Literature Study GuidesAgainst Eratosthenes

Against Eratosthenes | Study Guide


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Year Published

403 BCE


Primary Source



At a Glance

  • Lysias (445–c. 380 BCE) was born in Athens as the son of a wealthy owner of a shield factory. He lived in the city-state of Athens with his brother Polemarchus.
  • Lysias was a type of professional speechwriter called a logographer. Lysias's father was born in the ancient city of Syracuse in modern-day Italy and was a foreigner living in Ancient Greece. Lysias and Polemarchus were metics despite being born in Athens. Metics had some rights of citizenship but were not citizens.
  • Athens and its rival city-state of Sparta fought each other in the Peloponnesian War (431–405 BCE). Athens lost the war and this defeat left the city-state in chaos. In 403 BCE an oligarchy of thirty pro-Spartan rulers known as the Thirty Tyrants ruled Athens. The Thirty Tyrants destroyed Athenian democracy, stripped citizens of rights, stole wealth, and murdered people.
  • Lysias and his brother were very wealthy. They supported democracy and opposed the rule of the Thirty Tyrants. This attracted the attention of the Thirty Tyrants, who then seized Lysias and Polemarchus. Lysias was able to escape but Polemarchus was not so lucky. The Thirty Tyrants arrested Polemarchus and forced him to drink the poison hemlock which killed him.
  • Later that year (403 BCE) Athenians overthrew the Thirty Tyrants. The Athenian government gave the Thirty Tyrants pardons for all their crimes except for murder. Athens held trials against members of Thirty Tyrants who were accused of murder. Many historians believe that Lysias delivered his speech "Against Eratosthenes" at Eratosthenes's trial.
  • During the trial, Lysias's argument against Erathosthenes was effective because his narrative showed that the Thirty Tyrants were corrupt both individually and as a whole. Lysias's speech was also effective because he cross-examined Eratosthenes.
  • Eratosthenes claimed during the cross-examination that he was not guilty. He claimed that he only acted on the orders of the Thirty Tyrants when he arrested Polemarchus. Lysias criticized these claims.
  • Many of the arguments Lysias made during the speech were also used during the trials of the Nazi leadership at Nurenburg.


This study guide for Lysias's Against Eratosthenes offers summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs.

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