BMCR 2016.06.25

Enmity and Feuding in Classical Athens. Ashley and Peter Larkin Series in Greek and Roman Culture

, Enmity and Feuding in Classical Athens. Ashley and Peter Larkin Series in Greek and Roman Culture. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015. xvi, 253. ISBN 9781477302484. $55.00.

Table of Contents

In this expansion of a University of Florida thesis, Andrew T. Alwine analyzes the numerous references to enmity ( echthra) in the Attic orators and offers a nuanced model for evaluating “how enmity was used as a rhetorical strategy in the extant law court speeches [and thus] how enmity fit within the broad context of Athenian politics and society” (2). For Alwine, Athens was both an agonistic, honor-based society in which the courts often became venues for private enmities and a society committed to the rule of law that worried about the implications of such pursuits for a stable democracy. He identifies “hotspots” for exploring the impact of private enmities in 1) the political sphere, 2) the legal sphere, and 3) the regulation of violence, and he posits that “when the conflict between enmity and the interests of the polis became clear, it was enmity that was forced to give way. …Athenians were concerned not to abolish the feuding ethic but to channel it so that it would not threaten the integrity of the city” (4-5).

This position places Alwine firmly within an ever-growing body of scholarship articulating a middle position between the divergent views of Athenian society offered by Cohen (1995) and Herman (2006) that acknowledges that agonistic values were central to Athenian identity and litigation but recognizes that the courts played an integral role in shaping these values.1 Alwine advances the scholarly discussion with his methodology for interpreting references to enmity in the orators, his primary body of evidence. Alwine argues that scholars have overlooked the rhetorical nature of “narratives of enmity,” which in no way “constitute regular appeals to contemporary beliefs about acceptable behavior and therefore…serve as paradigms for Athenian ethical prescriptions”(8) but are instead a flexible, “descriptive” means for constructing arguments from probability (8-10). One must therefore look to the contextual presentation of enmity on a case-by-case basis in order to understand how Athenians conceptualized it more broadly. While this approach to the evidence is often persuasive, illuminating many interpretive pitfalls of Greek social values articulated in legal discourse, Alwine is not always successful in applying it to particular speeches—particularly those in which he overlooks critical lexical data—and on that account misses opportunities to push his argument further, as I will indicate below.

Chapter 1, “The Social Dimensions of Enmity,” characterizes Athens not as a “feuding society” with its “semantic baggage” (25) but rather as an “‘enmity culture,’ a society rife with hostile relationships that members of the community openly recognized and to which they attached considerable importance for evaluating individuals’ honor and standing in the community” (26). Despite Alwine’s reservations about labeling Athens as a “feuding culture,” he confusingly uses the words “feud” and “feuding” throughout the study to describe long-standing enmities between personal and political rivals. Alwine rightly locates the Greek words echthros (enemy) and echthra (enmity) within a lexical nexus of emotional and interpersonal terms (largely drawn from oratory) that evoke a logical structure for social relations and subsequent reciprocal obligations. But he cautions against “a purely lexical approach to the subject” in that it will “fail to account for all the available data” (42). Evidence from forensic oratory, Plato, Xenophon, and curse tablets (a welcome addition to the discussion) traces how enmities formed and progressed inside and outside of the courts not just among elites but among middling citizens. Alwine persuasively shows that observable acts and rituals demonstrated the nature of relationships and provided evidentiary fodder for litigants. Athenians nevertheless recognized enmity as “a prevalent social problem” (36) that could spread among concentric social circles; Athenians channeled such philotimia, arising from an agonistic, honor-seeking ethic, for the public good. This descriptive survey adeptly contextualizes Alwine’s analysis of particular speeches within a cultural framework.

Chapter 2, “The Rhetoric of Enmity as a Legal Strategy,” argues that affirmations or denials of enmity are not simply unambiguous ethical statements about normative behavior but rather analytical tools of persuasion employing “narratives of enmity” to support or refute concrete charges. After an introduction to probability arguments ( eikos, a section appealing more to students and non-specialists), Alwine analyzes enmity in various case studies: prosecutors affirm enmity with their opponents to avoid the appearance of sycophancy but could appear excessively vengeful (irrespective of the charges) if pushed too far; by contrast, defendants sought to undercut prosecutorial claims both by affirming enmity themselves and by portraying themselves as victims of malicious prosecution. Alwine’s careful discussion of key speeches, notably Against Neaera ([Dem.] 59), Against Nicostratus ([Dem.] 53), For the Soldier (Lys. 9), and On the Crown (Dem. 18) persuasively shows that the affirmation or denial of enmity was both contingent on the exigencies of the case and “grounded in legal arguments about the credibility of each speaker’s version of the facts” (91). Only Alwine’s discussion of Against Leocrates (Lyc. 1) feels like a missed opportunity. A sui generis speech in many ways, Lycurgus’ self-characterization as a disinterested prosecutor who contends that personal enmity has no place in public prosecutions (Lyc. 1.5-6) is not, as Alwine rightly points out, an objective norm but a rhetorical choice, but Alwine could have explored more fully the dimensions of collective, arguably “civic” vengeance articulated in tandem with “narratives of enmity.” Lycurgus cites grounds for personal enmity between Leocrates and the city, whose jurors as citizens should remember their own ancestors, wives, and children and exact vengeance from the defendant as an act of dutiful patriotism and familial devotion (Lyc. 1.111, 141). In fact, timôria (revenge) and its cognates occur more frequently here (47 times) than in any other speech in the Attic corpus. Alwine frequently acknowledges that litigants do construct hostile relationships between their opponents and the city (e.g. 80 and 80n25, 97 and 97n13, 105, 110, 198n48), but he does not exploit the lexical evidence as rigorously as he could have.

Chapter 3, “The Flexibility of the Rhetoric of Enmity,” argues that legal argumentation, not procedure, ultimately determines whether or not litigants invoke enmity. Here A. is chiefly concerned with refining the arguments of scholars who argue that procedural differences shape argumentative strategies. For Alwine, enmity does not conform to this pattern. In his analyses of Against Meidias (Dem. 21), Against Conon (Dem. 54), Against Eratosthenes (Lys. 12), and Against Agoratus (Lys. 13), he argues that regardless of procedure, prosecutions and defenses for violent assault or homicide present enmity in various permutations to support arguments on character and motivation. As with Against Leocrates, though, Alwine provides only a partial (albeit significant) picture of the argumentation. For while victims of violent attack such as Demosthenes and Ariston do indeed employ similar rhetorical strategies that impugn their opponents’ character, Demosthenes’ public case argues that his own restraint allows the rest of the community not simply to help him avenge his own sufferings (21.76) but also to exact their own vengeance ( timôrêteos) on Meidias as an enemy ( echthros, an interpersonal term, not polemios ¸ an external enemy) of the state (21.142).

Chapter 4, “Enmity under the Law: The Limits to Vengeance,” argues that institutional and ideological structures in Athens regulated manifestations of enmity and violence that might cause civil conflict ( stasis). Alwine contends (somewhat optimistically) that publicly administered oaths, rotating offices, and large decision-making bodies had a normalizing effect of discouraging enmities, although he acknowledges that the discharging of certain duties could bring private citizens into conflict with one another and provoke physical or legal retaliation. The high frequency of revenge claims in prosecution speeches and the fears expressed by defendants about persecution by enemies confirms that Athens was a “revenge culture” (126, not differentiated from an “enmity culture” elsewhere). But while Athenians expected personal enemies to use the courts as public venues for retaliation, Alwine shows how speakers could impugn the motivations and credibility of their opponents by arguing that a single-minded pursuit of revenge could lead to false charges. Alwine’s emphasis, however, on how “public ideology” (117) shaped narratives of enmity leads him to claim that “there is no reason to assume that [litigants] expected the jury simply to collaborate in their desire for vengeance” (127). Yet collaboration is precisely the kind of rhetoric one finds in the speeches: prosecutors (particularly in public speeches) frequently enlist their jurors as co-avengers who ought to help citizens avenge themselves while defending themselves from future insult. When Demosthenes, for example, stresses the public nature of Meidias’ offense, he does not say that Meidias deserves “public anger and punishment” (Alwine’s translation of timôria here) but rather “public anger and vengeance” (Dem. 21.34) consistent with his argumentation elsewhere (see my comments above). Thus litigants who cite enmity and related terms do not exclusively defer to “public ideology” but often shape collective, democratic values for their own ends by recasting them in vengeful, interpersonal terms.

Lastly, Alwine claims that “[c]asual acts of violence, such as those characteristic of blood-feuding societies, never gained sanction from the Athenian people” (137). He seeks chiefly to refute scholars—predominantly Cohen—who argue that Athenians tolerated a modicum of violence in defense of personal honor. For Alwine, defendants in cases of assault or wounding do not justify their violent acts but rather cite mitigating circumstances for excusing them. His primary evidence is again largely Against Conon and Against Meidias but also Against Simon and On a Premeditated Wounding (Lys. 3-4). In Conon, Alwine argues provocatively that the speaker Ariston’s anticipation of the argument of the defendant Conon—that violence among young men is common and thus negligible—is deliberately inflammatory and not legitimate. In Meidias, Demosthenes’ frank expression of sympathy for Evaion (who retaliated physically after being slighted and was narrowly convicted of murder) serves to distance Evaion’s situation from his own. To be sure, this passage remains ambiguous, but the fact that Demosthenes included it suggests that he wants the jury to think that Evaion, as a victim of hybris, had a right to retaliate in kind against Meidias. Alwine’s interpretation of On the Murder of Eratosthenes (Lys. 1) in this context is more problematic, however. He is certainly correct that Euphiletus’ summary execution of the adulterer Eratosthenes was extraordinary and thus required a nuanced defense against charges of prior enmity and entrapment, but it is not the case that Euphiletus “maintains that he acted as a dispassionate executor of public punishment to prevent the jury from viewing his act as a violent display of private vengeance” (140, cf. 55). As with Dem. 21.34, this reading depends on an arbitrary rendering of timôria as “punishment” rather than as “revenge” and does not take into account that Euphiletus wishes to show how this revenge was consistent with the laws (Lys. 1.4) and served public interests (Lys. 1.47). The enmity towards and vengeful murder of Eratosthenes is for Euphiletus hardly dispassionate but rather a personal manifestation of the city’s collective retribution.

A brief conclusion, “Personal Enmity and Public Policy,” rounds out the study, positing that Athens’ unique democracy contributed decisively to the regulation of personal enmities and more explosive examples of civic conflict. A bibliography, index, and index locorum follow. One editorial issue: numerous endnotes lack proper page numbers, e.g. p. 180n7, “See pp. 000-000” and thus interfere with cross-referencing.

This book has two audiences: the general reader/student and professional scholars. Advanced undergraduate and graduate students would find the analysis of Athenian values useful, although scholars may dispute interpretations of particular passages. These issues are not fatal to Alwine’s study, but they do limit its effectiveness since he misses opportunities to strengthen his analysis. At times, too, Alwine’s study is more an extended critique of Herman and, to a lesser extent, Cohen, than a broader engagement with scholarship on the topic. On balance, though, Alwine offers an important contribution to how cultural norms shape and are shaped by public discourse in democratic Athens.


1. G. Herman, Morality and Behaviour in Democratic Athens: A Social History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006; D. Cohen, Law, Violence, and Community in Democratic Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.