Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

Kinky Stories from the Rostrum: Storytelling in Apollodorus' against Neaira

Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

Kinky Stories from the Rostrum: Storytelling in Apollodorus' against Neaira

Article excerpt

I. Forensic storytelling

Modern citizens of Western societies are entangled in a paradox: while their rationalisations concerning the dispensation of justice lead them to assume that courts investigate the truth exclusively on the basis of solid evidence, at the same time they realise, or TV programmes suggest to them, that far from restricting themselves to evidentiary material concerning 'factual' reality, lawyers make abundant use of storytelling, which, in some cases, is designed to construct verisimilar approximations of truth. (1) Although there are many differences between the ancient and modern trials, both are agonistic environments in which opposing sides present jurors with competing stories about the same allegation. These stories are shaped by relevant laws, yet they usually offer diametrically opposed interpretations of the same incident. This happens because courtroom narratives, unlike other forms of stories, unavoidably orbit around either a guilty or a non-guilty verdict.

Some twenty years ago, storytelling attracted the attention of a number of scholars who ascribed themselves to a movement known as 'Law and literature'. Considerations of space do not allow me to offer an inclusive presentation of the relevant doxography here. (2) However, it would be useful to provide an outline of some pivotal conclusions concerning the function and significance of storytelling in forensic practice, and, where appropriate, draw parallels with Athenian logography. (3)

1. Stories can give meaning to the way in which we conceive the world; as Peter Brooks put it, 'narrativity belongs to our cognitive toolkit' (2005: 415).

2. Stories contextualise events; by means of this contextualisation apparently indefinable or meaningless actions acquire specificity. As a legal scholar claimed, legal stories offer a 'wide angle' (Scheppele 1989: 2096). (4)

3. Competing stories predictably invest with radically different meanings any single action of legal significance. Be it here sufficient to mention in passing the difficulties of description involved in cases of rape. (5)

4. Storytelling enables lawyers to smoothen the legal or other complications of their cases and present jurors with simple yet often misleading questions. Lawyers often achieve simplification through the use of generic stories including recognisable patterns. As an American lawyer put it: 'if you can explain it to your children, then you have finally acquired the skill to speak to a jury'. (6) This is especially important in our discussion, because most Athenian courts were manned by large numbers of non-professional jurors.

5. Lastly, legal stories are conditioned by considerations of timeliness, or what the Greeks labeled kairos. In the words of a student of legal storytelling, 'like all professional storytellers ... lawyers shrewdly orchestrate myriad elements to make a convincing story ... the evidence [has to be] molded to fit potent cultural understandings' (Schrager 1999: 8).

In this paper I propose to discuss Apollodorus' storytelling in Against Neaira, a speech that a recent commentator justifiably described as a 'fascinating novel'. (7) My aim is to determine the ways in which Apollodorus seeks to contextualise the case through the extensive narrative (diegesis) of the speech, (8) thereby supplying the jurors with a suitable frame of mind to assess his prosecution. I argue that due to his lack of evidentiary material, Apollodorus fabricates a fascinating narrative that exploits Athenian anxieties concerning the integrity of the oikos. For this reason he includes a gripping story concerning the lives of Neaira and Phano, a woman that the speaker persistently presents as Neaira's daughter. The individual details of Phano's biography present striking similarities with the adumbration of Neaira earlier in the speech. These similarities enabled Apollodorus to project on Phano stereotypes concerning the jadedness and moral baseness of courtesans on the basis of which he underscores the threats posed to the city by Stephanus' cohabitation with Neaira. …

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