Chapters 4–5 Essay

On the heels of his confident, assertive, and humorous introduction, Lysias concisely summarizes the challenger’s charges against the defendant in the prothesis (“a proposition”), one of the two required sections of a speech according to Aristotle in his Rhetoric. Lysias bookends these two chapters with the commonplace assertion that the defendant will speak briefly, then follows through on the promise.

According to the challenger, the defendant is legally disqualified from receiving the disability pension because his physical impairments, if any, do not suffice to classify him as “disabled” (καὶ οὐκ εἶναι τῶν ἀδυνάτων). Moreover, he works in a trade that provides him with an income (καὶ τέχνην ἐπίστασθαι τοιαύτην ὥστε καὶ ἄνευ τοῦ διδομένου τούτου ζῆν). Lysias clearly associates the legal class of people defined as “disabled” (ἀδύνατοι) with the joint features of physical impairment (note the contrast with those people who are τῷ σώματι δύνασθαι) and financial precarity. The conception of a protected class of “disabled” citizens parallels the law described in the Aristotelian Athenian Constitution that is quoted and discussed in the introduction. Evidence for the first charge of non-disability is the defendant’s use of a horse (ὅτι ἐπὶ τοὺς ἵππους ἀναβαίνω). As to the second charge of earning a sufficient income from a trade, the challenger enters as evidence the frequenting of his workshop by men who are known to spend their money and the money of others, likely through gambling and other unsavory activities (ὅτι δύναμαι συνεῖναι δυναμένοις ἀνθρώποις ἀναλίσκειν). It is interesting to note that on a strict reading of the law as cited in Aristotle any work that provides income would seemingly disqualify an applicant for the state benefit, and yet Lysias does not have his client deny that he earns an income from his workshop. Grassl (1989: 54) takes this as evidence that eligibility does not require “total disability” and that “self-sustaining” work was permitted alongside the administration of pension (see also Jones 1957: 135, n.1), which is perhaps correct, or the case in Lysias 24 (Dillon 1995: 38–39) might simply demonstrate that the law was not strictly enforced in practice. We also cannot rule out the possibility of changes to the law between the time of the speech and Aristotle.

This swift and perfunctory statement of the challenger’s arguments and the brief narrative provided in the following chapter have been variously interpreted. Some scholars argue that if the defendant planned to present clear and substantive evidence at trial to contradict the charges of the challenger, he would dwell at greater length on the exact arguments mustered against him. That the speech does not do so has been understood to support a thesis that the defendant’s case is weak. Tempering these objections, other scholars observe that if the case was so cut-and-dry as to be settled by financial accounting then it would never have reached the point of a hearing (Dillon 1995: 39). Thus, further complications must underlie the dispute and its litigants (Major 2021: 252). Indeed, the single response to the challenger’s statement of charges prompts such considerations: “I know that you know about the financial state of my trade and the rest of my life, whatever sort of life it is” (τὴν μὲν οὖν ἐκ τῆς τέχνης εὐπορίαν καὶ τὸν ἄλλον τὸν ἐμὸν βίον, οἷος τυγχάνει, πάντας ὑμᾶς οἴομαι γιγνώσκειν). How one interprets this statement significantly colors their approach to the defendant and the case as a whole. Is it a reference to the defendant’s notoriety (perhaps as an inveterate fraud or knave?) and standing in Athenian society that somehow complicates the case? Or is it an appeal to the Council to dispel with all the formalities of review and follow precedent? Might we also be able to read into this claim an attempt at building class solidarity between the defendant and the members of the Council, i.e., “you live like I do, so there is no need to go into detail” (following the approach of Major 2021)?

Suggested Citation

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