Lysias (Greek: Λυσίας) (born ca. 445 BC; died ca. 380 BC) was an Attic orator.


According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the author of the life ascribed to Plutarch, Lysias was born in 459 BC, which would accord with a tradition that Lysias reached, or passed, the age of eighty. This date was evidently obtained by reckoning back from the foundation of Thurii (444 BC), since there was a tradition that Lysias had gone there at the age of fifteen. Modern critics, in general, place his birth later, ca. 445 BC, and place the trip to Thurii around 430 BC. [Debra Nails, "The People of Plato" (Hackett, 2002), p. 190, and S.C. Todd, "Lysias," in "Oxford Classical Dictionary" 3rd ed. (1996).]

Cephalus, his father, was a native of Syracuse, and on the invitation of Pericles had settled at Athens. The opening scene of Plato's "Republic" is set at the house of his eldest son, Polemarchus, in Piraeus. The tone of the picture warrants the inference that the Sicilian family were well known to Plato, and that their houses must often have been hospitable to such gatherings.

At Thurii, the colony newly planted on the Tarentine Gulf, the boy may have seen Herodotus, now a man in middle life, and a friendship may have grown up between them. There, too, Lysias is said to have commenced his studies in rhetoric—doubtless under a master of the Sicilian school possibly, as tradition said, under Tisias, the pupil of Corax, whose name is associated with the first attempt to formulate rhetoric as an art. In 413 BC the Athenian armament in Sicily was annihilated. The desire to link famous names is illustrated by the ancient ascription to Lysias of a rhetorical exercise purporting to be a speech in which the captive general Nicias appealed for mercy to the Sicilians. The terrible blow to Athens quickened the energies of an anti-Athenian faction at Thurii. Lysias and his elder brother Polemarchus, with three hundred other persons, were accused of Atticizing. They were driven from Thurii and settled at Athens (412 BC).

Lysias and Polemarchus were rich men, having inherited property from their father; and Lysias claims that, though merely resident aliens, they discharged public services with a liberality which shamed many of those who enjoyed the franchise ("Against Eratosthenes" xii.20). The fact that they owned house property shows that they were classed as "isoteleis" (polytonic|ἰσοτελεῖς), i.e. foreigners who paid only the same tax as citizens, being exempt from the special tax (μετοίκιον) on resident aliens. Polemarchus occupied a house in Athens itself, Lysias another in the Piraeus, near which was their shield manufactory, employing a hundred and twenty skilled slaves.

In 404 the Thirty Tyrants were established at Athens under the protection of a Spartan garrison. One of their earliest measures was an attack upon the resident aliens, who were represented as disaffected to the new government. Lysias and Polemarchus were on a list of ten singled out to be the first victims. Polemarchus was arrested, and compelled to drink hemlock. Lysias had a narrow escape, with the help of a large bribe. He slipped by a back-door out of the house in which he was a prisoner, and took boat to Megara. It appears that he had rendered valuable services to the exiles during the reign of the tyrants, and in 403 Thrasybulus proposed that these services should be recognized by the bestowal of the citizenship. The Boule, however, had not yet been reconstituted, and hence the measure could not be introduced to the ecclesia by the requisite preliminary resolution ("probouleuma"). On this ground it was successfully opposed.

During his later years Lysias—now probably a comparatively poor man owing to the rapacity of the tyrants and his own generosity to the Athenian exiles—appears as a hard-working member of a new profession—that of logographer, writer of speeches to be delivered in the law-courts. The thirty-four extant are but a small fraction. From 403 to about 380 BC his industry must have been incessant. The notices of his personal life in these years are scanty. In 403 he came forward as the accuser of Eratosthenes, one of the Thirty Tyrants. This was his only direct contact with Athenian politics. The story that he wrote a defence for Socrates, which the latter declined to use, probably arose from a confusion. Several years after the death of Socrates the sophist Polycrates composed a declamation against him, to which Lysias replied. Though already in his early fifties, Lysias fell in love with a young man from Platea, by the name of Theodotus. The youth, however, had already signed a companionship contract with a certain Simon, who, claiming prior rights to the boy, proceeded to stalk him, resorting to several kidnapping attempts. As a result of that, and the street brawls which ensued over Lysias' eromenos, the case was heard before the Areopagus. [Lysias, "Against Simon," 1-26,44, 47-48] [John Addington Symonds, "A problem in Greek Ethics," XII, p.64]

A more authentic tradition represents Lysias as having spoken his own Olympiacus at the Olympic festival of 388 BC, to which Dionysius I of Syracuse had sent a magnificent embassy. Tents embroidered with gold were pitched within the sacred enclosure; and the wealth of Dionysius was vividly shown by the number of chariots which he had entered. Lysias lifted up his voice to denounce Dionysius as, next to Artaxerxes, the worst enemy of Hellas, and to impress upon the assembled Greeks that one of their foremost duties was to deliver Sicily from a hateful oppression. The latest work of Lysias which we can date (a fragment of a speech "For Pherenicus") belongs to 381 or 380 BC. He probably died in or soon after 380 BC.


Lysias displays literary tact, humour, and attention to character in his extant speeches, and is famous for using his skill to conceal his art. It was obviously desirable that a speech written for delivery by a client should be suitable to his age, station and circumstances. Lysias was the first to make this adaptation really artistic. His language is crafted to flow easily, in contrast to his predecessor Antiphon's pursuit of majestic emphasis, to his pupil (and close follower in many respects) Isaeus' more conspicuous display of artistry and more strictly logical manner of argumentation, [Cf. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, "Isaeus" 61 and Jebb, "Attic Orators" (1893), vol. 2, pp. 290ff.] and later to the forceful oratory of Demosthenes.

Translated into terms of ancient criticism, he became the model of the plain style (polytonic|ἰοχνὸς χαρακτήρ, ἰοχνὴ, λιτὴ, ἀφελὴς λέξις: "genus tenue" or "subtile"). Greek and then Roman critics distinguished three styles of rhetorical composition--the grand (or elaborate), the plain and the middle, the plain being nearest to the language of daily life. Greek rhetoric began in the grand style; then Lysias set an exquisite pattern of the plain; and Demosthenes might be considered as having effected an almost ideal compromise.

The vocabulary of Lysias is relatively simple and would later be regarded as a model of pure diction for Atticists. Most of the rhetorical figures are sparingly used--except such as consist in the parallelism or opposition of clauses. The taste of the day not yet emancipated from the influence of the Sicilian rhetoric probably demanded a large use of antithesis. Lysias excels in vivid description; he has also the knack of marking the speakers character by light touches. The structure of his sentences varies a good deal according to the dignity of the subject. He has equal command over the periodic style ("katestrammenē lexis") and the non-periodic or continuous ("eiromenē, dialelumenē"). His disposition of his subject-matter is always simple. The speech has usually four parts: introduction ("prooimion"), narrative of facts ("diēgēsis"), proofs ("pisteis"), which may be either external, as from witnesses, or internal, derived from argument on the facts, and, lastly, conclusion ("epilogos").

It is in the introduction and the narrative that Lysias is seen at his best. In his greatest extant speech—that "Against Eratosthenes"—and also in the fragmentary "Olympiacus", he has pathos and fire; but these were not characteristic qualities of his work. In Cicero's judgment ("De Orat." iii. 7, 28) Demosthenes was peculiarly distinguished by force ("vis"), Aeschines by resonance ("sonitus"); Hypereides by acuteness ("acumen"); Isocrates by sweetness ("suavitas"); the distinction which he assigns to Lysias is "subtilitas", an Attic refinement—which, as he elsewhere says ("Brutus", 16, 64) is often joined to an admirable vigour ("lacerti"). Nor was it oratory alone to which Lysias rendered service; his work had an important effect on all subsequent Greek prose, by showing how perfect elegance could be joined to plainness. Here, in his artistic use of familiar idiom, he might fairly be called the Euripides of Attic prose. His style has attracted interest from modern readers, because it is employed in describing scenes from the everyday life of Athens.


Thirty-four speeches, three fragmentary have come down under the name of Lysias; one hundred and twenty-seven more, now lost, are known from smaller fragments or from titles. In the Augustan age four hundred and twenty-five works bore his name, of which more than two hundred were allowed as genuine by the critics. Thirty-four works may be classified as follows:


*Olympiacus, xxxiii. 388 BC
*Epitaphios, ii. (purporting to have been spoken during the Corinthian War; certainly spurious), perhaps composed about 380-340 BC (soon after 387, Blass).


*Plea for the Constitution, xxxiv., 403 BC

Forensic, in Public Causes

*Relating to Offences directly against the State (polytonic|γραφαὶ δημοσίων ἀδικημάτων); such as treason, malversation in office, embezzlement of public moneys.
#For Polystratus, xx., 407 BC
*Defence on a Charge of Taking Bribes, xxi., 402 BC
#Against Ergoles, xxviii., 389 BC
#Against Epicrates, XXVII, 389 BC
#Against Nicomachus, xxx., 399 BC
#Against the Corn-dealers, xxii., 386 BC
*Cause relating to Unconstitutional Procedure (polytonic|γραφὴ παρανόμων)
#On the Property of the Brother of Nicias, xviii., 395 BC III
*Causes relating to *Claims for Money withheld from the State (polytonic|ἀπογραφαί).
#For the Soldier, ix. (probably not by Lysias, but by an imitator, writing for a real cause), 394 BC (?)
#On the Property of Aristophanes, xix., 387 BC
#Against Philo i. 142-316. Socrates, xxix., 389 BC
*Causes relating to a Scrutiny (δοκιμασία); especially the Scrutiny, by the Senate, of Officials Designate
#Against Evandrus, xxvi., 382 BC
#For Mantitheus, XVi., 392 BC
#Against Philon, xxxi., between 404 and 395 BC.
#Defence on a Charge of Seeking to Abolish the Democracy, xxv., 401 BC
#For the Invalid, xxiv., 402 BC (?)
*Causes relating to Military Offences (polytonic|γραφαὶ λιποταξίου, ἀστρατείας)
#Against Alcibiades, I. and II. (xiv., xv.), 395 BC
*Causes relating to Murder or Intent to Murder (polytonic|γραφαὶ φόνου, τραύματος ἐκ προνοίας)
#Against Eratosthenes, Xii., 403 BC
#Against Agoratus, Xiii., 399 BC
#On the Murder of Eratosthenes, i. (date uncertain)
#Against Simon, iii., 393 BC
#On Wounding with Intent, iv. (date uncertain)
*Causes relating to Impiety (polytonic|γραφαὶ ἀσεβείας)
#Against Andocides, vi. (certainly spurious, but perhaps contemporary)
#For Callias, v. (date uncertain)
#On the Sacred Olive, vii., not before 395 BC

Forensic, in private Causes

*Action for Libel (δίκη κακηγορίας)
**Against Theomnestus, x.,384-383 BC (the so-called second speech, xi., is merely an epitome of the first)
*Action by a Ward against a Guardian (polytonic|δίκη ἐπιτροπῆς)
**Against Diogeiton, xxxii., 400 BC
*Trial of a Claim to Property (διαδικασία)
**On the property of Eraton, xvii., 397 BC
*Answer to a Special Plea (polytonic|πρὸς παραγραφήν)
**Against Pancleon, xxiii. (date uncertain)


To his Companions, a Complaint of Slanders, viii. (certainly spurious).

The speech attributed to Lysias in Plato's "Phaedrus" 230e-234. This speech has generally been regarded as Plato's own work; but the certainty of this conclusion will be doubted by those who observe:
*the elaborate preparations made in the dialogue for a recital of the "erōtikos" which shall be verbally exact,
*the closeness of the criticism made upon it.If the satirist were merely analysing his own composition, such criticism would have little point. Lysias is the earliest writer who is known to have composed "erōtikoi"; it is as representing both rhetoric and a false "erōs" that he is the object of attack in the "Phaedrus".


Three hundred and fifty-five of these are collected by Sauppe, "Oratores Attici", ii. 170-216. Two hundred and fifty-two of them represent one hundred and twenty-seven speeches of known title; and of six the fragments are comparatively large. Of these, the fragmentary speech "For Pherenicus" belongs to 381 or 380 BC, and is thus the latest known work of Lysias In literary and historical interest, the first place among the extant speeches of Lysias belongs to that "Against Eratosthenes" (403 BC), one of the Thirty Tyrants, whom Lysias arraigns as the murderer of his brother Polemarchus. The speech is an eloquent and vivid picture of the reign of terror which the Thirty established at Athens; the concluding appeal, to both parties among the citizens, is specially powerful.

Next in importance is the speech "Against Agoratus" (388 BC), one of our chief authorities for the internal history of Athens during the months which immediately followed; the defeat at Aegospotami. The Olympiacus (388 BC) is a brilliant fragment, expressing the spirit of the festival at Olympia, and exhorting Greeks to unite against their common foes. "The Plea for the Constitution" (403 BC) is interesting for the manner in which it argues that the well-being of Athens--now stripped of empire--is bound up with the maintenance of democratic principles. The speech "For Mantitheus" (392 BC) is a graceful and animated portrait, of a young Athenian "hippeus", making a spirited defence of his honor against the charge of disloyalty. The defence For the "Invalid" is a humorous character-sketch, The speech "Against Pancleon" illustrates the intimate relations between Athens and Plataea, while it gives us some picturesque glimpses of Athenian town life. The defence of the person who had, been charged with destroying a "mona", or sacred olive, places us amidst the country life of Attica. And the speech "Against Theomnestus" deserves attention for its curious evidence of the way in which the ordinary vocabulary of Athens had changed between 600 and 400 BC.

All manuscripts of Lysias yet collated have been derived, as H Sauppe first showed, from the "Codex Palatinus X." (Heidelberg). The next most valuable manuscript is the "Laurentianus" C (15th century), which Immanuel Bekker chiefly followed. Speaking generally, we may say that these two manuscripts are the only two which carry much weight where the text is seriously corrupt. In "Oratt." i.-ix. Bekker, occasionally consulted eleven other manuscripts, most of which contain only the above nine speeches: viz., Marciani F, G, I, K (Venice); Laurentiani D, E (Florence); Vaticani M, N; Parisini U, V; Urbinas O.





Editions by
*Aldus ("Editio princeps", Venice, 1513)
*Immanuel Bekker (1823)
*W. S. Dobson (1828) in "Oratores Attici"
*C. Scheibe (1852)
*T. Thalheim (1901, Teubner series, with bibliography) - [ PDF]
*C. G. Cobet (4th ed., by J. J. Hartman, 1905)
*with variorum notes, by J. J. Reiske (1772).

Editions of select speeches by
*J. H. Bremi (1845)
*R. Rauchenstein (1848, revised by C. Fuhr, 1880-1881)
*H. Frohberger (1866-1871)
*H. van Herwerden (1863)
*Andreas Weidner (1888)
*Evelyn Shirley Shuckburgh (1882) - [ PDF]
*A. Westermann and W. Binder (1887-1890)
*G. P. Bristol (1892)
*M. H. Morgan (1895) - [ PDF]
*W. H. Wait (1898) - [ PDF]
*C. D. Adams (1905) - [ PDF]

There is a special lexicon to Lysias by D. H. Holmes (Bonn, 1895, [ online] ). See also Jebb's "Attic Orators" (1893, [ vol. 1] , [ vol. 2] ) and "Selections from the Attic Orators" (2nd ed.; 1st ed. [ online] ).

External links


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