateur and Professional Speech in the Courtrooms of Classical Athens. Hellenic Studies Series 33. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Bers.Genos_Dikanikon.2009.
Chapter 2: Amateur Litigants, Amateur Speakers
The idiôtês on His Own
Idiôtai Too Poor to Pay a logographos?
Can we believe his self-description as “poor, one of the many”? David Mirhady, the translator, remarks that “most of the judges would also have been relatively poor.” That fact alone might taint the argument for justice for the poor because the speaker appeals to the jury as if they were better off, a piece of dishonest flattery. The very brevity of the speech, at least as we have it – only a few pages – might be evidence for the speaker’s poverty, but we must beware of begging the larger question by assuming that Isocrates’ fee was too high for a poor man.
Poor Men in Court?
This upper limit for compulsory adjudication of a case by a deme judge was very low. The most often cited record of wages, the Erechtheum accounts of the last decade of the fifth century, show that a laborer would earn ten drachmas in seven to ten days (IG I 2 373–374). We might compare the current typical dollar limits of $2,500 to $5,000 in American small claims court, the lowest reach of the system. These are amounts a blue-collar worker might earn in one to three months.  Some eighty years after the Erechtheum accounts, not long after the terminus post quem of the Constitution of the Athenians, skilled workers at Eleusis would earn ten drachmas in as few as four days (IG II–III2 1672–1673). That service as an arbitrator was obligatory for citizens once they reached their fifty-ninth birthday (Constitution of the Athenians 53.4) suggests that the city needed to make provision for a large number of men seeking recourse to the legal system, whether by arbitration or jury trial. At some point the city excluded the ephebes, at least some of whom must have come from families of idiôtai, from participation in dikai, whether as prosecutors or defendants (Constitution of the Athenians 42.5).  Finally, it is important to keep in mind that a potential litigant might descend from a rich family or have rich descendants of his own, yet have very little property himself. 
ἐνταῦθ᾽ ἐνοικοῦσ᾽ ἄνδρες οἳ τὸν οὐρανὸν
λέγοντες ἀναπείθουσιν ὡς ἔστιν πνιγεύς,
κἄστιν περὶ ἡμᾶς οὗτος, ἡμεῖς δ᾽ ἅνθρακες.
οὗτοι διδάσκουσ᾽, ἀργύριον ἤν τις διδῷ,
λέγοντα νικᾶν καὶ δίκαια κἄδικα.
In a fragment of what at least purports to be Antiphon’s celebrated speech in his own defense for involvement with the oligarchy of the Four Hundred, he mentions, in order to dismiss as improbable, the charge that he profited from law cases:
This suggests a widespread familiarity with at least the imputation of speechwriters’ venality; together with jokes and other reports on the same theme, it must reflect, at the very least, a common opinion.  Regrettably, we have no solid evidence regarding what one had to pay for a logographer’s help.  Socrates is a special case, an ascetic (Clouds 103) often invited to dine in rich men’s houses, but the famous sophists are portrayed as living very well indeed, if we can trust the many relevant Platonic texts. The unspoken premise of Antiphon’s remark, however, is that he was drawing an income from his speechwriting substantial enough to make it implausible for him to participate in a coup d’état to bring down the democracy. Jokes in fourth-century comedy also make no sense if the famous speechwriters were working for peanuts, rather to satisfy luxurious tastes (Timocles fragment 4 K-A). It seems close to certain that the better logographoi, the men whose work was commercially viable in the book trade, charged far more than those too poor to be assigned liturgies or to pay eisphora could (or would) choose to pay.
[Στρεψιάδης] τί σὺ λέγεις; οὐ πείθομαι,ἐπεὶ δικαστὰς οὐχ ὁρῶ καθημένους.
Student: This is a map of the word. See? Here is Athens.
Strepsiades: What do you mean? I don’t believe it, because I don’t see jurymen at work.
And in Aristophanes’ Peace (505), Hermes charges the Athenians with doing nothing but adjudicating court cases: οὐδὲν γὰρ ἄλλο δρᾶτε πλὴν δικάζετε (“You do nothing but decide cases”). At Wasps 87–90, a similar description applies to Philocleon, the jury-service addict:
φιληλιαστής ἐστιν ὡς οὐδεὶς ἀνήρ·
ἐρᾷ τε τούτου τοῦ δικάζειν, καὶ στένει
ἢν μὴ ᾽πὶ τοῦ πρώτου καθίζηται ξύλου.
So far we have descriptions not of litigants, but of jurors. To the extent that we can rely on the documentary value of Aristophanes’ jokes, we have reason to believe that the courts were known to have been busy places and that many Athenians sat on jury panels. At Aristophanes Birds 39–41, however, the Athenians are most probably litigants, since they are described as vocalizing:
ἐπὶ τῶν κραδῶν ᾄδουσ᾽, Ἀθηναῖοι δ᾽ ἀεὶ
ἐπὶ τῶν δικῶν ᾄδουσι πάντα τὸν βίον.
Philocleon’s sadism, which is depicted as aimed solely at defendants, and his uncertain economic standing make it hard to be sure whether Aristophanes was expecting his audience to recognize a typical litigant in Philocleon’s vignettes. The defendant whom Philocleon quotes at 556–557 is poor enough to confess what sounds like petty larceny in the discharge of a magistracy or when buying provisions on campaign:
ἀρχὴν ἄρξας ἢ ᾽πὶ στρατιᾶς τοῖς ξυσσίτοις ἀγοράζων.”
But the next defendant in Philocleon’s description (564–565) is apparently putting on a false show of poverty:
We hear of several additional devices some other defendants (οἱ δέ bis) employ in an attempt to win pity from the jurors, and then Philocleon concludes with a line (575) suggesting that these litigants, at least, have some measure of wealth: ἆρ᾽ οὐ μεγάλη τοῦτ᾽ ἔστ᾽ ἀρχὴ καὶ τοῦ πλούτου καταχήνη; (“Isn’t this a powerful office, the snubbing of wealth?”).
ῥῆσιν εὖ λέξειν ἐμέλλο-
μεν τότ᾽ οὐδὲ
φροντίς, ἀλλ᾽ ὅστις ἐρέτης ἔσοιτ᾽ ἄριστος.
The first element, how to speak well, might pertain to defense or a deliberative speech in the Assembly, but the second is frankly prosecutorial, attacking a man in a legal action, probably without justification. Soon after (1205–1207), Philocleon brags of his own successful prosecution of a famous athlete for verbal abuse:
ὅτε τὸν δρομέα Φάυλλον ὢν βούπαις ἔτι
εἷλον διώκων λοιδορίας ψήφοιν δυοῖν.
The “reformed” and rejuvenated Philocleon behaves like a rank hooligan. He has abandoned jury service, but around him people continue to look to the courts for redress, or at least pretend that they will. Speaking for a group whom Philocleon has just treated roughly, a man threatens him with legal action (1332–1334), presumably for αἰκία (assault) or ὕβρις (assault that dimishes the victim’s honor):
ἡμῖν ἅπασιν, κεἰ σφόδρ᾽ εἶ νεανίας.
Soon after (1415–1418), Bdelycleon warns his father that a second assault victim is coming after him, accompanied by a witness.  This time the potential prosecutor names the specific offense, ὕβρις.
καλούμενός σε· τόν γέ τοι κλητῆρ᾽ ἔχει.
[Κατήγορος] οἴμοι κακοδαίμων. προσκαλοῦμαί σ᾽, ὦ γέρον,
Bdelycleon: Here’s another guy coming to summon you; he does at least have a witness.
Prosecutor: Oh, my awful luck! I summon you, old man, for assault.
Bdelycleon offers to settle, but his father goes him one better, confessing his guilt, proposing (absurdly) to take it on himself to determine the amount of damages, and offering his friendship to boot. The victim accepts, out of reluctance to get involved in legal action (1426):
[Κατήγορος] σὺ λέγε. δικῶν γὰρ οὐ δέομ᾽ οὐδὲ πραγμάτων.
Legal action is, then, at least one of the likely outcomes. Within a few lines, Philocleon again strikes the victim and launches into his second cautionary tale. The action, set in Philocleon’s private court, calls for court performances by kitchen implements and dogs; likewise, this exemplum tells of a jar seeking redress through legal action (1435–1441). These jokes about inanimate objects as participants in litigation rely on a reductio ad absurdum: not just anyone, but any thing, could find himself/itself in court and required to speak. This comic premise would, I think, have been unworkable if elite litigants were practically the only ones Athenians could see contending in the courts.
νεανίας ὢν συκοφαντεῖς τοὺς ξένους;
[Συκοφάντης] τί γὰρ πάθω; Σκάπτειν γὰρ οὐκ ἐπίσταμαι.
[Πεισέταιρος] ἀλλ᾽ ἔστιν ἕτερα νὴ Δί᾽ ἔργα σώφρονα,
ἀφ᾽ ὧν διαζῆν ἄνδρα χρῆν τοσουτονὶ
ἐκ τοῦ δικαίου μᾶλλον ἢ δικορραφεῖν.
Peisetaerus: This is your job? Tell me, young man that you are: you hound foreigners in the courts?
Sycophant: Damn straight I do. I don’t know how to dig.
Peisetaerus: But by Zeus, there are other respectable jobs from which you could be making a living – a man your size – honestly, instead of stitching together lawsuits.
As the types seeking a place in Cloudcuckooland are all hoping for some advantage, it would be difficult for Aristophanes to insert into the parade a man whose riches were already secure. Similarly, it would be inconvenient for Aristophanes’ plot to portray the Sycophant in Wealth (848–958) as a member of the city’s propertied class, enjoying a steady income.
Whatever the truth about what this speaker might do working on his own, his very statement of incapacity has been written for him by a prominent logographos. But this fact does not make it any less likely that many Athenians were forced to speak without expensive assistance or else forgo their claims to an inheritance.