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:
||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 Ion‘s 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.