On the Property of Aristophanes: Against the Treasury


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

I find myself greatly embarrassed by this trial, gentlemen of the jury, when I consider that if I fail to speak with effect today not only I but my father besides will be held to be guilty, and I shall be deprived of the whole of my possessions. It is necessary therefore, even if I have no natural aptitude for the task, to defend my father and myself as best I can.

You see, of course, the artifice and the alacrity of my enemies; of these there is no need to speak; whereas everyone who knows me is aware of my inexperience. I shall therefore beg of you the just and easy favor of hearing us with the same absence of anger as when you listened to our accusers.

For the man who speaks in his defence, even if you give him an impartial hearing, must needs be at a disadvantage: those people have laid their schemes long before, and without any danger to themselves have delivered their accusation; whereas we are contending amid fear and slander and the gravest danger. It is reasonable, therefore, that you should feel more kindness for those who are making their defence.

For I think you all know that there have been many cases in the past of men bringing forward a number of formidable accusations, who have been convicted then and there of lying on such clear evidence that they left the court detested by all who had been present; while others again, after bearing false witness and causing people to be unjustly put to death, have been condemned too late for it to be of any use to their victims.

So, when many cases of this sort have occurred, as I am told, it is reasonable that you, gentlemen, should wait till we have had our say before you accept the statements of our. accusers as trustworthy. I myself am told, and I think most of you know also, that slander is the most dangerous thing on earth.

This is especially to be observed when a number of persons are brought to trial on the same charge. For, as a rule, the last to be judged are let off, since your anger has then ceased, and as you listen to them you willingly admit their disproofs.[*](The slanderer has the art of raising indignation against his victims: if there is time for this to cool down, the falsity of his charges is exposed.)

Reflect therefore that Nicophemus and Aristophanes were put to death without trial,[*](On a summary impeachment allowed in special cases of treason or embezzlement.) before anyone could come to their aid as the proof of their guilt was being made out. For nobody even saw them again after their arrest, since their bodies were not even delivered for burial: so awful has their calamity been that, in addition to the rest, they have suffered this privation also.

But from that business I will now pass, as I can do no good there. Far more miserable, in my opinion, are the children of Aristophanes: for, having done no wrong to anyone in either private or public affairs, not only have they been bereft of their patrimony in violation of your laws, but their one remaining hope, of being reared with the means of their grandfather, has been placed in this serious predicament.

Moreover we, bereft of our kinsfolk, bereft of the dowry,[*](Of the speaker’s sister; cf. Lys. 19.32 below.) and compelled to rear three small children, are attacked besides by base informers, and are in danger of losing what our ancestors bequeathed to us after they had acquired it by honest means. Yet, gentlemen, my father in all his life spent more on the State than on himself and his family,—twice the amount that we have now, as he often reckoned in my presence.

So you must not rashly convict of guilt the man who spent little on himself, but a great deal on you each year; you ought rather to condemn all those persons who have made a habit of squandering both their patrimony and whatever they can get from elsewhere on the most disgraceful pleasures.

It is difficult indeed, gentlemen, to defend oneself against an impression which some people have received of the property of Nicophemus, and in face of a scarcity of money that is now felt in the city, and when our contention is against the Treasury. Nevertheless, even in these circumstances, you will easily perceive that the accusations are not true; and I request you with all the insistence in my power to give us a kindly hearing to the end, and to deliver the verdict that you may esteem best for you and most agreeable to your oaths.

Now I will inform you, in the first place, of the way in which they[*](The family of Aristophanes.) became connected with us. Conon, who was in command of operations around the Peloponnese,[*](393 B.C., when he succeeded in reestablishing some strongholds of the Athenians on the coasts of Laconia.) and who had formed a friendship long before with my father when he equipped a warship, requested him to bestow my sister on her suitor, the son of Nicophemus.

My father, finding that these people had been accredited by Conon, and were of proved respectability and—at that time at least[*](So far there were no signs of their later disloyalty.)—in the good graces of the city, was persuaded to bestow her: he did not know the slander that was to follow. It was a time when anyone among you would have deemed it desirable to be connected with them; for it was not done for the sake of money, as you may readily judge from my father’s whole life and conduct.

When he was of age, he had the chance of marrying another woman with a great fortune; but he took my mother without a portion, merely because she was a daughter of Xenophon,[*](One of the Athenian generals to whom the Potidaeans surrendered in 430 B.C. He was killed in a fight with the Chalcidians in Thrace, 429 B.C. (cf. Thuc. 2.70, 79).) son of Euripides, a man not only known for his private virtues but also deemed worthy by you of holding high command, so I am told.

Again, my sisters he refused to certain very wealthy men who were willing to take them without dowries, because he judged them to be of inferior birth: he preferred to bestow one upon Philomelus of Paeania,[*](A township of Attica.) whom most men regard as an honorable rather than a wealthy man, and the other upon a man who was reduced to poverty by no misdemeanor,—his nephew, Phaedrus[*](The same person who appears in Plato’s Phaedrus and Symposium.) of Myrrhinous,[*](A township of Attica.)—and with her a dowry of forty minae; and he later gave her to Aristophanes with the same sum.

Besides doing this, when I could have obtained a great fortune he advised me to take a lesser one, so long as I felt sure of allying myself with people of an orderly and self-respecting character. So now I am married to the daughter of Critodemus of Alopece,[*](A township of Attica.) who was killed by the Lacedaemonians after the sea-fight at the Hellespont.[*](At Aegospotami, 405 B.C. After surprising the Athenian fleet (there was practically no sea-fight) Lysander executed 3000 Athenians who were captured.)

Now I submit, gentlemen of the jury, that a man who has himself married a portionless woman, who has bestowed large sums with his two daughters, and who has accepted a small dowry for his son, ought surely in reason to be credited with allying himself to these people without a thought of money.

Nay, more, Aristophanes, although he was now married, must have preferred to be intimate with many people rather than my father, as may readily be conceived. For there was a great difference both in his age and still more in his nature. It was my father’s way to mind his own business; whereas Aristophanes sought to concern himself not only with private but also with public affairs, and whatever money he had he spent in the pursuit of glory.

You will perceive the truth of what I say from his actual conduct. First, when Conon wanted to send someone to Sicily,[*](In 393 B.C., to undermine the friendship between Dionysius, despot of Syracuse, and the Spartans, who had helped him to attain his power in 406 B.C.) he offered himself and went off with Eunomus, who was a friend and guest of Dionysius, and who had rendered a great many services to your people, as I have been told by those who were with him at the Peiraeus.

The voyage was undertaken in hopes of persuading Dionysius to connect himself by marriage with Evagoras,[*](Despot of Salamis in Cyprus, and steady friend of Athens.) and to become an enemy of the Lacedaemonians and a friend and ally of your city. This they set out to do amid many dangers arising from the sea and from the enemy, and they prevailed on Dionysius not to send some warships which he had then prepared for the Lacedaemonians.