Lysias, like other orators, was the subject of a biographical tradition in antiquity. There is a rather muddled account in Pseudo-Plutarch's Lives of the Ten Orators and a more cautious one at the beginning of the essay On Lysias by the ancient rhetorical theorist Dionysius of Halicarnassus. The two are basically in agreement that Lysias was born in 459/8 BC and died ca. 380 BC. Given that all the surviving speeches that can be dated belong in the period 403-380, the proposed date of death seems plausible, but the date of birth less so, partly because it would entail Lysias having begun his career as speechwriter in his mid-50s, which would be unusual though not impossible, and partly because Dionysius (unlike Pseudo-Plutarch) never states the date of birth as a fact: instead, he presents it as an inference from what seems to be the fact that Lysias went to join the colony at Thurii in Southern Italy at the age of 15, combined with what may be no more than the assumption that he did so at the foundation of the colony in 443/2 BC (Dion. Hal., On Lysias §i). Many scholars have suggested that Lysias may have joined the colony around 430, giving a date of birth ca. 445.
The ancient biographers drew mainly on information that Lysias composed for cases in which he was himself involved, one of which survives complete (speech 12), and another in substantial papyrus fragments (Fr. 7 [Hippotherses]). Close verbal parallels indicate that both of these speeches were used by Pseudo-Plutarch or his sources, but it is important to remember that Lysias may have manipulated the facts about his past to suit his own objectives. Apart from the two speeches, the other primary evidence consists of an anecdote in a speech from the 340s and two dialogues of Plato in which Lysias and his family appear.
Plato's Republic is set in the house of Lysias' father Cephalus, and Plato's Phaedrus focuses on a discussion of a speech about love written allegedly by Lysias. There have been attempts to identify dramatic dates for these dialogues: the discussants in the Phaedrus, for instance, are Socrates (who died in 399) and Phaedrus (in exile from 415 to 404), and the discussion presupposes that the poets Sophocles and Euripides are apparently still alive (hence no later than 406), but also that Lysias is active and in Athens, rather than in Thurii (which might tend to undermine Dionysius' statement that he returned in 412/1: On Lysias §i). Similarly the Republic is located at the time of the introduction to Athens of the festival of the Thracian goddess Bendis (probably but not certainly around 430), at a time when Cephalus is still alive and Lysias and his brothers are still in Athens. If the dialogues have consistent dramatic dates, they raise as many questions as they solve for the biography of Lysias. But the dramatic dates of other Platonic dialogues are equally problematic, and it may be better to use these two dialogues as evidence for Lysias' fame and his family's wealth and social status, despite their being metics (noncitizens resident in Athens), rather than for chronology.
Lysias is said to have studied oratory with its Syracusan inventor Corax and with Nicias s during his time in Thurii. This may well be true, though Thurii and Syracuse are some 200 miles apart, and ancient biographers are sometimes over-keen to establish connections between teachers and likely pupils. In any event, there seems to be a gap between his return to Athens and the start of his career as a speechwriter. This gap is most easily explained by the events of 404/3, the year of the oligarchic junta traditionally known as the Thirty Tyrants, which was imposed by the Spartans following the surrender of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War (431-404). Lysias himself recounts how he and his brother Polemarchus were among a small group of metics arrested by the Thirty, allegedly on suspicion of being hostile towards the regime, but really (according to Lysias) in order to confiscate their considerable wealth (Lys.12.12-19). Polemarchus' execution forms the subject of speech 12, an accusation of judicial murder against one of the Thirty. Lysias himself escaped to join and assist the democratic counterrevolutionaries, and his later attempts to recover at least part of his confiscated property form the subject of Fragment 7 (Hippotherses).
After the regime of the Thirty had collapsed in a reign of terror and a civil war, the Spartan king Pausanias permitted the restoration of democracy in 403, subject to a general amnesty designed to protect from threat of litigation all former supporters of the oligarchy except the Thirty themselves and about thirty others who had held named offices as their immediate subordinates. We are told that Lysias himself was a beneficiary of a decree proposed immediately after the restoration by Thrasybulus, one of the democratic leaders, granting citizenship to those metics who had assisted the democrats, but that this decree was promptly challenged by Archinus, one of the other democratic leaders, and annulled as unconstitutional. Given that a decree would normally be suspended pending the challenge, it is quite likely that Lysias never enjoyed the citizenship, and certainly he reverted thereafter to the status of metic or more specifically isoteles (a privileged subgroup of metics with tax privileges).
As a noncitizen, Lysias was unable to vote or to take an active part in politics, and we do not know whether he was able to appear in court to deliver speech 12; nor do we know the result, if it ever came to court (cf. the Introduction to Lys.12). But he seems to have been sufficiently pleased with it to take up a career as a speechwriter, whether because he had discovered a talent he had not previously recognized, or because the confiscation of his property had encouraged him to find an additional source of income.
Given his own sufferings under the Thirty, we might expect Lysias to take a consistent stand against former supporters of the oligarchy. In the event, however, at least some of his clients were clearly implicated to some degree, including for instance the speakers of Lysias 25 and of Fragment 9 (Eryximachus), both of whom had remained in Athens under the Thirty. Some scholars have argued that Lysias was prepared to write speeches only for moderate rather than for extreme former oligarchs, but this may be to take Lysias' rhetoric too much at face value, because it is Lysias, speaking through the mouth of his clients, who distinguishes them from the extremists. If oligarchs are to be divided into "nice" and "nasty" groups, it is striking how often a speaker is to be found among the former and his opponent among the latter.
Other scholars have taken a much more hostile line, regarding Lysias simply as an unscrupulous advocate willing to write for anybody who will pay. There is probably some truth in this, but it is important not to impose our own concepts of political consistency. Political alliances in Athens were much more personal and less permanent than is the case in a modern system of party politics, and Lysias and his contemporaries may have been less concerned than we would about his readiness to support people who had behaved in ways that to us seem indistinguishable from those that elsewhere he is happy to attack.
Lysias was noted in antiquity as master of the language of everyday life. This led to his being regarded by later readers as the preeminent model of "Atticism," as opposed to the more florid "Asiatic" style. His particular skill is in narrative, and it is in this context that Dionysius comments on his ability to "smuggle persuasion past the hearer" (On Lysias §18). This is seen particularly in Lysias 1, where the story of the speaker's friend Sostratus appears first as an innocuously incidental detail, of the sort that seems so trivial that it lends veracity to the surrounding narrative (1.22-23), which the hearer then has no reason to doubt when the behavior of Sostratus later forms the basis of the defense against premeditation (1.39-40).
Also famous in antiquity, and still much discussed, was Lysias' skill at ethopoiia (lit. "creation of character"; Dionysius, On Lysias §8). Earlier scholars tended to presuppose that this referred to the characterizing of individuals, and they sought for evidence of aristocrats speaking like aristocrats and peasants speaking like peasants. Usher (1965), however, has argued convincingly that ethopoiia is not the creation of individual characteristics (for which Dionysius uses the term to prepon, lit. "that which is fitting": On Lysias §9), but the portrayal of favorable character, or, as Usher translates it, "moral tone." But Usher himself does find evidence of individual characterization in at least some of the speeches: particularly the defense speeches, including most notably the naiveté of Euphiletus in Lysias 1, the dignified embarrassment of the speaker in Lysias 3, the sparkling confidence of Mantitheus in Lysias 16, and the shameless attempts of the speaker in Lysias 24 to play to the gallery. Usher finds less evidence of individual characterization in the prosecution speeches, but he highlights the heavy sarcasm of Lysias 1o, and the detailed and unfavorable portrait not of the defendant Eratosthenes but of his alleged ally Theramenes in Lysias 12.
Lysias' skill in argument was less highly rated by Dionysius, who says that Lysias was better at discovering arguments than at deploying them (On Lysias §15), and he complains elsewhere of the lack of emotional power in the arguments (On Lysias §I9). This may be to miss the significance of Lysias' admitted mastery in narrative: as we saw in the case of speech 1, for instance, it is the apparently artless construction of the narrative that persuades the hearer to accept the facticity of details which later turn out to be central to the argument of the speech, and in this case at least, emotional power is hardly appropriate. It is interesting to compare Dionysius' verdict on the arguments of Lysias' fellow orator Isaeus, which is that the latter deploys his arguments better (On Isaeus §14) but that his rhetorical brilliance is constantly in danger of exciting the suspicions of the hearer (On Isaeus §16).
Survival and Authenticity
Pseudo-Plutarch says that 425 speeches attributed to Lysias were current, of which 233 were regarded as genuine by leading ancient critics ([Plutarch], Lives of the Ten Orators 836a). Of these 425, only 31 survive in medieval manuscripts of Lysias. Why these particular speeches have survived in this order is a difficult question, but it seems to have been a more random process than is the case with Antiphon and Isaeus (cf. the Series Introduction). The survival of a speech, therefore, cannot be taken as evidence that it was one of Lysias' finest, let alone that it was (or was regarded) as authentic, either in the sense of being genuinely by Lysias or in the sense of being a genuine speech. Indeed, the surviving corpus includes two works that clearly are not genuine speeches in their own right: Lysias 11 is simply an epitome of Lysias 10, and Lysias 8 is not a speech at all but perhaps an open letter.
Authenticity is a complex problem, and it is important to distinguish at least two questions: first, whether and to what extent a speech was written for and delivered at the occasion at which it purports to have been delivered, and secondly, whether and to what extent it was written by Lysias. Scholars have traditionally focused on the second of these questions, but for most historical purposes the first is more important, because a genuine document (whatever its authorship) can be used as evidence for attitudes and perceptions at the time of writing. In this regard the situation is relatively uncomplicated, because apart from Lysias 11 (see above), the only serious doubts concern Lysias 6 and Lysias 15, and in both cases the balance of opinion is now in their favor; and although Lysias 2 is clearly not a genuine speech, and Lysias 12 (possibly) and Lysias 34 (probably) may not actually have been delivered, nevertheless even Lysias 2 may well be a genuine and contemporary pamphlet. A related problem, how far a speech may have been revised between trial and "publication," is more difficult to resolve, but this does not generally affect the value of the text as a fourth-century document.
The problem of authenticity in its traditional sense, that of authorship, is one that exercised scholars in antiquity (including Pseudo-Plutarch, above) as well as today. Unattributed works circulating in antiquity tended to be attracted to famous authors, and such attributions could occasionally be challenged on more-or-less objective criteria. For instance, Dionysius of Halicarnassus argued that Lysias could not have written the two speeches written for Iphicrates, because they belonged some years after his presumed death around 378 (Dion. Hal., On Lysias §12). It is on the basis of similar considerations that modern scholars agree that Lysias 20, which belongs in 410 or 409, is too early to be by Lysias, whose career makes best sense if it began in 403/2. More commonly, however, surviving ancient judgments of authorship are based on subjective or unstated criteria and may have been contentious even in antiquity. Such unexplained ancient judgments cannot in my opinion be relied on today.
One criterion of authorship that ancient scholars certainly did use was style (Dionysius claims that it was this that first roused his doubts about the speeches for Iphicrates, above). As a native speaker with access to the entire corpus, Dionysius will have been in a better position to make such judgments subjectively than are modern scholars, but there have been attempts by modern scholars to use the statistical analysis of stylistic traits as the basis of a more objective verdict. Such analysis, however, has led to very different conclusions, and to my mind, the question of authenticity in the sense of authorship is ultimately unresolvable. Fortunately, however, it rarely matters for the interpretation of the speech, though there are a few occasions when it would give an added piquancy if we could be sure that the speech was written by Lysias, as for instance in the comments on metics in Lysias 22.
In addition to the speeches preserved as works of Lysias among medieval manuscripts, we also possess over 300 quotations in later authors, from over 100 lost speeches; these vary from single words or short phrases to several paragraphs. Three of these extended quotations are indeed conventionally treated in modern editions as part of the corpus, but also included in this volume are the six further fragmentary speeches from which we have the longest quotations in later authors. They have been selected because they are sufficiently substantial to give a clear idea of what was happening in the speech and are therefore likely to be of most interest to readers of this series. Four of them are quoted by Dionysius of Halicarnassus in his essays On Isaeus and On Demosthenes, in each case as the basis of a comparison between different orators writing on similar subjects. The other two are quoted by Athenaeus in the Deipnosophistae ("Scholars at Dinner"), a compendious account of a fictitious banquet that provides Athenaeus with an opportunity for those present to cap each others' quotations on abstruse subjects (e.g., fish in books 7-8, drinking cups in book 11, courtesans in book 13). Such extended quotations, however, are rare. More typical as sources of fragments are advice on speechwriting in ancient rhetorical handbooks (e.g., Fr. 2.a), and articles in ancient lexica, or dictionaries-cum-encyclopedias (e.g., Frs. 3.b and 5.b).
One of the areas in which our knowledge of Lysias has been increased since 1900 has been by the discovery and decipherment of papyri. Papyrus was a form of paper that was used throughout the ancient world, but because the dry climate encouraged preservation the vast majority of surviving papyri come from Egypt. It is characteristic of literary papyri that they are significantly older than the medieval manuscripts and that they reflect a period when a much greater range of literature was extant. However, it is also characteristic of surviving papyri that they are "fragments" in the literal sense of being damaged scraps of material. Works of Lysias have at present been securely identified on five papyri, two of them containing portions of speeches that we already possessed, but at least three of them containing portions of more than one speech. Five of these fragmentary speeches on papyri seem sufficiently substantial to be worth including in this volume.
For want of any better arrangement, the eleven fragmentary speeches are arranged in the following order: first the speeches preserved as quoted fragments (Frs. 1-6) and then those preserved on papyrus (Frs. 7-11), with each group being arranged in descending order of the scale of what remains. There is no single reliable and comprehensive edition of the papyrus fragments, though they are to be included in the new edition of the Oxford Classical Text that is being prepared by Chris Carey, who has kindly allowed me to make use of some of his readings. For the speeches, I have used the existing Oxford Classical Text, edited by Karl Hude (Oxford, 1912).
The political history of the period is discussed in J. K. Davies, Democracy and Classical Greece (London, 2d ed., 1993), 134-150, and in more detail in B. S. Strauss, Athens after the Peloponnesian War (London and New York, 1987). There are useful and up-to-date commentaries on selected speeches by Carey 1989 and by Edwards and Usher 1985. K. J. Dover, Lysias and the Corpus Lysiacum (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1968), contains an excellent survey of the evidence for the life of Lysias and is an important study of the question of authorship: on this, however, see also S. Usher, "Lysias and His Clients," Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 17 (1976): 31-40. Other important papers on Lysias include J. J. Bateman, "Some Aspects of Lysias' Argumentation," Phoenix 16 (1962): 157-177; and S. Usher, "Individual Characterisation in Lysias," Eranos 63 (1965): 99-119. The history of scholarship on Lysias is discussed in some detail, if in passing, by S. C. Todd, "The Use and Abuse of the Attic Orators," Greece & Rome 37 (1990):159-178.