Chapters 19–20 Essay

The second attack on the defendant’s character involves his occupation. According to the challenger, the defendant’s workshop is frequented by a quite disreputable group of men, which suggests that the workshop was a gambling den or gathering spot for sycophants and scam artists. Where there is smoke there must be fire, leading to the implication that the defendant operates a sleazy and seamy business. The accusation—little more than Agora-born gossip—reeks of elite prejudice against working-class occupations and backgrounds, which became weaponized in Athenian civic discourse (Rosenbloom 2004; Roselli 2005). A common attack on the comic stage, and to a lesser degree in the courts, was to imply that an opponent came from working-class stock or made their money from a trade (Kamen 2020: 74–76). For example, the tragic playwright Euripides received abuse in Aristophanes’ Acharnians (478) for having a mother who sold vegetables in the agora, while a slew of comic authors and the orator Andocides (fr. 5 Blass/Fuhr) attacked the politician Hyperbolus, who represented along with Cleon and Cleophon a new faction of demagogues in Athenian politics, for once working as a lamp maker. Given the working-class composition of the Council, the accusation offered Lysias an opportunity to once again attempt to align the class sympathies of the jury with his defendant. One tradesman for all, and all tradesmen for one.

To this end, Lysias does not have the defendant refute the charge with substantive evidence. Rather he turns the accusation against the challenger, framing his charge as an absurd attack on the working-class Athenian’s way of life. An object lesson in sophistic argumentation, Lysias constructs his response from two interrelated propositions (Schön 1918: 105–8):

A: The challenger accuses the defendant of operating a workshop that attracts unsavory clients; many workshops attract many men, including unsavory sorts. Thus, the accusation applies to all men who operate workshops.

B: The challenger claims that workshops are frequented by men of disreputable character; many men, including members of the jury, patronize various workshops for social reasons. Thus, the challenger accuses all men who visit workshops of having poor moral character, and since this practice is so widespread, he essentially accuses all Athenian men.

Everyone is guilty, so no one is guilty. The logical fallacy is apparent: Lysias attempts to equate the nefarious motives that encourage certain disreputable men to gather at his workshop (perhaps it functions as a clubhouse for thieves?) with the motives that drive the consumer and social behavior of most Athenian shoppers. Yes, while workshops were very popular sites of social exchange (Lewis 1995), the challenger’s accusation was not that the defendant ran a popular workshop (though that charge would further indicate that the defendant made a sufficient income from his business) but rather that the notable presence of disreputable visitors to the shop is indicative of the type of business being done at the workshop itself.

In its absurdity, this final argument of the defendant was unlikely to convince a juror, particularly if he had any time to think through the logic of its propositions. But did he have the time? Lysias composes this section of the speech in a smooth and swift style. The use of analogy and conditional propositions lends the argument an air of assured sophistication. Anaphora (e.g., the list of the various workshops visited by men: ὁ μὲν πρὸς…ὁ δὲ πρὸς…ὁ δὲ πρὸς) and long phrases with few places for the speaker to pause punctuated by a pithy conclusion (εἰ δὲ κἀκείνων, ἀπάντων Άθηναίων) similarly divert the attention of a listener.

Suggested Citation

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