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The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

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The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby daivid » Sat Mar 01, 2014 5:43 pm

Okay, I get that Lysias did not write his speech to convince people like us. Hence, that reading this defense speech convinces me that Euphiletos is guilty even without hearing the prosecution case is no surprise. Every now and then we hear horrific stories of families doing worse things than what Euphiletos is guilty of from isolated villages in India or Afghanistan and the culprits are as proud of their actions as Euphiletos is of his. Maybe the speech is an example of how alien 5th century Athens is to us.
But there are several points where Lysias takes things to such an extreme, I have to ask – is this for real.
Euphiletos is speaking to a jury of of male slave holders. Hence they would consider it to be the duty of the handmaiden to be loyal not to the wife but to Euphiletos. They would most likely consider it justifiable to condemn rebellious slaves to the life time torture of the mill. However' the way Euphiletos makes his threat to the handmaiden is something else. Remember that at the point he threatens her Euphiletos is not sure anything has happened and so for all he knows she may be unable to escape her fate by confessing because there may be nothing to confess. He presents the handmaiden with a choice as if he were offering her the choice between two delightful treats. This kind of detach of content of the message and the way the message is delivered is the kind that psychopaths exhibit.
Secondly it is strikinghow Lysias has Euphiletos blame the dying of his mother for all his ills. Having used the syntactic structure of that sentence to compose several others, it has been brought home to me how extreme is that separation of cause and effect. He doesn't make the root cause Eratosthenes seeing his wife. He doesn't even make the root cause that he took his wife the funeral of his mother. No, the root cause of his troubles is his mother going and dying. Such and extreme mismatch of cause and effect that it cannot have been chosen by accident and it's hard to see that choice as aiding the defense.
It does flag up the strong implication that the wife has been confined to the house ever since her marriage and that even this single outing would not have occurred had not Euphiletos' mother died. Further it flags up that the supposedly model wife was so dissatisfied that having been seen by a stranger she is seduced by notes passed to her by means of the handmaiden. To play devils advocate, perhaps Euphiletos treatment of his wife was typical. Yet even the selfish father of Meander's “Dyskolos” allows his daughter out on to the street so she can go to the well to fetch water. Euphiletos wife on the other hand has to sneak out the house without her husband's knowledge even to go to the all woman festival of Thesmophoria.
To me it reads like a clever piece of fiction in which the surface appeal of Euphiletos to the jury is undercut by a subtext in which the reader is invited to imagine the fate not of their wife but of an unfortunate sister married off to the likes of Euphiletos. Hence Lysias' true target reader is encouraged to feel superiority to the gullible jurymen taken in by the clever rhetoric.
Yet this speech is taken to be a genuine speech. So what is it that I have missed that suggests that Euphiletos is a real person?
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby Paul Derouda » Sat Mar 01, 2014 8:31 pm

I read the speech a couple of months ago pretty casually, so here are just a couple of casual thoughts.

Of course the judicial system is very different from ours. To save his client, Lysias has to show that the killing was not a set-up, that Euphiletos caught Eratosthenes in the act without actually having set him up, and he had to have witnesses. He also tries to show that there wasn't any other reason why Euphiletos would have wanted to kill him. The commentary I read also showed that Lysias was muddling this up a bit on purpose, that the law didn't condone Euphiletos' act quite as much as he's pretending to; I don't remember the details. One interesting point was that Euphiletos makes clear he killed Eratosthenes before he could reach the hearth of the house - killing him after that point would have somehow been more serious, because the he would have killed a supplicant. I wonder how exactly that would have changed things.

I don't think Euphiletos is really blaming the mother for dying - he's just saying "it all began when...".

It was normal that women of good repute - those who had the means to have slaves to do the shopping etc. - didn't show themselves in public, except in special circumstances. I think Athenian women also used veils in public. I like to look at this kind of thing from an "anthropological" stance. It's too easy to pass judgement, although I certainly prefer to have things here like they are. Actually, this sort thing is really the norm in the world and we Westerners are the odd one out. Two things have changed here:
1) security and social stability: women can move around even alone without fear of being raped, sold into slavery, etc.
2) more importantly, effective contraception. Ending up with the wrong guy for one night doesn't have the dramatic consequences it used to have. Women can choose and if they choose wrong - they can choose again (usually).

Just a couple of thoughts.
Last edited by Paul Derouda on Sat Mar 01, 2014 8:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby Paul Derouda » Sat Mar 01, 2014 8:42 pm

I also remember having read that a slave's testimony in court could be accepted only if it was obtained through torture. I'm not sure why it was so, but this certainly gives some context to Euphiletos' threats to his maid.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby Markos » Sat Mar 01, 2014 11:22 pm

1:7: ἐπειδὴ δέ μοι ἡ μήτηρ ἐτελεύτησε, πάντων τῶν κακῶν ἀποθανοῦσα αἰτία μοι γεγένηται.


Paul Derouda wrote:I don't think Euphiletos is really blaming the mother for dying - he's just saying "it all began when..."


We have to allow for the rhetoric, but I too was struck by the heartlessness of the image. Again, maybe it is ironic. She was a good mother, but in dying she now causes me to suffer. But even to use such an outrageous image suggests to me an underlying narcissism and lack of compassion, especially when it comes to women.

daivid wrote:Maybe the speech is an example of how alien 5th century Athens is to us.


I think it is. We had a debate recently in the States about the use of torture, and the consensus among men of good will is that torture is always wrong, even to protect freedom, especially to protect freedom. I too was struck not by the horror of Greek torture but by the horrible casualness with which it was mentioned in the speech.

To me it reads like a clever piece of fiction in which the surface appeal of Euphiletos to the jury is undercut by a subtext in which the reader is invited to imagine the fate not of their wife but of an unfortunate sister married off to the likes of Euphiletos.


Without question this is the case in, say, the Godfather, where the artist expects the audience's own sense of morality will trigger the moral outrage that is not found in the deplorable characters themselves. I THINK this is the case in Homer as well. Whether this is so with Lysias I don't know; it's been a while since I read the whole speech, but you raise an interesting point.

The Athenians got so much right, and a few things very wrong. I hope in years to come they will say no worse about us.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby daivid » Sun Mar 02, 2014 12:05 am

I agree, Athenian society is very different from our own. However, Euphiletos does seem to be extreme even by the standards of his own time.
Yes, slaves would be tortured if they gave evidence. This does suggest a remarkable acceptance of cruelty towards slaves. Nonetheless in Policing Athens : social control in the Attic lawsuits, 420-320 B.C. Virginia Hunter states that the speeches suggests that this was rare, indeed if I recall correctly she states that not one case has come down of of a slave actually being handed over to be tortured. This does suggest that many perhaps most masters were loathe to hand over their own slaves to be tortured and would refuse permission. Hence the acceptance of cruelty had limits.
But my point was not that Euphiletos was willing to condemn his slave to an even more dire fate but that he did it in an especially chilling way. However cruel Athenian's were to their slaves I don't believe that total lack of inhibition displayed by Euphiletos in this regard was normal. Further, for Euphiletos to put his complete ruthlessness so on display would be running the risk that of least some of the jurors asking themselves is there anything this man is not capable of. If Lysias really wanted to get his client off, he would have at least given that confrontation between Euphiletos and the handmaiden a less chilling spin
On the dying of the mother the actual quote is this:
ἐν μὲν οὖν τῷ πρώτῳ χρόνῳ, ὦ Ἀθηναῖοι, πασῶν ἦν βελτίστη: καὶ γὰρ οἰκονόμος δεινὴ καὶ φειδωλὸς (ἀγαθὴ?) καὶ ἀκριβῶς πάντα διοικοῦσα: ἐπειδὴ δέ μοι ἡ μήτηρ ἐτελεύτησε, πάντων τῶν κακῶν ἀποθανοῦσα αἰτία μοι γεγένηται.

Now maybe I am being misled by the use of αἰτία which can have meaning guilt but has a wider sense as well. My reading of actual Greek (other than textbooks) is very limited. It may well be this wording is quite common when all that is intended is a quite neutral "it all began when..." But until I see examples of such I find it hard to believe that the use of this construction in this way is not very unusual.

There are two possible audiences for this speech. The readers of the published speech evidently are real – the evidence is that the speech has come down to us. The speech purports have a jury as its true audience but have no evidence beyond the text itself that that jury ever existed. There are too many clues that Lysias always had in mind his readers rather than the jury for me to believe in the jury
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Mar 02, 2014 1:15 am

I've almost through reading Xenophon's Anabasis. What has shocked me there and in many other ancient authors is the casualty in which slaves are mentioned. There might be a thousand war captives to be sold into slavery marching with soldiers and they are only mentioned in passing with the cattle, if at all. They are the main object of the fighting (because they bring the most money) and yet it's as if they were not there. When Xenophon and his buddies were freezing in wintertime without supplies in some mountains in Kurdistan, he just says they ordered everybody to leave all excess stuff, including slaves. As far as I understand, the only thing left for the slaves is to freeze to death (ok, maybe a couple might survive to become somebody else's slave); this must have been obvious for Xenophon's original readers, but it didn't merit any attention. Since he's not explicit about something that he doesn't consider important, we prefer to see some other explanation - Goodwin and White's school commentary from the late 19th century says, in a paragraph that generally praises the magnanimity of the Greeks: "In the mountains of Cardouchia, the Greeks set their newly acquired captives at liberty, although every addition to the numbers of the implacable foe by whom they were surrounded diminished their own chances of escape." (Italics mine) (Incidentally, I also suspect that the captives were largely women.)

Athenian men knew where slaves come from. Some of them had been getting them themselves. Athens had recently lost the Peloponnesian war and many Athenians had died there. It was a ruthless world, and I don't think threatening a slave with the mill was such a big deal. The more I read these ancient authors, the more depressed I get with humanity in general.

But what do I know, it's really difficult to say what was an excess and what wasn't, when our own situation is so different.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby daivid » Sun Mar 02, 2014 2:21 am

The casual way Xenophon talks about how they left the slaves to, we assume, a probable death shows the kind of blind spots that all cultures have. As Markos says, lets hope in years to come they will say no worse about us.
It would be unexpected for Euphiletos in passing to say he threatened his slave to get her to confess and then to quickly pass on. But Euphiletos does not quickly pass on but instead focuses the reader's attention on to how he twists the knife, describing very explicitly that the future she faces is going to be torture followed by a hell of unremitting toil.
He might as well say "Hey jurymen, look what a sadistic bastard I am."
ἐλθὼν δὲ οἴκαδε ἐκέλευον ἀκολουθεῖν μοι τὴν θεράπαιναν εἰς τὴν ἀγοράν, ἀγαγὼν δ᾽ αὐτὴν ὡς τῶν ἐπιτηδείων τινὰ ἔλεγον ὅτι ἐγὼ πάντα εἴην πεπυσμένος τὰ γιγνόμενα ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ: ‘σοὶ οὖν’ ἔφην ‘ἔξεστι δυοῖν ὁπότερον βούλει ἑλέσθαι, ἢ μαστιγωθεῖσαν εἰς μύλωνα ἐμπεσεῖν καὶ μηδέποτε παύσασθαι κακοῖς τοιούτοις συνεχομένην, ἢ κατειποῦσαν ἅπαντα τἀληθῆ μηδὲν παθεῖν κακόν, ἀλλὰ συγγνώμης παρ᾽ ἐμοῦ τυχεῖν τῶν ἡμαρτημένων. ψεύσῃ δὲ μηδέν, ἀλλὰ πάντα τἀληθῆ λέγε.’

Returning home, I bade the servant-girl follow me to the market, and taking her to the house of an intimate friend, I told her I was fully informed of what was going on in my house: “So it is open to you,” I said, “to choose as you please between two things,—either to be whipped and thrown into a mill, and to be irrevocably immersed in that sort of misery, or else to speak out the whole truth and, instead of suffering any harm, obtain my pardon for your transgressions. Tell no lies, but speak the whole truth.”


I repeat it is not the callous cruelty that makes it impossible to believe that Euphiletos is a real person but the way he wallows in his cruelty
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby Scribo » Sun Mar 02, 2014 10:38 am

Is it wallowing? It seems very much like he's simply saying "oh do as I bid you or suffer x" with the kind of passive intransigence who knows such things are quite possible. I mean I doubt the kind of stuff that goes on in Iran nowadays is any better and will be said with as much casualness as this.

As for the wife not going on, we know it was a sort of cultural meme that women didn't need to go the well to get their own water if they were well off. So in apparently keeping her inside he was advertising to the jury look how high class we are, look how I keep her. In Menander then the playwright could be sending two messages to the audience. Either lol they're poor! (unlikely) or they're rustic and without the pretensions of the city. Although the Thesmophoria thing is a bit weird! There were a few festivals where women were allowed out.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby Qimmik » Sun Mar 02, 2014 2:50 pm

Euphiletus is a typical Athenian man speaking to typical Athenian men in a language they understand. The speech was written in the expectation that the jurors would accept him as one of their own, doing what any self-respecting Athenian man would do under the circumstances.

The ancient world was full of cruelty, just like the modern world, but maybe more so. If you want to engage with ancient Greek, you have to accept this, even if it's painful.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby daivid » Sun Mar 02, 2014 8:44 pm

Qimmik wrote:Euphiletus is a typical Athenian man speaking to typical Athenian men in a language they understand. The speech was written in the expectation that the jurors would accept him as one of their own, doing what any self-respecting Athenian man would do under the circumstances.

The ancient world was full of cruelty, just like the modern world, but maybe more so. If you want to engage with ancient Greek, you have to accept this, even if it's painful.

I am not blind to the cruelty of Ancient Greece. I am not like Goodwin and White who Paul Derouda mentions who are so fearful of the dark side of Ancient Greece that they rationalize a case of what may well have been an atrocity as an act of magnanimity. Indeed if I have a fault is that I am too ready to believe the worst of Ancient Athens and the position of slaves and women in that state.

When I began reading "On the Murder of Eratosthenes" it very much confirmed my preconceptions. However, over time as I have reread parts of what is for me a very difficult text, I have begun to feel that this is too bad to be true. There are simply too many signs that Euphiletus is not normal.

Here is checklist of symptoms of a psychopath that I got from a quick internet search.http://www.livescience.com/7859-psychopath-answers-remain-elusive.html
  • Lack of empathy, guilt, conscience or remorse
  • Shallow experiences of feelings or emotions
  • Impulsivity and a weak ability to defer gratification and control behavior
  • Superficial charm and glibness
  • Irresponsibility and a failure to accept responsibility for their actions
  • A grandiose sense of their own worth

Now listen to what Euphiletus says as he kills Eratosthenes:
Lysias wrote: ἐγὼ δ᾽ εἶπον ὅτι ‘οὐκ ἐγώ σε ἀποκτενῶ, ἀλλ᾽ ὁ τῆς πόλεως νόμος, ὃν σὺ παραβαίνων περὶ ἐλάττονος τῶν ἡδονῶν ἐποιήσω, καὶ μᾶλλον εἵλου τοιοῦτον ἁμάρτημα ἐξαμαρτάνειν εἰς τὴν γυναῖκα τὴν ἐμὴν καὶ εἰς τοὺς παῖδας τοὺς ἐμοὺς ἢ τοῖς νόμοις πείθεσθαι καὶ κόσμιος εἶναι.’
my translation wrote:It's not I that will kill you but the laws of the city which you violating them considered to be less than your pleasure and you chose to commit a sin in relation to my wife and to my child rather than to obey the laws and to be moderate.

Assuming I have translated correctly, by considering himself to be the personification of the laws of the city he displays a remarkably grandiose sense of their own worth. He also displays an utter failure to accept responsibility for their actions.

Callous Athenian slave holding men may well have been but they were not psychopaths. Were Lysias truly writing a defense speech for a real Euphiletus he would have realized that he needed to tone things down a bit lest jury members see what nasty piece of work Euphiletus was.

Hence this can not be a genuine defense speech - it is fiction.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Mar 02, 2014 9:13 pm

I agree with Scribo and Qimmik here. Your "problem" here (in the lack of a better word) is that you want to believe that we humans are fundamentally good. I'm not so sure about that. Maybe it's possible to become better, but I'm not completely sure about that either.

That checklist of symptoms of psychopath is basically a list of the traits that make a successful leader (successful at least from the person's own perspective). It's an effective way to transmit your genes to future generations. Many, many great military leaders, politicians, multinational business leaders etc. fit the criteria. But since we live in a peace time world that favors collaboration between peers more than in times past, we have started to call someone with these personality traits abnormal. If Julius Caesar's physician had told him he was suffering from a mental illness called psychopathy, Caesar would just have fed him to the lions and went on committing his genocide in Gaul.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby Scribo » Sun Mar 02, 2014 9:32 pm

It depends on what you mean by fiction, I doubt not it has been edited but the logic and evidence against it being genuine is rather...well insurmountable. The ancients didn't think so, similar tropes are found elsewhere in oratory, this would doubtless have served as a good advertisement of the logographer Lysias' skill and so on. You bring up some interesting points re: psychopathy. I'm actually really bad at picking these things up and just sort of...go with the flow. Hence my recent quip about hanging handmaidens. I'd not do it but I find it not at all surprising. Anyway turning back to that admirable passage, I take it thus (and I suspect the Athenians did too):

ἐγὼ δ᾽ εἶπον ὅτι ‘οὐκ ἐγώ σε ἀποκτενῶ, ἀλλ᾽ ὁ τῆς πόλεως νόμος,
This isn't grandiose but rather impersonal, the speaker is subsuming himself in the law as a faceless entity. A good shield in the phalanx so to speak. The idea here is that this isn't a personal action but one from civic mindness. The Athenians were terrified of seduction (which came under a graphe hubrews btw, pretty damn series! we're talking death or atimia here...). Cf a statement made by Demosthenes somewhere...something like "we believe the laws have power but if a man strikes you the law does nothing etc, men have to defend them". So this is an admirable statement. Not at all true, ofc, in order to have the right of death of an adulterer you had to catch him strictly red handed.

ὃν σὺ παραβαίνων περὶ ἐλάττονος τῶν ἡδονῶν ἐποιήσω, καὶ μᾶλλον εἵλου τοιοῦτον ἁμάρτημα ἐξαμαρτάνειν εἰς τὴν γυναῖκα τὴν ἐμὴν καὶ εἰς τοὺς παῖδας τοὺς ἐμοὺς ἢ τοῖς νόμοις πείθεσθαι καὶ κόσμιος εἶναι.’

The rest is just typical character assassination. He's profligate, he disobeyed the laws he wasn't κόσμιος (a marked word really). you could break it down further, the close occurrences of ἁμάρτημα ἐξαμαρτάνειν next to one another following γυναῖκα τὴν ἐμὴν καὶ εἰς τοὺς παῖδας ἐμοὺς is going to be emotive isn't it? It's a great speech actually and I can imagine it succeeding.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby daivid » Mon Mar 03, 2014 12:10 am

Scribo wrote:It depends on what you mean by fiction, I doubt not it has been edited but the logic and evidence against it being genuine is rather...well insurmountable. The ancients didn't think so, similar tropes are found elsewhere in oratory, this would doubtless have served as a good advertisement of the logographer Lysias' skill and so on.

I think you might have a typo there but I take you to be saying that there were ancient writers who clearly believed this to be a real speech. This to me would have less force if these writers are late. That is after the time that Athens ceased to be an independent state.

So can I ask what are the earliest references to this speach that indicate a belief that this is a real speech?

Scribo wrote:You bring up some interesting points re: psychopathy. I'm actually really bad at picking these things up and just sort of...go with the flow. Hence my recent quip about hanging handmaidens. I'd not do it but I find it not at all surprising. Anyway turning back to that admirable passage, I take it thus (and I suspect the Athenians did too):

ἐγὼ δ᾽ εἶπον ὅτι ‘οὐκ ἐγώ σε ἀποκτενῶ, ἀλλ᾽ ὁ τῆς πόλεως νόμος,
This isn't grandiose but rather impersonal, the speaker is subsuming himself in the law as a faceless entity. A good shield in the phalanx so to speak. The idea here is that this isn't a personal action but one from civic mindness. The Athenians were terrified of seduction (which came under a graphe hubrews btw, pretty damn series! we're talking death or atimia here...). Cf a statement made by Demosthenes somewhere...something like "we believe the laws have power but if a man strikes you the law does nothing etc, men have to defend them". So this is an admirable statement. Not at all true, ofc, in order to have the right of death of an adulterer you had to catch him strictly red handed.
.

Here I may have to defer to your far vaster knowlege of Greek rhetoric.
However.
There is a significant difference between Demosthenes stating that Athenians in general need to take action themselves to ensure the laws are enforced and Euphiletus' total identification of his own will with that of the state.
As you say Euphiletus is not correct in his assertion that he had the duty to kill an adulter. He at the very least overplays his hand in a way that would not IMO be best designed to win over a jury.


Scribo wrote:Is it wallowing? It seems very much like he's simply saying "oh do as I bid you or suffer x" with the kind of passive intransigence who knows such things are quite possible. I mean I doubt the kind of stuff that goes on in Iran nowadays is any better and will be said with as much casualness as this.

There is nothing casual about the way those threats are made.

Scribo wrote:As for the wife not going on, we know it was a sort of cultural meme that women didn't need to go the well to get their own water if they were well off. So in apparently keeping her inside he was advertising to the jury look how high class we are, look how I keep her. In Menander then the playwright could be sending two messages to the audience. Either lol they're poor! (unlikely) or they're rustic and without the pretensions of the city..

The father does own a slave - it was not out of povety that he allows his daughter to made trips to the well.

Scribo wrote: Although the Thesmophoria thing is a bit weird! There were a few festivals where women were allowed out.

It is safe to assume that as Thesmophoria was an all woman festival that it could not have existed if it was not the custom for husbands to allow their wives to go. So can I take "a bit weird" as a concession that for the wife to have to go in secret was not normal and would not have been seen to be normal by an Athenian jury?
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby daivid » Mon Mar 03, 2014 4:52 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:I agree with Scribo and Qimmik here. Your "problem" here (in the lack of a better word) is that you want to believe that we humans are fundamentally good. I'm not so sure about that. Maybe it's possible to become better, but I'm not completely sure about that either.

I really am not saying that Athenians were fundamentally good. Like most people they liked to be good but found it easy to be selfish. Hence they were able to turn a blind eye to treatement of slaves in the mines etc.
I am making a far more defensible claim that most Athenians were not psychopaths. Why is that controvesial?
Paul Derouda wrote:That checklist of symptoms of psychopath is basically a list of the traits that make a successful leader (successful at least from the person's own perspective). It's an effective way to transmit your genes to future generations. Many, many great military leaders, politicians, multinational business leaders etc. fit the criteria. But since we live in a peace time world that favors collaboration between peers more than in times past, we have started to call someone with these personality traits abnormal. If Julius Caesar's physician had told him he was suffering from a mental illness called psychopathy, Caesar would just have fed him to the lions and went on committing his genocide in Gaul.

There is something in what say here. In Ancient Athens the obvious candidate was Alcibiades. His charisma was enough to win a large following but his naked ambition also made him many enemies and he died in exile. So it that respect Athens was not so remote from us.

And even Caesar faced procecution for fighting an illegal war.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby Paul Derouda » Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:28 am

Daivid, what I mean is that I find it problematic to call all behaviour we find morally unacceptable psychically abnormal. Instead of saying "bad" or "evil" we now say "insane", but using a medical term doesn't explain anything. The fact is that the majority ancient Greeks thought, in John Wayne's words, that slavery "is a fact of life". If someone ended up a slave it was too bad for him, but the attitude of the well-to-do was essentially the same as our position towards animals that are eaten as food (or maybe as it was a few decades ago, before the advent of the animal rights movement). In Qimmik's words, "Euphiletus is a typical Athenian man speaking to typical Athenian men in a language they understand."

It's a basic problem in anthropology is that if you study foreign cultures, you will encounter ideas you cannot accept. Either you hold on to some moral standards of your own or accept some sort of moral relativism, or else become downright cynical.

I don't mean that applying this sort of medical terminology is always out of place. But the basic condition to diagnosing a personality disorder (like psychopathy) is that it's associated with significant disability in the person. So although Julius Caesar might have displayed some psychopathic traits, I find it highly problematic to diagnose a personality disorder proper in such an extremely successful individual. If you look at the criteria of different personality disorders, you notice that they are the characteristics that actually make up our personalities, of all of us; it's when some trait is too dominant and causes disability that we have a problem. Euphiletos speaking here is not a psychopath running amok - this is a very delicately prepared speech by Lysias that is supposed appeal to the jurors and save his πυγή.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby Paul Derouda » Tue Mar 04, 2014 10:07 am

Apparently psychopathy isn't accepted as a proper personality disorder. The concepts are closely linked however; I think psychopathy overlaps with cluster B and especially with antisocial personality disorder.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby daivid » Tue Mar 04, 2014 4:08 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:Daivid, what I mean is that I find it problematic to call all behaviour we find morally unacceptable psychically abnormal. Instead of saying "bad" or "evil" we now say "insane", but using a medical term doesn't explain anything. The fact is that the majority ancient Greeks thought, in John Wayne's words, that slavery "is a fact of life".


Anyone in a typical western society who reduces another person to the status of a slave is regarded by us as a monster and were we to look closely at such individuals in many cases we can expect to find that that is pretty close to the mark.
Someone in ancient Athens who owns a slave is unlikely to be a monster, they may indeed be very humane person.

All of us, I suspect, are wearing clothes from places like Bangladesh and China. The workers work long hours for low pay but a boycott would probably hurt the workers the most. We all would avoid clothes from a factory that was so unsafe to be death trap but can we be 100% sure we are always succesful? So we aren't really in a position judge Athenians even when we focus on the hardship that their system caused.

Most people in all societies make moral choices according to the norms they find around them. But then there are the outliers. There will be saints who try to live a 100% moral life despite even in opposition to the society in which they live. Then there will be those who push the boundaries. As well as those who actually break the law there is a far larger group who simply play hardball. They may decide it is not worth the risk to break the law but are likely to have far less inhibition about crossing that line should it suit them.

Society relies on a lot of give and take and life would be a lot less pleasant if most people played hardball. Nonetheless, it can in the short-term be a succesful strategy. If you pursue your own interests without consideration of others among people who are not so ruthless you are likely to gain at their expense. In the long-term, however, someone who always plays hardball will gain a reputation as such and as a result people will play hardball back.

There is increasing evidence that the symptoms of a psychopath are genetic. Give them a brain scan and their brains can be seen to be different. It may be that the debate will swing the other way and upbringing will make a come back. If it is genetic then the proportion of psychopaths would be pretty much the same as today and show remarkably the same traits. But even if it is the environment rather than genes it is certainly not unreasonable to assume that Athenian society produced a similar number of dysfunctional individuals.

Psychiatrists do not like treating being a psychopath as a disease. First off, they know it's something that they don't know how to cure. Second a psychopath is rational. He is not like someone suffering a psychosis who has lost touch with reality. If we start saying psychopaths are sick we risk doctors being blamed for not locking someone up who later commits a murder. We also risk psychopaths making the defense thay they are sick and can't help it (Well, sorry, they can help it).

If we were to ask a group of Ancient Slaveholders if they had ever sent a slave to a mill I would expect two reactions. Some would say, "I know how to choose good slaves so that would never happen." The other reaction would be "I did that once. I hated doing it but the slave was so lazy I had no choice." We might well question the "no choice" but we would recognize a normal human being. If on the other hand we got "Oh yes, you should have heard his squeal when I told him. HAH HAH". Do you really doubt that not only would we be shocked but his fellow slaveholders would edging away from him. Of course, Scribo has questioned whether Euphiletus shows relish. I still think I am right in seeing that but I am going to reread that bit a few times to make quite sure I am not reading into it more than there really is.

This really is not about the different values of Athens.
What I am arguing is that Euphiletus is someone who would push the boundaries of any society he found himself in. Lysias has made those traits so obvious that it looks to me like something that he would produce to provoke discussion among his friends with clues of Euphiletus true nature inserted. Lysias, no doubt drew Euphiletus from life but, if he had been a client, Lysias would have done a better job.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby Paul Derouda » Tue Mar 04, 2014 5:08 pm

I essentially agree what you say here about psychopaths. One problem with calling psychopathy a disease, in addition to the ones you mention, is that the person himself does not necessarily suffer from it. A person with a personality disorder gets himself into trouble, but a psychopath is usually just trouble for other people. I think this is one reason psychiatrists haven't accepted psychopathy as a personality disorder.
daivid wrote: "Oh yes, you should have heard his squeal when I told him. HAH HAH".

When people commit atrocities, they have to justify their acts to themselves. This is just the sort of thing we know people who commit war crimes, concentration camp guards etc say to each other. The point is to dehumanize the victims to distance them from you.

But I disagree with your last point - this speech is genuinely meant to win over the jurors. Our starting point should be that what Lysias makes a good job in making his client say was supposed to present him in a good light. We may not like the picture it gives of the cradle of democracy and philosophy, but that's the truth and that's what we can learn from this speech. I can't blame you if it depresses you.

But whether Euphiletos or indeed Lysias were psychopaths - maybe. In the end, psychopath is just a fancy word for an incurable !&?hole.
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Re: The subtext of "On the Murder of Eratosthenes"

Postby daivid » Mon Mar 10, 2014 2:25 am

Paul Derouda wrote:I essentially agree what you say here about psychopaths. One problem with calling psychopathy a disease, in addition to the ones you mention, is that the person himself does not necessarily suffer from it. A person with a personality disorder gets himself into trouble, but a psychopath is usually just trouble for other people. I think this is one reason psychiatrists haven't accepted psychopathy as a personality disorder.

Yes, you're right. Classifying someone as sick for the good of society goes against everything that doctors stand for. However, the key reason I chose to use the term is because I think the type would have been as recognizable to an Athenian as they are today.
In every society people fall out with each other but the reasons they do are specific to each society. However, those who make enemies through a single-minded pursuit of their own interests are likely to be recognizable a type. As such some members of the jury who have bad experiences would recognize the signs. If a jury member recognizes a defendant as someone who is totally without scruples (aka psychopath, aka incurable !&?hole) he will start to take very seriously prosecution accusations that Euphiletos have motives such as some personal grudge. Lysias would not, if this was a real defense, allow Euphiletos to describe events in a way that would risk give jury members such an impression.
Paul Derouda wrote:But I disagree with your last point - this speech is genuinely meant to win over the jurors. Our starting point should be that what Lysias makes a good job in making his client say was supposed to present him in a good light. We may not like the picture it gives of the cradle of democracy and philosophy, but that's the truth and that's what we can learn from this speech. I can't blame you if it depresses you.

Yes Athenian juries were composed of slaveholding men and it would be naive to suggest that they would not have a bias in that direction. But I believe it's a mistake to assume that they were completely blind to all other interests other than those of slaveholding men and would find the naked pursuit of such an interest appealing. At least, not unless there are other texts that demonstrate the same one-sided pursuit of whatever suits slaveholding men.
Other bonds were important. Several stories illustrate the importance of the brother sister bond such as the wife who asked the Persian king to save her brother over that of her husband. House slaves are likely to have been involved with the upbringing of children so jury members may well have associated the hand maiden with a childhood nurse.
I don't dispute the Athenian fear of illegitimacy amongst a normal Athenian was at level that today would appear grotesque. However, if a jury member starts to sympathise with those Euphiletos treats badly they will also start to take seriously prosecution claims that the adultery is merely Euphiletos smokescreen for some other motive.
 
Paul Derouda wrote:But whether Euphiletos or indeed Lysias were psychopaths - maybe. In the end, psychopath is just a fancy word for an incurable !&?hole.


I was going to say that incurable !&?holes are rare and so it is unlikely that they both would be. However, I have just been reading S C Todd, A Commentary on Lysias, Speeches 1-11. In it he mentions the suggestion that Eratosthenes is the Eratosthenes who was one of the Thirty Tyrants. Todd rejects this because Eratosthenes is described as a young man but suggest this the two Eratosthenes might be related. As Lysias lost a family member at the hands of the tyrants it is possible he had a grudge against the whole family and he might have paid Euphiletos to murder Eratosthenes. Writing the speech would be part of the deal.

Todd does admit this to be speculative and still think regarding the speech as fiction is more likely to be the truth.
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