The inheritance cases of the Attic orators are a rich source of evidence for both legal practices and the history of the family. Yet it takes some effort to uncover this evidence: the already complex relationships between family members grow even more tangled due to the rhetorical machinations of the logographers, and it can be difficult for scholars to separate exaggerations and emotional appeals from the facts of the case. In this paper, I contend that these emotional appeals often actually constitute the facts of the case. Focusing on Demosthenes 43, Against Macartatus, I argue that the orators used the language of emotional, genealogical, and physical proximity not only to prove, but also to forge, ex tempore, legitimate family connections (on Dem. 43, see Thompson 1976, Cox 1998: 1-10, Scafuro 2011: 123-177; on emotional and rhetorical persuasion, see, e.g., Konstan 2007, Griffith-Williams 2016, Spatharas 2017).
Against Macartatus was delivered as part of a complicated inheritance dispute over the estate of the long-dead Hagnias. Throughout the speech, the speaker, Sositheus, uses emotional and spatial language to establish his son, Eubulides, as the closest heir; this language reifies the spatial metaphor implicit in the anchisteia, the close group of relatives legally permitted to inherit. Derived from the superlative of the adverb ἄγχι (“near”), this term could be literally translated “nearestness.” Sositheus deploys this etymological definition of anchisteia in three ways: first, conflating physical and genealogical proximity through the repetition of the word ἐγγύς (near) in the comparative (twice) and superlative (nine times); second, mapping genealogical proximity into physical space using laws restricting the presence at a funeral to only the closest members of the anchisteia; and third, using the metaphor of houses to clarify the complicated tangle of relations (43.19: ἐγένοντο πέντε οἶκοι ἐκ τοῦ Βουσέλου οἴκου ἑνὸς ὄντος). The oikos is a complex concept, used to refer to the physical house, the family, or the estate; in Against Macartatus, the separate concepts of house and family blur as the symbolic proximity denoted by the anchisteia is given physical form.
This conflation of genealogical and physical proximity not only provides evidence for Eubulides’ legitimacy as heir, it also effects that legitimacy. Kinship was legally defined by the anchisteia, but kinship is not just blood – it was also produced through the behaviors family members showed towards one another (cf. Harders 2014). As anthropologist Jessaca Leinaweaver has demonstrated, “care produces kinship... care is not a natural outcome or consequence of kinship, but rather productive of it for adoptive and non-adoptive relations alike” (2015: 118; cf. also Thelen 2015). Sositheus’ emphasis on the proximity, both physical and emotional, between his branch of the family and the decedent is intended to have an immediate, transformative effect. A decision by the courts could reshape the anchisteia, forging new bonds of kinship. Thus, Sositheus’ emotional appeals are far from distractions from the legal case; they belong to a coherent rhetorical strategy based in the fundamental familial qualities of proximity and care.