The Litigants on the Beme: the Speeches and Behavior of the Parties in the Athenian Court

Kudryavtseva Tatiana V.

The speakers in the Athenian lawsuits were attempting to win the sympathy of the jurors verbalising the norms and beliefs sanctioned by society. They reproduced and in some way adjusted the ideology of the Athenian democracy. The content of their speech was not only concrete action, which was an object of a suit, but the all preceding public and private life of a litigant. The orator tried to represent his character and behavior in the highest possible favorable light, and defile the claims and views of his opponent. Different topos are examined: «inexperienced orator», «irreproachable biography», «lavish liturgist». The litigants stressed a personal motive in initiating a suit (enmity, hatred, revenge) so as not to be suspected of sycophancy. One of the favorite topos was to exaggerate his poverty and to juxtapose it with the opponent’s wealth. As J. Ober observes, by lowering his real status the speaker put himself on the same social footing as his audience and demonstrated that he shared the communal prejudices and values. The litigant could ask questions to his rival; the jurors reacted to their speeches very emotionally, interrupting them by cheers of approval and disapproval. The cluster of spectators and supporters was present and sometimes the orators addressed it. The litigants (especially the defendant) did their best in seeking the jurors’ compassion – they cried, brought their children etc. The ritual of begging was not only a way of playing upon the judges’ emotions: the appeals and tears humiliating the imploring person (a member of elite in particular) strengthened superiority and collective power of demos in the form of jurors. The deliberate departure from the established style of judicial speeches would cost a liti- gant dearly. An example is that of Socrates: as Plato and Xenophon state, he was condemned and paid his life for his abhorrence of this practice.

Keywords: Athens, court, litigation