Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.06.05

Jeremy Trevett, Apollodoros the Son of Pasion. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992. Pp. xv + 209. ISBN 0-19-814790-2.

Reviewed by Edward Cohen, Philadelphia.

The "aim of the Oxford Classical Monographs series is to publish outstanding theses," and in T.'s case the aim has been splendidly achieved. The merits of this compact volume are considerable: even more importantly, it demonstrates the potential rewards of assaying a doctoral topic of some breadth, and of vindicating that choice by careful and discerning scholarship.

Apollodoros long ago was termed the "Eleventh Attic Orator," but of the seven speeches delivered by A. and preserved in Demosthenes' corpus, the majority had never been the subject of a published commentary, and the only existing detailed treatments (of Dem. 45, 46, and 53) had been published in 1886.1 Despite A.'s significance as a political and financial personage, and as the son of the celebrated banker Pasion and the adversary of Pasion's successor, the tycoon Phormion, A. had never been the subject of a full study. T.'s work thus fills a gaping lacuna, and his extended analyses of past scholarship -- typical of a dissertation -- here are highly useful, drawing together a multitude of detailed discussions which had appeared over many decades in diverse, sometimes recondite, publications -- often offering judicious evaluation of arguments, where appropriate proffering his own suggestions and solutions.

The first chapter provides a summary "History of the Family of Pasion," intended "to help orientate the reader not familiar with the speeches" (p. ix). The seven surviving orations are then analyzed from several perspectives -- authorship (Ch. 2), style and function (Ch. 3) and intellectual background (Ch. 4). These three chapters are workmanlike and thorough, but necessarily modest in aim and accomplishment, and often derivative in content.2 The two concluding chapters consider A.'s political career and his place in Athenian society, both replete with important implications in light of A.'s unfree family origins, his significant political career, and lofty social assimilation -- and his even loftier pretensions. Finally, T. includes an appendix which evaluates the authenticity of the documents found in some of the surviving manuscripts of A.'s speeches, again summarizing and evaluating a mass of prior scholarship, preponderantly from the 19th century and seldom approached afresh.

T.'s treatment of Athenian banking and especially of the bank of Pasion is illustrative of his skills. The bank was perhaps the largest and certainly the best-documented of fourth-century Athenian trapezai; it has been the centerpiece of A.'s significance. Yet -- since other works have considered Athenian banking in detail and at great length -- T. properly determined to "say very little about the operation of the bank, even though these speeches provide by far our best evidence for classical Athenian banking" (p. viii). The family's history, however, is focused on banking matters, and T.'s necessarily superficial survey in Chapter 1 is complemented by a much longer series of sophisticated end-notes which deal judiciously with the morass of scholarship which has grown up on many complex issues relating to the family. In his analyses T. demonstrates an acumen and insight often denied more polemically -- or technically -- oriented economic historians. He discerns, for example, that bankers' relationships with "upper-class Athenians" and their disproportionate success in obtaining citizenship tend to refute the prevalent characterization of bankers as marginal figures at Athens (p. 159, n. 15). Similarly he recognizes -- where many scholars have not -- that there is in fact no reason a priori to assume that Athenian citizens did not operate banks (pp. 1-2). He convincingly explains the motivations for A.'s series of prosecutions against military commanders.

He stumbles generally only where technical knowledge -- usually legal or economic -- is important to accurate judgment. T. posits that a certain "debt was to the bank rather than to [Phormion] personally" (p. 46) and that "Pasion's heirs would owe 11 talents to the bank" (ibid.). To speak of debts owed to a bank rather than to individual owners or lessees is meaningless since Athenian law did not accord to a trapeza legal existence independent of its proprietor(s) (see Welles, Gnomon 1970: 805-6): far from differentiating the bank's owner or lessee from the bank itself, pervasive Athenian usage equated the banker and his bank (see Dem. 45.31; Isok. 17.7, 8, 35-37, 39, 44; Dem. 27.11). T. assumes, following modern scruples against bankers' intermingling of personal and institutional funds, that "Pasion doubtless made a distinction between loans made from the deposits and loans from his own capital" (p. 47). But Athenian bankers routinely mixed personal and business monies (see, e.g. Dem. 36.20, 49, 50). He sees money-changing "as pure and easy profit" (p. 4), ignoring the difficulties arising from the variety of coins circulating in the fourth century, the absence of standardized exchange values, the danger of accepting worthless imitations of precious metals and the competitive pressures on commissions negotiated in a centralized market (see Martin, Sovereignty and Coinage [1985]: 211). T. asserts, on the basis of Dem. 52.3, that the "claim that transactions with bankers were conducted without witnesses is demonstrably untrue as a general rule" (p. 3). But the reality is far more complex. Isokrates 17.2 establishes the general absence of witnesses in banking transactions (TA\ ME\N GA\R SUMBO/LAIA TA\ PRO\S TOU\S E)PI\ TAI=S TRAPE/ZAIS A)/NEU MARTU/RWN GI/GNETAI; cf. Isok. 17.53). Dem. 52.3 is a special case: Archebiades and Phrasias were present not necessarily as "witnesses" to the deposit, but in connection with their subsequent role in identifying the recipient of the depositor's payment order. (But repayment of a loan did generally occur before an assemblage of onlookers [see Dem. 33.12; 27.58; 34.30; 48.46]). In exploring the relationship of Dem. 36 and 45, T. refers to paragraphê as a "counter-prosecution," blindly following the glossary definition ("counter-indictment") in Nomos (Cambridge 1990) which ignores the primary role of paragraphê as a "plea against jurisdiction." But such shortcomings are unavoidable in handing a significant subject straddling history, philology, economics, law and sociology. T. has here produced a volume from which all students of fourth-century Athens will benefit.


  • [1] Subsequent to the appearance of T.'s monograph, Aris & Phillips did publish Carey's commentary on Dem. 59 which frequently cites T.
  • [2] A good example: T. correctly notes that his lengthy tests of authorship (which follow the far more sophisticated work of Usher and Najock on Lysias) "are avowedly rudimentary, and I would not wish to exaggerate their significance" (p 63).