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Page history last edited by Kelly Elmore 14 years, 9 months ago

Lysias (445-380 B.C.)  by Kelly Elmore


I thought it might be interesting for our class to learn something about Lysias that didn’t come from Plato’s Phaedrus.  Plato paints Lysias as a poor speech-writer, not only not knowing the truth of things, but not even able to write a technically good speech.  Though I did read that his structure was criticized, he was praised highly for everything else.  If I had only had Plato's comments on Lysias, I might have believed he was a second-rate speechwriter who deserved to lose his student to Plato.  But after reading about him and reading bits of his speeches, I was very impressed.  





Lysias was born in Athens around 445 B.C.  The men in his family were isoteleis, a class of wealthy and influential foreigners who participated in the civic life of Athens, including financially.  Not all of this class was allowed to own property, but Lysias’s family did.  He grew up among the educated and influential citizens of Athens and would probably have heard great orators like Pericles.

At the age of 15, Lysias went with his brother to the colony of Thurii, where he studied rhetoric with Tisias, a student of Corax.  In Thurii, Lysias would have learned the first systematic ideas about how to write a speech.  Corax had developed argumentation through probabilities, and Tisias had written a treatise about the same subject called Techne.  Lysias also studied under Protagoras, who claimed to teach rhetoricians how to win in any argument, however little about the subject he might know, by “making the weaker argument the stronger.”  Lysias was expelled from Thurii due to political change, but he returned to Athens with an excellent rhetorical education. 

Lysias lost his money during the reign of the Thirty Tyrants, and as a result he became a logographer, a paid writer of speeches used in the courts.  We have 23 complete speeches and 3 speech fragments found inserted as examples in the works of other writers.  Since we have works dated until 380 B.C., scholars place his death on or shortly after that year.


The Speeches

As a logographer, Lysias developed a plain and clear style that was more suitable for the courts than the formal, artificial style that the rhetoricians used to display their skill, and he was recognized by Greek and Roman critics as the master of this plain style.  He joined this plain speech with clear sentence structure and brevity.  Lysias tailored the speech to the person who would be giving it.  A common man making a speech in court would buy a speech that was simple, with no rhetorical devices.  More sophisticated clients got more sophisticated speeches.  This tailoring of the speech to the speaker is called “ethopoiia”.  His speeches also demonstrate “adaptedness;” each speech fits the circumstances it is to be delivered in (including whether it is for the prosecution or defense, different kinds of jurors, etc).  Lysias was noted for being excellent at “invention of argument,” the ability to think up creative arguments (often bending the truth or playing on unfair sentiments of juries), but he was not praised for the structure of his speeches, which is often formulaic.



Translated speeches

Lysias was included in The Lives of the 10 Orators, collected by Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace in the third century B.C.

Lysias is a listener in Plato's The Republic, which takes place in his father's house.  His brother, Polemarchus, who studies philosophy, is a main character.



Adams, Charles Darwin. Lysias: Selected Speeches. 2nd ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976.

Plato. Phaedrus. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1995.

"Lysias." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2009.  Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. 28 Sept. 2009. <http://search.eb.com.proxygsu-gsu1.galileo.usg.edu/eb/article-9049550>.

"Lysias." Wikipedia. 26 Sept 2009. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc., Web. 26 Sep 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysias>.



Comments (2)

jamiso_t@... said

at 6:52 pm on Sep 26, 2009

Good Wiki! The only element I might put in is something that is personal. How do you feel about Lysias? What is your take on the information you offer us? Or, you might provide a couple more sources. Also, an easy change would be to link your sources to the actual website (as you have already done under links). You say that "My research gave me a different picture of Lysias than Plato presented," but I don't see how you explain and back up that claim. You have me wondering more about Lysias. How DID your research differ from what you learned?

Jeanne Bohannon said

at 10:44 am on Sep 27, 2009

It is interesting to me that Lysias, like Isocrates made his living as a logographer. While Lysias took the plain style route, I think Isocrates liked the wholistic approach of what I would call a language tapestry, certainly organized but not completely "stage" based. Maybe I have misread Isocrates, but this is how it seems to me:)

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