Demosthenes 54: Against the Assault of Conon

1. Having suffered hubris, gentlemen of the jury, and having suffered also at the hands of Conon such things of this sort, that for an very long time, neither my household nor any of my doctors expected me to recover, but when I grew healthy, unexpectedly saved, I obtained leave to bring1 a private case against him, this case, of assault. And though all my friends and family, by whom I was advised, asserted on the grounds of what was done that he was liable both to a formally lodged complaint of cloak-robbers2 and to public charges of hubris, at the same time, they advised me and exhorted not to take on a matter greater than I was able to bear, nor to be shown to have brought a charge beyond my station,3 concerning what I had suffered. Thus have I acted because of that advice, and I obtained leave to bring a personal suit, though it would have been sweetest, gentlemen of Athens, to accuse him of something worthy of death.

2. And you will have a lenient judgement of this, I well know that, all of you, when you hear what I have suffered: For although it was monstrous, the occurrence of hubris at that time, it is no less so than the subsequent wanton violence of this man. I expect and indeed, I need from all of you equally, first, to hear me with a kindly ear when I speak concerning what I suffered, and thereafter, if I seem to have been wronged and to have been ill-used, that you give me the succour of justice. From the beginning, as each thing was done, I will detail it for you, and as far as I am able, in the shortest time.

3. I went away two years ago to Panactum when our watch-duty was publicly posted. Then, the sons of Conon here, they encamped near us, although I wish they had not: for the original hatred and the offences arose for us from that point: and from what cause, you will hear. These men were drinking each and every day, as soon as they had breakfast, the whole day, and even while we were on watch, they continued to do this. And we, just as we had been accustomed here, thus we passed out time also out there.

4. Thereupon, during whatever hour to make dinner might come for others, by that time these men were already drunk and disorderly, what many things against the boys4 following us, they at last did also against our own selves. For saying that the boys made smoke while preparing the food, or spoke wickedly, whatever thing they might be saying, they used to beat them, and they poured out the chamber-pots on them, and urinated, and they did not leave out any wanton violence or act of hubris whatsoever. Seeing this ourselves, and being vexed by it, at first we sent them away from us, but when they jeered at us and did not cease, we spoke of the matter to the general, all of us in common, who were mess-mates went to him, not I outside of the others.

5. And although that man railed at them and reproached them, not only for that licentious behaviour they committed against us, but also generally for what they were doing in the camp, so far were they from any cessation or feeling any shame that as soon as it became dark, they immediately leapt in on us on that very night, and at first they spoke wickedly, but at the end they laid blows on me, and they made such a hue and cry around the tent that the general and the brigadier came, as well as others from the army, the very men who prevented us from suffering lasting harm and from inflicting the same, having been abused by the drunken behaviour of these men.

6. Since the matter advanced in this way, when we returned here, there was for us, as much as was expected, rage and hatred toward each other due to this. By the gods, truly, I did not think it necessary to obtain leave to bring a case against them nor to pay any attention of what came to pass, but rather I had plainly resolved for the future to be discreet and to be on guard against approaching men of that sort. First therefore, of that which I have spoken, I wish to provide the testimonies, and after that to exhibit how much I have suffered at this man’s hands, so that you may know that he for whom it was proper to have laid a penalty for those first wrongs committed, this man himself worked foremost the most deviltry by far.


7. To what, accordingly, I did not think it necessary to pay attention, there is that. But not much later, while I was walking around, just as I was accustomed, until the evening in the agora, with Phanostratos of Cephisia, a certain man of our generation, Ctesias, the son of this man, came near, drunk, opposite the Leocorion,5 nearby the houses of the Pythodorus. Looking down upon us, and crying out, and arguing something with himself, as one does when drunk, so that one could not understand whatever he was saying, he passed by toward Melite above. And I suppose they were drinking there (for I learned of this later) with Pamphilo the fuller, that is, Conon here, a certain Theotimus, Archebiades, Spintharus son of Euboulus, Theogenes son of Andromenes, and many others, whom Ctesias had roused and had marched across into the agora.

8. And it so happened that we were turning back away from the temple of Persephone and going around back opposite by any means of the Leocorion itself, and we met with them. And as we were mixed, one of them, I don’t know who, fell upon Phanostratus and held him down. And Conon here, and his son, and the son of Andromenes, falling upon me, stripped me, and tripping me up and striking me hard into the filth, they were so disposed to rush in and commit hubris that he cut through my lip and shut up my eyes: so badly off did they leave me that I was neither able to stand nor speak a word. And lying there, I heard these men saying many and terrible things.

9. And there are other things, even a certain blasphemy, and I would scruple to name some among you, but one which of his hubris is a sign and proof that everything was his doing, this I shall tell you: for he sang, imitating victorious roosters6, and they expected him to beat his elbows against his ribs, as if flying. After that, I was carried away naked by those who happened by. And these men left, taking my cloak. When I came to my door, there was crying and wailing from my mother and the servant-girls, and with some difficulty, they carried me to the bath-house, and after they washed me clean they showed me to the surgeon. Accordingly, that I speak the truth, I shall procure for you witnesses of these events.


10. It so happened therefore, gentlemen of the jury, that Euxitheus here and Colleidae, who are kinsmen to us, and Meidias with him had gone away from some place after dinner and they came upon me when I was near my house, and they had followed after me when I was carried to the bath-house, and they was at the side of those who brought the surgeon. I was so strengthless that, so that I might not be carried a long distance homeward from the bath-house, it seemed to those around me that Meidias should take care of me for that evening, and thus they did. Receive also, therefore, the testimony of these events, so that you may know that many are privy that I suffered hubris at the hands of these men.


Indeed, receive also the testimony of the surgeon.


11. At that time, then, immediately on account of the blows which I recieved and the hubris, thus was I disposed as you hear and has been testified to you from everyone who saw it straightaway. After this, the surgeon said that he very much feared nothing of the swelling on my face and the wounds, but the constant fevers dogged me, and pains, exceedingly and altogether terrible over the whole of my body, but mostly in my sides and abdomen, and I was barred from food.

12. And when the surgeon said, unless I underwent an altogether great cleansing of the blood, of its own accord, being now in exceeding pain and in dire straits, becoming suppurated, I would be lost: and presently this blood saved me, by excretion. Therefore, that this that I say is also truth, and that an illness of such kind followed closely on, by which I came to the very brink, arising from the blows which I received from these men, speak the testimony of the surgeon and that of those who looked in on me.


13. Since, therefore, I received blows not middling nor paltry, but rather entered into extremity due to the hubris and the wanton violence of these men, that I have obtained leave to bring a suit altogether lesser than is befitting, I believe has been made clear to you from every angle. And I believe that some of you are wondering what it is that Conon will dare to say with respect to these things. Indeed I wish to tell you beforehand what I have learned this man has made ready to say, that leading the matter away from his hubris and the deeds done he will try to break into laughter and jests,

14. and he will say that there are many in the city, sons of men noble and good, who make sport, as many young men as give themselves nicknames, and some call themselves the Bacchian Phalloi, and others the Beggars,7 and that some of these are in love with courtesans, and in addition that the son of this man was one of them, and that he has often both taken and given blows over courtesans, and that these are the acts of young men. And he will make us all out as brethren in drunken ribaldry, indeed some even hubristic, others unfeeling and cruel.

15. And I, gentlemen of the jury, having bitterly borne for that which I suffered, would find this no less vexing, and would reckon to have suffered hubris, if it is permissable to say, that if Conon here expects to say that this is true concerning us, and there is such great ignorance among you that, of whatever sort some man should say he is, or his neighbour accuses him, a man such as that he is believed to be, then there shall be no profit whatsoever in moderation of daily life, or habitual practices.

16. For we were were seen by no man whatsoever, neither to be drunk and disorderly, nor to be committing hubris, nor do we think to do anything unfeeling, if concerning that which we were wronged, we expect to receive justice according to the law. To the Phalloi and the to the Beggars, we welcome the sons of this man to belong, and I myself pray to the gods that that this and all things of this sort will come back upon Conon and those sons of his.

17. For these are men who initiate one another with the Bacchian phallus, and do such things which bear much shame even to speak, much less anything that moderate men actually do. But what is this to me? For I would be astonished if there existed any pretext among you or if an excuse were sought by which, should anyone be proven to commit hubris and assault, he would not pay the penalty. For the laws are much opposed even to pleas of necessity, and so that they not become too strong, they made provison, of which sort are cases of verbal abuse (for it was necessary that I seek and I learn due to what happened):

18. Accordingly, they say that these arise due to this, so that those who suffered verbal abuse might not be induced to beat each other. In turn, there are assaults: and I hear that such private cases are due to this, so that no one, whenever he is bested, might fend off anyone of that sort with a stone, but rather might wait for a judgement according to the law. There are, in turn, public indictments of wounding, against the occurence of murders by those who have been wounded.

19. The most trivial, I believe, that of verbal abuse, makes provision for the last and most terrible, against the occurence of murder, and that it not be led on by degree from the minor, from verbal abuse to blows, from blows to wounds, and from wounds to death, but that there be judgment of each of these in the laws, and that this not be decided by the passion of anyone who comes along, nor by their will.

20. And therefore in the laws, it is thus: but should Conon say, “We are the Bacchian Pahlloi, certain men banded together, and when when love, whomever seems good to us, we smite and we strangle,” and then laughing, will you acquit them? I think not. For laughter would have taken hold of none of you, if he had happened to be present when I was being dragged and stripped and had hubris committed against me, and although I went out hale, I came homeward carried, and then my mother leapt out, and there was crying and wailing from the women of such kind beside us, just the same as though someone had died, such that some of the neighbours sent to ask what it was that had happened.

21. And in general, gentleman of the jury, doubtless no righteous pretext for any amnesty of this sort, through which to commit hubris is permissable to arise among you: but if at all there were, in some way, for those who do things due to their youth, it would be fitting for these men that a refuge of that sort be held in reserve, and not for those men in not paying a penalty, but in one lesser than befitting.

22. But he who is more than fifty years old, when he is among young people and those sons of his, who not only does not turn them away or hinder them, but is rather himself a leader, and foremost, and becomes the most loathsome of all, What trial may this man undergo a worthy of what has been done? For indeed, I think not even dying. For even if the man himself worked nothing of what was done, but rather he stood by while Ctesias, his son, is shown to have committed the actual deeds, you would rightly despise him.

23. For if he has so led on his children, such that, although they commit misdeeds to his very face, and those for some of which the penalty of death is established, they neither fear nor do they feel shame, what would you not think this man should befittingly suffer? For indeed I consider this a sign that he did not even feel shame before his own father: for if he himself honoured and feared that man, he would have required that these men do him.

24. Indeed, please receive also the laws, that of hubris and that concerning cloak-robbers: for further, you will see that these men are liable to both these. Speak.


To both these laws, by what has been done, Conon here is liable: for he both committed hubris and he was a cloak-robber. And if we were to prefer to have justice not according to these, we would be shown to be suitably unpolitical and moderate, and this man likewise a miscreant.

25. And verily if it had passed that I had suffered a certain fate, he would be a defendant for murder and the most monstrous things. One, at any rate, a father of the priestess from Brauron, who, by all accounts, did not partake in finishing the deed, but because he prescribed the man doing the beating to strike, the Council of the Areopagus cast him out, and rightly so: for if those present, instead of hindering men attempting misdeeds, whether due to wine, or anger, or any other cause, if they instead provoke them, there would be no hope of salvation to anyone who falls to those who engaged in wanton behaviour, but rather until they tire, it is his lot to have hubris committed against him: the very fate which befell me.

26. Furthermore, what they did when there was an arbitration, I wish to tell you: for also from this, you will behold the insolence of these men. For they tarried outside for a time into the middle of the night, neither willing to read testimonies, nor offer a plea, and of those present for us, merely leading them one by one to the stone and administering the oath, and recording testimonies nothing to do with the matter, but that he had this boy from the courtesans and that this boy had suffered this and that, which by the gods, gentlemen of the jury, there was no one of those present who did not censure and hate, and finally even these men themselves at themselves.

27. Therefore when, at length, they tired and had their fill of doing these things, they made a challenge, for a delay and for the evidence jar not to be sealed, that they wished to surrender their boys for blows,8 writing their names. And presently, I reckon that a great deal of their argument will pertain to this. And I believe that you all ought to contemplate that, that these men, were they making a challenge for the sake of there being this litmus test9 and they did indeed trust this lawful claim, they would not have now, once the arbitration was declared, at the end of the night, when there was no pretext remaining, made a challenge,

28. but rather, first, before obtaining leave to bring a personal suit, at a time when I was lying sick and weak, and not knowing if I would recover, to everyone who entered he would have represented me as the first to have struck and as having accomplished most of the hubris which I had suffered; at that time, he would have arrived straightaway, with witnesses at the house; at that time, he would surrendered his household servants, and summoned some of those from the Areopagus: for if I had died, the case would have been up to those men.

29. But I suppose if he were ignorant of this, and considered this challenge just, as he will now say, he did not prepare on behalf of such a great risk, when now, in any case, I have stood up and summoned him, in the first gathering, in the presence of the arbitrator, he would have been shown to be making the surrender of slaves: of this nothing was done by him. And that what I say is true and that the challenge was for the sake of a delay, speak this testimony: for it will be clear from this.


30. Accordingly, concerning the litmus test, remember this, the hour when he made the challenge, for the sake of this, putting off, he did this, during the earliest periods, in which at no point is he shown to have wished to have this customary right, neither to have made the challenge, nor to have expected it. When, however, he was accused of everything, the very thing which he is also now, in the presence of the arbitrator, and he was shown to be liable for everything being accused,

31. he throws in false testimony for himself, and registers as witnesses people whom I think you do not recognize, if you hear, “Diotimus son of Diotimus of Icaria, Archebiades son of Demoteles of Halae, Chaeretius son of Chaerimenes of Pithus testify that they were away after dinner with Conon and in the agora we came upon Ariston and the son of Conon fighting, and Conon did not strike Ariston,”

32. as though you trust it right away, without really and truly calculating that, first, not ever would Lysistratus, or Paseas, or Niceratus, or Diodorus, who testified explicitly that they saw me being beaten by Conon, and was stripped of my cloak, and the other things, as much hubris as I suffered, not ever would they, being unacquainted and at hand for the affair by accident, wish to give false testimony, except that they saw me suffering this: and second, I myself would not ever, had I not suffered this by his hand, let go those who are conceded by these men themselves to have beaten me, and prefer to enter against him who did not assault me first.

33. Why would I? But by the first man whom I was struck and suffered especial hubris, against this one, I go to court, and I hate, and make a sally. And these from me, all are quite true and brought to light: whereas for this man, had he not furnished these witnesses, if so certainly, he would have no argument, but rather he would be convicted on the spot without a word. Since they are drinking companions of this man and of many deeds of this sort, his fellows have likely borne false witness. If there is to be a matter of this sort, if even once certain men shamelessly deny and dare to bear manifest false witness, and there is no profit in the truth, it would be a most terrible matter.

34. Oh but, by Zeus, they are not men of this sort. But many of you know, or so I think, Diotimus, and Archebiades, and Chaeretius, that greybeard there, who during the day put on grim demeanours and they say they adopt a Spartan manner, and they wear worn-out clothes, and put on plain shoes, but whenever they gather together and are with each other, they leave nothing wicked or shameful undone.

35. And these brilliant and youthful words are theirs, “For shall we not be witnesses for each other? For is this not the way of companions and dear friends? Is there even anything terrible of what he will bring against you? Do some say they saw him beaten? We will testify absolutely that he was not assaulted. That he was stripped of his cloak? We will testify that those first men have done this. Was his lip stitched up? We, at least, will say that your head was broken, or some other part.”

36. But I also furnish surgeons as witnesses. This is not, gentlemen of the jury, the case with them: for except as much as they supply for themselves, they have no abundance of witnesses against me. For the state of preparation of these men, by the gods, I would not even be able to say how great and how much with respect to doing it is initiated whatsoever. But so that you may know what sort of things they go around doing for themselves, read these testimonies for them, and you, stop the clock.10


37. Accordingly, those who dig through walls, and who strike those who encounter them, does it seem to you that they would shrink from bearing false witness for each other on a little tablet, who share in common so much and sundry things, their fondness for making enemies, and their turpitude, and shamelessness, and hubris? For it seems right to me to throw all that in with the things done by these men. And yet, there are other things done by them more terrible than these. But we would not be able to find all who have been wronged.

38. Furthermore, what I hear he is about to do is the most shameless thing of all, I think it best to tell you in advance. For they say that having brought forth his boys beside him he will swear oaths upon them, and will utter certain prayers, terrible and grievous curses and such as this of a sort that someone who has heard, reported it to us, astonished. These are, gentlemen of the jury, enterprises of the sort not withstood: for the best men, I think, who would themselves be least to say something false, are the most thoroughly deceived by men of this sort: not but that they ought to trust after they take a hard look at a man’s life and manner.

39. Of this man’s slight esteem for things of this sort, I shall tell you: for I have learned of it by necessity. For I hear, gentlemen of the jury, that a certain Bacchius, who was condemned to death in this place, and Aristocrates, who lost his eyes, and other men of this sort, along with Conon here, were companions when they were lads and bore the name, Triballoi11: that these men devoured the dishes set out for Hecate,12 as well as the testicles of the young pigs with which we are purified whenever we are about to convene the Assembly; they gathered them on each occasion they dined with each other, and that they more easily swore oaths, and swore them falsely, than anything at all.

40. Nor indeed is  a man such as Conon trustworthy, even when he swears an oath, no indeed, far from it, but rather, he who would not willingly swear in accordance to any oath, which you do not consider customary, and indeed on his children he certainly would not, but would first suffer anything whatsoever, but if he were compelled, he who swears an oath as is customary, upon the utter destruction of himself, and his clan and house, is more worthy of trust than one who swears on his children and through fire. Accordingly, I am more righteous than you, since I would be trusted on every account, dear Conon, I was willing to swear by these things, not for the sake of not paying a penalty for what I have done wrong, and doing anything whatsoever, like you, but for the sake of the truth and for the sake of suffering no additional hubris, for not losing the matter by perjury. Speak aloud the challenge.


41. At that time, too, I was willing to swear to these things on oath, and now I swear by the gods and goddesses, each and every one, for your sake, gentlemen of the jury, and for those standing around, that in truth I truly suffered at Conon’s hands these things for which I am going to trial, and I took blows, and my lip was so cut such that it was stitched together, and since I suffered hubris, I am pursuing justice. And if I swear faithfully, may much good come to be for me, and may I never again suffer anything of this sort, but if I forswear, may I be completely and utterly destroyed, myself and if I possess anything or am destined to.

42. But I do not swear falsely, not even should Conon burst the passion of his denial. Accordingly, I expect you, gentlemen of the jury, since I have exhibited everything as far as is righteous, and have submitted my pledge to you, just if each man himself would hate had he suffered what this man has done, thusly to bear anger on my behalf toward this man Conon, and not to consider as a private matter any of these sorts of things, a fortune which might befall any man, but for whom it does ever befall to give aid and render what is righteous, and to hate those who are rash and reckless for misdeeds and who pay no mind to reputation, nor to custom, nor to anything else, in pursuit of not paying a penalty.

43. But Conon will beg and lament. Contemplate just who is more pitiable, he who has suffered what I have suffered by this man, if I were to depart having suffered additional hubris, and not obtain justice, or Conon, were he to pay a penalty. And which is more profitable to each of you, that it be permissible to give beatings and commit hubris, or not? Indeed, I believe not. Thereafter, if you let him off, there will be many, but if you punish him, fewer.

44. I could have much to say, gentlemen of the jury, both how we are dependable men, both we ourselves and our father, as long as he lived, commanding triremes, performing our military service, and acting as we were appointed, and how neither this man nor any of those sons of his did anything: but there is neither enough time nor presently does the argument concern these things. For if indeed by common consent it was our lot to be more unprofitable and more knavish than these men, we are certainly no to be beaten nor to be treated with hubris.

I do not know any reason why I ought to say anything further: for I know that you are not ignorant of anything that has been said.

1. “to obtain leave to bring a case” translates λαγχάνω δίκην (langchano dikein), which means literally “to obtain a case by lottery”. In the Athenian legal system, if someone wished to bring a private charge, he was required to aquire approval from a magister, who would then begin to gather a jury for the trial. Juries were selected by lottery.
2. “Cloak-robber” is the literal meaning of λωποδύτης (lopodytes), describing criminal who would waylay their victims and rob them of all their goods, including their clothing. A better English translation might be “highwayman”, but I chose to keep the more literal, both because I like it and because theft of clothing becomes important later on in the argument.
3. Literally, “beyond my age of life”. Bringing a public charge against someone was not merely a legal action, but also a political and social action. To bring such a charge when one was still young invited accusations of overweening ambition.
4. That is, slaves. Just as in the American south, slaves in the ancient world were often referred to as “boy” or “girl” regardless of their age.
5. According to the notes at : “The monument of the daughters of Leos (Praxithea, Theope, Eubule), who, at the command of an oracle, sacrificed themselves for their country.”
6. That is, in a cock-fight.
7. Bacchian Phalloi and Beggars are hopelessly inadequate attempts to capture the sense of the names of these gangs of young men. Bacchian Phalloi is a translation of Ithypalloi. A literal translation might be the “Erect Phalloi”. The Ithyphallus was a giant phallus carried in during the Festival of Bacchus. The Beggars were called the Autolekythoi. An Autolekythos is someone who carried their own oil flask around, too poor to have a slave to carry it. The term may have athletic rather than economic connotations, as athletes oiled themselves before competing.
8. That is, their slaves, to be tortured for their testimony. The testimony of a slave was not considered valid, unless the slave was tortured.
9. The word here is βάσανος (basanos), which was a dark stone on which pure gold would leave a mark when rubbed. The word came to mean any test made to determine if something were genuine, and it was often used as a euphemism for the practice of questioning slaves by torture for trials.
10. Prosecutors and defendants had a limited time in which to make their case, but the recitation of registered testimony was not counted against them. Literally, the phrase here reads, “And you, stop the water.” The allowance of time was measured with a water clock. A speaker might end his case by saying, “Pour out the water,” to signal that he didn’t need the full allowance of time alloted to him.
11. The Middle Liddell says of the Triballoi: “a people on the borders of Thrace; as a Comic name for barbarian gods.”
12. On the new moon, plates of food were set out for Hecate at cross-roads.
13. Literally: “enough water”; see note 10.

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