Kleisthenes the Stoner: Herodotus 5.67.2

in Mnemosyne
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This paper explores the term λευστήρ applied to Kleisthenes of Sikyon by the Pythia in Hdt. 5.67.2, first by exploring the poetics of stoning and pollution in Ancient Greece, then by arguing for the validity of both the more predictable meaning, ‘stoner’, and the Suda’s sometimes contested gloss on the word, ‘worthy of being stoned’. While the argument has been suggested before, sufficient linguistic evidence for understanding λευστήρ in this sense has not been presented in the past. The paper provides more conclusive evidence and also suggests that recent applications of the φαρµακός paradigm are inaccurate.

Kleisthenes the Stoner: Herodotus 5.67.2

in Mnemosyne



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E.g. (more recently) Mastrocinque 1977Elayi 1979 Gras 1984 Ogden 1993.


E.g. ‘assassin’ (Legrand 1968ad loc.) How and Wells 1928 ad loc. ‘Marterer’ ‘Henker’ (Fraenkel 1910/12 1.212).


Cf. Elayi 1979225and in much more detail Ogden 1993 354-6. The persistence of this theory is shown in Grey 2007 222 n. 51 where it is called “the traditional interpretation”. Grey does not however follow this interpretation.


Ogden 1993355citing Andrewes 1956 as the locus classicus for this theory. Cf. also White 1955 and Drews 1972.


Cf. e.g. Hirzel 1909253-8Gras 1984 80 Cantarella 1988 88-90 Steiner 1995 203-4. The language of pollution appears explicitly in the following passages relating to stoning: Pl. Lg. 873b7-8 (λίθον ἕκαστος φέρων ἐπὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν τοῦ νεκροῦ βάλλων ἀφοσιούτω τὴν πόλιν ὅλην) Ar. Ach. 285 (σὲ µὲν οὖν καταλεύσοµεν ὦ µιαρὰ κεφαλή) Philostr. VA 4.10-11 (Apollonius after inciting the Ephesians to stone a demon-beggar is described as having purified the city καθήρας δὲ τοὺς Ἐφεσίους τῆς νόσου) Schol. Od. 16.471 (gods purify Hermes of killing of Argos throw stones at his feet ἀφωσιωµένους τὸ ἄγος καὶ τῆς ἀνδροφονίας ἀπολύοντας . . . προσβαλεῖν αὐτῷ τὰς ψήφους).


Cf. Rosivach 1987236-7and 245: “. . . [W]hile stoning was early recognized as a distinct form of execution there is no evidence that it was widely practiced in archaic Athens or more generally in archaic Greece”. For similar opinions cf. also Cantarella 1988 esp. 91-2 and n. 1 (with extensive references to scholarly literature) and from earlier scholarship Pease 1907 17-18. For the idea that stoning represented a democratic and popular response and that the institution of ostracism represented a secular form of scapegoating see Gras 1984 84-5 who relies here on the ideas of Gernet as developed by Vernant (1988). Parker (1983 269-70) questions this association.


On treachery and pollution cf. Parker 1983193-6.


Cf. e.g. Glotz 1918 928a Cantarella 198889 (“La pietra purifica espìa discolpa: siamo di fronte insomma a un uso religioso della pietra”) and Steiner 1995 204. The distribution of responsibility among those stoning need not be seen as an attempt to lessen the responsibility of the individual (a principle behind the institution of the modern firing squad) but rather as a means to involve the entire community. This is clearly seen in Pl. Lg. 873b in which it is provided that in the case of one convicted of premeditated killing of a parent brother or child the murderer be executed and then dragged naked to a crossroads outside the city where all of the city officials are instructed to bring a stone hurl it at the corpse’s head on behalf of the entire city (ὑπὲρ ὅλης τῆς πόλεως) and thus purify the city (ἀφοσιούτω τὴν πόλιν ὅλην).


Cf. Gras 198480 (citing Hdt. 1.167 5.82 Paus. 2.30.4 2.32.2 8.32.6-7 Plu. 768A [though this passage does not mention the consequences of the stoning of Laïs]): “. . . si le rituel n’est pas pratiqué selon les normes si on lapide par erreur ou par haine injuste alors le Mal revient et sévit”. The impurity associated with stoning can be seen in D. 19.66 where Demosthenes argues that because Phocis has benefited Athens so much the Athenians would still be καθαροί if they stoned to death with their own hands those responsible for the destruction of Phocis. As Rosivach (1987 236) comments “Even stripped of its hyperbole the passage rather clearly implies that stoning was so offensive a form of execution that it would normally bring pollution upon the stoners”.


See Gras 198480Mastrocinque 1977 170-1 (citing Hdt. 1.167 Paus. 2.32.2 6.6.7-11 6.9.6-8 8.23.6-7).


Cf. Gras 198482 on this: “C’est une lapidation voulue par un tyran une lapidation qui serait exécutée par le peuple mais qui serait en fait imposée au peuple une antilapidation par excellence”. Steiner (1995197) notes that Kreon’s change of this sentence from stoning to live interment in the case of Antigone nevertheless illustrates “a cohesion among lapidation petrifaction [the fate of Niobe] and the tomb of stone”. As she observes commentators have suggested that one reason for Kreon’s change in punishment could be the fear that the dêmos might not carry out the stoning. Cf. A. Th. 196-9 cited below for the combination of stoning ordered by a tyrant-like figure but carried out by the dêmos (λευστῆρα δήµου . . . µόρον 199).


List compiled by Gras 198483.


Cf. e.g. Manetti 1993 and Struck 2004180-2 on the enigmatic and poetic nature of oracles.


Elayi 1979225: “Un λευστήρ ne peut être autre chose qu’un ‘lapideur’”. The idea is similarly rejected by How and Wells 1928 ad loc. Parke and Wormell 1956 2.12 Mastrocinque 1977 169.


E.g. Elayi 1979225.


Elayi 1979226: “Le mot λευστήρ employé par la Pythie suggère que par une sorte de renversement des rôles Sicyone sera le bouc émissaire de Clisthène et se verra infliger par son tyran—métaphoriquement—le type d’exécution réservé aux φαρµακοί. . . . Clisthène en commettant un sacrilège qui sera nécessairement fatal à la cité va ‘lapider’ ses concitoyens.”


Cf. Gras 198486 on the fact that the victim of stoning is always an individual or a small group.


Mastrocinque 1977172: the tyrant “è simile al pharmakos alla vittima immonda che dev’essere eliminata magari lapidata per purificare il dêmos”.


Ogden 1993356.


Ogden 1993354. Mastrocinque does not view the use of the word in the Pythia’s response in terms of the categories active or passive but speaks rather of “un complesso di nozioni” (1977 174) which include both Kleisthenes’ impious acts against the people and in turn the contamination caused thereby and the consequent need for purification (by stoning the tyrant).


Ogden 1993356citing Call. fr. 90 Pf. and schol. to Ov. Ib. 467-8 (Abdera) Lactant. on Stat. Theb. 10.793 (Massilia) Philostr. VA 4.10 (Ephesos: this is however a description of a once-off and possibly fictional event though it does conform to a pattern found in the other sources) Ister FGrH 334 F50 (victim is eponymous Pharmakos) Hippon. fr. 128 W with Burkert 1985 82 f. and Bremmer 1983 315.


Ogden 1993357. Is Adrastos “inanimate”? Part of the charm and narrative power of the Herodotean passage is the treatment of Adrastos and his arch-enemy Melanippos as if they were alive and sentient beings old enemies and now hostile neighbours. It is in fact characteristic of hero cult to speak of the hero as being physically present in his or her community: cf. Hdt. 5.67.1 on the centrality of Adrastos’ shrine (ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ ἀγορῇ τῶν Σικυωνίων) and Plutarch on the location of Theseus’ new shrine in Athens ἐν µέσῃ τῇ πόλει (Thes. 36.4). The transferal of the bones of the hero amounts to the transferal of the power of the hero and the hero himself. Cf. Hdt. 1.67.2-68 on the bones of Orestes and especially Plutarch on the retrieval of the bones of Theseus where their arrival in Athens is viewed as if it is the hero himself returning from exile: ἡσθέντες οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι ποµπαῖς τε λαµπραῖς ἐδέξαντο καὶ θυσίαις ὥσπερ αὐτὸν ἐπανερχόµενον εἰς τὸ ἄστυ (Thes. 36.3). Note ἐπανερχόµενον as an almost technical term for return after exile (cf. e.g. Luc. Tox. 18 [Ps.] Aesch. Ep. 3.1: οἱ µὲν ἄλλοι πάντες ὅσοι φεύγουσιν ἀδίκως ἢ δέονται τῶν πολιτῶν ὅπως ἐπανέλθωσιν ἢ διαµαρτόντες τούτου λοιδοροῦσι τὰς ἑαυτῶν πατρίδας) corresponding to the use of ἐκβάλλω of the banishment or exiling of a person or deposition from power: LSJ s.v. ἐκβάλλω 2. and 5.


Ogden 1993361-3.


Ogden 1993358. The quotation “lonely marginal at the top” is from Girard 1977 12.


Versnel 199064-5.


Cf. Burkert 197972: “There are two main possibilities for restoring good conscience to the survivors: either the victim must be termed subhuman particularly guilty or even ‘offscourings’ to be dumped—Greek legend makes ‘Pharmakos’ a temple-robber; or else he is raised to a superhuman level to be honored forever”.


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