Greek Oratory: Tradition and Originality

By Stephen A. Usher | Go to book overview
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Second in the canon of ten Attic orators, Andocides was probably the least esteemed.1 He was not a professional writer of speeches for others: all of his surviving orations were spoken by him on his own behalf, and he does not seem to have been a regular public speaker. But a deliberative speech by him has survived, and it is the earliest surviving example of this genre of oratory.

Perhaps because of false pride,2 the speech with which he tried to secure his return from exile3 struck the wrong general tone with his popular (Assembly) audience and failed in its purpose. However, closer examination of it reveals a certain degree of purely technical competence.

Herodes Atticus, the most famous orator of the Second Sophistic, on being complimented with the accolade that he was 'one of the Ten', is said to have replied: 'At least I am better than Andocides!' ( Philostr. Vit. Soph. 2. 1. 565). Little critical opinion of him has survived. The Life (Vit. X Or.834b-835b) confines judgement of his oratory to its concluding sentence: ἔστι δ + ̕ ἁπλου + ̑ς καὶ ἀκατάσκευος ἐν τοι + ̑ς λόγοις, α + ̓φελής τε καὶ ἀσχημάτιστος. Hermogenes' longer critique, which is concerned purely with style ( Id. B 11 ( Sp. ii. 416-17)) emphasizes general lack of clarity and organization. For modern criticism, see S. S. Kingsbury, A Rhetorical Study of Andocides ( Baltimore, 1899); G. A. Kennedy, AJP 79 ( 1958), 32-43; Commentaries: D. M. MacDowell, Andocides: On the Mysteries ( Oxford, 1962); Edwards GO iv ( 1995).
He was the scion of a distinguished and wealthy Athenian family, earlier generations having had connections with the Alcmaeonids. (See MacDowell, Andocides, 1-2.) It may not be too fanciful to suppose that connection claimed with an even more distinguished ancestor, the god Hermes (Vit. X Or.834c ( Hellanicus)), who was also the god of Rhetoric, could have persuaded Andocides that he had innate oratorical talents.
The Decree of Isotimides, which excluded from public places any man who had admitted to implication in the Mutilation of the Hermae, may have been aimed personally at Andocides. It made life at Athens intolerable for him, so he retired from the city (415). Later he was formally exiled (411-410?), but returned briefly on persuading the Prytaneis to allow him to address his speech On his Return to the Assembly. The tone of the speech suggests that he was still feeling his grievances keenly, but there is no precise indication as to when he made it. The years 408 or 407 would suit the known facts, with a terminus ante quem of 405. Further on his political career, see A. Missiou, The Subversive Oratory of Andocides ( Cambridge, 1992).


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Greek Oratory: Tradition and Originality


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