Lycurgus of Athens

Lycurgus (/lˈkɜːrɡəs/; Greek: Λυκοῦργος Lykourgos; c. 390 – 324 BC) was a logographer in Ancient Greece. He was one of the ten Attic orators included in the "Alexandrian Canon" compiled by Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace in the third century BC.

Lycurgus was born at Athens about 390 BC, and was the son of Lycophron, who belonged to the noble family of the Eteobutadae.[1] He should not be confused with the quasi-mythological Spartan lawgiver of the same name.


In his early life he devoted himself to the study of philosophy in the school of Plato, but afterwards became one of the disciples of Isocrates, and entered upon public life at a comparatively early age. He was appointed three successive times to the office of manager of the public revenue, and held his office each time for four years, beginning with 337 BC. The conscientiousness with which he discharged the duties of this office enabled him to raise the public revenue to the sum of 1200 talents.

This, as well as the unwearied activity with which he laboured both for increasing the security and splendour of the city of Athens, gained for him the universal confidence of the people to such a degree, that when Alexander the Great demanded, in 335 BC, among the other opponents of the Macedonian interest, the surrender of Lycurgus also, who had, in conjunction with Demosthenes, exerted himself against the intrigues of Macedonia even as early as the reign of Philip, the people of Athens clung to him, and boldly refused to deliver him up.[2]

He was further entrusted with the superintendence (φυλακή) of the city and the keeping of public discipline; and the severity with which he watched over the conduct of the citizens became almost proverbial.[3]

He had a noble taste for every thing that was beautiful and grand, as he showed by the buildings he erected or completed, both for the use of the citizens and the ornament of the city. His integrity was so great, that even private persons deposited with him large sums of money, which they wished to be kept in safety. He was also the author of several legislative enactments, of which he enforced the strictest observance. One of his laws forbade women to ride in chariots at the celebration of the mysteries; and when his own wife transgressed this law, she was fined;[4] another ordained that bronze statues should be erected to Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, that copies of their tragedies should be made and preserved in the public archives.

The Lives of the Ten Orators erroneously ascribed to Plutarch[5] are full of anecdotes and characteristic features of Lycurgus, from which we must infer that he was reputed one of the noblest specimens of old Attic virtue, and a worthy contemporary of Demosthenes. He often appeared as a successful accuser in the Athenian courts, but he himself was as often accused by others, though he always, and even in the last days of his life, succeeded in silencing his enemies.

Thus we know that he was attacked by Philinus,[6] Dinarchus,[7] Aristogeiton, Menesaechmus, and others. He died while holding the office of director (ἐπιστάτης) of the theatre of Dionysus, in 324 BC. A fragment of an inscription, containing the account which he rendered to the state of his administration of the finances, is still extant. At his death he left behind three sons, including one named Abron or Habron,[8] by his wife Callisto, who were severely persecuted by Menesaechmus and Thrasycles, but were defended by Hypereides and Democles.[9] Among the honours which were conferred upon him, we may mention, that the orator Stratocles, during the archonship of Anaxicrates in 307/6, ordered a bronze statue to be erected to him in the Ceramicus, and that he and his eldest son should be entertained in the prytaneum at the public expense.

The ancients mention fifteen orations of Lycurgus as extant in their days,[10] but we know the titles of at least twenty. With the exception, however, of one entire oration against Leocrates, and some fragments of others, all the rest are lost, so that our knowledge of his skill and style as an orator is very incomplete. Dionysius and other ancient critics draw particular attention to the ethical tendency of his orations, but they censure the harshness of his metaphors, the inaccuracy in the arrangement of his subject, and his frequent digressions.

His style was said to be noble and grand, but neither elegant nor pleasing.[11] His works seem to have been commented upon by Didymus of Alexandria.[12] Theon[13] mentions two declamations, Encomium of Helen and Deploration of Eurybatus, as the works of Lycurgus; but this Lycurgus, if the name be correct, must be a different personage from the Attic orator. The oration Against Leocrates, which was delivered in 330 BC,[14] was first printed by Aldus Manutius in his edition of the Attic orators.


  1. Pseudo-Plutarch, Moralia, "Lives of the Ten Orators", p. 841; Suda, s.v. "Lykourgos"; Photius, Bibliotheca, cod. 268
  2. Pseudo-Plutarch, ibid.; Photius, ibid.
  3. Cicero, Epistulae, "Ad Atticum", i. 13; Plutarch, Parallel Lives, "Flaminus", 12; Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae, xxii. 9, xxx. 8
  4. Aelian, Varia Historia, xiii. 24
  5. Pseudo-Plutarch, p. 842
  6. Harpocration, Lexicon of the Ten Orators, s.v. "theorika".
  7. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Dinarchus, 10.
  8. Smith, William (1867), "Abron", in Smith, William (ed.), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1, Boston, MA, p. 3
  9. Pseudo-Plutarch, ibid.
  10. Pseudo-Plutarch, p. 843; Photius, ibid.
  11. Dionysius, On the ancient orators, v. 3; Hermogenes of Tarsus, De Formis Oratoriis, v; Dio Chrysostom, Or. 18.11
  12. Harpocration, s.vv. "pelanos", "prokovia", "stroter".
  13. Theon, Progymnasmata
  14. Aeschines, Speeches, "Against Ctesiphon", 93


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