Witnesses and Evidence: Information and Decision in Drama and Oratory

Second International Conference on Drama and Oratory

Day 1 – Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Central Auditorium "N. Politis" / Αμφιθέατρο "Ν. Πολιτης"


15:00 – 16:00






Opening and Greetings by Organizers




General Introduction

By Andreas Markantonatos,  Professor of Ancient Greek Literature, Faculty of Philology, University of the Peloponnese

Keynote Lecture: Drama




Τhe Rhetoric of Chrysothemis

By Patrick Finglass,  Henry Overton Wills Professor of Greek, University of Bristol

This paper looks at the language of Chrysothemis in Sophocles' Electra, and in particular
This paper looks at the language of Chrysothemis in Sophocles’ Electra, and in particular her powerful speech announcing the return of Orestes. This speech fails to achieve its goal of persuading her sister to accept that her brother has really arrived, but that should not stop us from appreciating the force if its rhetoric. Electra’s refusal to be moved by her sister’s words results not from any deficiency in Chrysothemis’ speech, but from the absolute trust which she places in the Paedagogus, who had claimed to be an eyewitness to Orestes’ death; her choice of one speech over the other reflects contemporary ideas about the varying worth of different types of evidence, which this paper will explore.

Drama and Poetry I

Chair: Chris Carey




Witnesses and Narratives of displacement in Attic Drama and Oratory

By Adele Scafuro,  Professor of Classics, Brown University

In his important discussions of recognition (ἀναγνώρισις) in Poetics 11 and 16, Aristotle, with
In his important discussions of recognition (ἀναγνώρισις) in Poetics 11 and 16, Aristotle, with attention focussed on the mechanics of plot, does not distinguish between ‘recognition’ and ‘identification.’ In my view, the latter  is a sub-division of the former: while ‘identification’  might be considered a ‘change from  ignorance to knowledge’ (1452a30-31) and hence a ‘recognition’ of a general kind, it is specifically a change that creates a new identity for a particular person. Whereas Orestes in the I.T.  after a separation of many years recognizes Iphigeneia, he does not cause a change in her identity—she is still Iphigeneia, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra; on the other hand,  after the messenger in O.T. gives information to Oidipous about his true parentage, he not only comes to recognize who he is, he also has a new identity: he is no longer the son of the Korinthian Polybos and Merope, he is now the son of the Theban Laios and Iokaste. Although in the corpus of extant Greek tragedies recognitions of the ‘Iphigeneia type’ are more numerous, identifications of the ‘Oidipous type’ must have been common. The Ion, of course, stands out, together with the O.T., as the only extant examples, but ‘identifications’ were featured in lost plays such as the Tyro of Sophokles, Astyadamos, and Karkinos–and in many more. In  ‘tragedies of identification’, the character who acquires a new identity was separated from his parents at birth, exposed, and then ‘adopted’ by substitute parents. We might designate such a person as ‘displaced’ in society, and his or her story as a ‘narrative of displacement’. Tragedies of identification having such narratives serve, in part, as models for certain plays of New Comedy, especially the ‘citizen identification’ plays. Two elements in the paradigmatic tragedies may be singled out for their reappearance in in New Comedy: familial identifications and evidentiary strategies. In my presentation, I focus on the latter, that is, the providing of witnesses and evidentiary proofs, especially in the construction of the story that accounts for original displacement of the infant or child. Such narratives are not uncommon in Attic oratory of the fourth century in thoses speeches in which  the identity of persons and their status as citizens are contested (e.g. Dem. 57 and a number of speeches of Isaeus). Comparison of the deployment of witness testimony in narratives of displacement in the Orators with similar scenarios in New Comedy not only shows that the dramatic genre reflects issues that ruffle the surface and underbelly of Attic society—a feature that is well-known, but also raises the interesting question: from what direction does the influence come, from oratory to drama, or vice-versa? Plays to be discussed include OT, Sikyonioi, Andria, Menaechmi, Phormio.



The Torture of Prometheus

By David Mirhady,  Professor of Humanities, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada

Aristotle identifies torture among the atechnoi pisteis, which the orator does not himself
Aristotle identifies torture among the atechnoi pisteis, which the orator does not himself compose.  In Athenian law court oratory the focus is overwhelmingly on challenges to slave torture.  Aristotle does not limit himself in this way, and this paper will instead focus on the torture of free people, using the torture of the god Prometheus in Prometheus Bound as its starting point.  That torture is unsuccessful, since Prometheus does not reveal the information that is sought, and the play suggests several reasons why the Athenians thought that torturing free people, particularly citizens, was wrong, including the fact that it should be unsuccessful,
since the free are supposed to be able to resist torture, as Prometheus does.  However, some passages from oratory also reveal that torture (basanos) is sometimes identified with compulsion (ananke), and some other characters in tragedy do seem at critical moments to act on the basis of such compulsion, engaging in slavish behaviour unworthy of free citizens.



Calling for Witnesses, Role-Playing and Metatheatre: Dionysus And Xanthias in
Aristophanes, Frogs 494-533

By Andreas Fountoulakis,  Associate Professor of Ancient Greek Literature, Faculty of Education, University of Crete

As soon as Dionysus, dressed as Heracles, arrives in the Underworld in Aristophanes’ Frogs
As soon as Dionysus, dressed as Heracles, arrives in the Underworld in Aristophanes’ Frogs, he gives Heracles’ lion skin and club to his slave Xanthias in order to save himself from the aggression of Aeacus, who thinks that he is indeed Heracles. When Xanthias, assuming the appearance of Heracles at 494-533, is well received in the palace of Persephone, where he is about to have a lavish meal and be entertained by a female pipe-player and dancing girls, Dionysus tries violently to take back the lion skin. At 528-529 Xanthias calls bystanders as witnesses to the violence inflicted upon him and threatens to resort to legal action seeking the arbitration of the gods, but eventually hands over the lion skin to Dionysus.

The aim of this paper is to explore various aspects of Xanthias’ call for witnesses from formal, dramatic and social points of view in order to highlight its associations with similar, rather conventional, calls is drama as well as in society. Considering especially the legal function of such calls occurring during violent incidents in social contexts in the ensuing presentation of testimonies and evidence at court, attention will be drawn to the, often differentiated, handling of those calls in drama. Xanthias’ call for witnesses will subsequently be considered as part of dramatic conventions echoing social practice, while emphasis will be placed upon its examination in connection with the dramatic context of the Frogs and the metatheatricality of the entire scene, which mainly stems from the exchange of costumes between Dionysus and Xanthias, and the construction of the role of Heracles. It will be argued that calling for witnesses is, along with disguise, part of the metatheatrical devices pertaining to role-playing, which are employed in this scene in order to underline tensions between social reality and dramatic action, distinctions of status such as those between gods and mortals or masters and slaves, and processes relating to the fabrication of dramatic character and the power of dramatic representation. These aspects of the scene are echoed in the contest between Aeschylus and Euripides later in the play in wider patterns of action and thought relating to the construction of a dramatic world and its function within its social context.




False messengers and false witnesses: rhetorical effects of false testimony in Attic Drama αnd Oratory

By Manfred Kraus,  AOR (Akademischer Oberrat) Dr., Universität Tübingen

In Attic tragedy, messenger speeches played an important role for the disclosure of off-stage events
In Attic tragedy, messenger speeches played an important role for the disclosure of off-stage events. In special cases, however, false messenger speeches were deliberately employed by the plays’ characters to bring about some desired effect. For instance, in Aeschylus’ Choephoroe as well as in Sophocles’ Electra, the murders of Clytaemestra and Aegisthus are facilitated by false messages reporting Orestes’ death. Likewise, in Sophocles’ Philoctetes, it is a fake narrative delivered by a false merchant that makes Philoctetes confide in Neoptolemus.

The motif of false testimony was taken up and discussed with special respect to judicial cases by the sophists, especially so in Gorgias’s Palamedes and Antiphon’s Tetralogies, and made its way into Attic law and oratory, in which reconstruction of narratives of past events based on testimony by eye-witnesses is equally paramount, and is theorized in rhetorical context by Aristotle and the Rhetoric to Alexander.

Fear of judicial errors owing to false testimony appears to have alarmed democratic Athenian society, so that precautions were taken by introducing the instrument of dike pseudomartyrion, which enabled litigants to impeach and legally sue witnesses produced by their opponents, if suspect of false testimony. Yet this instrument soon proved to be less of a means for guaranteeing the truthfulness of witnesses than, if masterly handled by a skilful orator, a powerful rhetorical tool for channeling and controlling the development of a trial. Accordingly, it plays a decisive role in speeches by Antiphon (Or. 6), Lysias (Or. 23), Demosthenes (e.g. Or. 29, 45, 46, 47, 49), Isaeus (Or. 2, 3, 4) or Hyperides.

The paper will compare and analyze the role and structure of false information in both tragedy and judicial oratory and the rhetorical effects to which it may be put. In the course of this analysis both similarities and differences will emerge.




‘Information and decision in Sophocles’ Trachiniae and Euripides’ Medea and Ino. Thinking and arguing about monogamy/polygamy in Greek Tragedy

By Smaro Nikolaidou,  Assistant Professor in Ancient Greek Philology, Department of Greek Philology, Democritus University of Thrace

Marriage in classical Athens was monogamous, which protected the wife’s position and influence in her
Marriage in classical Athens was monogamous, which protected the wife’s position and influence in her household. The only example of polygamy is dated after the Peloponnesian War, when Athens temporarily changed the law and permitted a man two wives for the city to be repopulated. However, in tragedies performed before the War there is awareness about monogamous marriage, which is expressed through the theme of female jealousy, tragically combined with kin-killing.
Data exist in Sophocles’ Trachiniae (which remains undated but was probably written between 440 and 430 BC) and in Euripides’ two tragedies, Medea (performed in 431 BC) and the fragmentary Ino (performed before 425 BC). In all three tragedies a central heroine, after having received the information of her husband’s infidelity,
makes her decision by organizing a plan. In Trachiniae, Deianeira attempts to deter
Heracles from loving his young captive, Iole, but unwillingly causes his death. In
Euripides’ Ino (according to Hyginus’ Fabula 4), jealous Themisto, Athamas’ most
recent wife, plans to kill Athamas’ children born by his previous wife, Ino, but she unconsciously kills her own children, due to Ino’s plot against them. And Medea
consciously kills her own children, at the culminating point of her jealous agency
against the unfaithful Iason.
What is interesting for the aim of our Conference is that in all three plays, in
order to make their own decisions about loyalty and responsibility to their monogamous marriage, the dramatic heroines fight with witness and evidence.
Particularly, Euripides’ Ino combines the role of a witness (as Themisto’s devoted
servant) with that of a central heroine, who plans her plot after having been informed
by her mistress (and rival) Themisto. But, unfortunately, Ino’s exceptional paradigm
belongs to a lost play.



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