Chapters 15–18 Essay

The defendant now addresses the challenger’s claim that he displays poor moral character, in particular, that he is an arrogant (ὕβριστἠς), violent (βίαιος), and outright disruptive (λίαν ἀσελγῶς διακείμενος) member of Athenian society. Attacks on a defendant’s character were common in Attic oratory and admissible in the law courts, even if the attacks were patently baseless. The anti-social and blustery behavior ascribed to the defendant by the challenger conjures the image of a comic protagonist from Athenian theatre, a type which would be well-known to the jury (Harding 1994: 205; Major 2021: 259-60 for a different interpretation). Indeed, the defendant will recall this possible reference to the comic stage at the end of this section.

While we cannot be certain that Lysias is quoting language used by the challenger, attention to the specific vocabulary employed by the defendant repays closer attention. Notably, the term ὕβριστής (arrogant) carried with it unmistakable class associations to the Athenian mind (Ober 1989: 208–212). Significant wealth was believed to engender significant arrogance and lack of self-control (ἀκολασία), up to and including physical violence (βία). The wealthy, Aristotle reports (Rhet. 1390b32-1391a19 = 2.14–16), are arrogant (ὑβρίσται) and proud (ὑπερήφανοι) because they think that they already possess everything good, as well as pretentious (σαλάκωνες) and ill-mannered (σόλοικοι). Similarly, Aristophanes in his comedy Wealth has personified Poverty assert that arrogant behavior (ὑβρίζειν) is the business of Wealth, whereas Poverty engenders moderation (κοσμιότης). With this cultural background in mind, we can see then that the language of the challenger’s accusation is specifically chosen to code the defendant as wealthy in the minds of the jury. The logic of the accusation, then, is something like this: the wealthy are arrogant, and so if the defendant is arrogant, he must then be wealthy too and thus not qualified for the pension (in addition to being of a generally bad character).

The defendant’s rebuttal takes the form of a series of antitheses designed to underscore the point that Athenian society does not allow for a man such as himself, who is poor, disabled, and old to act in the manner ascribed to him by the challenger (Schön 1918: 104–105). Only the wealthy (who can buy their way out of any problem), the young (who are granted indulgence by society), and the strong (who can act with impunity) are free to behave with arrogance and violence. Note the balance of the antithesis, constructed of two sets with three antitheses each:

Set A
A1: poor vs. wealthy
A2: disabled vs. non-disabled
A3: old vs. young

Set B
B1: wealthy vs. poor
B2: young vs. old
B3: weak vs. strong

The parallelism between the two sets of antitheses is not exact, as we can see, and Lysias varies his terminology at points, principally in the movement of the antithesis between disabled and non-disabled people in A2 and weak vs. strong people in B3. But altogether the structure of the passage is meant to lend the defendant’s rebuttal an assured rhetorical tone.

Allowing and doing, however, are different issues and the whole set of arguments is rather ineffectual. We can imagine that the challenger provided specific examples of the defendant’s behavior that could be classed as arrogant, rash, and violent, but the defendant’s response is again lacking in specifics or direct argumentation (Carey 1990: 45). Rather, the rebuttal is simply a series of commonplace cultural associations grafted into an argumentative scheme built on antithesis. The passage as a whole has an air of the rhetorical schoolroom about it and indeed this argument may derive ultimately from an exercise in describing and contrasting different social classes (Edwards and Usher 1985: 267–268). In particular, the structuring of the argument through two sets of antitheses, not a very common device in Lysias’s speeches, may provide further evidence for the influence of rhetorical handbooks and education.

The speaker closes this section of the speech with his own accusation: in his assertion that the defendant is utterly lacking in self-control the challenger, like a comic writer, aimed to make a joke of the defendant and his situation. “So I think that the challenger, when he spoke about my insolence, was not being serious, but was playing, and he didn’t want to persuade you all that I am this sort of man, but rather to ridicule me as if he was doing a good deed” (ὥστε μοι δοκεῖ ὁ κατήγορος εἰπεῖν περὶ τῆς ἐμῆς ὕβρεως οὐ σπουδάζων, ἀλλὰ παίζων, οὐδ’ ὑμᾶς πεῖσαι βουλόμενος ὥς εἰμι τοιοῦτος, ἀλλ’ ἐμὲ κωμῳδεῖν βουλόμενος, ὥσπερ τι καλὸν ποιῶν). The challenger, perhaps out of touch with mainstream sensibilities, has attempted to make a joke of the defendant, but it has fallen decidedly flat.

The explicit mention of comedy (κωμῳδεῖν) in this passage raises the larger question of how comic themes and invective present in this speech functioned. It is apparent, as we have seen, that Lysias (in contrast to the challenger) uses humor to effectively attack the challenger’s accusations and character. In his bombastic and sarcastic attacks, the defendant shares much in common with the alazon (“braggart”) character of Athenian Old Comedy (Harding 1994). Theater and politics were tightly enmeshed in Athenian society, and so we can expect certain comic character types, like the alazon, to hold political resonances. How this comic characterization would have been received and processed by members of the Council is a more complex and difficult question to answer. Harding (1994) has argued that the comic behavior of the defendant, namely his hyperbole and “perverse incongruity of his argumentation,” is an open acknowledgment of the defendant’s fraudulent behavior and that Lysias turned to features from the Athenian comic stage in an attempt to drum up sympathetic support and “laugh the case out of court” (Todd 2000: 253). Conversely, Major (2021) has asserted that the characterization Lysias crafted for his defendant would have resonated positively with members of the Council as a working-class comic hero, “who knew and experienced [their] anxieties and hardships” (Major 2021: 260). In either instance, it is quite clear that Lysias perceptively and innovatively mined the comic stage to impressive rhetorical and legal effect.

Suggested Citation

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