Susan Lape

Position title: Solmsen Fellow (2010-2011)

Classics, University of Southern California

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The Life of Demosthenes: Biography, History, and Democratic Culture

The biography of Demosthenes, (384-322 BCE), the most famous Athenian orator and democratic politician of fourth-century Athens, is inextricably linked to the history of Athenian democratic culture. In part, this is because Demosthenes orchestrated some of the most significant events of the proverbially interesting times in which he lived. Cheated out of his inheritance, Demosthenes made a stunning forensic debut by winning a lawsuit against one of his corrupt guardians, a powerful older cousin who endeavored to squash the lawsuit and hide the stolen assets. With his against the odds victory, Demosthenes made a name for himself as a speechwriter and within a few years segued into a political career. Demosthenes’ personal history -the looting of his estate by powerful older men – shaped his understanding of law, the courts, democracy, and even kinship, while predisposing him to view conflict as uneven contests of the weak against the strong, a tendency that informs his portrayal of Philip of Macedon as an inevitable threat to democracy and freedom. This study aims to shed light on the role of Demsothenes’ biography in the making of fourth-century history and in modern reconstructions of it.

Susan Lape is an Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Southern California. Her research interests include ancient drama, law, and cultural history. She is the author of Reproducing Athens: Menander’s Comedy, Democratic Culture, and the Hellenistic City, (2004), and Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy (2010). Lape has received a Junior Faculty Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Studies, a Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Fellowship from the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University, a Junior Faculty Fellowship from the Society of Scholars, Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities, University of Washington and the Solmsen Fellowship at the Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Wisconsin.