BMCR 2007.02.07

Iseo: La Successione di Kiron

, , La successione di Kiron. Studi e testi di storia antica ; 15. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2005. 250 pages ; 22 cm.. ISBN 8846711947 €18.00.

Stefano Ferrucci’s new critical edition of Isaios 8, with Italian translation and commentary, is especially welcome because the speeches of Isaios, our principal source of information on Athenian inheritance law, have until recently been relatively neglected by modern editors and commentators. The few 20th-century editions and translations of individual speeches include a companion volume on Isaios 5 in the ETS series Studi e testi di storia antica. 1 We can now look forward to a new Oxford Classical Texts edition, and to a complete English translation in the University of Texas Press series The oratory of classical Greece, both of which are the work of Mike Edwards. In the meantime, William Wyse’s monumental edition and commentary, published in 1904, remains the definitive work on Isaios.2

No later commentator can ignore the views of Wyse, who rated Isaios as an unscrupulous falsifier of law and fact in the service of clients whose claims to the estates they contested were, without exception, fraudulent. Ferrucci (hereafter F) aligns himself with the growing number of scholars who have challenged this undeservedly negative evaluation. He acknowledges a particular debt to the Serbian legal historian Sima Avramovic, who has sought to rehabilitate Isaios as a reliable source of Athenian law.3 F’s own perspective, as evidenced in his earlier book on Isaios,4 is mainly socio-historical, but he pays due attention to the linguistic and rhetorical aspects of the speech as well as to legal issues.

Isaios offers, especially in the Kiron, a lively picture of family and social life in 4th-century Athens. This speech was written for a client who claims the estate as Kiron’s legitimate grandson (daughter’s son). His opponent, Kiron’s nephew (brother’s son), has attacked Isaios’s client on two grounds: that his mother was not a legitimate daughter of Kiron, and that a brother’s son in any event has a better claim than a daughter’s son. The real mastermind behind the nephew’s claim is, according to Isaios, the villainous Diokles of Phlya, brother of Kiron’s second wife.

F’s translation, so far as I can tell from the passages I have sampled, is accurate and lively, nicely capturing Isaios’s characteristic economy of language. (A good example is the description of Kiron’s funeral at 8.21-27, aptly described by F in the commentary as a ‘trial of strength’ (‘braccio di ferro’) between Diokles and the speaker.) His text is based on a re-examination of the manuscript sources and earlier editions. He includes a full critical apparatus, and discusses significant textual problems in the commentary. His preference is to follow the manuscript tradition unless there are compelling reasons to depart from it. This leads him to reject many of the emendations adopted by earlier editors, but the overall result is a text which does not diverge substantively from those of his predecessors.

Anglophone readers will be mainly interested in the extensive introduction (63 pages) and the commentary. The introduction falls into two main sections: the first dealing with the familial and social context, the second with the legal context. Building on earlier prosopographical work, F starts with a careful and largely plausible reconstruction of the kinship patterns and chronology of the speech, including a reconstruction of the family of Diokles of Phlya based mainly on the fragments of two forensic speeches against Diokles which have been attributed to Isaios.

Rightly emphasizing both the importance and the fragility of matrilineal relationships in the Athenian inheritance system, F makes the telling point that the speaker’s opponent, despite the apparent weakness of his position as a collateral kinsman rather than a lineal descendant, at least has the advantage that no-one disputes his identity as the son of Kiron’s brother. In some of its details, however, F’s analysis of Kiron’s family relations is more questionable. Like Avramovic, he assumes that Kiron’s two grandsons were joint claimants to the estate, although in my view there is insufficient evidence in the text to show beyond doubt that the speaker’s brother was still alive at the time of the lawsuit. (The frequent use of the first person plural is common enough in forensic oratory, as a vague designation of a speaker and his supporters.) F seems confused, too, about the likely nature of the allegation made by the opponent about the status of the speaker’s mother: it is not she, but her mother (Kiron’s first wife, according to the speaker) who may have been a ‘foreign courtesan’. Moreover, F’s suggestion that Kiron might have married his first wife as epikleros is misconceived. It was the father’s next of kin who was entitled to claim an epikleros in marriage, but Isaios tells us clearly that Kiron married the daughter of his mother’s sister.

None of these points is of any great consequence as far as F’s interpretation of the speech is concerned, but there are some rather more serious problems in his discussion of the legal and procedural issues raised by the speech. They seem to result, in part at least, from F’s entirely commendable efforts to distance himself from the extreme scepticism of Wyse: although generally sensitive to the rhetorical context, he is, like Avramovic, at times somewhat over-inclined to take what Isaios says at face value. This tendency is revealed in F’s response to a procedural question raised by Wyse: why, if Isaios’s client was really the legitimate heir of Kiron, did he not avail himself of the summary diamartyria procedure to declare that the estate was not adjudicable? There could be a number of reasons for this choice (if it was a choice) but F follows Avramovic in accepting the patently self-interested explanation offered by the speaker of Isaios 7: that the courts prefer to hear a full explanation from the claimant himself in a direct action, rather than the testimony of his witnesses in a diamartyria. F puts forward the highly plausible theory that Isaios’s client needed to establish his title to the estate in a diadikasia before taking further legal action in order to gain physical possession of it. He does not explain, however, why he thinks that the appropriate procedure at the second stage would be a dike biaion (which is not attested elsewhere as a means of recovering landed property) rather than the more obvious dike exoules.

Following Avramovic, again, F accepts at face value the speaker’s statement at 8.43 that failure in this case would deprive him not only of his grandfather’s estate but also of his Athenian citizenship. F refers in his commentary to the consequences of Perikles’s citizenship law, which ‘avevano una immediata efficacia sulla condizione civica e politica dei membri di un οἶκος‘. He does not explain, however, how the outcome of a particular diadikasia could directly affect the civic status of the unsuccessful claimant, and neither does he adduce any primary references in support of his assertion that the link between loss of inheritance and loss of citizenship is frequently mentioned in inheritance cases. In the absence of such evidence, one might question whether the passage in question was any more than a rhetorical exaggeration by Isaios, raising the stakes for his client in an attempt to obtain a favourable decision.

As reflected in his wide-ranging bibliography, F’s discussion of the legal context draws extensively on the Anglo-American as well as the Continental scholarly tradition. He provides a succinct summary of the debate on the inheritance rights of a daughter’s son, which has focused on the possibility that the position of Isaios’s client, whose mother had predeceased her father, may have been different from that of a grandson whose mother had inherited her father’s estate as epikleros. Although the evidence is inconclusive, F is almost certainly correct in his view that a daughter’s son always had precedence over a brother’s son in the order of intestate succession, so that Isaios’s client—provided he could prove that his mother was legitimate—had a better claim to the estate than his opponent.

Other topics surveyed in similar fashion include the nature of the diadikasia (the legal procedure used to adjudicate inheritance disputes) and the types of evidence (including witness testimony and ‘indirect proofs’) available to the Athenian litigant. On the use of extra-legal argumentation in the dikasteria, of which the character assassination of Diokles in this speech is a striking example, F sensibly points out the danger of importing modern juristic concepts into the Athenian context, concluding that the portrait of Diokles, though not strictly part of the legal context, may be seen as part of the ‘larger story’.5

F makes some original observations on the gathering and presentation of forensic evidence, which he sees as a collaboration between the logographer and his client. F reflects on the difficulties they faced in reconstructing the family’s history (fallibility of memory, lack of witnesses, dependence on hearsay); and, while conceding that Isaios’s work was on a much smaller scale, he compares the task of the logographer with that of the historian in the reconstruction of a larger past. Citing a number of scholarly works on the links between historiography and oratory, he points out that none of them has looked specifically at Isaios. The subject would, as he suggests, repay further investigation, although I suspect he may be stretching a point in the parallel he finds between the words ἐγὼ ζητῶν ἐξεῦρον at Isa. 8.9 and Thuc. 1.20, where Thucydides describes his historical method as ζήτησις τῆς ἀληθείας.

The commentary, in addition to complementing the more general legal and historical discussion in the introduction, includes helpfully discursive background notes on such specific topics as the participation of female citizens in the Thesmophoria (8.19) and Kiron’s inclusion of his grandsons in the observance of the family cults (8.15-17). (These are among the tekmeria adduced by the speaker in his efforts to prove that his mother was of legitimate birth.) It also covers rhetorical, stylistic and philological points, of which the many examples include the pejorative connotations of the verb παρασκευάζειν in forensic oratory (8.3), Isaios’s use of rhetorical questions and answers (8.9), and the derivation of the Greek word for a pledge or deposit, ἀρραβών (8.23). F is consistently meticulous in his recording of parallels for Isaios’s usage, and in his citations from earlier commentators.

Overall, despite the reservations recorded here, I have found this to be a comprehensive and illuminating study, thoroughly researched, of one of Isaios’s most important speeches. It deserves attention not only from ancient historians and students of Athenian law, but from anyone with a serious interest in classical Greek literature.6


1. P. Cobetto Ghiggia, ed., Iseo: contra Leocare (sulla successione di Diceogene); Pisa, 2002

2. W. Wyse, ed., The speeches of Isaeus, with critical and explanatory notes; Cambridge, 1904

3. S. Avramovic, Iseo e il diritto attico; Napoli, 1997 [originally published Belgrade, 1988, as Isejevo sudsko besednistvo i atinsko pravo ]

4. S. Ferrucci, L’Atene d’Iseo: l’organizzazione del privato nella prima meta del IV sec. a.C.; Pisa, 1998

5. In the sense in which the phrase is used by P. J. Rhodes in ‘Keeping to the point’ ( The law and the courts in ancient Greece, ed. E. M. Harris and L. Rubinstein; London, 2004, pp.137-158).

6. I have noted a few typographical errors: on p.49, n.86 read ‘dottrina’ for ‘dottina’; p.141 ‘Roussel’ for ‘Rousell’; p.153 ‘après quatre ans de mariage’ for ‘aprés quattre ans de marriage’; p.224 ‘Ann Arbor’ for ‘Ann Harbour’; p.232 ‘Ciudad’ for ‘Cuidad’.