Parrhesia in the Tragedies of Euripides: Discourse & Truth, Problematization of Parrhesia - Six lec­tures given by Michel Foucault at the University of California at Berkeley, Oct-Nov. 1983

— Foucault, Michel. Parrhesia in the Tragedies of Euripides in Discourse & Truth: the Problematization of Parrhesia, 1999.

Today I would like to be­gin an­a­lyz­ing the first oc­cur­rences of the word parrhesia” in Greek lit­er­a­ture, as the word ap­pears in the fol­low­ing six tragedies of Euripides:(1) Phoenician women; (2) Hippolytus; (3) The Bacchae; (4) Electra; (5) Ion; (6) Orestes.

In the first four plays, par­rhe­sia does not con­sti­tute an im­por­tant topic or mo­tif; but the word it­self gen­er­ally oc­curs within a pre­cise con­text which aids our un­der­stand­ing of its mean­ing. In the last two plays – Ion and Orestes – par­rhe­sia does as­sume a very im­por­tant role. Indeed, I think that Ion is en­tirely de­voted to the prob­lem of par­rhe­sia since it pur­sues the ques­tion: who has the right, the duty, and the courage to speak the truth? This par­rhe­si­as­tic prob­lem in Ion is raised in the frame­work of the re­la­tions be­tween the gods and hu­man be­ings. In Orestes – which was writ­ten ten years later, and there­fore is one of Euripides’ last plays — the role of par­rhe­sia is not nearly as sig­nif­i­cant. And yet the play still con­tains a par­rhe­si­as­tic scene which war­rants at­ten­tion in­so­far as it is di­rectly re­lated to po­lit­i­cal is­sues that the Athenians were then rais­ing. Here, in this par­rhe­si­as­tic scene, there is a tran­si­tion re­gard­ing the ques­tion of par­rhe­sia as it oc­curs in the con­text of hu­man in­sti­tu­tions. Specifically, par­rhe­sia is seen as both a po­lit­i­cal and a philo­soph­i­cal is­sue.

Today, then, I shall first try to say some­thing about the oc­cur­rences of the word Parrhesia” in the first four plays men­tioned in or­der to throw some more light on the mean­ing of the word. And then I shall at­tempt a global analy­sis of Ion as the de­ci­sive par­rhe­si­as­tic play where we see hu­man be­ings tak­ing upon them­selves the role of truth-tellers — a role which the gods are no longer able to as­sume.

The Phoenician Women [c.411-409 B.C.]

Consider, first, The Phoenician Women. The ma­jor theme of this play con­cerns the fight be­tween Oedipus’ two sons: Eteocles and Polyneices. Recall that af­ter Oedipus’ fall, in or­der to avoid their fa­ther’s curse that they should di­vide his in­her­i­tance by sharp­ened steel”, Eteocles and Polyneices make a pact to rule over Thebes al­ter­nately, year by year, with Eteocles (who was older) reign­ing first. But af­ter his ini­tial year of reign, Eteocles re­fuses to hand over the crown and yield power to his brother, Polyneices. Eteocles thus rep­re­sents tyranny, and Polyneices — who lives in ex­ile — rep­re­sents the de­mo­c­ra­tic regime. Seeking his share of his fa­ther’s crown, Polyneices re­turns with an army of Argives in or­der to over­throw Eteocles and lay siege to the city of Thebes. It is in the hope of avoid­ing this con­fronta­tion that Jocasta — the mother of Polyneices and Eteocles, and the wife and mother of Oedipus — per­suades her two sons to meet in a truce. When Polyneices ar­rives for this meet­ing, Jocasta asks him about his suf­fer­ing dur­ing the time he was ex­iled from Thebes. Is it re­ally hard to be ex­iled” asks Jocasta. And Polyneices an­swers, worse than any­thing” And when Jocasta asks why ex­ile is so hard, Polyneices replies that it is be­cause one can­not en­joy par­rhe­sia:

JOCASTA: This above all I long to know: What is an ex­ile’s life? Is it great mis­ery?
POLYNEICES: The great­est; worse in re­al­ity than in re­port. 
JOCASTA: Worse in what way? What chiefly galls an ex­ile’s heart?
POLYNEICES: The worst is this: right of free speech does not ex­ist.
JOCASTA: That’s a slave’s life — to be for­bid­den to speak one’s mind.
POLYNEICES: One has to en­dure the id­iocy of those who rule.
JOCASTA: To join fools in their fool­ish­ness — that makes one sick.
POLYNEICES: One finds it pays to deny na­ture and be a slave.

As you can see from these few lines, par­rhe­sia is linked, first of all, to Polyneices’ so­cial sta­tus. For if you are not a reg­u­lar cit­i­zen in the city, if you are ex­iled, then you can­not use par­rhe­sia. That is quite ob­vi­ous. But some­thing else is also im­plied, viz., that if you do not have the right of free speech, you are un­able to ex­er­cise -any kind of power- and thus you are in the same sit­u­a­tion as a slave. Further: if such cit­i­zens can­not use par­rhe­sia, they can­not op­pose a ruler’s power. And with­out the right of crit­i­cism, the power ex­er­cised by a sov­er­eign is with­out lim­i­ta­tion. Such power with­out lim­i­ta­tion is char­ac­ter­ized by Jocasta as joining fool in their fool­ish­ness”. For power with­out lim­i­ta­tion is di­rectly re­lated to mad­ness. The man who ex­er­cises power is wise only in­so­far as there ex­ists some­one who can use par­rhe­sia to crit­i­cize him, thereby putting some limit to his power, to his com­mand.

Hippolytus [428 B.C.]

The sec­ond pas­sage from Euripides I want to quote comes from Hyppolitus. As you know, the play is about Phaedra’s love for Hippolytus. And the pas­sage con­cern­ing par­rhe­sia oc­curs just af­ter Phaedra’s con­fes­sion: when Phaedra , early on in the play, con­fesses her love for Hippolytus to her nurse (without, how­ever, ac­tu­ally say­ing his name). But the word parrhesia” does not con­cern this con­fes­sion, but refers to some­thing quite dif­fer­ent. For just af­ter her con­fes­sion of her love for Hippolytus, Phaedra speaks of those no­ble and high-born women from royal house­holds who first brought shame upon their own fam­ily, upon their hus­band and chil­dren, by com­mit­ting adul­tery with other men. And Phaedra says she does not want to do the same since she wants her sons to live in Athens, proud of their mother, and ex­er­cis­ing par­rhe­sia. And she claims that if a man is con­scious of a stain in his fam­ily, he be­comes a slave:

PHAEDRA: I will never be known to bring dis­honor on my hus­band or my chil­dren. I want my two sons to go back and live in glo­ri­ous Athens, hold their heads high there, and speak their minds there like free men , hon­ored for their moth­er’s name. One thing can make the most bold-spir­ited man a slave: to know the se­cret of a par­en­t’s shame­ful act.

In this text we see, once again, a con­nec­tion be­tween the lack of par­rhe­sia and slav­ery. For if you can­not speak freely be­cause you are of dis­honor in your fam­ily, then you are en­slaved. Also, cit­i­zen­ship by it­self does not ap­pear to be suf­fi­cient to ob­tain and guar­an­tee ex­er­cise of free speech. Honor, a good rep­u­ta­tion for one­self and one’s fam­ily, is also needed be­fore one can freely ad­dress the peo­ple of the city. Parrhesia thus re­quires both moral and so­cial qual­i­fi­ca­tions which come from a no­ble birth and a re­spect­ful rep­u­ta­tion.

The Bacchae [c.407-406 B.C.]

In The Bacchae there is a very short pas­sage, a tran­si­tional mo­ment, where the word ap­pears. One of Pentheus’ ser­vants — a herds­man and mes­sen­ger to the king — has come to re­port about the con­fu­sion and dis­or­der the Maenads are gen­er­at­ing in the com­mu­nity, and the fan­tas­tic deeds they are com­mit­ting. But, as you know, it is an old tra­di­tion that mes­sen­gers who bring glad tid­ings are re­warded for the news they con­vey, whereas those who bring bad news are ex­posed to pun­ish­ment. And so the king’s ser­vant is very re­luc­tant to de­liver his ill tid­ings to Pentheus. But he asks the king whether he may use par­rhe­sia and tell him every­thing he knows, for he fears the king’s wrath. And Pentheus promises that he will not get into trou­ble so long as he speaks the truth.

HERDSMAN: I have seen the holy Bacchae, who like a flight of spears went stream­ing bare-limbed, fran­tic, out of the city gate. I have come with the in­ten­tion of telling you, my lord, and the city, of their strange and ter­ri­ble do­ings — things be­yond all won­der. But first I would learn whether I may speak freely of what is go­ing on there, or if I should trim my words. I fear your hasti­ness, my lord, your anger, your too po­tent roy­alty.
PENTHEUS: From me fear noth­ing. Say all that you have to say; anger should not grow hot against the in­no­cent. The more dread­ful your story of these Bacchic rites, the heav­ier pun­ish­ment I will in­flict upon this man who en­ticed our women to their evil ways.

These lines are in­ter­est­ing be­cause they show a case where the par­rhe­si­astes, the one who speaks the truth is not an en­tirely free man, but a ser­vant to the king — one who can­not use par­rhe­sia if the king is not wise enough to en­ter into the par­rhe­si­as­tic game and grant him per­mis­sion to speak openly. For if the king lacks self-mas­tery, if he is car­ried away by his pas­sions and gets mad at the mes­sen­ger then he does not hear the truth, and will also be a bad ruler for the city. But Pentheus, as a wise king, of­fers his ser­vant what we can call a parrhesiastic con­tract.”

The parrhesiastic con­tract” — which be­came rel­a­tively im­por­tant in the po­lit­i­cal life of rulers in the Greco-Roman world — con­sists in the fol­low­ing. The sov­er­eign, the ones who has power but lacks the truth, ad­dresses him­self to the one who has the truth but lacks power, and tells him : if you tell me the truth, no mat­ter what this truth turns out to be, you won’t be pun­ished; and those who are re­spon­si­ble for any in­jus­tices will be pun­ished, but not those who speak the truth about such in­jus­tices. This idea of the Parrhesiastic con­tract” be­came as­so­ci­ated with par­rhe­sia as a spe­cial priv­i­lege granted to the best and most hon­est cit­i­zens of the city. Of course, the par­rhe­si­as­tic con­tract be­tween Pentheus and his mes­sen­ger is only a moral oblig­a­tion since it lacks all in­sti­tu­tional foun­da­tion. As the kings ser­vant, the mes­sen­ger is still quite vul­ner­a­ble, and still takes a risk in speak­ing. But, al­though he is coura­geous, he is also not reck­less, and is cau­tious about the con­se­quences of what he might say. The contract” is in­tended to limit the risk he takes in speak­ing.

Electra [415 B.C.]

In Electra the word parrhesia” oc­curs in the con­fronta­tion be­tween Electra and her mother, Clytemnestra. I do not need to re­mind you of this fa­mous story, but only to in­di­cate that prior to the mo­ment in the play when the word ap­pears, Orestes has just killed the tyrant Aegisthus — Clytemnestra’s lover and co mur­derer (with Clytemnestra) of Agamemnon (Clytenmestra’s hus­band and fa­ther to Orestes and Electra). But right be­fore Clytemnestra ap­pears on the scene, Orestes hides him­self and Aegisthus’ body. So when Clytemnestra makes her en­try, she is not aware of what has just tran­spired, i.e., she does not know that Aegisthus has just been killed. And her en­try is very beau­ti­ful and solemn, for she is rid­ing in a royal char­iot sur­rounded by the most beau­ti­ful of the cap­tive maid­ens of Troy — all of whom are now her slaves. And Electra, who is there when her mother ar­rives, also be­haves like a slave in or­der to hide the fact that the mo­ment of re­venge for her fa­ther’s death is at hand. She is also there to in­sult Clytemnestra, and to re­mind her of her crime. This dra­matic scene gives way to a con­fronta­tion be­tween the two. A dis­cus­sion be­gins, and we have two par­al­lel speeches, both equally long (forty lines), the first one by Clytemnestra, and the sec­ond by Electra.

Clytemnestra’s speech be­gins with the words λέξω δέ” — I will speak” [l. 1013] And she pro­ceeds to tell the truth, con­fess­ing that she killed Agamemnon as a pun­ish­ment for the sac­ri­fi­cial death of her daugh­ter, Iphigeneia. Following this speech, Electra replies, be­gin­ning with the sym­met­ri­cal for­mu­la­tion λέγοιμ άν” — then, I will speak”[l. 1060]. In spite of this sym­me­try, how­ever, there is a clear dif­fer­ence be­tween the two. For at the end of her speech, Clytemnestra ad­dresses Electra di­rectly and says to her, use your par­rhe­sia to prove that I was wrong to kill your fa­ther”:

CLYTEMNESTRA: … I killed him. I took the only way open to me — turned for help to his en­e­mies. Well, what could I do? None of your fa­ther’s friends would have helped me mur­der him. So, if you’re anx­ious to re­fute me, do it now; speak freely; prove your fa­ther’s death not jus­ti­fied.

And, af­ter the Chorus speaks, Electra replies, Do not for­get your lat­est words, mother. You gave me par­rhe­sia to­wards you”:

ELECTRA: Mother, re­mem­ber what you said just now. You promised that I might state my opin­ion freely with­out fear

And Clytemnestra an­swers: I said so, daugh­ter, and I meant it” [l.1057]

But Electra is still wary and cau­tious, for she won­ders whether her mother will lis­ten to her only to hurt her af­ter­wards:

ELECTRA: Do you mean you’ll lis­ten first, and get your own back af­ter­wards?
CLYTEMNESTRA: No, no; you’re free to say what your heart wants to say.
ELECTRA: I’ll say it, then. This is where I’ll be­gin …

And Electra pro­ceeds to speak openly, blam­ing her mother for what she has done.

There is an­other asym­met­ri­cal as­pect be­tween these two dis­courses which con­cerns the dif­fer­ence in sta­tus of the two speak­ers. For Clytemnestra is the queen, and does not use or re­quire par­rhe­sia to plead for her own de­fense in killing Agamemnon. But Electra — who is in the sit­u­a­tion of a slave, who plays the role of a slave in this scene, who can no longer live in her fa­ther’s house un­der her fa­ther’s pro­tec­tion, and who ad­dresses her mother just as a ser­vant would ad­dress the queen — Electra needs the right of par­rhe­sia.

And so an­other par­rhe­si­as­tic con­tract is drawn be­tween Clytemnestra and Electra: Clytemnestra promises she will not pun­ish Electra for her frank­ness just as Pentheus promised his mes­sen­ger in The Bacchae. But in Electra, the par­rhe­si­as­tic con­tract is sub­verted. It is not sub­verted by Clytemnestra (who, as the queen, still has the power to pun­ish Electra); it is sub­verted by Electra her­self. Electra asks her mother to promise her that she will not be pun­ished for speak­ing frankly, and Clytemnestra makes such a promise — with­out know­ing that she, Clytemnestra her­self, will be pun­ished for her con­fes­sion. For, a few min­utes later, she is sub­se­quently killed by her chil­dren, Orestes and Electra. Thus the par­rhe­si­as­tic con­tract is sub­verted: the one who was granted the priv­i­lege of par­rhe­sia is not hammed, but the one who granted the right of par­rhe­sia is — and by the very per­son who, in the in­fe­rior po­si­tion, was ask­ing for par­rhe­sia. The par­rhe­si­as­tic con­tract be­came a sub­ver­sive trap for Clytemnestra.

Ion [c.418-417 B.C.]

We turn now to Ion, a par­rhe­si­as­tic play.

The mytho­log­i­cal frame­work of the play in­volves the leg­endary found­ing of Athens. According to Attic myth, Erectheus was the first king of Athens — born a son of Earth and re­turn­ing to Earth in death. Erectheus thus per­son­i­fies that of which the Athenians were so proud, viz., their au­tochtony: that they lit­er­ally were sprung from Athenian soil . In 418 B. C. , about the time when this play was writ­ten, such mytho­log­i­cal ref­er­ence had po­lit­i­cal mean­ing. For Euripides wanted to re­mind his au­di­ence that the Athenians are na­tive to Athenian soil; but through the char­ac­ter of Xuthus (husband to Erectheus’ daugh­ter Creusa, and a for­eigner to Athens since he comes from Phithia), Euripides also wanted to in­di­cate to his au­di­ence that the Athenians are re­lated, through this mar­riage, to the peo­ple of the Peloponese, and specif­i­cally to Achaia — named from one of the sons of Xuthus and Creusa: Achaeus. For Euripides’ ac­count of the Pan-Hellenic na­ture of Athenian ge­neal­ogy makes Ion the son of Apollo and Creusa (daughter to Athens an­cient king Eretheus). Creusa later mar­ries Xuthus (who was an ally of the Athenians in their war against the Euboeans. Two sons are born from this mar­riage: Dorus and Achaeus. Ion was said to be the founder of the Ionic peo­ple; Dorus, the founder of the Dorians; and Achaeus, the founder of the Achaeans. Thus all of the an­ces­tors of the Greek race are de­picted as de­scended from the royal house of Athens.

Euripides’ ref­er­ence to Creusa’s re­la­tion­ship with Apollo, as well as his place­ment of the play’s set­ting at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, is meant to ex­hibit the close re­la­tion­ship be­tween Athens and Phoebus Apollo: the pan-Hel­lenic god of the Delphic sanc­tu­ary. For at the his­tor­i­cal mo­ment of the play’s pro­duc­tion in an­cient Greece, Athens was try­ing to forge a pan-Hel­lenic coali­tion against Sparta. Rivalry ex­isted be­tween Athens and Delphi since the Delphic priests were pri­mar­ily on the side of the Spartans. But, to put Athens in the fa­vor­able po­si­tion of leader of the Hellenic world, Euripides wished to em­pha­size the re­la­tions of mu­tual par­ent­hood be­tween the two cities. These mytho­log­i­cal ge­nealo­gies, then, are meant, in part, to jus­tify Athens’ im­pe­ri­al­is­tic pol­i­tics to­wards other Greek cities at a time when Athenian lead­ers still thought an Athenian em­pire was pos­si­ble.

I shall not fo­cus on the po­lit­i­cal and mytholo-gi­cal as­pects of the play, but on the theme of the shift of the place of truth’s dis­clo­sure from Delphi to Athens. As you know, the or­a­cle at Delphi was sup­posed to be the place in Greece where hu­man be­ings were told the truth by the gods through the ut­ter­ances of the Pythia. But in this play we see a very ex­plicit shift from the orac­u­lar truth at Delphi to Athens: Athens be­comes the Place where truth now ap­pears. And, as a part of this shift, truth is no longer dis­closed by the gods to hu­man be­ings (as at Delphi), but is dis­closed to hu­man be­ings by hu­man be­ings through Athenian par­rhe­sia.

Euripides’ Ion is a play prais­ing Athenian auto-chtony, and af­firm­ing blood-affin­ity with most other Greek states; but it is pri­mar­ily a story of the move­ment of truth-telling from Delphi to Athens, from Phoebus Apollo to the Athenian Citizen. And that is the rea­son why I think the play is the story of par­rhe­sia: the de­ci­sive Greek par­rhe­si­as­tic play.

Now I would like to give the fol­low­ing schematic aperçu of the play:

SILENCE TRUTH DECEPTION
Delphi Athene Foreign coun­tries
Apollo Erectheus Xuthus
  Ion & Creusa  

We shall see that Apollo keeps silent through­out the drama; that Juthus is de­ceived by the god, but is also a de­ceiver. And we shall also see how Creusa and Ion both speak the truth against Apollo’s si­lence, for only they are con­nected to the Athenian earth which en­dows them with par­rhe­sia.

1. Hermes’ Prologue

I would first like to briefly re­count the events, given in Hermes’ pro­logue, which have taken place be­fore the play be­gins.

After the death of Erectheus’ other chil­dren (Cecrops, Orithyia, and Procris), Creusa is the only sur­viv­ing off­spring of the Athenian dy­nasty. One day, as a young girl, while pick­ing yel­low flow­ers by the Long Rocks, Apollo rapes or se­duces her.

Is it a rape or a se­duc­tion? For the Greeks, the dif­fer­ence is not as cru­cial as it is for us. Clearly, when some­one rapes a woman, a girl, or boy, he uses phys­i­cal vi­o­lence; whereas when some­one se­duces an­other, he uses words, his abil­ity to speak, his su­pe­rior sta­tus, and so on. For the Greeks, us­ing one’s psy­cho­log­i­cal, so­cial, or in­tel­lec­tual abil­i­ties to se­duce an­other per­son is not so dif­fer­ent from us­ing phys­i­cal vi­o­lence. Indeed, from the per­spec­tive of the law, se­duc­tion was con­sid­ered more crim­i­nal than rape. For when some­one is raped, it is against his or her will but when some­one is se­duced, then that con­sti­tutes the proof that at a spe­cific mo­ment, the se­duced in­di­vid­ual chose to be un­faith­ful to his or her wife or hus­band, or par­ents or fam­ily. Seduction was con­sid­ered more of an at­tack against a spouse’s power, or a fam­i­ly’s power, since the one who was se­duced chose to act against the wishes of his or her spouse, par­ents, or fam­ily.

In any case, Creusa is raped or se­duced by Apollo, and she be­comes preg­nant. And when she is about to give birth, she re­turns to the place where she was led by Apollo, viz., a cave be­neath Athens’ acrop­o­lis — be­neath the Mount of Pallas un­der the cen­ter of the Athenian city. And here she hides her­self un­til, all alone, she gives birth to a son . But be­cause she does not want her fa­ther, Erectheus, to find out about the child (for she was ashamed of what hap­pened), she ex­poses it, leav­ing the child to wild beasts. Apollo then sends his brother, Hermes, to bring the child, his cra­dle and clothes, to the tem­ple at Delphi. And the boy is raised as a ser­vant of the god in the sanc­tu­ary; and he is re­garded as a foundling. For no one in Delphi (except Apollo him­self) knows who he is or where he comes from; and Ion him­self does not know. Ion thus ap­pears, on the schema I out­lined, be­tween Delphi and Athens, Apollo and Creusa . For he is the son of Apollo and Creusa, and was born in Athens but lives his life in Delphi.

In Athens, Creusa does not know what­ever be­came of her child; and she won­ders whether it is dead or alive. Later she mar­ries Xuthus, a for­eigner whose alien pres­ence im­mensely com­pli­cates the con­ti­nu­ity of au­tochtony — which is why it is so im­por­tant for Creusa to have an heir with Xuthus. However, af­ter their mar­riage, Xuthus and Creusa were un­able to have any chil­dren. At the end of the play, the birth of Dorus and Achaeus are promised to them by Apollo; but at the be­gin­ning of the play they re­main child­less, even though they des­per­ately need chil­dren to en­dow Athens with dy­nas­tic con­ti­nu­ity. And so both of them come to Delphi to ask Apollo if they shall ever have chil­dren. And so the play be­gins.

2. Apollo’s Silence

But, of course, Creusa and Xuthus do not have ex­actly the same ques­tion to ask the god Apollo. Xuthus’ ques­tion is very clear and sim­ple: I’ve never had chil­dren. Shall I have any with Creusa?” Creusa, how­ever, has an­other ques­tion to ask. She must know whether she will ever have chil­dren with Xuthus. But she also wishes to ask: With you, Apollo, I had a child. And I need to know now whether he is still liv­ing or not. What, Apollo, has be­come of our son?”

Apollo’s tem­ple, the or­a­cle at Delphi, was the place where the truth was told by the gods to any mor­tals who came to con­sult it. Both Xuthus and Creusa ar­rive to­gether in front of the tem­ple door and, of course, the first per­son they meet is Ion-Apollo’s ser­vant and son to Creusa. But nat­u­rally Creusa does not rec­og­nize her son, nor does Ion rec­og­nize his mother. They are strangers to one an­other, just as Oedipus and Jocasta were ini­tially in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King.

Remember that Oedipus was also saved from death in spite of the will of his mother. And he, too, was un­able to rec­og­nize his real fa­ther and mother. The struc­ture of Ions plot is some­what sim­i­lar to the Oedipus story. But the dy­nam­ics of truth in the two plays are ex­actly re­versed.

For in Oedipus the King, Phoebus Apollo speaks the truth from the very be­gin­ning, truth­fully fore­telling what will hap­pen. And hu­man be­ings are the ones who con­tin­u­ally hide from or avoid see­ing the truth, try­ing to es­cape the des­tiny fore­told by the god. But in the end, through the signs Apollo has given them, Oedipus and Jocasta dis­cover the truth in spite of them­selves. In the pre­sent play, hu­man be­ings are try­ing to dis­cover the truth: Ion wants to know who he is and where he comes from; Creusa wants to know the fate of her son. Yet it is Apollo who vol­un­tar­ily con­ceals the truth. The Oedipal prob­lem of truth is re­solved by show­ing how mor­tals, in spite of their own blind­ness, will see the light of truth which is spo­ken by the god, and which they do not wish to see. The Ionic prob­lem of truth is re­solved by show­ing how hu­man be­ings, in spite of the si­lence of Apollo, will dis­cover the truth they are so ea­ger to know.

The theme of god’s si­lence pre­vails through­out Ion. It ap­pears at the be­gin­ning of the tragedy when Creusa en­coun­ters Ion. Creusa is still ashamed of what hap­pened to her, so she speaks to Ion as if she had come to con­sult the or­a­cle for her friend”. She then tells him part of her own story, at­tribut­ing it to her al­leged girl­friend, and asks him whether he thinks Apollo will give her friend” an an­swer to her ques­tions. As a good ser­vant to the god, Ion tells her that Apollo will not give an an­swer. For if he has done what Creusa’s friend” claims, then he will be too ashamed:

ION: … is Apollo to re­veal what he in­tends should re­main a mys­tery?
CREUSA: Surely his or­a­cle is open for every Greek to ques­tion?
ION: No. His honor is in­volved; you must re­spect his feel­ings.
CREUSA: What of his vic­tim’s feel­ings? What does this in­volve for her?
ION: There is no one who will ask this ques­tion for you. Suppose it were proved in Apollo’s own tem­ple that he had be­haved so badly, he would be jus­ti­fied in mak­ing your in­ter­preter suf­fer for it. My lady, let the mat­ter drop. We must not ac­cuse Apollo in his own court. That is what our folly would amount to, if we try to force a re­luc­tant god to speak, to give signs in sac­ri­fice or the flight of birds. Those ends we pur­sue against the gods’ will can do us lit­tle good when we gain them…

So at the very be­gin­ning of the play, Ion tells why Apollo will not tell the truth. And, in fact, he him­self never an­swers Creusa’s ques­tions. This is a hid­ing-god.

What is even more sig­nif­i­cant and strik­ing is what oc­curs at the end of the play when every­thing has been said by the var­i­ous char­ac­ters of the play, and the truth is known to every­one. For every­one then waits for Apollo’s ap­pear­ance — whose pres­ence was not vis­i­ble through­out the en­tire Play (in spite of the fact that he is a main char­ac­ter in the dra­matic events that un­fold). It was tra­di­tional in an­cient Greek tragedy for the god who con­sti­tuted the main di­vine fig­ure to ap­pear last. Yet, at the end of the play Apollo — the shin­ing god — ,does not ap­pear. Instead, Athene ar­rives to con­vey his mes­sage. And she ap­pears above the roof of the Delphic tem­ple, for the tem­ple doors are not open. Explaining why she has come, she says:

ATHENE: … I am your friend here as in Athens, the city whose name I bear — I am Athene! I have come in haste from Apollo. He thought it right not to ap­pear to you him­self, lest there be re­proaches openly ut­tered for what is past; so he sends me with this mes­sage to you. Ion, this is your mother, and Apollo is your fa­ther. Xuthus did not beget you, but Apollo gave you to him so that you might be­come the rec­og­nized heir of an il­lus­tri­ous house. When Apollo’s pur­pose in this mat­ter was dis­closed he con­trived a way to save each of you from death at each oth­er’s hands. His in­ten­tion has been to keep the truth se­cret for a while, and then in Athens to re­veal Creusa as your mother, and you as her son by Apollo …

So even at this fi­nal mo­ment, when every­thing has come to light, Apollo does not dare to ap­pear and speak the truth. He hides, while Athene speaks in­stead. We must re­mem­ber that Apollo is the prophetic god in charge of speak­ing the truth to mor­tals. Yet he is un­able to play this role be­cause he is ashamed of his guilt. Here, in Ion, si­lence and guilt are linked on the side of the god Apollo. InOedipus the King, si­lence and guilt are linked on the side of mor­tals. The main mo­tif of Ion concerns the hu­man fight for truth against god’s si­lence: hu­man be­ings must man­age, by them­selves, to dis­cover and to tell the truth. Apollo does not speak the truth, he does not re­veal what he knows per­fectly well to be the case, he de­ceives mor­tals by his si­lence or tells pure lies, he is not coura­geous enough to speak him­self, and he uses his power, his free­dom, and his su­pe­ri­or­ity to cover-up what he has done. Apollo is the anti-Par­rhe­si­astes.

In this strug­gle against god’s si­lence, Ion and Creusa are the two ma­jor par­rhe­si­as­tic fig­ures. But they do not play the role of the par­rhe­si­astes in the same way. For as a male born of Athenian earth, Ion has the right to use par­rhe­sia. Creusa, on the other hand, plays the par­rhe­si­as­tic role as a woman who con­fesses her thoughts. I would like now to, ex­am­ine these two par­rhe­si­as­tic roles, not­ing the na­ture of their dif­fer­ence.

3. Ion’s Parrhesiastic Role

First, Ion. Ion’s Parrhesiastic role is ev­i­dent in the very long scene which takes place be­tween Ion and Xuthus early on in the play. When Xuthus and Creusa came to con­sult the or­a­cle, Xuthus en­ters the sanc­tu­ary first since he is the hus­band and the man. He asks Apollo his ques­tion, and the god tells him that the first per­son he meets when he comes out of the tem­ple will be his son. And, of course, the first one he meets is Ion since, as Apollo’s ser­vant, he is al­ways at the door of the tem­ple. Here we have to pay at­ten­tion to the Greek ex­pres­sion, which is not lit­er­ally trans­lated in ei­ther the French or English edi­tions. The Greek words are: παίδ’ έμον πεφνκέναι. The use of the word πεφνκέναι” in­di­cates that Ion is said to be Xuthus’s son by na­ture”:

ION: What was Apollo’s or­a­cle?
XUTHUS: He said, who­ever met me as I came out of the tem­ple — 
ION: Whoever met you — yes: what about him?
XUTHUS: — is my son! [παίδ’ έμον πεφνκέναι]
ION: Your son by birth, or merely by gift?
XUTHUS: A gift, yes; but mine by birth too

So you see that Apollo does not give an ob­scure and am­bigu­ous orac­u­lar pro­nounce­ment as he was wont to do with in­dis­crete ques­tion­ers. The god’s an­swer is a pure lie. For Ion is not Xuthus’ son by na­ture” or by birth”. Apollo is not an am­bigu­ous truth-teller in this case. He is a liar. And Xuthus, de­ceived by Apollo, can­didly be­lieves that Ion-the first per­son he met - is re­ally, by na­ture, his own son.

What fol­lows is the first main par­rhe­si­as­tic scene of the play, which can be di­vided into three parts.

The first part con­cerns the mis­un­der­stand­ing be­tween Ion and Xuthus. Xuthus leaves the tem­ple, sees Ion, and — in light of Apollo’s an­swer — be­lieves that he is his son. Full of cheer, he goes to him and wants to kiss him . Ion — who does not know who Xuthus is, and does not know why he wants to kiss him — mis­un­der­stands Xuthus be­hav­ior and thinks that Xuthus wants to have sex with him (as any young Greek boy would if a man tried to kiss him) . Most of the com­men­ta­tors, if they are even will­ing to rec­og­nize the sex­ual in­ter­pre­ta­tion Ion at­trib­utes to Xuthus’ be­hav­ior, say that this is a comic scene” — which some­times oc­curs in Euripides’ tragedies. In any case, Ion says to Xuthus: If you con­tinue ha­rass­ing me, I’ll shoot an ar­row in your chest.” This is sim­i­lar toOedipus the King, where Oedipus does not know that Laius , King of Thebes , is his fa­ther. And he also mis­un­der­stands the na­ture of his en­counter with him; a quar­rel en­sues, and Laius is killed by Oedipus. But in Ion there is this re­ver­sal: Xuthus, King of Athens, does not know that Ion is not his son, and Ion does not know that Xuthus thinks that he is Ion’s fa­ther. So as a con­se­quence of Apollo’s lies we are in a world of de­cep­tion.

The sec­ond part of this scene con­cerns the mis­trust of Ion to­wards Xuthus. Xuthus tells Ion: Take it easy; if I want to kiss you, it is be­cause I am your fa­ther.” But rather than re­joic­ing at the dis­cov­ery of know­ing who his fa­ther is, Ion’s first ques­tion to Xuthus is: Who, then, is my mother?”. For some un­known rea­son, Ion’s prin­ci­ple con­cern is the knowl­edge of his moth­er’s iden­tity. But then he asks Xuthus: How can I be your son?” And Xuthus replies: I don’t know how; I re­fer you to the god Apollo for what he has said”. Ion then ut­ters a very in­ter­est­ing line which has been com­pletely mis­trans­lated in the French ver­sion.The Greek is [l.544]:
Φέρε λόγων άψώμεθ’ άλλων.
The French edi­tion trans­lates as : Come, let’s speak about some­thing else.” A more ac­cu­rate ren­di­tion might be: Let us try an­other kind of dis­course.” So in an­swer to Ion’s ques­tion of how he could be his son, Xuthus replies that he does not know, but was told as much by Apollo. And Ion tells him, in ef­fect, then let’s try an­other kind of dis­course more ca­pa­ble of telling the truth:

ION: How could I be yours?
XUTHUS: Apollo, not I, has the an­swer.
ION (after a pause): Let us try an­other tack
XUTHUS: Yes, that will help us more.

Abandoning the orac­u­lar for­mu­la­tion of the god, Xuthus and Ion take up an in­quiry in­volv­ing the ex­change of ques­tions and an­swers. As the in­quirer, Ion ques­tions Xuthus — his al­leged fa­ther — to try to dis­cover with whom, when, and how it was pos­si­ble for him to have a child such that Ion might be his son. And Xuthus an­swers him: Well, I think I had sex with a Delphian girl.” When? Before I was mar­ried to Creusa.” Where? Maybe in Delphi.” How? One day when I was drunk while cel­e­brat­ing the Dionysian torch feast.” And of course, as an ex­pla­na­tion of Ions birth, this en­tire train of thought is pure baloney; but they take this in­quis­i­tive method se­ri­ously, and try, as best they can, to dis­cover the truth by their own means — led as they are by Apollo’s lies. Following this in­quiry, Ion rather re­luc­tantly and un­en­thu­si­as­ti­cally ac­cepts Xuthus’ hy­poth­e­sis: he con­sid­ers him­self to be Xuthus’ son.

The third part of the par­rhe­si­as­tic scene be­tween Xuthus and Ion con­cerns Ion’s po­lit­i­cal des­tiny, and his po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal mis­for­tunes if he ar­rives in Athens as the son and heir of Xuthus . For af­ter per­suad­ing Ion that he is his son, Xuthus promises to bring Ion back to Athens where, as the son of a king, he would be rich and pow­er­ful. But Ion is not very en­thu­si­as­tic about this prospect; for he knows that he would be com­ing to Athens as the son of Xuthus (a for­eigner to Athenian earth), and with an un­known mother. And ac­cord­ing to Athenian leg­is­la­tion, one can­not be a reg­u­lar cit­i­zen in Athens if one is not the off­spring of par­ents both of whom were born in Athens. So Ion tells Xuthus that he would be con­sid­ered a for­eigner and a bas­tard, i.e., as a no­body. This anx­i­ety gives place to a long de­vel­op­ment which at first glance seems to be a di­gres­sion, but which pre­sents Euripides’ crit­i­cal por­trayal of Athenian po­lit­i­cal life: both in a democ­racy and con­cern­ing the po­lit­i­cal life of a monarch.

Ion ex­plains that in a democ­racy there are three cat­e­gories of cit­i­zens: (1) those Athenian cit­i­zens who have nei­ther power nor wealth, and who hate all who are su­pe­rior to them; (2) good Athenians who are ca­pa­ble of ex­er­cis­ing power, be­cause they are wise , they keep silent and do not worry about the po­lit­i­cal af­fairs of the city (3) those rep­utable men who are pow­er­ful, and use their dis­course and rea­son to par­tic­i­pate in pub­lic po­lit­i­cal life. Envisioning the re­ac­tions of these three groups to his ap­pear­ance in Athens as a for­eigner and a bas­tard, Ion says that the first group will hate him; the sec­ond group, the wise, will laugh at the young man who wishes to be re­garded as one of the First Citizens of Athens; and the last group, the politi­cians, will be jeal­ous of their new com­peti­tor and will try to get rid of him. So com­ing to a de­mo­c­ra­tic Athens is not a cheer­ful prospect for Ion.

Following this por­trayal of de­mo­c­ra­tic life, Ion speaks of the neg­a­tive as­pects of a fam­ily life- with a step­mother who, her­self child­less, would not ac­cept his- pres­ence as heir to the Athenian throne. But then Ion re­turns to the po­lit­i­cal pic­ture, giv­ing his por­trayal of the life of a monarch:

ION: …As for be­ing a king, it is over­rated. Royalty con­ceals a life of tor­ment be­hind a pleas­ant façade. To live in hourly fear, look­ing over your shoul­der for the as­sas­sins — is that par­adise? Is it even good for­tune? Give me the hap­pi­ness of a plain man, not the life of a king, who loves to fill his court with crim­i­nals, and hates hon­est men for fear of death. You may tell me the plea­sure of be­ing rich out­weighs every­thing. But to live sur­rounded by scan­dal, hold­ing on to your money with both hands, be­set by worry — has no ap­peal for me.

These two de­scrip­tions of Athenian de­mo­c­ra­tic life and the life of a monarch seem quite out of place in this scene, for Ion’s prob­lem is to dis­cover who his mother is so as to ar­rive in Athens with­out shame or anx­i­ety. We must find a rea­son for the in­clu­sion of these two por­tray­als.The play con­tin­ues and Xuthus tells Ion not to worry about his life in Athens, and for the time be­ing pro­poses that Ion pre­tend to be a vis­it­ing house­guest and not dis­close the fact” that he is Xuthus’ son. Later on, when a suit­able time ar­rives, Xuthus pro­poses to make Ion his in­her­i­tor; for now, noth­ing will be said to Creusa. Ion would like to come to Athens as the real suc­ces­sor to the sec­ond dy­nas­tic fam­ily of Erectheus, but what Xuthus pro­poses — for him to pre­tend to be a vis­i­tor to the city — does not ad­dress Ion’s real con­cerns. So the scene seems crazy, makes no sense. Nonetheless, Ion ac­cepts Xuthus’s pro­posal but claims that with­out know­ing who his mother is, life will be im­pos­si­ble:

ION: Yes, I will go. But one piece of good luck eludes me still: un­less I find my mother, my life is worth­less.

Why is it im­pos­si­ble for Ion to live with­out find­ing his mother? He con­tin­ues :

ION: … If I may do so, I pray my mother is Athenian, so that through her I may have rights of speech . For when a stranger comes into the city of pure blood, though in name a cit­i­zen, his mouth re­mains a slave: he has no right of speech.

So you see, Ion needs to know who his mother is so as to de­ter­mine whether she is de­scended from the Athenian earth; for only thus will he be en­dowed with par­rhe­sia. And he ex­plains that some­one who comes to Athens as a for­eigner — even if he is lit­er­ally and legally con­sid­ered a cit­i­zen — still can­not en­joy par­rhe­sia. What, then, does the seem­ingly di­gres­sive crit­i­cal por­trayal of de­mo­c­ra­tic and monar­chic life mean, cul­mi­nat­ing as they do in this fi­nal ref­er­ence to par­rhe­sia just when Ion ac­cepts Xuthus’ of­fer to re­turn with him to Athens — es­pe­cially given the rather ob­scure terms Xuthus pro­poses?

The di­gres­sive crit­i­cal por­tray­als Ion gives of democ­racy and monar­chy (or tyranny) are easy to rec­og­nize as typ­i­cal in­stances of par­rhe­si­as­tic dis­course. For you can find al­most ex­actly the same sorts of crit­i­cisms later on com­ing from Socrates’ mouth in the works of ei­ther Plato or Xenophon. Similar cri­tiques are given later by Isocrates. So the crit­i­cal de­pic­tion of de­mo­c­ra­tic and monar­chic life as pre­sented by Ion is part of the con­sti­tu­tional char­ac­ter of the par­rhe­si­as­tic in­di­vid­ual in Athenian po­lit­i­cal life at the end of the Fifth and the be­gin­ning of the Fourth Centuries. Ion is just such a par­rhe­si­astes, i.e., the sort in­di­vid­ual who is so valu­able to democ­racy or monar­chy since he is coura­geous enough to ex­plain ei­ther to the demos or to the king just what the short­com­ings of their life re­ally are. Ion is a par­rhe­si­as­tic in­di­vid­ual and shows him­self to be such both in these small di­gres­sive po­lit­i­cal cri­tiques, as well as af­ter­wards when he states that he needs to know whether his mother is an Athenian since he needs par­rhe­sia. For de­spite the fact that it is in the na­ture of his char­ac­ter to be a par­rhe­si­astes, he can­not legally or in­sti­tu­tion­ally use this nat­ural par­rhesla with which he is en­dowed if his mother is not Athenian. Parrhesia is thus not a right given equally to all Athenian cit­i­zens, but only to those who are es­pe­cially pres­ti­gious through their fam­ily and their birth. And Ion ap­pears as a man who is, by na­ture, a par­rhe­si­as­tic in­di­vid­ual, yet who is, at the same time, de­prived of the right of free speech.

And why is this par­rhe­si­as­tic fig­ure de­prived of his par­rhe­si­as­tic right? Because the god Apollo — the prophetic god who’s duty it is to speak the truth to mor­tals — is not coura­geous enough to dis­close his own faults and to act as a par­rhe­si­astes. In or­der for Ion to con­form to his na­ture and to play the par­rhe­si­as­tic role in Athens, some­thing more is needed which he lacks but which will be given to him by the other par­rhe­si­as­tic fig­ure in the play, viz., his mother, Creusa. And Creusa will be able to tell him the truth, thus free­ing her par­rhe­si­as­tic son to use his nat­ural par­rhe­sia.

4. Creusa’s Parrhesiastic Role

Creusa’s par­rhe­si­as­tic role in the play is quite dif­fer­ent from Ion’s; for as a woman, Creusa will not use par­rhe­sia to speak the truth about Athenian po­lit­i­cal life to the king, but rather to pub­licly ac­cuse Apollo for his mis­deeds.

For when Creusa is told by the Chorus that Xuthus alone has been given a son by Apollo, she re­al­izes that not only will she not find the son she is search­ing for, but also that when she re­turns to Athens she will have in her own home a step-son who is a for­eigner to the city, yet who will nonethe­less suc­ceed Xuthus as king. And for these two rea­sons she is in­fu­ri­ated not only against her hus­band, but es­pe­cially against Apollo. For af­ter be­ing raped by Apollo, and de­prived by him of her son, to learn that now she will also not have her ques­tions an­swered while Xuthus re­ceives a son from the god-this proves to be too much for her to take. And her bit­ter­ness, her de­spair, and her anger bursts forth in an ac­cu­sa­tion made against Apollo: she de­cides to speak the truth. Truth thus comes to light as an emo­tional re­ac­tion to the god’s in­jus­tice and his lies.

In Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, mor­tals do not ac­cept Apollo’s prophetic ut­ter­ances since their truth seems in­cred­i­ble; and yet they are led to the truth of the god’s words in spite of their ef­forts to es­cape the fate that has been, fore­told by him. In Euripides’ Ion, how­ever, mor­tals are led to the truth in the face of the gods lies or si­lence, in spite of the fact that they are de­ceived by Apollo. As a con­se­quence of Apollo’s lies, Creusa be­lieves that Ion is Xuthus’ nat­ural son. But in her emo­tional re­ac­tion to what she thinks is true, she ends by dis­clos­ing the truth.

Creusa’s main par­rhe­si­as­tic scene con­sists of two parts which dif­fer in their po­etic struc­ture and in the type of par­rhe­sia man­i­fested. The first part takes the form of a beau­ti­ful long speech — a tirade against Apollo — while the sec­ond part is in the form of a sti­chomythia, i.e., in­volves a di­a­logue be­tween Creusa and her ser­vant con­sist­ing of al­ter­nate lines, one af­ter the other.

First, the tirade. Creusa ap­pears at this mo­ment in front of the tem­ple steps ac­com­pa­nied by an old man who is a trusted ser­vant of the fam­ily (and who re­mains silent dur­ing Creusa’s speech). Creusa’s tirade against Apollo is that form of par­rhe­sia where some­one pub­licly ac­cuses an­other of a crime, or of a fault, or of an in­jus­tice that has been com­mit­ted. And this ac­cu­sa­tion is an in­stance of par­rhe­sia in­so­far as the one who is ac­cused is more pow­er­ful than the one who ac­cuses. For there is the dan­ger that be­cause of the ac­cu­sa­tion made, the ac­cused may re­tal­i­ate in some way against his or her ac­cuser. So Creusa’s par­rhe­sia first takes the form of a pub­lic re­proach or crit­i­cism against a be­ing to whom she is in­fe­rior in power, and upon whom she is in a re­la­tion of de­pen­dence. It is in this vul­ner­a­ble sit­u­a­tion that Creusa de­cides to make her ac­cu­sa­tion:

CREUSA: O my heart, how be silent? Yet how can I speak of that se­cret love, strip my­self of all shame? is one bar­rier left still to pre­vent me? Whom have I now as my ri­val in virtue? Has not my hus­band be­come my be­trayer? I am cheated of home, cheated of chil­dren, hopes are gone which I could not achieve, the hopes of ar­rang­ing things well by hid­ing the facts, by hid­ing the birth which brought sor­row. No! No! But I swear by the starry abode of Zeus, by the god­dess who reigns on our peaks and by the sa­cred shore of the lake of Tritonis, I will no longer con­ceal it: when I have put away the bur­den, my heart will be eas­ier. Tears fall from my eyes, and my spirit is sick, evilly plot­ted against by men and gods; I will ex­pose them, un­grate­ful be­tray­ers of women.

O you who give the seven-toned lyre a voice which rings out of the life­less, rus­tic horn the lovely sound of the Muses’ hymns, on you, Latona’s son, here in day­light I will lay blame. You came with hair flash­ing gold, as I gath­ered into my cloak flow­ers ablaze with their golden light. Clinging to my pale wrists as I cried for my moth­er’s help you led me to bed in a cave, a god and my lover, with no shame, sub­mit­ting to the Cyprian’s will. In mis­ery I bore you a son, whom in fear of my mother I placed in chat bed where you cru­elly forced me. Ah! He is lost now, snatched as food for birds, my son and yours; 0 lost! But you play the lyre, chant­ing your paens.

O hear me, son of Latona, who as­sign your proph­e­sies from the golden throne and the tem­ple at the earth’s cen­ter, I will pro­claim my words in your ears: you are an evil lover; though you owed no debt to my hus­band, you have set a son in his house. But my son, yes and yours, hard-hearted, is lost, car­ried away by birds, the cloches his mother put on him aban­doned. Delos hates you and the young lau­rel which grows by the palm with its del­i­cate leaves, where Latona bore you, a holy child, fruit of Zeus.

Regarding this tirade, I would like to em­pha­size the fol­low­ing three points: (1) As you can see, Creusa’s ac­cu­sa­tion is a pub­lic male­dic­tion against Apollo where, for ex­am­ple, the ref­er­ences to Apollo as Latona’s (Leto’s) son is meant to con­vey the thought that Apollo was a bas­tard: the son of Latona and Zeus . (2) There is also a clear metaphor­i­cal op­po­si­tion drawn be­tween Phoebus Apollo as the god of light with his golden bright­ness, who, at the same time, draws a young girl into the dark­ness of a cave to rape her, is the son of Latona — a di­vin­ity of the night, and so on. (3) And there is a con­trast drawn be­tween the mu­sic of Apollo, with his seven-chord lyre, and the cries and shouts of Creusa (who cries for help as Apollo’s vic­tim, and who also must, through her shout­ing male­dic­tion, speak the truth the god will not ut­ter). For Creusa de­liv­ers her ac­cu­sa­tions be­fore the Delphic tem­ple doors — which are closed. The di­vine voice is silent while Creusa pro­claims the truth her­self.

The sec­ond part of Creusa’s par­rhe­si­as­tic scene di­rectly fol­lows this tirade when her old ser­vant and guardian, who has heard all that she has said, takes up an in­ter­rog­a­tive in­quiry which is ex­actly sym­met­ri­cal to the sti­chomythic di­a­logue that oc­curred be­tween Ion and Xuthus. In the same way, Creusa’s ser­vant asks her to tell him her story while he asks her ques­tions such as when did these events hap­pen, where, how, and so on.

Two things are wor­thy of note about this ex­change. First, this in­ter­rog­a­tive in­quiry is the re­ver­sal of the orac­u­lar dis­clo­sure of truth. Apollo’s or­a­cle is usu­ally am­bigu­ous and ob­scure, never an­swers a set of pre­cise ques­tions di­rectly, and can­not pro­ceed as an in­quiry; whereas the method of ques­tion and an­swer brings the ob­scure to light. Secondly, Creusa’ s par­rhe­si­as­tic dis­course is now no longer an ac­cu­sa­tion di­rected to­wards Apollo, i.e., is no longer the ac­cu­sa­tion of a woman to­wards her rapist; but takes the form of a self-ac­cu­sa­tion where she re­veals her own faults, weak­nesses, mis­deeds; (exposing the child), and so forth. And Creusa con­fesses the events that tran­spired in a man­ner sim­i­lar to Phaedra’s con­fes­sion of love for Hippolytus. For like Phaedra, she also man­i­fests the same re­luc­tance to say every­thing, and man­ages to let her ser­vant pro­nounce those as­pects of her story which she does not want to con­fess di­rectly — em­ploy­ing a some­what in­di­rect con­fes­sional dis­course which is fa­mil­iar to every­one from Euripides’ Hippolytus or Racine’sPhaedra.

In any case, I think that Creusa’s truth-telling is what we could call an in­stance of per­sonal (as op­posed to po­lit­i­cal) par­rhe­sia. Ion’s Parrhesia takes the form of truth­ful po­lit­i­cal crit­i­cism, while Creusa’s par­rhe­sia takes the form of a truth­ful ac­cu­sa­tion against an­other more pow­er­ful than she, and as a con­fes­sion of the truth about her­self.

It is the com­bi­na­tion of the par­rhe­si­as­tic fig­ures of Ion and Creusa which makes pos­si­ble the full dis­clo­sure of truth at the end of the play. For fol­low­ing Creusa’s par­rhe­si­as­tic scene, no one ex­cept the god knows that the son Creusa had with Apollo is Ion, just as Ion does not know that Creusa is his mother and that he is not Xuthus’ son. Yet to com­bine the two par­rhe­si­as­tic dis­courses re­quires a num­ber of other episodes which, un­for­tu­nately, we have no time now to an­a­lyze. For ex­am­ple, there is the very in­ter­est­ing episode where Creusa — still be­liev­ing that Ion is Xuthus’ nat­ural son — tries to kill Ion; and when Ion dis­cov­ers this plot, he tries to kill Creusa — a pe­cu­liar re­ver­sal of the Oedipal sit­u­a­tion.

Regarding the schema we out­lined, how­ever, we can now see that the se­ries of truths de­scended from Athens (Erectheus-Creusa-Ion) is com­plete at the end of the play. Xuthus, also, is de­ceived by Apollo to the end, for he re­turns to Athens still be­liev­ing Ion is his nat­ural son. And Apollo never ap­pears any­where in the play: he con­tin­u­ally re­mains silent.

Orestes [408 B.C.]

A fi­nal oc­cur­rence of the word parrhesia” can be found in Euripides’ Orestes — a play writ­ten, or at least per­formed, in 408 BC, just a few Years be­fore Euripides’ death, and at a mo­ment of po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in Athens when there were nu­mer­ous de­bates about the de­mo­c­ra­tic regime. This text is in­ter­est­ing be­cause it is the only pas­sage in Euripides where the word parrhesia” is used in a pe­jo­ra­tive sense. The word oc­curs on line 905 and is trans­lated here as ignorant out­spo­ken­ness. The text in the play where the word ap­pears is in the nar­ra­tive of a mes­sen­ger who has come to the royal palace at Argos to tell Electra what has hap­pened in the Pelasgian court at Orestes’ trial. For, as you know from Electra, Orestes and Electra have killed their mother, Clytemnestra, and thus are on trial for ma­t­ri­cide. The nar­ra­tive I wish to quote reads as fol­lows:

MESSENGER: … When the full roll of cit­i­zens was pre­sent, a her­ald stood up and said Who wishes to ad­dress the court, to say whether or not Orestes ought to die for ma­t­ri­cide?” At this Talthybius rose, who was your fa­ther’s col­league in the vic­tory over Troy. Always sub­servient to those in power, he made an am­bigu­ous speech, with ful­some praise of Agamemnon and cold words for your brother, twist­ing eu­logy and cen­sure both to­gether — lay­ing down a law use­less to par­ents; and with every sen­tence gave in­gra­ti­at­ing glances to­wards Aegisthus’ friends. Heralds are like that — their whole race have learnt to jump to the win­ning side; their friend is any­one who has power or a gov­ern­ment of­fice. Prince Diomedes spoke up next. He urged them not to sen­tence ei­ther you or your brother to death, but sat­isfy piety by ban­ish­ing you. Some shouted in ap­proval; oth­ers dis­agreed.

Next there stood up a man with a mouth like a run­ning spring, a gi­ant in im­pu­dence, an en­rolled cit­i­zen, yet no Argive; a mere cat’s-paw; putting his con­fi­dence in blus­ter and ig­no­rant out­spo­ken­ness, and still per­sua­sive enough to lead his hear­ers into trou­ble. He said you and Orestes should be killed with stones; yet, as he ar­gued for your death, the words he used were not his own, but all prompted by Tyndareos.

Another rose, and spoke against him — one en­dowed with lit­tle beauty, but a coura­geous man; the sort not of­ten found mix­ing in street or mar­ket-place, a man­ual labourer — the sole back­bone of the land; shrewd, when he chose, to come to grips in ar­gu­ment; a man of blame­less prin­ci­ple and in­tegrity.

He said, Orestes son of Agamemnon should be hon­ored with crowns for dar­ing to avenge his fa­ther by tak­ing a de­praved and god­less wom­an’s life — one who cor­rupted cus­tom; since no man would leave his home, and arm him­self, and march to war, if wives left there in trust could be se­duced by stay-at-homes, and brave men cuck­olded. His words seemed sen­si­ble to hon­est judges; and there were no more speeches.

As you can see, the nar­ra­tive starts with a ref­er­ence to the Athenian pro­ce­dure for crim­i­nal tri­als: when all the cit­i­zens are pre­sent, a her­ald rises and cries: Who wishes to speak?” For that is the Athenian right of equal speech (isegoria) .Two or­a­tors then speak, both of whom are bor­rowed from Greek mythol­ogy, from the Homeric world. The first speaker is Talthybius, who was one of Agamemnon’s com­pan­ions dur­ing the war against the Trojans — specif­i­cally, his her­ald. Talthybius is fol­lowed by Diomedes — one of the most fa­mous Greek he­roes, known for his un­matched courage, brav­ery, skill in bat­tle, phys­i­cal strength, and elo­quence.

The mes­sen­ger char­ac­ter­izes Talthybius as some­one who is not com­pletely free, but de­pen­dent upon those more pow­er­ful than he is. The Greek text states that he is under the power of the pow­er­ful” (“subservient to those in power”). There are two other plays where Euripides crit­i­cizes this type of hu­man be­ing, the her­ald. In The Women of Troy, the very same Talthybius ap­pears af­ter the city of Troy has been cap­tured by the Greek army to tell Cassandra that she is to be the con­cu­bine of Agamemnon. Cassandra gives her re­ply to the her­ald’s news by pre­dict­ing that she will bring ruin to her en­e­mies. And, as you know, Cassandra’s prophe­cies are al­ways true. Talthybius, how­ever, does not be­lieve her pre­dic­tions. Since, as a her­ald, he does not know what is true (he is un­able to rec­og­nize the truth of Cassandra’s ut­ter­ances), but merely re­peats what his mas­ter — Agamemnon — tells him to say, he thinks that Cassandra is sim­ply mad; for he tells her: your mind is not in the right place” (“you’re not in your right mind”). And to this Cassandra an­swers:

CASSANDRA: Servant”! You hear this ser­vant? He’s a her­ald. What are her­alds, then, but crea­tures uni­ver­sally loathed — lack­eys and me­nials to gov­ern­ments and kings? You say my mother is des­tined for Odysseus’ home: what then of Apollo’s or­a­cles, spelt out to me, that she shall die here ?

And in fact, Cassandra’s mother, Hecuba, dies in Troy.

In Euripides’ The Suppliant Women, there is also a dis­cus­sion be­tween an un­named her­ald (who comes from Thebes) and Theseus (who is not ex­actly the king, but the First Citizen of Athens). When the her­ald en­ters he asks, Who is the King in Athens?” And Theseus tells him that he will not be able to find the Athenian king since there is no tyran­nos in the city:

THESEUS: … This state is not sub­ject to one man’s will, but is a free city. The king here is the peo­ple, who by yearly of­fice gov­ern in turn. We give no spe­cial power to wealth; the poor man’s voice com­mands equal au­thor­ity.

This sets off an ar­gu­men­ta­tive dis­cus­sion about which form of gov­ern­ment is best: monar­chy or democ­racy ? The her­ald praises the monar­chic regime, and crit­i­cizes democ­racy as sub­ject to the whims of the rab­ble. Theseus’ re­ply is in praise of the Athenian democ­racy where, be­cause the laws are writ­ten down, the poor and rich have equal rights, and where every­one is free to speak in the ekkle­sia:

THESEUS: … Freedom lives in this for­mula: Who has good coun­sel which he would of­fer to the city?” He who de­sires to speak wins fame; he who does not is silent. Where could greater equal­ity be found ?

The free­dom to speak is thus syn­ony­mous with de­mo­c­ra­tic equal­ity in Theseus’ eyes, which he cites in op­po­si­tion to the her­ald — the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of tyran­ni­cal power.

Since free­dom re­sides in the free­dom to speak the truth, Talthybius can­not speak di­rectly and frankly at Orestes’ trial since he is not free, but de­pen­dent upon those who are more pow­er­ful than he is. Consequently, he speaks am­bigu­ously”, uti­liz­ing a dis­course which means two op­po­site things at the same time. So we see him prais­ing Agamemnon (for he was Agamemnon’s her­ald), but also con­demn­ing Agamemnon’s son Orestes (since he does not ap­prove of his ac­tions) . Fearful of the power of both fac­tions, and there­fore wish­ing to please every­body, he speaks two-facedly; but since Aegisthus’ friends have come to power, and are call­ing for Orestes’ death (Aegisthus, you re­mem­ber from Electra, was also killed by Orestes), in the end Talthybius con­demns Orestes.

Following this neg­a­tive mytho­log­i­cal char­ac­ter is a pos­i­tive one: Diomedes. Diomedes was fa­mous as a Greek war­rior both for his coura­geous ex­ploits and for his no­ble elo­quence: his skill in speak­ing, and his wis­dom. Unlike Talthybius, Diomedes is in­de­pen­dent; he says what he thinks, and pro­poses a mod­er­ate so­lu­tion which has no po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tion: it is not a re­venge­ful re­tal­i­a­tion. On re­li­gious grounds, to sat­isfy piety”, he urges that Orestes and Electra be ex­iled to pu­rify the coun­try of Clytemnestra’s and Aegisthus’ deaths ac­cord­ing to the tra­di­tional re­li­gious pun­ish­ment for mur­der. But de­spite Diomedes’ mod­er­ate and rea­son­able ver­dict, his opin­ion di­vides the as­sem­bly: same agree, oth­ers dis­agree.

We then have two other speak­ers who pre­sent them­selves. Their names are not given, they do not be­long to the mytho­log­i­cal world of Homer, they are not he­roes; but from the pre­cise de­scrip­tion which the re­port­ing mes­sen­ger gives of them, we can see that they are two social types”. The first one (who is sym­met­ri­cal to Talthybius, the bad or­a­tor) is the sort of or­a­tor who is so harm­ful for a democ­racy. And I think we should de­ter­mine care­fully his spe­cific char­ac­ter­is­tics.

His first trait is that he has a mouth like a run­ning spring” — which trans­lates the Greek word athuroglossos” . Athuroglossos” lit­er­ally refers to some­one who has a tongue but not a door. Hence it im­plies some­one who can­not shut his or her mouth.

The metaphor of the mouth, teeth, and lips as a door that is closed when one is silent is a fre­quent one in an­cient Greek lit­er­a­ture. It oc­curs in the Sixth Century BC, in Theognis’ Elegies who writes that there are too many gar­ru­lous peo­ple:

Too many tongues have gates which fly apart
Too eas­ily, and care for many things
That don’t con­cern them. Better to keep bad news
Indoors, and only let the good news out

In the Second Century AD, in his es­say Concerning Talkativeness”, Plutarch also writes that the teeth are a fence or gate such that if the tongue does not obey or re­strain it­self, we may check its in­con­ti­nence by bit­ing it till it bleeds.”

This no­tion of be­ing athuroglos­sos, or of be­ing athurosto­mia (one who has a mouth with­out a door), refers to some­one who is an end­less bab­bler, who can­not keep quiet, and is prone to say what­ever comes to mind. Plutarch com­pares the talk­a­tive­ness of such peo­ple with the Black Sea — which has nei­ther doors nor gates to im­pede the flow of its wa­ters into the Mediterranean:

… those who be­lieve that store­rooms with­out doors and purses with­out fas­ten­ings are of no use to their own­ers, yet keep their mouths with­out lock or door, main­tain­ing as per­pet­ual an out­flow as the mouth of the Black Sea, ap­pear to re­gard speech as the least valu­able of all things. They do not, there­fore, meet with be­lief, which is the ob­ject of all speech.

As you can see, athuroglos­sos is char­ac­ter­ized by the fol­low­ing two traits: (1) When you have a mouth like a run­ning spring,” you can­not dis­tin­guish those oc­ca­sions when you should speak from those when you should re­main silent; or that which must be said from that which must re­main un­said; or the cir­cum­stances and sit­u­a­tions where speech is re­quired from those where one ought to re­main silent. Thus Theognis states that gar­ru­lous peo­ple are un­able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate when one should give voice to good or bad news, or how to de­mar­cate their own from other peo­ples af­fairs — since they in­dis­creetly in­ter­vene in the cares of oth­ers. (2) As Plutarch notes, when you are athuroglos­sos you have no re­gard for the value of lo­gos, for ra­tio­nal dis­course as a means of gain­ing ac­cess to truth. Athuroglossos is thus al­most syn­ony­mous with par­rhe­sia taken in its pe­jo­ra­tive sense, and ex­actly the op­po­site of par­rhe­si­a’s pos­i­tive sense (since it is a sign of wis­dom to be able to use par­rhe­sia with­out falling into the gar­ru­lous­ness of athuroglos­sos). One of the prob­lems which the par­rhe­si­as­tic char­ac­ter must re­solve, then, is how to dis­tin­guish that which must be said from that which should be kept silent. For not every­one can draw such a dis­tinc­tion, as the fol­low­ing ex­am­ple il­lus­trates.

In his trea­tise The Education of Children”, Plutarch gives an anec­dote of Theocritus, a sophist, as an ex­am­ple of athuroglos­sos and of the mis­for­tunes in­curred by in­tem­per­ate speech. The king of the Macedonians, Antigonus, sent a mes­sen­ger to Theocritus ask­ing him to come to his court to en­gage in dis­cus­sion. And it so hap­pened that the mes­sen­ger he sent was his chief cook, Eutropian. King Antigonus had also lost an eye in bat­tle, so he was one-eyed. Now Theocritus was not pleased to hear from Eutropian, the king’s cock, that he had to go and visit Antigonus; so he said to the cook: I know very well that you want to serve me up raw to your Cyclops” — thus sub­ject­ing the king’s dis­fig­ure­ment and Eutropian’s pro­fes­sion to ridicule. To which the cook replied: Then you shall not keep your head on, but you shall pay the penalty for reck­less talk [athurostomia] and mad­ness of yours.” And when Eutropian re­ported Theocritus re­mark to the king, he sent and had Theocritus put to death.

As we shall see in the case of Diogenes, a re­ally fine and coura­geous philoso­pher can use par­rhe­sia to­wards a king; how­ever, in Theocritus’ case, his frank­ness is not par­rhe­sia but athurosto­mia since to joke about a king’s dis­fig­ure­ment or a cook’s pro­fes­sion has no note­wor­thy philo­soph­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. Athuro-glossos or athurosto­mia, then, is the first trait of the third or­a­tor in the nar­ra­tion of Orestes’ trial.

His sec­ond trait is that he is ίσχύων θράσει” a gi­ant in im­pu­dence”. The word ίσχύων” de­notes some­one’s strength, usu­ally the phys­i­cal strength which en­ables one to over­come oth­ers in com­pe­ti­tion. So this speaker is strong, but he is strong θράσει” — which means strong not be­cause of his rea­son, or his rhetor­i­cal abil­ity to speak, or his abil­ity to pro­nounce the truth, but only be­cause he is ar­ro­gant. He is strong only by his bold ar­ro­gance.

A third char­ac­ter­is­tic: an en­rolled cit­i­zen, yet no Argive.” He is not na­tive to Argos, but comes from else­where and has been in­te­grated into the city. The ex­pres­sion ήναγκ-ασμένος” refers to some­one who has been im­posed upon the mem­bers of the city as a cit­i­zen by force or by dis­hon­or­able means [What gets trans­lated as a mere cat’s paw”].

His fourth trait is given by the phrase putting is con­fi­dence in blus­ter”. He is con­fi­dent in thorubos”, which refers to the noise made by a strong voice, by a scream, a clamor, or up­roar. When, for in­stance, in bat­tle, the sol­diers scream in or­der to bring forth their own courage or to frighten the en­emy, the Greeks used the word thorubos”. Or the tu­mul­tuous noise of a crowded as­sem­bly when the peo­ple shouted was called thorubos”. So the third or­a­tor is not con­fi­dent in his abil­ity to for­mu­late ar­tic­u­late dis­course, but only in his abil­ity to gen­er­ate an emo­tional re­ac­tion from his au­di­ence by his strong and loud voice. This di­rect re­la­tion­ship be­tween the voice and the emo­tional ef­fect it pro­duces on the ekklésia is thus op­posed to the ra­tio­nal sense of ar­tic­u­late speech.

The fi­nal char­ac­ter­is­tic of the third (negative) speaker is that he also puts his con­fi­dence in κάμθει παρρησία” — ignorant out­spo­ken­ness [parrhesia].” The phrase κάμθει παρρησία” re­peats the ex­pres­sion athuroglossos”, but with its po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions. For al­though this speaker has been im­posed upon the cit­i­zenry, he nonethe­less pos­sesses par­rhèsia as a for­mal civic right guar­an­teed by the Athenian con­sti­tu­tion. What des­ig­nates his par­rhe­sia as par­rhe­sia in its pe­jo­ra­tive or neg­a­tive sense, how­ever, is that it lacks math­ê­sis — learn­ing or wis­dom. In or­der for par­rhe­sia to have pos­i­tive po­lit­i­cal ef­fects, it must now be linked to a good ed­u­ca­tion, to in­tel­lec­tual and moral for­ma­tion, to paideia or math­e­sis. Only then will par­rhe­sia be more than tho­ru­bos or sheer vo­cal noise. For when speak­ers use par­rhe­sia with­out math­e­sis, when they use κάμθει παρρησία”, the city is led into ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tions.

You may re­call a sim­i­lar re­mark of Plato’s, in his Seventh Letter [336b], con­cern­ing the lack of math­e­sis. For there Plato ex­plains that Dion was not able to suc­ceed with his en­ter­prise in Sicily (viz., to re­al­ize in Dionysius both a ruler of a great city and a philoso­pher de­voted to rea­son and jus­tice) for two rea­sons. The first is that some dai­mon or evil spirit may have been jeal­ous and wanted vengeance. And sec­ondly, Plato ex­plains that ig­no­rance broke out in Sicily. And of ig­no­rance Plato says that it is the soil in which all man­ner of evil to all men takes root and flour­ishes and later pro­duces a fruit most bit­ter for those who sowed it”.

The char­ac­ter­is­tics, then, of the third speaker — a cer­tain so­cial type em­ploys par­rhe­sia in its pe­jo­ra­tive sense — are these: he is vi­o­lent, pas­sion­ate, a for­eigner to the city, lack­ing in math­e­sis, and there­fore dan­ger­ous.

And now we come to the fourth, and fi­nal speaker at Orestes’ trial. He is anal­o­gous to Diomedes: what Diomedes was in the Homeric world, this last or­a­tor is in the po­lit­i­cal world of Argos. An ex­em­pli­fi­ca­tion of the pos­i­tive par­rhe­si­astes as a social type”, he has the fol­low­ing traits.

The first is that he is one en­dowed with lit­tle beauty, but a coura­geous man”. Unlike a woman, he is not fair to look at, but a manly man”, i.e., a coura­geous man. For the Greeks, the courage is a vir­ile qual­ity which women were said not to pos­sess.

Secondly, he is the sort not of­ten found mix­ing in street or mar­ket­place. So this rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pos­i­tive use of par­rhe­sia is not the sort of pro­fes­sional politi­cian who spends most of his time in the agora — the place where the peo­ple, the as­sem­bly, met for po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion and de­bate. Nor is he one of those poor per­sons who, with­out any other means to live by, would come to the agora in or­der to re­ceive the sums of money given to those tak­ing part in the ekklêsia. He takes part in the as­sem­bly only to par­tic­i­pate in im­por­tant de­ci­sions at crit­i­cal mo­ments. He does not live off of pol­i­tics for pol­i­tics’ sake.

Thirdly, he is an autourgos” — a man­ual labourer” The word autourgos’ refers to some­one who works his own land. The word de­notes spe­cific so­cial cat­e­gory — nei­ther the great land-owner nor the peas­ant, but the landowner who lives and works with his own hands on his own es­tate, oc­ca­sion­ally with the help of a few ser­vants or slaves. Such landown­ers — who spent most of their time work­ing the fields and su­per­vis­ing the work of their ser­vants — were highly praised by Xenophon in his Oeconomicus. What is most in­ter­est­ing in Orestes is that Euripides em­pha­sizes the po­lit­i­cal com­pe­tence of such landown­ers by men­tion­ing three as­pects of their char­ac­ter.

The first is that they are al­ways will­ing to march to war and fight for the city, which they do bet­ter than any­one else. Of course, Euripides does not give any ra­tio­nal ex­pla­na­tion of why this should be so; but if we re­fer to Xenophon’sOeconomicus where the au­tour­gos is de­picted, there are a num­ber of rea­sons given. A ma­jor ex­pla­na­tion is that the landowner who works his own land is, nat­u­rally, very in­ter­ested in the de­fense and pro­tec­tion of the lands of the coun­try — un­like the shop­keep­ers and the peo­ple liv­ing in the city who do not own their own land, and hence do not care as much if the en­emy pil­lages the coun­try­side. But those who work as farm­ers sim­ply can­not tol­er­ate the thought that the en­emy might rav­age the farms, burn the crops, kill the flocks and herds, and so on; and hence they make good fight­ers.

Secondly, the au­tour­gos is able to come to grips in ar­gu­ment” i.e., is able to use lan­guage to pro­pose good ad­vice for the city. As Xenophon ex­plains, such landown­ers are used to giv­ing or­ders to their ser­vants, and mak­ing de­ci­sions about what must be done in var­i­ous cir­cum­stances. So not only are they good sol­diers, they also make good lead­ers. Hence when they do speak to the ekklésia, they do not use tho­ru­bos; but what they say is im­por­tant, rea­son­able, and con­sti­tutes good ad­vice.

In ad­di­tion, the last or­a­tor is a man of moral in­tegrity: a man of blame­less prin­ci­ple and in­tegrity”.

A fi­nal point about the au­tour­gos is this: whereas the pre­vi­ous speaker wanted Electra and Orestes to be put to death by ston­ing, not only does this landowner call for Orestes’ ac­quit­tal, he be­lieves Orestes should be honored with crowns” for what he has done. To un­der­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of the au­tour­gos’ state­ment, we need to re­al­ize that what is at is­sue in Orestes’ trial for the Athenian au­di­ence — liv­ing in the midst of the Peloponnesian war — is the ques­tion of war or peace: will the de­ci­sion con­cern­ing Orestes be an ag­gres­sive one that will in­sti­tute the con­tin­u­a­tion of hos­til­i­ties, as in war, or will the de­ci­sion in­sti­tute peace? The au­tour­gos’ pro­posal of an ac­quit­tal sym­bol­izes the will for peace. But he also states that Orestes should be crowned for killing Clytemnestra since no man would leave his home, and arm him­self, and march to war, if wives left there in trust could be se­duced by stay-at-homes, and brave men cuck­olded”. We must re­mem­ber that Agamemnon was mur­dered by Aegisthus just af­ter he re­turned home from the Trojan War; for while he was fight­ing the en­emy away from home, Clytemnestra was liv­ing in adul­tery with Aegisthus.

And now we can see the pre­cise his­tor­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal con­text for this scene. The year of the play’s pro­duc­tion is 408 B.C., a time when the com­pe­ti­tion be­tween Athens and Sparta in the Peloponnesian war was still very sharp. The two cities have been fight­ing now for twenty-three long years, with short in­ter­mit­tent pe­ri­ods of truce. Athens in 408 B.C., fol­low­ing sev­eral bit­ter and ru­inous de­feats in 413, had re­cov­ered some of its naval power. But on land the sit­u­a­tion was not good, and Athens was vul­ner­a­ble to Spartan in­va­sion. Nonetheless, Sparta made sev­eral of­fers of Peace to Athens so that the is­sue of con­tin­u­ing the war or mak­ing peace was ve­he­mently dis­cussed.

In Athens the de­mo­c­ra­tic party was in fa­vor of war for eco­nomic rea­sons which are quite clear; for the party was gen­er­ally sup­ported by mer­chants, shop-keep­ers, busi­ness­men, and those who were in­ter­ested in the im­pe­ri­al­is­tic ex­pan­sion of Athens. The con­ser­v­a­tive aris­to­cratic party was in fa­vor of peace since they gained their sup­port from the landown­ers and oth­ers who wanted a peace­ful co-ex­is­tence with Sparta, as well as an Athenian con­sti­tu­tion which was closer, in some re­spects, to the Spartan con­sti­tu­tion.

The leader of the de­mo­c­ra­tic party was Cleophon — who was not na­tive to Athens, but a for­eigner who reg­is­tered as a cit­i­zen. A skill­ful and in­flu­en­tial speaker, he was in­fa­mously por­trayed in his life by his own con­tem­po­raries (for ex­am­ple, it was said he was not coura­geous enough to be­come a sol­dier, that he ap­par­ently played the pas­sive role in his sex­ual re­la­tions with other men, and so on) . So you see that all of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the third or­a­tor, the neg­a­tive par­rhe­si­astes, can be at­trib­uted to Cleophon .

The leader of the con­ser­v­a­tive party was Theramenes — who wanted to re­turn to a Sixth-Century Athenian con­sti­tu­tion that would in­sti­tute a mod­er­ate oli­garchy. Following his pro­posal, the main civil and po­lit­i­cal rights would have been re­served for the landown­ers. The traits of the au­tour­gos, the pos­i­tive par­rhe­si­astes, thus cor­re­spond to Theramenes.

So one of the is­sues clearly pre­sent in Orestes’ trial is the ques­tion that was then be­ing de­bated by the de­mo­c­ra­tic and con­ser­v­a­tive par­ties about whether Athens should con­tinue the war with Sparta, or opt for peace.

The prob­lema­ti­za­tion of par­rhe­sia in Euripides

In Euripides’ Ion, writ­ten ten years ear­lier than Orestes, around 418 B.C., par­rhe­sia was pre­sented as hav­ing only a pos­i­tive sense or value. And, as we saw, it was both the free­dom to speak one’s mind, and a priv­i­lege con­ferred on the first cit­i­zens of Athens — a priv­i­lege which Ion wished to en­joy. The par­rhe­si­astes spoke the truth pre­cisely be­cause he was a good cit­i­zen, was well-born, had a re­spect­ful re­la­tion to the city, to the law, and to truth. And for Ion, the prob­lem was that in or­der for him to as­sume the par­rhe­si­as­tic role which came nat­u­rally to him, the truth about his birth had to be dis­closed. But be­cause Apollo did not wish to re­veal this truth, Creusa had to dis­close his birth by us­ing par­rhe­sia against the god in a pub­lic ac­cu­sa­tion. And thus Ion’s par­rhe­sia was es­tab­lished, was grounded in Athenian soil, in the game be­tween the gods and mor­tals. So there was no problematization” of the par­rhe­si­astes as such within this first con­cep­tion.

In Orestes, how­ever, there is a split within par­rhe­sia it­self be­tween its pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive senses; and the prob­lem of par­rhe­sia oc­curs solely within the field of hu­man par­rhe­si­as­tic roles. This cri­sis of the func­tion of par­rhe­sia has two ma­jor as­pects.

The first con­cerns the ques­tion: who is en­ti­tled to use par­rhe­sia?” Is it enough sim­ply to ac­cept par­rhe­sia as a civil right such that any and every cit­i­zen can speak in the as­sem­bly if and when he or she wishes? or should par­rhe­sia be ex­clu­sively granted to some cit­i­zens only, ac­cord­ing to their so­cial sta­tus or per­sonal virtues? There is a dis­crep­ancy be­tween an egal­i­tar­ian sys­tem which en­ables every­one to use par­rhe­sia, and the ne­ces­sity of choos­ing among the cit­i­zenry those who are able (because of their so­cial or per­sonal qual­i­ties) to use par­rhe­sia in such a way that it truly ben­e­fits the city. And this dis­crep­ancy gen­er­ates the emer­gence of par­rhe­sia as a prob­lem­atic is­sue. For un­like isono­mia (the equal­ity of all cit­i­zens in front of the law) and isego­ria (the le­gal right given to every­one to speak his or her own opin­ion), par­rhe­sia was not clearly de­fined in in­sti­tu­tional terms. There was no law, for ex­am­ple, pro­tect­ing the par­rhe­si­astes from po­ten­tial re­tal­i­a­tion or pun­ish­ment for what he or she said. And thus there was also a prob­lem in the re­la­tion be­tween nomos and aletheia: how is it pos­si­ble to give le­gal form to some­one who re­lates to truth? There are for­mal laws of valid rea­son­ing, but no so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, or in­sti­tu­tional laws de­ter­min­ing who is able to speak the truth.

The sec­ond as­pect of the cri­sis con­cern­ing the func­tion of par­rhe­sia has to do with the re­la­tion of par­rhe­sia to math­e­sis, to knowl­edge and ed­u­ca­tion — which means that par­rhe­sia in and of it­self is no longer con­sid­ered ad­e­quate to dis­close the truth. The par­rhe­si­astes’ re­la­tion to truth can no longer sim­ply be es­tab­lished by pure frank­ness or sheer courage, for the re­la­tion now re­quires ed­u­ca­tion or, more gen­er­ally, some sort of per­sonal for­ma­tion. But the pre­cise sort of per­sonal for­ma­tion or ed­u­ca­tion needed is also an is­sue (and is con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous with the prob­lem of sophistry). In Orestes, it seems more likely that the math­e­sis re­quired is not that of the Socratic or Platonic con­cep­tion, but the kind of ex­pe­ri­ence that an au­tour­gos would get through his own life.

And now I think we can be­gin to see that the cri­sis re­gard­ing par­rhe­sia is a prob­lem of truth: for the prob­lem is one of rec­og­niz­ing who is ca­pa­ble of speak­ing the truth within the lim­its of an in­sti­tu­tional sys­tem where every­one is equally en­ti­tled to give his or her own opin­ion. Democracy by it­self is not able to de­ter­mine who has the spe­cific qual­i­ties which en­able him or her to speak the truth (and thus should pos­sess the right to tell the truth). And par­rhe­sia, as a ver­bal ac­tiv­ity, as pure frank­ness in speak­ing, is also not suf­fi­cient to dis­close truth since neg­a­tive par­rhe­sia, ig­no­rant out­spo­ken­ness, can also re­sult.

The cri­sis of par­rhe­sia, which emerges at the cross­roads of an in­ter­ro­ga­tion about democ­racy and an in­ter­ro­ga­tion about truth, gives rise to a prob­lema­ti­za­tion of some hith­erto un­prob­lem­atic re­la­tions be­tween free­dom, power, democ­racy, ed­u­ca­tion, and truth in Athens at the end of the Fifth Century. From the pre­vi­ous prob­lem of gain­ing ac­cess to par­rhe­sia in spite of the si­lence of god, we move to a prob­lema­ti­za­tion of par­rhe­sia, i.e., par­rhe­sia it­self be­comes prob­lem­atic, split within it­self.

I do not wish to im­ply that par­rhe­sia, as an ex­plicit no­tion, emerges at this mo­ment of cri­sis — as if the Greeks did not have any co­her­ent idea of the free­dom of speech pre­vi­ously, or of the value of free speech. What I mean is that there is a new prob­lema­ti­za­tion of the re­la­tions be­tween ver­bal ac­tiv­ity, ed­u­ca­tion, free­dom, power, and the ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions which marks a cri­sis in the way free­dom of speech is un­der­stood in Athens. And this prob­lema­ti­za­tion de­mands a new way of tak­ing care of and ask­ing ques­tions about these re­la­tions.

I em­pha­size this point for at least the fol­low­ing method­olog­i­cal rea­son. I would like to dis­tin­guish be­tween the history of ideas” and the history of thought”. Most of the time a his­to­rian of ideas tries to de­ter­mine when a spe­cific con­cept ap­pears, and this mo­ment is of­ten iden­ti­fied by the ap­pear­ance of a new word. But what I am at­tempt­ing to do as a his­to­rian of thought is some­thing dif­fer­ent. I am try­ing to an­a­lyze the way in­sti­tu­tions, prac­tices, habits, and be­hav­ior be­come a prob­lem for peo­ple who be­have in spe­cific sorts of ways, who have cer­tain types of habits, who en­gage in cer­tain kinds of prac­tices, and who put to work spe­cific kinds of in­sti­tu­tions. The his­tory of ideas in­volves the analy­sis of a no­tion from its birth, through its de­vel­op­ment, and in the set­ting of other ideas which con­sti­tute its con­text. The his­tory of thought is the analy­sis of the way an un­prob­lem­atic field of ex­pe­ri­ence, or a set of prac­tices which were ac­cepted with­out ques­tion, which were fa­mil­iar and out of dis­cus­sion, be­comes a prob­lem, raises dis­cus­sion and de­bate, in­cites new re­ac­tions, and in­duces a cri­sis in the pre­vi­ously silent be­hav­ior, habits, prac­tices, and in­sti­tu­tions. The his­tory of thought, un­der­stood in this way, is the his­tory of the way peo­ple be­gin to take care of some­thing, of the way they be­came anx­ious about this or that — for ex­am­ple, about mad­ness, about crime, about sex, about them­selves, or about truth.