The Archimedes Palimpsest

The New Hyperides in the Archimedes Palimpsest
by Judson Herrman

The Archimedes Palimpsest preserves five leaves from a Byzantine manuscript of the speeches of the classical Athenian speech-maker and politician Hyperides. This material is previously unknown, and its startling discovery by Natalie Tchernetska (see below for details of her initial publication) holds great promise, both for our knowledge of Hyperides as an orator and also for our understanding of the history, politics and law of fourth-century Athens.

Hyperides lived from 390/389 to 322, and was thus nearly a contemporary with better known figures such as Demosthenes and Aristotle (both lived 384 to 322). He was a rhetor, or orator. Athenian rhetores were the most prominent politicians in the fourth-century democracy. They made speeches at public meetings of the citizen assembly and they served as prosecutors and defendants in the courts. Some of these court-room speeches were composed for trials concerning private criminal or civil issues, while other cases had more far-reaching political implications. As was typical for rhetores at the time, Hyperides wrote speeches both for others to deliver in minor private cases and he also spoke in person at important political trials. Speeches of both types (the distinction can become blurry; sometimes private cases have political overtones) by Hyperides survive. Especially at the beginning of his career, he was active as a logographos, or hired speech-writer, who would serve almost as a private lawyer and write material for clients to deliver in court. As a politician, Hyperides was long allied with Demosthenes in opposition to the expansion of the Macedonian empire under Philip II and his son Alexander the Great. Hyperides came to prominence in 343 as the prosecutor of Philocrates for negotiating too conciliatory a peace with the Macedonian king Philip in 346. Twenty years later, when Alexander the Great died in 323, Hyperides was an important advocate for rebellion against the Macedonians. Other Greek allies joined the Athenians in taking up arms against Alexander's generals. The so-called Lamian War ended badly for the Greeks in 322, and Hyperides was given the great honor of delivering the public funeral speech for the Athenian war-dead in Spring of 322 (a papyrus copy of the speech survives, see below). Later that year, after the Macedonians had finally defeated the Greeks and put an end to the political independence of Athens, Hyperides was rounded up and executed by the Macedonians for his part in the failed rebellion.

After his death, Hyperides' speeches were widely read and admired. He was one of the ten canonical orators recognized by later rhetorical critics. The great literary critic Longinus, active in the first century AD, favorably compared Hyperides with Demosthenes, the acknowledged master of Attic oratory. Longinus describes (On the Sublime, chapter 34) Hyperides as a pentathlete, who displays an extraordinarily well-rounded versatility and performs well in many different areas. He praises Hyperides' simple and charming style, seasoned with sarcasm, irony, and wit. Longinus singles out a number of speeches, including the famous funeral oration described above and a defense speech for the courtesan Phryne, in which Hyperides, at least according to later tradition, notoriously bared the breasts of his client and overwhelmed the jurors with her beauty. Longinus wasn't the only reader of Hyperides during the first centuries of the Roman Empire. A second-century AD biography of Hyperides reports that seventy-seven extant speeches circulated under his name (ps.-Plutarch, Lives of the Ten Orators 849D).

These copies of Hyperides' speeches circulated as papyrus rolls. By the fourth century AD a newer format had become common. These codices, made out of papyrus or parchment and more or less equivalent in design to modern books, supplanted the older format of rolls. These new books were easier to use and rolls soon fell out of general use. Moreover, the papyrus rolls were less durable than codices and authors who were not recopied in the new format were at risk of disappearing forever. Such was the fate of Hyperides, it was assumed until the discovery of the five Byzantine leaves in the Archimedes Palimpsest. We have a tantalizing report of a Byzantine edition of Hyperides (the sixteenth-century humanist Johann Alexander Brassicanus claimed that he saw a "complete Hyperides with rich scholia" in the library of king Matthias Corvinus of Hungary), but Nigel Wilson has persuasively argued that no complete edition of Hyperides existed in the Byzantine period (Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 16 (1975) 99-100), and his pronouncement has created "a new orthodoxy of scepticism" (D. Whitehead, Hypereides, p. 2).

Until these new leaves turned up in the Archimedes Palimpsest, it appeared that only short excerpts of Hyperides survived beyond the classical period. Byzantine reference works, such as the Suda and Photius' Bibliotheca and Lexicon, made frequent reference to Hyperides. They preserved dozens of short quotations by the orator, but it was assumed that their source for this material was not a complete Byzantine edition, but rather earlier compilations and dictionaries, such as Athenaeus and Harpocration's second-century AD Lexicon of the Ten Orators. Now we have little reason to doubt Photius' claim to have read several speeches of Hyperides (Photius, Bibliotheca codex 266; cf. Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium, p. 95). Before the discovery of more extensive material on papyri, and now in the Archimedes Palimpsest, the surviving corpus of Hyperides consisted of a few hundred short quotations, many consisting of only a single word, and none longer than a few lines.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries numerous important classical works were discovered on papyrus manuscripts, including four sizeable manuscripts of Hyperides (discovered between 1847 and 1891). These papyri were written in Egypt, and the date of composition ranges from the second century BC to the second century AD. They confirm Hyperides' popularity in the ancient world and they have reconstituted a corpus for the orator that now fills more than fifty pages in a modern printed edition. We now have extensive sections from five court-room speeches (one survives complete) and also Hyperides' famous Funeral Oration. These speeches evince the lively style described by Longinus and contribute much to our understanding of fourth century literature and history: the Funeral Oration, with its focus on the individual general Leosthenes and the historical events of the Lamian War, stands in sharp contrast to Thucydides' Periclean Oration; the speech Against Athenogenes offers an unusual legal argument to invalidate an unfair contract and also presents a vivid characterization of a duplicitous perfumier and his prostitute/pimp partner; the defense speeches For Lycophron and For Euxenippus are vital sources for the development of treason law in Athens; the prosecution Against Demosthenes is a key source for the politics of the 320s.

The five leaves in the Archimedes Palimpsest are the most significant discovery of new Hyperides text since the last big papyrus discovery in 1891 (several highly fragmentary papyri published in the twentieth century may also add a little to the corpus, but none can be attributed to Hyperides with much certainty; see Whitehead, Hypereides, pp. 473-476). The five bifolia were probably originally written in the eleventh century and they preserve ten pages of text, with thirty-two wide lines on each page. These 320 lines of new text will increase the size of Hyperides' corpus by some 20%.

The palimpsest appears to preserve extensive sections of at least two previously lost speeches. Natalie Tchernetska has edited the recto of the first bifolium (135/138) and also offers provisional readings of parts of the verso and the other Hyperides pages ("New Fragments of Hyperides from the Archimedes Palimpsest," Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie und Epigraphik 154 (2005) 1-6). The recto of 135/138 includes a fragment of Hyperides previously known from a Byzantine encyclopedia (fr. 165 Jensen, attributed to the speech Against Timandra), which allows us to attribute the new material to Hyperides. The newly discovered context of the fragment calls for a reinterpretation of the case. It previously appeared to be a prosecution of a notorious courtesan, but it is now clear that we have a speech in prosecution of a man, Timandros (previously unknown), in a dispute over an inheritance. The remaining pages are currently being studied: the folio 136/137 appears to come from the political speech Against Diondas, in which Hyperides defends his proposal to honor the rhetor Demosthenes prior to the battle of Chaeronea; 144/145 also refers to Philip and may come from the same political speech.

Study of the remaining material is underway. The pages are extremely fragile and are very difficult to read. They were well erased by the second scribe and they have suffered extensive damage. The imaging team of the Archimedes Palimpsest project is experimenting with new techniques to make the material more readable, and an international team of scholars has been assembled to work in collaboration on the project. The scholarly team features experts on Hyperides and Greek oratory, Greek palaeography and textual criticism, and Athenian legal procedure, and we are meeting regularly in 2006 and 2007 with the goal of interpreting and publishing the new material as soon as possible. Just the small amount of material so far deciphered reveals that we have much to learn about the career and style of Hyperides, about Athenian legal procedure, and about fourth-century politics and history.