The Attic Orators
David D. Phillips, UCLA
Orator (life span)
Antiphon (ca. 480 – 411)
Andocides (ca. 440 – post 391)
Lysias (459/8 – post 380)
Isocrates (436 – 338)
Isaeus (ca. 420 – post 344/3)
Demosthenes (384 – 322)
Aeschines (390 – ca. 322)
Hypereides (390/89 – 322)
Lycurgus (ca. 390 – 324)
Apollodoros (394 – bio by Konstantinos Kapparis)
Deinarchus (ca. 360 – post 292/1)
Antiphon son of Sophilus of the deme Rhamnous (ca. 480-411) is the first of the canonical Attic orators. He was the first Athenian to compose and publish speeches written for delivery by others. Antiphon appears not to have taken an active role in Athenian politics until 411, when he masterminded the oligarchic revolution resulting in the brief reign of the Four Hundred. When the Four Hundred were removed from power, Antiphon was tried for treason and condemned to death ([Plut.] Moralia 834a-b) despite delivering the best defense speech in a capital case which Thucydides had ever heard (Thuc. 8.68; for fragments of the speech see Gagarin fr. 1).
Antiphon’s surviving works include three forensic speeches (1, 5, 6) and three Tetralogies (2, 3, 4), all dealing with homicide. The Tetralogies, perhaps composed as early as the 440s, are sets of model speeches in hypothetical homicide cases; each consists of two speeches for the prosecution and two for the defense. Antiphon’s forensic speeches, written for litigants in actual Athenian homicide trials, can be dated to the decade preceding his death. Although the aforementioned works all concern homicide, the surviving fragments of Antiphon deal with a number of issues, from the tribute of Athenian allies (fr. A1-2 Maidment) to a lawsuit regarding peacocks (fr. B12 Maidment). In addition, “Antiphon the sophist,” the author of the works On Truth and On Concord, is probably to be identified with Antiphon the orator.
Andocides son of Leogoras (ca. 440-post 391) came from a wealthy Athenian family and belonged to a hetaireia, an oligarchic political club. Andocides and his hetaireia attained notoriety as a result of the Hermocopid conspiracy of 415. One morning soon before the scheduled departure of the Sicilian expedition, the Athenians awoke to discover that the majority of the herms (ithyphallic stone pillars topped with the head of Hermes, god of travelers) in Athens had suffered mutilation. This, together with a report of the profanation of the Eleusinian Mysteries, threw Athens into an uproar. Among those accused in connection with the two scandals were Andocides and some of his relatives, including his father, who were thrown into prison to await condemnation. In return for a grant of immunity, Andocides confessed that his hetaireia had been responsible for the vandalism. Thus Andocides and his relatives were spared, but a number of his friends were executed.
Andocides’ subsequent unpopularity led to the passage of the Isotimides decree, which barred anyone who had confessed to an act of impiety from entering the temples and agora of Athens. As a result, Andocides went into exile. He twice attempted to return to Athens without success: once in 411, during the regime of the Four Hundred, and again after the restoration of the democracy. In support of his second attempt he delivered the speech On his Return (2). The Amnesty of 403 finally allowed Andocides to return home; but in 400 he was put on trial for violating the Isotimides decree. He won an acquittal with his defense speech, On the Mysteries (1), which is one of our most valuable sources of information regarding the scandals of 415.
In 392/1 Andocides went to Sparta as a member of an Athenian embassy to discuss peace. Upon the return of the ambassadors, he delivered the speech On the Peace with the Spartans (3) in support of Sparta’s offer. The Athenians rejected the offer; the ambassadors, facing accusations of corruption, fled the city. No subsequent details of Andocides’ life are known.
Lysias son of Cephalus (459/8-post 380) was a metic (a resident alien) whose father moved to Athens from Syracuse at the invitation of Pericles. As a teenager he moved to Thurii, where he studied rhetoric; he was banished after the Sicilian expedition ended in disaster and returned to Athens, where he and his brother Polemarchus prospered as owners of a shield-making business.
When the Thirty Tyrants came to power in 404/3, they seized the brothers’ assets and put Polemarchus to death; Lysias barely escaped to Megara. Upon the restoration of the democracy in 403, Lysias was awarded Athenian citizenship by a decree of Thrasybulus rewarding metics who had aided the return of the exiled democrats; but the decree was soon repealed, and Lysias returned to metic status. Also in 403 Lysias prosecuted the former tyrant Eratosthenes for the killing of Polemarchus. The verdict in the trial is unknown; but the speech Lysias delivered, Against Eratosthenes (12), is one of the most important sources we have for the reign of the Thirty, as is Against Agoratus (13), written by Lysias for another litigant.
From 403 to his death Lysias worked as a professional speechwriter. Of the hundreds of speeches ascribed to Lysias in antiquity, 35 survive today; in addition we have a number of fragments. Lysias composed speeches dealing with a wide variety of issues, ranging from homicide (1, 12, 13) to intentional wounding (3, 4), slander (10), dokimasiai (26, 31), and a disability pension (24). Lysias’ prose was widely admired in antiquity for its charis (grace, pleasantness) and ethopoiia (portrayal of the speaker’s character).
Isocrates son of Theodorus (436-338) came from a prosperous Athenian family and studied philosophy as well as rhetoric in his youth. For roughly a decade after the Peloponnesian War, which greatly reduced his family’s assets, Isocrates worked as a speechwriter; six of his forensic speeches (16-21) survive. Around 390, however, he gave up speechwriting (a profession he would later vilify) and turned to teaching. Isocrates’ educational program professed to combine the art of rhetoric with the pursuit of morality; he thus distinguished himself both from pure theoreticians and from those concerned only with persuasion regardless of truth. His students included the historians Theopompus of Chios and Ephorus of Cyme, the orators Isaeus, Hypereides, and Lycurgus, and the general Timotheus.
Isocrates did not participate in Athenian politics in person; he attempted to influence policy by publishing written pamphlets and letters rather than by delivering speeches in the Assembly. Although he was careful to employ the rhetoric of democracy, Isocrates displayed marked oligarchic tendencies; for example, in the Areopagiticus (7). He also made his voice heard regarding foreign policy: he was a strident advocate of panhellenism, and his foremost goal was a united Greek invasion of Persia. In the Panegyricus (4), published in 380 after at least ten years of composition, Isocrates proposed an expedition under the joint command of Athens and Sparta. But the subsequent rise of Philip II of Macedon provided Isocrates with a new choice of hegemon, and he appealed repeatedly to Philip (in the Philippus (5) of 346 and in Epistles 2 and 3) to lead the Greeks against Persia. Disappointed by the results of the battle of Chaeroneia in 338, Isocrates starved himself to death, and thus did not live to see his proposal put into effect by Philip’s son and successor, Alexander the Great.
Isaeus son of Diagoras (ca. 420-post 344/3) is one of the least well-known Attic orators. The ancients themselves could not agree on whether he was Athenian or Chalcidian by birth. A student of Isocrates, he worked as a speechwriter and also taught the art of rhetoric; his most famous student was Demosthenes. Isaeus’ specialty was inheritance law, a difficult and fruitful area of litigation even by Athenian standards ([Arist.] Ath. Pol. 9.2). The eleven speeches of Isaeus which survive entire (1-11) are all concerned, directly or indirectly, with inheritance disputes; the speech For Euphiletus (12) deals with the restoration of citizenship.
Demosthenes son of Demosthenes of the deme Paeania (384-322) is generally regarded as the greatest of the Attic orators. At the age of seven he lost his father and was entrusted, along with his inheritance, to guardians. When he turned eighteen, however, he discovered that most of the money was gone; and so, after studying under Isaeus, Demosthenes took his guardians to court in 364. He delivered his first speeches (27-31) in these cases, and their success launched his career as a speechwriter. Statue of Demosthenes
Demosthenes’ long and illustrious political career began in 355, when he composed speeches for the trials of Androtion (22) and Leptines (20). In the latter half of the 350s he continued to write forensic speeches for high-profile cases (24 Against Timocrates, 353; 23 Against Aristocrates, 352), and also delivered his first speeches before the Athenian Assembly, including On the Symmories (14) in 354, For the Megalopolitans (13) in 353, and On the Liberty of the Rhodians (15) in 351.
Demosthenes rose to prominence as the foremost Athenian opponent of Philip II. In 351 he delivered his First Philippic (4), in which he called for a more aggressive stance toward the rising threat of Macedon. In the three Olynthiacs (1-3) of 348 he urged his countrymen to send aid to Olynthus, which was under Macedonian attack; but the auxiliary expeditions sent by Athens could not prevent Philip’s capture of the city. In 346 Demosthenes took part in the embassies to Philip regarding the Peace of Philocrates; on his return from the second embassy he accused several fellow ambassadors, including Aeschines, of taking bribes from Philip, and he attacked Philip for negotiating in bad faith. Despite his dissatisfaction, later in the year he delivered the speech On the Peace (5), counseling the Athenians to abide by its terms.
For the remainder of the decade Demosthenes continued to agitate against Philip at home and abroad, delivering the Second Philippic (6) in 344 and On the Chersonese (8) and the Third Philippic (9) in 341. In 343 Demosthenes brought Aeschines to trial and gave the oration On the False Embassy (19); Aeschines escaped a death sentence by a mere thirty votes. Demosthenes’ policy of resistance to Philip triumphed, but the resistance itself failed at the battle of Chaeroneia in 338. Nonetheless, Demosthenes remained influential at Athens. In 336 Ctesiphon proposed that Demosthenes be awarded a gold crown for his public services; Aeschines brought an indictment against Ctesiphon for making an illegal proposal, but the case did not go to trial until 330. At Ctesiphon’s trial Demosthenes delivered his most famous oration, On the Crown (18), and Aeschines was soundly defeated.
Philip’s assassination in 336 led to an abortive attempt at revolt in which Demosthenes played a prominent role. For a while afterwards the Athenians acclimated themselves to Macedonian hegemony. In 324-323, however, Demosthenes was implicated in a scandal involving Harpalus, the fugitive treasurer of Alexander the Great. Accused of appropriating twenty talents of the funds Harpalus had brought to Athens, Demosthenes was convicted, fined, and imprisoned for failure to pay, but escaped and went into exile. Upon Alexander’s death in 323 he returned to Athens and again advised resistance to Macedon. After Antipater’s defeat of the Greek rebels in the Lamian War, Demosthenes, facing a death sentence, committed suicide by poison.
Aeschines son of Atrometus of the deme Cothocidae (390-ca. 322) was an actor before becoming a politician, for which he is repeatedly lampooned by Demosthenes. He served on the Athenian embassies to Philip regarding the Peace of Philocrates; in the period which followed his support for the peace brought him into constant conflict with Demosthenes. Upon his return from the second embassy in 346 he was accused of taking Macedonian bribes by Demosthenes and his associate Timarchus. He counterattacked by prosecuting Timarchus for speaking in the Assembly after having prostituted himself, and won his case with the oration Against Timarchus (1). When Demosthenes revived the allegations of bribery in 343, Aeschines defended himself with the speech On the False Embassy (2). He barely escaped conviction, and his influence was clearly on the wane. Bust of Aeschines
In spring 339, as an Athenian representative at the meeting of the Amphictyonic League, Aeschines successfully deflected the wrath of the League from Athens onto Amphissa. However, the Fourth Sacred War against Amphissa bore bitter fruit for the Athenians as well, as it brought Philip into central Greece and eventually led to the battle of Chaeroneia. In 336 Aeschines indicted Ctesiphon for proposing the grant of a gold crown to Demosthenes. When the case came to trial six years later, Aeschines delivered his oration Against Ctesiphon (3). Despite the legal merits of his case, he received less than twenty percent of the jury’s votes, and he left Athens to teach rhetoric on Rhodes.
Hypereides son of Glaucippus of the deme Collytus (390/89-322) was a wealthy Athenian with a reputation as a trencherman and patron of high-class prostitutes. He was already influential in Athenian politics when he joined forces with Demosthenes to resist Philip of Macedon. In 343 Hypereides impeached Philocrates, author of the peace of 346, and secured a conviction. In 341 he went as ambassador to Rhodes, and possibly to Chios, to drum up support against Philip; and in 340 and 339 he was active in Athenian naval operations.
Hypereides continued his hard-line anti-Macedonian stance after the loss at Chaeroneia: his speech Against Philippides (2), for example, attacks an illegal proposal made by Philippides awarding honors to Macedonians. He also found himself repeatedly at odds with Lycurgus, who brought numerous impeachments against Athenian citizens. Two of Hypereides’ surviving speeches (1 For Lycophron and 4 For Euxenippus) were delivered for the defense in impeachments; in both cases Lycurgus was involved in the prosecution.
Hypereides was appointed one of the special prosecutors in the Harpalus affair; fragments of his speech Against Demosthenes (5), which helped convict his former associate, survive. After the death of Alexander the Great in 323, Hypereides led the war party in Athens and traveled abroad to win allies; accordingly, in 322, he was chosen to deliver the funeral oration (6) in honor of the Athenian dead in the Lamian War. Later that year, after the rebels were defeated, Hypereides was hunted down by order of Antipater and executed.
Lycurgus son of Lycophron of the deme Boutadae (ca. 390-324) belonged to one of Athens’ most distinguished families, the Eteoboutads. Rising to prominence after the battle of Chaeroneia, Lycurgus administered the Athenian state treasury from 336 until his death. During his tenure he increased revenues, enlarged the fleet and renovated its dockyards, and oversaw a public building program. In addition, he may have reorganized the ephebic system, under which Athenian men in their first two years of adulthood underwent military training and patrolled the border of Attica.
An extremely pious man, Lycurgus legislated often regarding religious cults and festivals. He also saw himself as a moral reformer; as such he involved himself in numerous prosecutions, favoring especially the procedure of eisangelia (impeachment). His sole surviving speech, Against Leocrates, was delivered in an impeachment for treason. Some of his contemporaries, including Hypereides, objected that Lycurgus was overly zealous in his use of eisangelia and impeached men for petty offenses. So vigorous was Lycurgus in his prosecution of wrongdoers that it was said that he anointed his pen not with ink but with death ([Plut.] Moralia 841e). In 307/6 the Athenians honored Lycurgus’ memory by erecting a bronze statue of him in the Ceramicus.
Apollodoros, son of Pasion of Acharnai. Apollodoros was born in 394 BC. He was the son of the wealthy banker Pasion and his wife Archippe. Apollodoros was brought up in an affluent household and as a young man he was rather ostentatious, perhaps trying to overcome prejudice among the upper strata of Athenian society for his humble origins (see J. Trevett Apollodoros, the Son of Pasion, Oxford 1992). He tells us that he walked fast and had a loud voice. He married the daughter of Deinias of Athmonon, and had two daughters, one of whom was married to his brother in law Theomnestos. He had political ambitions, served as a member of the Boule in 348/7, introduced a decree seeking to expand the resources available for the campaign against Philip, remained a staunch supporter of the anti-Macedonian party, and maintained political alliances with prominent Athenians such as Demosthenes, and even Euboulos in his final years in office. After the death of his father he engaged in prolonged litigation with his younger brother Pasikles over the estate of Pasion. Of the speeches delivered in these court cases we only have the second speech ‘Against Stephanos’ (Dem. 46) written by the hand of Apollodoros. This text is a valuable source of Athenian law because the strategy of Apollodoros in this case was to hit the jury with a barrage of statutes governing inheritance and succession in order to suggest that the law was on his side.
Another six speeches transmitted in the manuscripts of Demosthenes were written by Apollodoros (in chronological order: Dem. 53 ‘Against Nikostratos’, Dem. 52 ‘Against Kallippos’, Dem. 49 ‘Against Timotheos’, Dem. 50 ‘Against Polycles’, Dem. 47 ‘Against Euergos and Mnesiboulos’, Dem. 59 ‘Against Neaira’). The reason why these speeches survived is probably because they were mistaken for speeches of Demosthenes. However, for us this was a fortunate mistake, as Apollodoros had detailed knowledge of Athenian law and legal procedure, and was always eager to quote laws, decrees, oaths, and other such documents in his speeches. The strengths of Apollodoros as an orator lie in his legal expertise, a truly captivating narrative, skillful manipulation of the jury’s prejudices and fears, morally ambiguous, fascinating characters, and an overall richness that has made his speeches popular samples of Attic oratory.
Deinarchus son of Sostratus (ca. 360-post 292/1) was a metic from Corinth. After studying rhetoric under Theophrastus at the Lyceum, he enjoyed a long and successful career as a speechwriter. He composed speeches for one of the special prosecutors in the Harpalus affair, a scandal in which many prominent Athenians were prosecuted for corruption. His three surviving orations (1 Against Demosthenes, 2 Against Aristogeiton, 3 Against Philocles) come from these trials. The last (and, according to many critics, the least) of the canonical Attic orators, Deinarchus enjoyed the patronage of Demetrius of Phaleron during his decade in power (317-307). When Demetrius I Poliorcetes captured Athens in 307, Deinarchus fled to Chalcis, remaining there until Theophrastus arranged his homecoming in 292/1. Soon thereafter he brought suit against Proxenus, who hosted him upon his return; the subsequent fate of Deinarchus is unknown.