Chapters 13-14 Essay

Outrage, hyperbole, and diversion converge forcefully in the final response to the challenger’s accusation that the defendant is not physically disabled (Carey 1990: 47–48).

First, outrage: the challenger’s actions in bringing forth this suit, and in particular his elite disdain for the poor, are beyond the pale according to our defendant; indeed he “has so surpassed the whole human race in his shamelessness” (τοσοῦτον δὲ διενήνοχεν ἀναισχυντίᾳ τῶν ἁπάντων ἀνθρώπων). A humorous snarl may be detected in the expression διενήνοχεν ἀναισχυντίᾳ for διαφέρω in the sense that “excel” or “surpass” is found more commonly in contexts where the subject of the verb is receiving praise or recognition. For example, in his funeral oration for the Athenian war dead, Thucydides (2.39.1) has Pericles praise the Athenians for surpassing their Spartan counterparts in the care and attention they pay to their military training.

Hyperbole takes center stage with two additional preposterous hypotheticals. Here, as earlier in Chapter 9 when the defendant posited an exchange of property between himself and the challenger, Lysias has the defendant close his response to an accusation with an imaginary scenario. In this instance, the defendant asks the jury to consider the possible consequences of voting to revoke his obol pension. First, if the defendant is deemed no longer eligible for the pension by the Council on the grounds he is able-bodied, then he is no longer disqualified from being selected to serve as an archon, one of the chief magistrates of the Athenian democracy. Dillon (2016: 175–76) has noted the religious implications of such a hypothetical election. Religious legislation in Greece regarding the selection and appointment of priests often included the stipulation that they be “whole in body” (holokleros), as this was pleasing to the gods (Dillon 2016: 169–70). Since the Basileus (“King”) Archon, one of the nine annual elected archonships, often oversaw important religious rituals, the idea that a man with a visible physical disability, such as the defendant, could be elected to this position might not sit well with some members of the Council.

The defendant continues with his second hypothetical: should the Council find the defendant (who argues that he is so seriously disabled that he cannot support himself) ineligible for the state benefit, what is to keep them from voting the challenger (who is wealthy and presumably without a physical impairment) a disability pension in his place? Beyond emphasizing the absurdity of such a reversal argued for by the challenger, the proposed scenario also underscores to the Council the corrosive effects that such a decision could have on societal order: a man who is destitute due to his physical impairments might become archon, while a wealthy man, able to earn a living, may receive state support.

The Council, the defendant acknowledges, does not hold the same opinion (οὔτε ὑμεῖς τούτῳ τὴν αὐτὴν ἔχετε γνώμην) on the matter as the challenger, nor does the challenger when he is thinking clearly (εὖ φρονῶν). The reading φρονῶν is a modern emendation (Markland) of ποινῶν which is transmitted in all the manuscripts. In this instance, the emendation is preferable since it presents the challenger as a foolish and facetious prosecutor, an attack the defendant levels again in Chapter 18; it also produces an elegant echo with εὖ φρονούντων in the following sentence (Edwards and Usher 1985: 267) The faulty reasoning of the challenger is made plain by the fact that he treats the current case centered on the granting of a single obol benefit as if it was an inheritance case involving a wealthy heiress (ὥσπερ ἐπικλήρου). The use of the heiress-inheritance simile at once humorously underscores the altogether limited stakes of the case (Carey 1990: 48) and reinforces the depiction of the challenger as a rapacious litigant (Major 2021: 258). 

The defendant quite likely reinforced his points with physical gestures and pantomime. When he closes this section of the speech with an appeal to the jury to trust in their eyes rather than the words of the challenger (μᾶλλον πιστεύετε τοῖς ὑμετέροις αὐτῶν ὀφθαλμοῖς ἢ τοῖς τούτου λόγοις), we should imagine the defendant gesturing to his two canes or taking part in other movements that coded as physical impairment in an attempt to reinforce the absurdity of accepting the arguments of the challenger (Edwards and Usher 1985: 267). While the defendant’s physical appearance was likely a visually compelling piece of evidence in support of his claim for eligibility, we must remember that physical impairment on its own did not legally classify a citizen as “disabled” and qualified for state support. Rather, the physical impairment must materially contribute to a citizen’s inability to support themselves financially (Rose 2016). In his appeal here and elsewhere that the jury trust in what they see, Lysias attempts to enlist them as witnesses to his qualifications, which he otherwise fails to provide for himself (O’Connell 2017: 48). Altogether, the visual humor of the scene performs the dual functions of gaining the sympathy of the jury and trivializing the case and its factual basis.

Suggested Citation

Taylor Coughlin, Lysias: For the Disabled Man (Oration 24). Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2022 ISBN: 978-1-947822-22-1