BMCR 2021.07.14

A commentary on Lysias, speeches 12-16

, A commentary on Lysias, speeches 12-16. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. Pp. xi, 754. ISBN 9780198851493 $195.00.

In the book under review, Stephen Todd provides the second installment of his proposed multi-volume commentary on the speeches and fragments of Lysias. The first volume, covering speeches 1-11, appeared in 2007 and was appreciatively reviewed for BMCR by Matthew R. Christ (2008.11.05). The five speeches included here are fewer in number but include the two longest works in the corpus, Lys. 12 and 13, and as a result the book is of almost equal length. Thanks to the quasi-thematic arrangement of the speeches in the manuscripts, there is considerable coherence between the five: all are political in subject matter, and all relate, more or less directly, to the period of oligarchic government by the Thirty Tyrants. None of these speeches has previously received a commentary in English on this scale.

In format this volume closely follows its predecessor. Although entitled a commentary, it also includes Greek text and facing English translation. The General Introduction is not repeated from Speeches 1-11, on the debatable ground that users ‘can easily refer to the one in the previous volume’ (p. vii).[1] Might the publisher consider making these pages available online for the benefit of users of this and subsequent volumes who do not have ready access to the first volume?

The text and apparatus criticus are, as before, reproduced from Christopher Carey’s recent Oxford Classical Text edition.[2] The translations are based on Todd’s earlier versions of the speeches for the University of Texas Press, though there are numerous differences and the new version is, as befits it purpose, significantly more literal.[3] In particular, Todd makes extensive use of transliteration for Greek words and phrases for which in his view there is no satisfactory single English equivalent (as he discusses on p. ix). The translation is generally clear and accurate, though in places one might quibble about details. For example, why is ἐπειδὴ δὲ ἐκάθισαν (13.24) translated ‘once they were there’ rather than ‘once they had sat down’? And οὕτω σφόδρα τινὲς ἐπεμελοῦντο ὅπως … μήνυσις γένοιτο (13.32) surely means that some people expressed concern that information should be laid, rather than ‘that information … was laid’, which would mean something different.

The introductions to and commentaries on the individual speeches are clear, well-organized, and to the point. Todd makes the material as accessible as possible by supplying both the Greek lemma and the corresponding English translation, relegating less important material to footnotes, and giving both Greek and transliterated English forms of most of the words that he discusses. Complex material is presented in a lucid and unhurried manner, and the commentary is largely free of the accumulation of comparanda and telegraphic abbreviations that often beset the genre. The series of indexes is well done and very useful.

The first speech in the volume, Lys. 12 Against Eratosthenes, is arguably the most famous work of Lysias (though Lys. 1 On the Killing of Eratosthenes—not the same man—is perhaps the most widely read, at least by students). It is directed against the member of the Thirty who was allegedly responsible for the arrest and subsequent execution of a number of wealthy metics, including Lysias’s brother Polemarchos. Todd provides a thorough summary of the complex problems relating to the chronology of the fall of the Thirty and to the terms of the amnesty or reconciliation agreement negotiated by the two sides, oligarchs and returning democratic exiles. He concludes that the speech was most likely written for Eratosthenes’ euthunai in 403/2, on the ground that if he had passed his euthunai he would have been protected from further prosecution by the amnesty. The speech is universally agreed to be the work of Lysias, but Todd regards it as unclear whether, as a non-citizen, he would have been permitted to participate in euthunai and leaves open the possibility that, if not delivered in court, the speech was circulated as a pamphlet. For no obvious reason, a substantial section of the introduction (pp. 6-14) is devoted to the question—interesting in itself but not obviously relevant to the speech—of why the oligarchs numbered precisely thirty.

The target of the next speech, Lys. 13 Against Agoratos, is an alleged informer, active at the time when the Thirty were seizing power, who is accused of being involved in the killing of a number of military officers including the speaker’s cousin. The speech contains at its heart a gripping narrative of this dramatic period of Athenian history. Todd tentatively dates it to 399 on the basis of points of similarity to the more securely dated Lys. 30. He also emphasizes the differences between it and Against Eratosthenes: whereas the latter is concerned with individuals who are socially and politically prominent—Lysias’s own wealthy family and two members of the Thirty, Eratosthenes and Theramenes—Lys. 13 deals with more obscure and indeed marginal figures, not least the defendant Agoratos, who is described, no doubt tendentiously, as ‘a slave born of slaves’ (13.18).

The two speeches Against Alcibiades, Lys. 14 and its short pendant Lys. 15, were both written in support of a public prosecution for dereliction of military duty. The basis of the prosecution is that the defendant, the son of the famous 5th-century politician of the same name, had sought to avoid personal danger by arranging to serve in the cavalry rather than in his assigned position in the infantry. In his introduction Todd deals clearly with a number of procedural issues: Was the case tried before a special court of ex-soldiers or a regular court? And was there one charge or several (the speeches refer to three different offences: desertion, cowardice, and refusal to undertake military service)? He also addresses the question of authorship, concluding that both speeches may well be authentic in respect both of occasion (i.e., are genuine trial speeches) and of authorship.

The final speech in the volume, Lys. 16 For Mantitheos, is one of a number of Lysias’s speeches written for the examination (dokimasia) of a man prior to his taking up public office, in this case probably as a member of the Boule. At issue is the question of whether Mantitheos served in the cavalry under the Thirty. The introduction discusses the procedure of dokimasia and Lysias’ apparent specialization in speeches relating to it, and also his effective characterization of the speaker as a somewhat brash, rich, young man. Taken together, the commentaries on speeches 14-16 constitute, among other things, an important resource for students of the Athenian army, with valuable discussions of the cavalry, including the hippotoxitai, and of military discipline.

Overall, Todd is very strong on matters of history and chronology, prosopography, and, as one would expect from the author of a standard handbook on the subject,[4] law and legal procedure. He is consistently helpful in explicating the text and in analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the speaker’s argument. His approach is thorough and methodical: problems are clearly laid out, and he is not afraid to leave intractable puzzles unresolved. For example, for the allegation at 14.27 that the defendant τοὺς φίλους κατεπόντιζεν, he offers the deliberately literal translation ‘was submerging his friends’, suggests that this is ‘quite possibly a metaphor’ and reviews various proposed explanations without reaching a firm conclusion. Relatively less attention, especially given the generous scale of the commentary, is paid to matters of language and style. Comparison between Todd’s and Carey’s commentaries on speech 14, the one speech in the latter’s Cambridge green-and-yellow selection that overlaps with the speeches here, is instructive.[5] Carey is considerably more concise but shows more interest in rhetorical figures, in identifying parallels in other Greek prose texts, and in the precise sense of particles.

One minor but unnecessary inconvenience in an otherwise thoughtfully presented volume relates to the line spacing of the translations: in Speeches 1-11 the spacing of the English matched that of the Greek, allowing the eye to cross easily from one to the other, whereas here the translation is more narrowly spaced; as a result, it no longer aligns with the Greek, and there is a substantial amount of blank space between it and the bottom of the page. Perhaps the next volume could revert to the previous style?

Typographical errors are very few and unlikely to cause trouble. In the text at 12.8 for ἀδράποδα read ἀνδράποδα. In the translations a word has dropped out at 12.27, where the sentence ending ‘… test his.’ lacks an object (‘loyalty’ in the Texas translation), and at 15.5 the slash separating two alternative possible translations is missing (‘made preparations been prepared’).

This second installment in the series builds impressively on Speeches 1-11. If not quite definitive, it is a thorough, judicious, and well-presented guide to some of the most interesting and important of Lysias’s speeches. For anyone with a serious interest in Lysias, the Attic Orators more generally, or Athens’ turbulent history in the years after the Peloponnesian War, these volumes constitute an essential resource. Todd deserves congratulation for the two volumes that have so far appeared and encouragement for the still substantial task of bringing the project to completion.


[1] The library of my (large Canadian public) university does not have a copy in its collection.

[2] C. Carey, Lysiae Orationes cum Fragmentis, Oxford: 2007.

[3] S. C. Todd, Lysias (The Oratory of Classical Greece vol. 2), Austin: 2000.

[4] S. C. Todd, The Shape of Athenian Law, Oxford: 1993.

[5] C. Carey, Lysias: Selected Speeches, Cambridge: 1989.