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Family Values: Negotiating Affection in the Attic Orators

Hilary Lehmann

The family dramas passed down via the corpus of the Attic orators give the modern reader a fascinating insight into the normative values of fifth and fourth century Athens and its environs. Orators would use these cultural expectations to convince the juries of the reliability and propriety of their clients: a jury would be more inclined to vote in favor of a defendant or prosecutor who acted within the bounds of social acceptability towards his family members, friends, and fellow citizens. In this paper, I explore the role of affection or intimacy (oikeiotēs) in two lesser-known speeches, both concerned with a disputed inheritance: Isaeus 1 and Isocrates 19. In both of these speeches, the speaker constructs a scale of affection based on comparative and superlative forms of the adjective oikeios, meaning “intimate,” “familiar,” or “connected to the oikos.” I argue that the orators took advantage of the etymological connection between oikeios and oikos to suggest that his client had a more legitimate claim, to the oikos in question than did his opponent. 

            Ancient theorists from Aristotle to Dionysius of Halicarnassus observed that affection ought to be held in various degrees of difference towards categories of people based on their proximity to oneself (Konstan). These degrees of affection played an important role in the courts of law: in the Nichomachaean Ethics, Aristotle asserts that “it is natural that justice increases along with the degree of friendship” (1160a8: αὔξεσθαι δὲ πέφυκεν ἅμα τῇ φιλίᾳ καὶ τὸ δίκαιον). Attic rhetoric, especially the speeches concerned with inheritance, often emphasizes the connection, between affection and justice asserting that their client’s close friendship with the deceased superseded any other form of evidence, including written wills and anchisteia, the legal order of familial descent. This ploy depended on the visibility of the relationships between members of the elite who commissioned most of the extant speeches of the Attic orators (Humphreys, Johnstone). Due to the complicated nature of anchisteia, a large number of inheritance disputes centered around interfamilial disputes (Damet). The argument for legitimacy due to proximity of affection thus became a common rhetorical tactic. 

            In the two speeches I focus on in this paper, the affectionate relationship (oikeiotēs) between the claimant and the deceased is the speaker’s chief argument, yet both speakers manipulate the meaning of oikeiotēs for their own purposes. For Isaeus, the speaker’s affectionate relationship with his uncle Kleonymos (described as oikeiotata, characterized by the fondest of affection) is evidence enough to supersede the will Kleonymos left which excluded the speaker and his siblings. Over the course of the speech, the speaker strives to show that Kleonymos’ actions consistently suggested that he had intended to change his will before his untimely death. In Isocrates’ speech, on the other hand, the affection between the speaker and the deceased Thrasylochos, the deceased, stands in opposition to Thrasylochos’ half-sister’s rival claim to the inheritance. Although the half-sister has a stronger claim to the estate due to anchisteia, the speaker has both oikeiotēs and Thrasylochos’ will supporting his claim. In both of these speeches, neither anchisteianor a legal will is considered strong enough evidence to allow the case to be settled out of court—oikeiotēs was considered to have a legitimate place in the legal proceedings. 

            The narratives included in the speeches of the Attic orators provide us with evidence for the cultural values and norms that would have been agreed upon by the community of citizens that made up the jury pool. My paper demonstrates that in Classical Greece, as now, family values was a hot button issue that was in a constant state of negotiation.

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Friendship and Affection

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