Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.02.23

Edwin Carawan (ed.), Oxford Readings in the Attic Orators. Oxford Readings in Classical Studies.   Oxford/New York:  Oxford University Press, 2007.  Pp. xxiv, 450.  ISBN 9780199279937.  $45.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Jeremy Trevett, York University, Toronto
Word count: 1848 words

Table of Contents

In this contribution to the series Oxford Readings in Classical Studies Edwin Carawan usefully collects fourteen previously published pieces on the Attic orators. The pieces, which are listed at the end of this review, range in date from 1964 to 2000. Four are (newly) translated, two from German, one from French and one from Danish.

It should be said at the outset that the book's title is somewhat misleading, insofar as it suggests a rather wider-ranging selection than Carawan has chosen to offer. As he writes in the preface: 'For this volume I have set a rather narrow focus but one that should prove useful to scholars and students in a range of disciplines: the intersection of rhetoric and law.' What this means in practice is that judicial oratory predominates, and the deliberative and epideictic genres are largely passed over. This gives the collection a tight focus, but at the cost of a certain thematic narrowness. Readers interested in Demosthenes' speeches to the Athenian assembly, or the epideictic works of Isocrates, will find little of direct relevance here.

The material is divided into three sections. The first, entitled 'The lost art and the first written speeches', includes an extract from Lavency's book on speech-writing, and articles discussing the relationship between a speech-writer and his client (Usher), arguing that Corax was not a real person but the nickname of the early Sicilian rhetorician Tisias (Cole), and suggesting that Lysias 1 is a work of fiction rather than a real speech (Porter).

The second and longest section is entitled 'The tools of argument: procedure and proof'. It contains Wolff's essay on 'Demosthenes as advocate', an extract from Meyer-Laurin's book on equity in Athenian law, and articles on the use of witnesses in court (Humphreys), on Antiphon's handling of proofs (Gagarin), on what Aristotle calls 'artless' proofs (Carey), and on the evidence of slaves extracted under torture (Mirhady).

The third section, 'Casting the jury', offers a chapter from Ober's Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens, and articles on the social composition of juries (Todd), on the use of arguments about the precedent that the decision of the jury will set (Rubinstein), and on Demosthenes' representation of recent history in his speech On the Crown in tragic terms (Yunis).

The individual pieces are all of high quality, and in many cases have proved very influential in shaping our understanding both of law-court oratory and more broadly of the administration of justice in classical Athens. Their organization into three thematically arranged sections works well, with the second section proving particularly cohesive. The only piece whose inclusion might be thought questionable on grounds of relevance is that of Cole: his is an important study of early rhetoric, but it has little to do with the Attic Orators.

On matters that have been hotly debated Carawan expresses a wish to avoid 'antilogies', preferring to give one side only (p. xiii). Thus on the question of whether speeches were composed by the writer and his client in collaboration he includes Usher's article arguing that they did not, but not the chapter of K. J. Dover's Lysias and the Corpus Lysiacum of which it is a critique. One understands that there is only so much space available, and that choices have to be made, but it seems oddly imbalanced to have Mirhady write an epilogue to his by no means uncontroversial article 'Torture and rhetoric in Athens', in which he summarizes and seeks to rebut criticisms that have been made of the article, rather than (say) reprint the brief critique 'Reply to D. C. Mirhady' by Gerhard Thür that accompanied the article's original publication (JHS 116, 1996, 132-4).

Carawan seeks to explain his selection of material as follows: 'The aims of the series have shaped the content to some degree: I have not included any essay that can already be found in a recent collection of wide distribution; I preferred to revisit articles that have been influential but may not be easily available (not to overlook those that appeared in major journals).' (p. v). Since the aims of the series are not set out in this volume, it is impossible to tell to what degree they have shaped its content.1 But the principle of selection offered by Carawan does not seem entirely coherent. If it is appropriate to exclude any essay that can be found 'in a recent collection of wide distribution', one wonders what justification there is for including articles published in such major journals as JHS or CPh, since these are likely to be at least as readily accessible as the former.2 To my mind it would have been preferable if the editor had chosen either to restrict his selection to material that is currently not easily available, or to include the most important work on the judicial aspects of Attic oratory, regardless of its availability elsewhere.

There is a further aspect of the issue of availability about which Carawan is conspicuously silent: the rapid and continuing growth in the online storage of scholarly books and journals. Most potential users of this volume are likely to have access via a university library to such online archives of scholarly journals as JSTOR and Project MUSE, as well as to electronic copies of books. Of the fourteen pieces in this volume no fewer than five (Usher, Gagarin, Mirhady, Ober and Todd) are available in electronic format through my university library. Some readers may reasonably regard this as a disincentive to buying the book for themselves, or to requiring their students to buy it as a course-reader. Volumes of this kind are likely to have a future only insofar as their editors provide sufficient 'added value' via introductions, glosses and translations of unfamiliar terms, consolidated bibliographies and indices, and the like.

Carawan has certainly tried hard to make the material fully accessible to a wide range of readers. All Greek has been either translated or transliterated, and there is a lengthy and very helpful glossary of Greek and Latin terms. The one piece for which more should have been done to help the reader is Cole's, where the Greek is transliterated but not always translated or explained, either in the article itself or in the glossary. In addition there is a quantity of untranslated Latin (generally confined to the notes) as well as a sprinkling of German words and phrases (Mittelquelle, Eikostechnik, redende Namen, etc.) in the body of the article. Cole's argument is in any case complex and technical in character, and I fear that the lay reader will find this piece hard going.

Of the translations, those from German (Wolff and Meyer-Laurin) are, insofar as I can judge, competently done.3 The latter reads a little awkwardly in places, but the meaning is never unclear. I do, however, have reservations about George Kennedy's translation of Lavency, which is no better than serviceable. In general it inclines more to the literal than to the fluent: to take an example more or less at random, 'They [sc. speech-writers] were naturally attentive to exploit in the best way possible all the sources of information at their disposal' (p. 7) is a word-for-word rendering of the French ('Ils étaient naturellement attentifs à exploiter au mieux toutes les sources d'information dont ils pouvaient disposer.'), but is clumsy English. There are also a fair number of errors. In the very first paragraph verbs in the present tense ('leurs compositions sont considerées comme parfaitement réussies quand les discours qu'ils produisent ne ressemblent pas ...') are arbitrarily rendered in the perfect tense ('their compositions have been considered perfectly successful when the speeches they produced did not at all resemble ...') (p. 3). On p. 4 'discours', the standard French word for a speech, is misleadingly translated as 'discourse'. And on p. 7 'L'essentiel était pour ce dernier de se répresenter, pour la saper, la position que la partie adverse allait adopter.' emerges as 'It was essential for the writer to picture himself, to know the position his adversary was going to adopt.' Here the French verb 'saper', to undermine, seems to have been confused with the Italian 'sapere', to know. These are not isolated errors, and I regret to have to conclude that anyone who can read French would be better served consulting the original.

The main text is mostly free of typographical errors, though the bibliography contains a few. More seriously, for a work that aims for maximum accessibility, many journal titles are abbreviated, and for elucidation the reader is directed towards either the third edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary or L'Année Philologique, the former of which (at any rate) offers no help for such abbreviations as AU (= Der Altsprachliche Unterricht) or AN (= Ancient Narrative). It would have been preferable, and little extra work, to have given journal titles in full.

To conclude, this volume provides a well-chosen and thematically coherent, albeit narrow, cross-section of scholarly work on the judicial speeches of the Attic orators, and generally succeeds in its aim of making that work accessible to readers who are not specialists in the field and/or do not read Greek.


1. M. Lavency, 'The Written Plea of the Logographer' tr. from Aspects de la logographie judiciaire attique (Louvain 1964) 124-151, tr. G. Kennedy.
2. S. Usher, 'Lysias and his Clients' = GRBS 17 (1976) 31-40
3. T. Cole, 'Who Was Corax?' = Illinois Classical Studies [abbreviate?] 16 (1991) 65-84
4. J. R. Porter, 'Adultery by the Book: Lysias 1 (On the Murder of Eratosthenes) and Comic Diegesis' = EMC 40 (1997) 421-453
5. H. J. Wolff, 'Demosthenes as Advocate: The Functions and Methods of Legal Consultants in Classical Athens', tr. from Demosthenes als Advokat: Fuktionen und Methoden des Prozesspraktikers im klassischen Athen (Berlin 1968), tr. J. Miner in collaboration with G. Thür, with epilogue by Gerhard Thür
6. H. Meyer-Laurin, 'Law and Equity in the Attic Trial', tr. from Gesetz und Billigkeit im attischen Prozess, Graezistische Abhandlungen 1 (Weimar 1965) 1-31, tr. D. Mirhady
7. S. C. Humphreys 'Social Relations on Stage: Witnesses in Classical Athens' = History and Anthropology 1 (1985) 313-369, with postscript by author.
8. M. Gagarin, 'The Nature of Proofs in Antiphon' = CPh 85 (1990) 22-32, with bibliographical update by author.
9. C. Carey, '"Artless Proofs" in Aristotle and the Orators' = BICS 39 (1994) 95-106
10. D. Mirhady, 'Torture and Rhetoric in Athens' = JHS 116 (1996) 119-131, with epilogue by author.
11. J. Ober, 'Ability and Education: The Power of Persuasion', from Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens; Rhetoric, Ideology and the Power of the People (Princeton, 1989) 156-191
12. S. Todd, '"Lady Chatterley's Lover" and the Attic Orators: The Social Composition of the Athenian Jury' = JHS 110 (1990) 146-173, with retrospective by author.
13. L. Rubinstein, 'Arguments from Precedent in the Attic Orators' tr. from 'Praecedensargumenter I de attiske retstaler' in C. G. Tortzen and T. H. Nielsen (eds.), Gammel Dansk (Copenhagen, 1995) 80-84
14. H. Yunis, 'Politics as Literature: Demosthenes and the Burden of the Athenian Past' = Arion 8 (2000) 97-118


1.   The home page of the series offers only a list of the volumes in it.
2.   It is not clear what counts as 'a recent collection [sc. of articles on the Attic orators] of wide distribution'. My best guess is that C. is thinking of such collections as P. Cartledge, P. Millett and S. Todd (eds.), Nomos: Essays in Athenian Law, Politics, and Society (Cambridge, 1990), which is not concerned with the Attic Orators as such.
3.   Rubinstein's piece was originally published in Danish but began life as an English-language paper (see introductory note, p. 359) and has been translated into English by its author.

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