Against Agoratus: In Pursuance of a Writ


Lysias. Lamb, W.R.M., translator. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1930.

But when they were close to the gates, and grounded arms before entering the city, Aesimus perceived him and went up to him, seized his shield, and flung it away, with the order—Be off, crows’ meat! A murderer like you must not join in the procession to Athene. This was the way in which he was driven off by Aesimus; and I will produce witnesses to the truth of my statement.

WitnessesThese were the real relations, gentlemen, that he had with the heavy-armed troops, both at Phyle and in the Peiraeus. Nobody would speak to him, as a known murderer, and Anytus was the cause of his escape from death. If, therefore, he makes use of his journey to Phyle as a plea in his defence, you must retort with the question whether Anytus was the cause of his escape from death when they were ready to do justice upon him, and whether Aesimus flung away his shield and forbade him to join in the procession.

You must not accept that plea from him, nor this one either, if he should urge it,—that we are exacting the penalty a long time after the offence. For I do not think there is any statute of limitations[*](See note on Lys. 7.17.) for such crimes as his: my opinion rather is that, whether brought to his account immediately or after some time, this man must prove that he has not done the things that form the subject of the charge.

Let him therefore satisfy us, either that he did not cause the death of those men, or that he did so with justice because they were doing a mischief to the Athenian people. But if we are late in punishing where we ought to have punished long ago, he is a gainer by the time in which he lived illicitly, while those men have none the less suffered death by his act.

I am told that he also takes his stand on the plea that the words in the act appear in the warrant for arrest; but this, I consider, is utter imbecility. So, without the addition of the words in the act, he would be liable to the arrest; but just because the words have been added, he thinks he can extricate himself! This simply amounts, it would seem, to an admission that he has killed, but has not been taken in the act; and to insist on that is to imply that, if he was not taken in the act, but did the killing, he ought therefore to escape.

But, in my view, the Eleven who authorized this arrest, without a thought of supporting Agoratus’s plea,—on which he was even then insisting,—were quite correct in compelling Dionysius, who sought the warrant for arrest, to add the words in the act: surely that must be so, in dealing with a man who, first before five hundred, and then again before the whole body of the Athenians, made depositions whereby he took the lives of some of them, and thus was responsible for their death.

For you cannot of course suppose that in the act only applies to a man felled with the stroke of a club or a dagger; since, by your argument, nobody will be found to have actually killed the men against whom you deposed. For no one either struck them or assassinated them, but your deposition had the effect of compelling them to die.[*](By a draught of hemlock.) Then is not the author of their death a person caught in the act? Now, who can be that author but you, who made the depositions? So clearly you, who killed them, have been caught in the act.

I understand that he intends to refer to the oaths and agreements,[*](Providing an amnesty for all except the Thirty, the Eleven who executed their orders, and their ten commissioners in the Peiraeus.) and will tell us that his prosecution is a violation of the oaths and agreements that we of the Peiraeus contracted with the party of the town. Well, if he takes his stand on these, he practically admits that he is a murderer: at least, he makes an objection of oaths, or agreements, or lapse of time, or the words in the act; but in itself the case affords him no confidence of success in his trial.

Your duty, gentlemen of the jury, is to reject these arguments: you must bid him direct his defence to these questions—Did he make no depositions? Are those men not dead? Besides, I consider that the oaths and agreements in no way affect our position regarding this man. For the oaths have been taken between the parties of the town and of the Peiraeus.

If indeed, he was in the town while we were in the Peiraeus, the agreements would have been something for him to count upon; but the truth is that he was in the Peiraeus, like me and Dionysius and all these persons who are for punishing the man, so that we are faced with no objection there. For there was no oath taken between the men of the Peiraeus and the men of the Peiraeus.

In every view, I consider, he deserves more deaths than one; for the same man who says that the people have made him one of them is found to have injured the people whom he himself calls his father, by treacherously sapping the resources that they had for advancing their greatness and strength. Therefore, just as much as the man who struck his own natural father and denied him all necessaries of life, he who robbed his adoptive father of the means that he possessed is certainly, on this one score, as provided by the law of such maltreatment, deserving of the penalty of death.[*](§ 91 appears to be a rhetorical expansion by a later hand.)

It is the duty of you all, gentlemen, as it is of each one of us, to avenge those men. For it was their dying injunction both to us and to all their friends, that we should avenge them on this man Agoratus as their murderer, and do him, in a word, all the injury of which each of us is capable. Now, if they have manifestly done some good service to the city or your democracy, as you yourselves acknowledge, it must follow that you all are friends and intimates of theirs, so that they enjoined this on each of you no less than on us. Hence it would be impious as well as illegal for you to absolve this man Agoratus.

And now it is for you, men of Athens, today,—since at that moment when they were to die you were unable to come to their aid because of the embarrassments of your situation,—today, when you are able, to punish their murderer. And take heed, men of Athens, lest you commit the most abominable act of all. For if you acquit this man Agoratus, your action does not stop there, but by that same vote you condemn to death those men whom you acknowledge as your supporters.

By releasing the author of their death you simply decide that they have been justly put to death by him. And thus the most awful of all fates would be theirs, if those whom they charged to avenge them as their friends should support with their votes the motion of the Thirty against those men.

In the name of the Olympian gods, gentlemen of the jury, let neither art nor craft induce you to condemn those men to death who precisely for their many good services to you were put to death by the Thirty and by Agoratus here. Remember all the horrors, both those that smote the State as a whole and those that each of us felt in private, when those men lost their lives, and punish the author of them all. It has been made plain to you, alike from the decrees, the depositions and all the rest, that Agoratus is the author of their death.

Furthermore, it behoves you to vote in opposition to the Thirty: you must therefore acquit the men whom they condemned to death; and you must convict those whom they did not so condemn. Now, the Thirty condemned to death these men, who were your friends, and these you ought to acquit. Agoratus they acquitted, because he was found zealous for their destruction: him you ought to convict.

If therefore, you vote in opposition to the Thirty, first of all, you are not supporting your enemies with your votes; next, you will have avenged your own friends; and last, you will he held by all the world to have given a just and a pious vote.