Online Publication of GENOS DIKANIKON: Amateur and Professional Speech in the Courtrooms of Classical Athens, by Victor Bers

The Center for Hellenic Studies is pleased to announce that the online edition of Victor Bers’ GENOS DIKANIKON: Amateur and Professional Speech in the Courtrooms of Classical Athens is now available on the CHS website (
In this monograph Victor Bers attempts to show that many features of Athenian court speech in the deluxe form we know from the preserved speeches were fashioned to avoid the failings of amateur speech.
Under the Athenian democracy, litigants were expected to speak for themselves, though they could memorize a speech written for them. The texts of about one hundred judicial speeches of the genos dikanikon (the forensic genre) have survived, all attributed to Demosthenes or another of the ten writers of canonical status. These professionals wrote either for themselves or members of a small elite. Victor Bers argues that men too poor to afford a professionally written speech frequently spoke before judicial bodies in procedures crucial to their status, wealth, or even their lives, and that these amateur performances often manifested an unmanly yielding to emotions of anger or fear; professional speech, Bers seeks to demonstrate, was to a large degree crafted in reaction to amateur stumbling.
Specifically, Bers argues (1) that the professional component of the genos dikanikon represents only a portion of the speechmaking that went on in the Athenian courts; (2) that many men constrained to rely entirely or mainly on their own resources also spoke in court; (3) that their speech in court resembled routine speech in a number of ways, and that in these they differ from professional speech; (4) that professional speech was crafted to avoid certain features of amateur speech that seemed to cause a speaker’s failure, features he calls evitanda, in particular those that manifested excessive emotion when it was in his interest to appear unafraid and unperturbed. In a short appendix the author discusses the shortcomings of the currently prevailing explanation of professional dicanic speech as formal (rather than colloquial), a continuation of a preference for restraint in public speech at Athens or, more broadly, earlier written prose.
This volume is also available in print via Harvard University Press. Related scholarship from CHS includes The Theory and Practice of Life: Isocrates and the Philosophers by Tarik Wareh. To find an extensive selection of research on ancient Greek civilization and literature, visit the CHS online at