Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.12.19

M.J. Edwards, Greek Orators IV Andocides. Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1995. Pp. 216. $24.95. ISBN 0-85668-528-3 (pb).

Reviewed by Yun Lee Too, Classics and Ancient History, University of Liverpool.

Mark Edwards' edition and commentary on the surviving speeches of Andocides (including the often disputed Against Alcibiades (Or. 4)) makes the point that classical Greek prose is more than the historians and more than the philosophers. Greek oratory is no less a major aspect of the politics, thought and culture of democratic Athens, and thus demands attention from literary scholars and historians of culture and thought, as the work of individuals George Kennedy, Donald Russell, Rosalind Thomas and Josaiah Ober among others insist.1

Edwards' text of the surviving four speeches in the Andocidean corpus, volume 4 in the Aris and Phillips series Greek Orators, is part of a specific and concerted effort by classicists to make Attic oratory available and accessible to readers.2 His edition has an evident proselytizing function. It is first and foremost a volume which re-presents an author classified by K. J. Maidment in his 1941 Loeb edition a 'minor Attic orator' with the suggestions of marginality and relative insignificance that such a designation implies to the student of Greek. Edwards is making the point that this author can have an important pedagogical value even if, and precisely because, he is not as difficult as Thucydides (in the speeches) or as Plato (particularly in the passages of mythical narrative). And to this end the editor does all he can to oblige. The facing-page English translation aspires to 'accuracy' rather than 'elegance', as he declares, to enable students to Greek to focus on what they are reading without the distraction of having to refer to the notes (p. iv). What he rightly and sensibly recognises is that a translation does not have to be a crib but can serve as an important tool of Greek language learning. Edwards succeeds in making the reader's encounter with the speeches of Andocides painless and enlightening in other ways. He provides a general introduction providing details regarding the life and career of Andocides and his family background, and offering discussion of the orator's work and of classical Greek rhetoric with attention to received scholarly views (ancient and modern) about the author.

The audience is never made to feel inadequate or ignorant about a body of literature that is currently understudied in classics programmes. The commentary to the speeches gives priority to making the text of Andocides accessible. Edwards cites D. M. McDowell's Oxford edition of On the Mysteries (Oxford, 1962) as the incentive for the current edition, and comparison with this more traditional and extremely learned volume shows that the subsequent volume is not aimed at the specialist scholar. Edwards comments on his translation, rather than on the original Greek text, remaining true to his initial claim that the edition is for the student of Greek. He refuses to overburden the reader with excessive detail or with scholarly debate on particular historical issues. Rather he gives the background he deems necessary to assist comprehension, selecting to elucidate dates, historical personalities, and events where the question of the text as historical source is concerned and structural, argumentative and stylistic components where the text as an example of Attic oratory, indeed 'an example of a pure Attic Greek of the late fifth and early fourth centuries' (p. 4), is concerned. The edition points the audience who may have research interests or find her appetite for rhetorical culture whetted to further avenues of inquiry with an up-to-date bibliography, although the excellent collection of essays by P. Cartledge, P. Millett and S. Todd (eds.) Nomos. Essays in Athenian Law, Politics and Society (Cambridge, 1990) escapes mention. One also notes a Eurocentric emphasis as only Martin Ostwald's volume From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of Law is mentioned and no acknowledgement of Josaiah Ober's recent and influential work is made (see footnote 1). By a curious irony in his desire to make Andocides known and interesting to the classical student, Edwards may inadvertently impair his project. He desperately wants the reader to understand more about the political background -- e.g. the affair of the Mysteries, the problem of Alcibiades -- and about the rhetorical culture that produced these speeches. But in so doing, Edwards misses the larger point about rhetorical discourse, namely that any institutional and discursive validity it has comes from the fact that the audience can never know the whole truth of any matter, past, present or future. This Gorgias had notoriously declared in section 11 of the Encomium of Helen, and acknowledged in part by Andocides when he observes that a speaker has to invoke the past in speaking about the future at On the Peace with the Spartans 3.2. It is thus that an orator produces arguments based on probability (to eikos) and common opinion (doxa) and constructs images and depictions of events, of himself and of others which are to all intents and purposes lies which resemble the truth. Hence the historical 'errors' in On the Peace to which Edwards draws attention at p. 108 -- Rosalind Thomas has shown 'history,' and especially personal history, to be always fluid and open to rewriting.3 Rhetorical language is always one of at least two different, but equally authoritative, accounts of the way things are, and on this point Edwards is misleading as he reinstates the conventional dichotomy between rhetoric and truth at p. 14, 'Andocides' account is, of course, biased, and we have no way of testing its veracity. It is possible, however, to analyse its rhetorical purpose...'. The introduction of 'truth' as a standard is and has too frequently been a red-herring in contemporary studies of classical rhetoric.

Edwards' failure to entertain the arbitrariness and also the idiosyncracies of Andocidean rhetoric is also evident when he seeks to stress the orator's technicality, as the aspect of rhetoric which is most readily quantified and measured. We are given notes on the genres (p. 89), on proofs (pisteis), on slander (diabole) (p. 180), and frequent invocations of Aristotelian discussions of rhetoric and its figures (e.g. p. 173) in an attempt to establish the conventionality and conformity of Andocides' language, although Edwards also has to concede that the Aristotelian taxonomy of genres does not apply to On the Peace (p. 105). Edwards creates the impression that the appeal to techne will support and justify the view that the orator is a worthwhile specimen of classical rhetoric.4 Yet in citing Aristotle as a 'witness' to Andocides' value, Edwards misses the point that in rhetoric witnesses don't necessarily tell the truth but are always partisan supporters (cf. Todd in Cartledge, Millett and Todd 1990 pp. 20, 37-8; also S. Humphreys History and Anthropology 1 (1985) 331-69). The 'arts' of rhetoric are not always helpful interpretive aids where an author's playfulness might be concerned. For instance, Andocides' references to himself uttering aporrheta, literally 'unsayables', at 2.3 (also cf. en aporrhetoi, 2.19-21) receives no comment even though this is the term which denotes prohibited slanders, such as calling someone a 'parricide', a 'matricide', a 'deserter' or 'shield-thrower' (see Lysias Or. 10). Appeal to the definition of aporrheta would not by itself alert the reader to the fact that the speaker is testing the political climate of forgiveness, precisely by repudiating the view that he is a parricide (see 2.7).

Edwards also shows himself manipulable as a reader of rhetorical iconography. He cites only to reject the ancient views that Andocides was not a good orator, and he accepts the biographical details that he was not a logographer and did not speak frequently to his credit in light of his inclusion in the canon (p. 4). But here one might read against the received opinions the self-portraiture produced in the speeches themselves, and which Edwards shows himself disinclined to accept when he expresses his reservations about Anna Missiou's reading of oration 3 as oligarchical propaganda (pp. 109-13; cf. Missiou The Subversive Oratory of Andokides (Cambridge, 1992) p. 29 on oligarchical rhetoric and p. 48 on liturgies). Edwards acknowledges this when he speaks of his subject as a 'proud, dyed-in-the-wool aristocrat' (p. 6) but he draws back from the implications of this for reading the speeches. Certainly, Andocides' references to his performance of public services or liturgies (e.g. 1.132, 2.11), his identification with his ancestors (e.g. 1.141, 2.25-6), the whole argument for peace with Sparta and his archaic style, as noted by MacDowell (p. 19) point to the quietist outlook of the conservative aristocrat of fourth-century Athens, not unlike his fellow rhetorician Isocrates. I would claim too that the technical flaws which Edwards ascribes to Andocides (p. 5) may be part of the orator's self-characterisation as the non-habitual speaker, the man who minds his own business in contrast to the professional litigants and sycophants, and who most often articulates this through the trope 'unaccustomed as I am to public speaking'.

I have a more agnostic approach to ancient rhetoric than Edwards. Where the latter seeks certainties and knowledge from the text, my tendency is to explore the ways in which the text exploits its reader's uncertainties and ignorances. But Edwards' volume clearly succeeds on the terms that have been established for his edition, as an eminently approachable and reader-friendly textbook which can only assist in the revival of the study of Greek oratory and its immensely rich culture.


  • [1] E.g. Kennedy's recent A New History of Classical Rhetoric (Princeton, 1994); D. Russell Greek Declamation (Cambridge, 1983); J. Ober Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens: Rhetoric, Ideology and the Power of the People (Princeton, 1989) and R. Thomas Oral Tradition and Written Recond in Classical Athens (Cambridge, 1989).
  • [2] To date the Aris and Phillips series gives us M. Edwards and S. Usher (eds.) Antiphon and Lysias; S. Usher (ed.) Isocrates; S. Usher (ed.) Demosthenes and C. Carey (ed.) Apollodorus, while the Cambridge series offers us C. Carey and R. A. Reid Demosthenes. Selected Private Speeches (Cambridge, 1985) and C. Carey Lysias. Selected Speeches (Cambridge, 1989).
  • [3] Thomas 1989 p. 151.
  • [4] See Y. L. Too The Rhetoric of Identity in Isocrates: Text, Power, Pedagogy (Cambridge, 1995) pp. 164-72 on the authority of techne in the history of rhetoric.