Lüsias (Greek: Λυσίας, Latin: Lysias [also the academic transliteration of his name]), (Athens, 445 BC – Athens, 380 BC), a speechwriter (logographer) and orator living in Athens. The Alexandrian literary canon lists him among the ten Attic orators.

We know quite a lot about his life. Our main contemporary source for this is Lysias himself, who in one of his works, the speech against Erathosthenes, tells the story of his life and family. Another contemporary source is Plato, who mentions Lüsias in his dialogues, and who, thanks to his father’s wealth, became the centre of Athenian intellectual life. The House of Lysias is the setting for Plato’s State, and Lysias is mentioned in the Lectionary and in the dialogue Phaedrus.

Lysias’s father, Cephalus, was a wealthy shield maker who moved from Syracuse to Piraeus at the invitation of Pericles. He had three sons, Polemarchus, Lysias and Euthydemus. In 440 BC, after his father’s death, Lysias moved to Thurii, a colonial city of Athens, where he studied rhetoric under Teissis of Syracuse, a pupil of Khorax. But after the tragic Sicilian campaign, which ended in disaster for the Athenians, he returned to Athens in 412 BC. During the reign of the Thirty Tyrants in Athens, he and his brother Polemarchus were on the death list of tyrants. Lysias himself paid off the men sent to capture him and fled to Megara, but his brother was executed. He returned to Athens with the troops of Thrasybulus, who restored democracy. Since he had no civil rights (he was a metoikos) and since he had not received his father’s fortune back, he earned his living by writing speeches – a man who did this was called a logographos. He did not make his speeches himself, except for those against Erathosthenes, one of the thirty tyrants, on the death of his brother, and on Greek unity at the Olympic Games. These two works are also examples of the two basic types of Greek oratory: the former is a so-called forensic oration, while the latter is a so-called advisory (epideictic) oration. In addition to these two types, Aristotle also distinguished between so-called occasional speech – the latter, however, is not characteristic of Lysias’ writing. We know more or less all of his 34 speeches, and hundreds of fragments have survived.

His pupil Isaias himself was one of the 10 famous orators in the Alexandrian literary canon.

The speech against Eratosthenes

Thus begins the speech of Lysias against the tyrant accused of murdering his brother.The events of the trial took place during the last period of the Peloponnesian War and the Athenian civil war that immediately followed. After the fall of Athens, the Spartans put 30 men in charge of Athens. They established an oligarchic rule in the city and, needing money, decided to kill wealthy Athenian citizens and seize their wealth. This had the dual advantage, they thought, of making money and also of inducing certain Athenian citizens to participate in the murders, thus making them their accomplices. Lysias’ brother Polemarkhos and almost Lysias himself were killed in the 30 tyrants’ campaign of terror. The idea was that the tyrants, fearing reprisals, would support the citizens who had been made accomplices in their attempts to restore the Athenians. Socrates himself reports that he himself was tempted to commit murder, but refused to do so.

The Athenians, fleeing the cruelties of the Thirty, fled to Megara, from where they attacked Athens under the leadership of Thrasybulus and defeated the army of the Thirty. The fallen tyrants then fled to the city of Eleusis, but were eventually defeated at Munykhia (404 BC

The introduction quoted above tells us several things about Athenian procedural law: first of all, there was no institution of public prosecution or defence in ancient Athens, but citizens themselves accused other persons and represented the prosecution or defence. This trial is unique in that, because of their personal involvement, metoikos could also sue and act personally in their own cases – thus Lüsias himself was sued. The court was composed not of professional judges but of Athenian citizens themselves. The amnesty did not extend to the members of the Thirty – so Erathosthenes could be sued.

According to the facts reconstructed from Lysias’ lecture, it was at the meeting of the thirty that Theognês and Pisón first raised the idea of killing metoics for their money. They then visited Lüsias at his house, where he was a guest. The guests were sent away by the men sent to arrest them, and Peisón took Lüszias into custody while his associates seized the family’s property. Lüsias then bribed Peisón, but his two companions Melobios and Mnesithides burst in and held Peisón responsible for where he was taking Lüsias. Pisoni then replied that they were going to Lysias’ brother’s house. Melobios and Mnesethides then gave orders to take Lysias to Damnippos’ house, put him under guard there, and then the three of them together to go to Lysias’ brother Polemarchus’ house and search it. Lysias, who was taken into custody in Damnippos’ house, then tried to ask Damnippos for help and ultimately tried to bribe the Theognes present through Damnippos. While the two were negotiating, Lysias, who was a former friend of Damnippos and therefore familiar with his house, cut through three rooms of the house and, finding all three doors open, fled the house. Lysias then fled to Piraeus, hid in the house of a friend, Archeneus, and asked him to go to Athens and ask him what had happened to Polemarkhos. This is how he got the news that his brother had been captured in the street by Eratosthenes and taken to prison, where he was forced to commit suicide by drinking poison made from hemlock – just like Socrates. Lysias then fled to Megara, where the fleeing democrats were gathering.

Lysias refutes Eratosthenes’ argument that he was acting on orders and could not have done otherwise. Lysias argues that Polemarkhus was caught in the street, while Lysias was caught in his own house. But just as there was an opportunity for Lysias to escape, so there would have been an opportunity for Polemarkhus to escape – if not otherwise, at least by Eratosthenes pretending not to notice Polemarkhus in the crowd. Lysias brings up witnesses and quotes well-known events to prove his point. The speech is heavily influenced by references to Athenian emotions and dramatic details. He tries to make the role of Erathosthenes, who would otherwise have played a secondary role, appear more serious by conflating his role with that of the leaders of the Thirty, such as Critias, who is known from Plato’s dialogues – thus in many places he speaks of Erathosthenes in plural form, as if he too had shared in all the hateful actions of the Thirty.

We do not know the outcome of the trial. Those scholars who argue for acquittal argue that the only specific acts that Erathosthenes was charged with were that he approved the killing of the Methoikos and then captured Lysias’ brother and took him to prison. The fact that Lüsias did not prove his direct involvement in the murder was probably also pointed out by the accused. Also in Erathosthenes’ favour is the fact that he was probably not the only one who captured Polemarkhus, but, as there were several people assigned to capture Lüsias, he must have been accompanied by escorts who checked whether Polemarkhus had been captured. Erathosthenes could thus argue convincingly that he would have risked his own life to release Polemarkhus, all the more so because there might have been other persons loyal to the tyrants lying in wait in the crowd.

Olympic speech

The speech of Olympia is considered by many ancient writers to be a model of advisory speech. The extremely short speech is said to have been delivered by Lysias himself, sometime around 388 or 384 BC. The speech is inspired by the Panhellenic Olympic Games. This was a good occasion for Lüsias to speak in Greek to call for unity. The orator explains that the condition for freedom is the acquisition of control over the seas. But the Greeks, because of the Persians. Persians in the east and the tyrant Dionysius II of Sicily in the west. The Greek city-states, led by Sparta should unite to regain their freedom. The interesting thing about this speech is the duality of the fact that, on the one hand, Lysias’ father was himself from Sicily and on the other hand, Sparta was at the time on close friendly terms with Dionysius II, who was probably present when the speech was delivered. Lysias was thus motivated by his personal involvement and wanted to drive a wedge into the Sicilian-Spartan alliance in order to strengthen Athens’ position.


  1. Lüsziasz
  2. Lysias
  3. ^ Debra Nails, The People of Plato (Hackett, 2002), p. 190, and S.C. Todd, “Lysias,” in Oxford Classical Dictionary 3rd ed. (1996).
  4. ^ John Addington Symonds, A problem in Greek Ethics, XII, p. 64
  5. ^ Cf. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Isaeus 61 and Jebb, Attic Orators (1893), vol. 2, pp. 290ff.
  6. L’ordre est celui adopté par la collection Budé.
  7. Aristoteles, Athenaion politeia 40,2.
  8. 1 2 А. М. Л. Лисия // Энциклопедический словарь — СПб.: Брокгауз — Ефрон, 1896. — Т. XVIIа. — С. 738—739.
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