Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.01.06

Victor Bers (trans.), Demosthenes, Speeches 50-59.   Austin, TX:  University of Texas Press, 2003.  Pp. 237.  ISBN 0-292-70922-6.  $22.95 (pb).  



Reviewed by Donald Lateiner, Ohio Wesleyan University (dglatein@owu.edu)
Word count: 1317 words

"The Oratory of Classical Greece" series, edited by Michael Gagarin, continues its determined march across the surviving Attic lawcourt speeches from a century of impressive, if not always persuasive, oratory. This sixth volume adds "the eleventh Attic orator," nouveau riche Apollodorus son of Pasion, to the canonical ten. Apollodorus lurks in perhaps seven speeches (45, 46, 47?, 49, 50, 52, 53, 59) under the name of Demosthenes in the latter's extensive private, prosecutorial corpus -- nearly all these speeches arrive in attack mode.

This volume, in conformity with the rest of the series, includes a series preface (MG), a translator's preface (VB), a series introduction (MG), an introduction to Demosthenes (MG), and an introduction to this volume (VB). This last element includes a useful discussion of Apollodorus and his authorship, graciously indebted to J.C. Trevett's study, Apollodoros the Son of Pasion (Oxford 1992). There is also a convenient index of persons, places, legal terms (Greek and English "equivalents"), and Realien.

Demosthenes is more often read in history courses for his public speeches to the assembly than for the private ones in the dicasteries. This statement assumes that his work is read at all, when many courses in Greek history slight the messier politics of the fourth century. But Athenian private life is a topic of increasing interest, as historians and "cultural critics" dissect economic relations, social networks, and gender roles. The notorious case of the public suit (graphe xenias) against a pricey whore named Neaira has escaped the usual obscurity of private cases (dikai), recently at least because of its copious (mis-)information concerning ancient gender roles and the Athenian sex industry. In little over a decade, we have seen Christopher Carey's bi-lingual edition of Demosthenes 59, Apollodoros Against Neaira (Warminster 1992) and Deborah Hamel's Trying Neaira, The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece (New Haven 2003). Madeleine Henry is writing yet another study of this woman's very strenuous life. This speech is by far the longest in Bers' sample (41 pages).

The ten mid-fourth century speeches fortuitously sequenced in antiquity collect here legal actions concerning major issues in private and public life (and their unexpected collisions) such as poverty, prostitution, taxation, overseas investment and finance, partial disenfranchisement (58), fraudulent citizenship, insult, battery, and more. This volume provides evidence of the work of two logographers mustering arguments for various legal actions. Two speeches (50, 51) concern the appointment of liturgies (outfitting expensive triremes); two (59 and an unusual appeal 57) arise from challenges to alleged citizenship; one concerns the grain supply, a vital national security issue in ancient Athens (56.7-11; cf. 35.50-52). One deals with lending and borrowing money (52); one concerns a forced sale resulting from a public debt (53); one examines a property dispute between farming neighbors (55); and one turns on humiliating violence to persons (54) -- the most informative text for citizen-citizen relations.

This last, Against Conon, (Dem. 54), can be particularly useful for students who wish to get beyond their high school English teacher's misconstrued definition of hybris as "overweening pride." It suggests how unpleasant, indeed nasty, Athenians could be to each other, despite the impressive words that Thucydides (2.37) places in Pericles' mouth in his celebratory epitaphios. The idea that democratic Athens was free from dirty looks and punches would surprise the angry, vengeful participants of Demosthenes 50-59. Democracy has always been a messy business, and one of these speeches reminds us how petty a person can be about who owns what on a boundary line (Against Callicles, Dem. 55).

Each speech has its own introduction. Each traditional section is clearly numbered for easy reference, and footnotes are copious for the Greekless and the lawless. Five hundred forty notes distributed over one hundred seventy five pages average out to a generous three per page -- but the material is sufficiently technical to justify these interventions. Words that are technical legal or political terminology are usually translated and then presented in transliterated Greek, such as "maliciously prosecute (sykophantein)" on p. 89. This practice seems judicious and helpful for those who do not have the Greek text, or who cannot sufficiently control the Greek, or when Attic Greek has two or more words for our one, for example, "action (graphe)" on p. 174.

All these speeches may be assumed to be tendentious in the extreme, and we possess only one side of the coin. A worthwhile intellectual exercise tests one's ingenuity in reconstructing the opponent's case, something quite different from the words often put by our speakers into their opponents' imaginary mouths (hypophora, e.g., Dem. 52.25. 58.64). 54. 38 offers a parallel prognosis of the adversary's affective actions, courtroom tactics in which Socrates would not indulge. The various ad hominem and hearsay allegations of this speech (Spartan affectations, secret societies which consume pig testicles, etc.) render it a showpiece of Attic innuendo. This passage allows us to sample the usually appropriate, colloquial style of the translation:

"I think it better to tell you in advance about the most shameless thing that, I hear, he is going to do. People say that he will gather his children around him and swear on their heads and will call down certain dreadful, cruel curses, so awful that the man who heard them and reported them to us was amazed."

Quibbles arise when reading any translation. Glossing apagoge by "a crime" (67, misplaced note?) or translating demos by "neighborhood" when referring to a country farm (91) will mislead the uninformed. Some introductory notes require further expansion, such as that on the boule (38) "which was not a court but sometimes heard legal disputes."

The Texas project will de facto replace the Loeb Classical Library series for those who need only English translations of the Attic orators. Earlier translations often unintentionally obscured (or misunderstood) points of law and social and economic intercourse. We are hardly immune from such mistakes, to be sure, since the activities of the Attic legal system (not least what happened before and after an actual trial) in some ways become more alien every year, as we appreciate more thoroughly its different presuppositions, procedural etiquettes, and boisterous, unpoliced circumstances. It is nevertheless true that many points of procedure and substance in this "litigation culture" have been better elucidated in recent decades than they were in the 1920's. The painstaking work of Douglas MacDowell, A.R. Harrison, K. J. Dover, Stephen Todd, Edward Cohen, David Cohen, Michael Gagarin himself, and Christopher Carey, to name only some of the eminent, has changed how one comprehends legal issues and their peculiar public resolution in Athenian social history.

Thus this volume and its congeners provide students with both translation and reference to recent scholarly work (e.g., Bers' note on 53.2 refers the reader to Osborne's 1985 study with epigraphic testimony concerning those who received the proceeds of a successful action of apographe). Advanced undergraduate courses rarely find the time but should consider the variety of voices and variety of actions in the extant Attic lawsuits. Their instructors may well incline towards the affordable package of Christopher Carey's noteworthy Trials from Classical Athens (London 1997). Between his two covers appear a spectrum of pleadings over many decades from variously competent hands: Antiphon, Lysias, Isocrates, Isaeus, Demosthenes, Apollodorus, and Hypereides. Carey divides his seventeen speeches into six categories: homicide, assault, property, commerce, citizenship, and slander. Four of the ten speeches in our volume are unexpectedly also published there (54, 55, 57, 59).

The comprehensive Texas plan for "the oratory of ancient Greece," however, does not allow the contributing translators the luxury of picking and choosing the speeches most helpful for Athenian legal or social history. For Classics graduate students and scholars in ancient history who wish or need to survey in English all the forensic evidence and to "collect 'em all," the Texas series provides a great service. Victor Bers' contribution will gain a worthy place alongside his predecessors'.

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