The aim of this paper is to analyze the
concepts of false message (pseudangelia) and messenger (pseudangelos)
in ancient Greece
on the research by Sian Lewis in News and Society in the Greek Polis
Everett L. Wheeler's Stratagem and the Vocabulary of Military
paper deals also with the mythical concept of trickery (metis)
context of Aristotelian ethics. After a short excursus on false
messengers at the beginning of World War II, recent research
on the society of disinformation by
Thomas Froehlich is briefly addressed in the conclusion.
daughters of Zeus, warn Hesiod and the shepherds about the ambiguity of
with the following words:
Shepherds of the wilderness, wretched things of
shame, mere bellies,
we know how to speak many false things (pseudea
polla) as though they were true (etymoisin
but we know, when we will, to utter true things
ποιμένες ἄγραυλοι, κάκ᾽ ἐλέγχεα, γαστέρες οἶον,
ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ᾽, εὖτ᾽ ἐθέλωμεν, ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι.
(Hesiod, Theogony 26-28)
Thence they arise and go abroad by night,
veiled in thick mist,
and utter their song with lovely voice (ossan),
praising Zeus the aegis-holder, and queenly
who walks on golden sandal
ἔνθεν ἀπορνύμεναι, κεκαλυμμέναι ἠέρι πολλῇ,
ἐννύχιαι στεῖχον περικαλλέα ὄσσαν ἱεῖσαι,
ὑμνεῦσαι Δία τ᾽ αἰγίοχον καὶ πότνιαν Ἥρην
Ἀργεΐην, χρυσέοισι πεδίλοις ἐμβεβαυῖαν,
(Hesiod, Theogony 9-11)
also called Pheme, is the
goddess of fame and gossip, Latin Fama. Ovid calls her the
"tattling Rumor" (fama loquax) who is "swollen out of truth
from small beginning to a wicked lie" (veris
addere falsa) (Ovidius, Met. IX, 137-139). Ovidius describes her
There is a spot convenient in the center of the world,
between the land and sea and the wide heavens,
the meeting of the threefold universe.
From there is seen all things that anywhere
exist, although in distant regions far;
and there all sounds of earth and space are heard.
Fame is possessor of this chosen place,
and has her habitation in a tower,
which aids her view from that exalted highs.
And she has fixed there numerous avenues,
and openings, a thousand, to her tower
and no gates with closed entrance, for the house
is open, nicht and day, of sounding brass,
re-echoing the tones of every voice.
It must repeat whatever it may hear;
and there's no rest, and silence in no part.
Orbe locus medio est inter terrasque fretumque
caelestesque plagas, triplicis confinia mundi:
unde quod est usquam, quamvis regionibus absit,
inspicitur, penetratque cavas vox omnis ad aures.
Fama tenet summaque domum sibi legit in arce,
innumerosque aditus ac mille foramina tectis
addidit, et nullis inclusit limina portis:
nocte dieque patet. tota est ex aere sonanti,
tota fremit vocesque refert iteratque,
nulla quies intus nullaque silentia parte.
(Ovidius, Met. XII, 39-48)
tells how Theseus after killing the Minotaur and sailing back to Athens, forgot to
put up the white sails
announcing his success. His father, believing that he was dead, threw
himself off a cliff of Sounion into the sea.
analysis of the concepts of pseudangelía and pseudángelos is part of a
angeletics (Capurro and Holgate 2011). The concepts of angelia,
angello (message, messenger, to inform/announce) and the composita pseudangelia,
pseudangelos, pseudangeleo (false message,
documented in ancient Greek (Liddell and Scott 1940) , are paradigmatic with regard to the
phenomenon of communication in the Greek polis. This analysis
to better understand the kind of message societies we live in today.
and Society in the Greek Polis Siam Lewis remarks that all areas of
life in the ancient polis were influenced by "the constant reception
dissemination of information" (Lewis 1996, vii). Whether information is
understood as news depends on the background knowledge of the
and on the credibility of the messenger. This is common to ancient and
societies but the challenge Lewis deals with is "to indicate the ways
which the ancient Greek concept and
exploitation of news differed from twentieth-century conceptions."
1996, 3). She quotes a paradigmatic story told by Xenophon in the Hellenica
about a certain Herodes of Syracuse who in the year 396 BC, staying in Phoenicia,
observes war-ships being built:
After this a Syracusan named Herodas,
being in Phoenicia with a certain shipowner, and seeing Phoenician
war-ships—some of them sailing in from other places, others lying there
manned, and yet others still making ready for sea—and hearing, besides,
there were to be three hundred of them, embarked on the first boat that
to Greece and reported [exengeile] to the Lacedaemonians
that the King
and Tissaphernes were preparing this expedition; but whither it was
said he did not know.
μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα Ἡρώδας τις Συρακόσιος ἐν Φοινίκῃ ὢν μετὰ ναυκλήρου τινός,
καὶ ἰδὼν τριήρεις Φοινίσσας, τὰς μὲν καταπλεούσας ἄλλοθεν,
τὰς δὲ καὶ αὐτοῦ πεπληρωμένας, τὰς δὲ καὶ ἔτι κατασκευαζομένας,
προσακούσας δὲ καὶ τοῦτο, ὅτι τριακοσίας αὐτὰς δέοι γενέσθαι,
ἐπιβὰς ἐπὶ τὸ πρῶτον ἀναγόμενον πλοῖον εἰς τὴν Ἑλλάδα ἐξήγγειλε
τοῖς Λακεδαιμονίοις ὡς βασιλέως καὶ Τισσαφέρνους
τὸν στόλον τοῦτον παρασκευαζομένων: ὅποι δὲ οὐδὲν ἔφη εἰδέναι.
Hell. 3, 4, 1)
What was the impact of the news brought to Sparta by
Herodas? Xenophon writes:
Now while the
Lacedaemonians were in a state of great excitement, and were gathering
their allies and taking counsel [bouleuomenon] as to what
do, Lysander, thinking that the Greeks would be far superior on the
reflecting that the land force which went up country with Cyrus had
safely, persuaded Agesilaus to promise, in case the Lacedaemonians
him thirty Spartans, two thousand emancipated Helots, and a
six thousand of the allies, to make an expedition to Asia. Such were
motives which actuated Lysander, but, in addition, he wanted to make
expedition with Agesilaus on his own account also, in order that with
of Agesilaus he might re-establish the decarchies which had been
set up by
him in the cities, but had been overthrown through the ephors, who had
proclamation [parengeilan] restoring to the cities their
ancient form of
ἀνεπτερωμένων δὲ τῶν Λακεδαιμονίων καὶ τοὺς συμμάχους
συναγόντων καὶ βουλευομένων τί χρὴ ποιεῖν,
Λύσανδρος νομίζων καὶ τῷ ναυτικῷ πολὺ περιέσεσθαι τοὺς Ἕλληνας
καὶ τὸ πεζὸν λογιζόμενος ὡς ἐσώθη τὸ μετὰ Κύρου ἀναβάν,
πείθει τὸν Ἀγησίλαον ὑποστῆναι, ἂν αὐτῷ δῶσι τριάκοντα μὲν Σπαρτιατῶν,
εἰς δισχιλίους δὲ τῶν νεοδαμώδων,
εἰς ἑξακισχιλίους δὲ τὸ σύνταγμα τῶν συμμάχων, στρατεύεσθαι εἰς τὴν Ἀσίαν.
πρὸς δὲ τούτῳ τῷ λογισμῷ καὶ αὐτὸς συνεξελθεῖν αὐτῷ ἐβούλετο,
ὅπως τὰς δεκαρχίας τὰς κατασταθείσας ὑπ᾽ ἐκείνου ἐν ταῖς πόλεσιν,
ἐκπεπτωκυίας δὲ διὰ τοὺς ἐφόρους, οἳ τὰς πατρίους πολιτείας παρήγγειλαν,
πάλιν καταστήσειε μετ᾽ Ἀγησιλάου.
that this important information was brought by an unofficial messenger
quickest way possible. The messenger was considered a trustworthy
Spartans had not an own information network but it is
believe that the messenger did not come to Sparta by chance. Xenophon does not
whether Herodas was sent to Phoenicia
by the Spartans.
is news?" asks Lewis (Lewis 1996, 3). Her answer is that although
"there is no Greek word for news as such" (Lewis 1996, 4) the concept
can be related to a special kind of information concerning a new and
event, the closest Greek word being aggellô:
new things, or kainoi logoi, new stories, are reported, but the
word is aggellô, I report, and its cognates. To bring
news is to bring a
message or report, and the advent of news is described impersonally: êggeilen,
it was reported. An aggelma is both news and a message
–—clearly the act
of reporting is what creates news. (Lewis 1996, 4)
Lewis there was no clear distinction between truth and falsity in
Greek. She writes:
common report, is not intrinsically less trustworthy than logos
or epistolê (message); the distinction is one of source.
someone who makes up news, is in Greek a logopoios, a
stories. This word also denotes a poet, but this is less surprising
in a Greek context. There is no correlation between history and truth
opposed to poetry and fiction; on the contrary the Homeric poems, for
were treated by historical writers as legitimate history. The tales of
dramatists, equally, were drawn from myth, and hence true, as opposed
invented stories. A logopoios, then, is not necessarily a liar;
Demosthenes makes clear in his condemnation of newsmongers, it is
are able to be plausible and authoritative that they are so dangerous.
to Demosthenes (Lewis 1996, 80) who in the First Philippic writes
the "circulating" (periechometha) of "invented
stories" (logous plattontes) on supposed negotiations
Philip and the Spartans sent by himself, Demosthenes, to the Persian
Some of us
spread the rumor that Philip is negotiating with the Lacedaemonians for
overthrow of Thebes and the dissolution of the free states,
that he has sent an embassy to the Great King, others that he is
towns in Illyria; in short, each of us circulates his own piece of
ἡμῶν δ᾽ οἱ μὲν περιιόντες μετὰ Λακεδαιμονίων φασὶ Φίλιππον
πράττειν τὴν Θηβαίων κατάλυσιν καὶ τὰς πολιτείας διασπᾶν,
οἱ δ᾽ ὡς πρέσβεις πέπομφεν ὡς βασιλέα, οἱ δ᾽ ἐν Ἰλλυριοῖς πόλεις τειχίζειν,
οἱ δὲ λόγους πλάττοντες ἕκαστος περιερχόμεθα.
Phil. 4, 48)
fact, this is what he, Demosthenes, thinks about Philip, in contrast to
stories disseminated by the "stupid rumor-mongers" (anoetotatoi
that help Philip based on their pretended knowledge:
of Athens, I do think that Philip is drunk with the magnitude of
his achievements and dreams of further triumphs,
when, elated by his success, he finds that there is none to bar his
way; but I
cannot for a moment believe that he is deliberately acting in such a
way that all
the fools at Athens know what he is going to do next. For of
fools the rumor-mongers are the worst.
ἐγὼ δ᾽ οἶμαι μέν, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, νὴ τοὺς θεοὺς ἐκεῖνον μεθύειν τῷ μεγέθει τῶν πεπραγμένων
καὶ πολλὰ τοιαῦτ᾽ ὀνειροπολεῖν ἐν τῇ γνώμῃ,
τήν τ᾽ ἐρημίαν τῶν κωλυσόντων ὁρῶντα καὶ τοῖς πεπραγμένοις ἐπῃρμένον,
οὐ μέντοι μὰ Δί᾽ οὕτω γε προαιρεῖσθαι πράττειν ὥστε τοὺς ἀνοητοτάτους τῶν παρ᾽ ἡμῖν εἰδέναι
τί μέλλει ποιεῖν ἐκεῖνος: ἀνοητότατοι γάρ εἰσιν οἱ λογοποιοῦντες.
Phil. 4, 49)
What should be done? Demosthenes tells the
Athenians not to give credit
to such rumors and "idle words" (logon mataion)
and to follow
putting rumors aside, we recognize that this man is our enemy, who has
years been robbing and insulting us, that wherever we once hoped to
we have found hindrance, that the future lies in our own hands, and if
refuse to fight now in Thrace, we shall perhaps be forced to fight
home—if, I say, we recognize these facts, then we shall have done with
words and shall come to a right decision. Our business is not to
what the future may bring forth, but to be certain that it will bring
unless you face the facts and consent to do your duty.
ἀλλ᾽ ἂν ἀφέντες ταῦτ᾽ ἐκεῖν᾽ εἰδῶμεν,
ὅτι ἐχθρὸς ἅνθρωπος καὶ τὰ ἡμέτερ᾽ ἡμᾶς ἀποστερεῖ καὶ χρόνον πολὺν ὕβρικε,
καὶ ἅπανθ᾽ ὅσα πώποτ᾽ ἠλπίσαμέν τινα πράξειν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν καθ᾽ ἡμῶν εὕρηται,
καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ ἐν αὐτοῖς ἡμῖν ἐστί,
κἂν μὴ νῦν ἐθέλωμεν ἐκεῖ πολεμεῖν αὐτῷ,
ἐνθάδ᾽ ἴσως ἀναγκασθησόμεθα τοῦτο ποιεῖν, ἂν ταῦτ᾽ εἰδῶμεν,
καὶ τὰ δέοντ᾽ ἐσόμεθ᾽ ἐγνωκότες καὶ λόγων ματαίων ἀπηλλαγμένοι:
οὐ γὰρ ἅττα ποτ᾽ ἔσται δεῖ σκοπεῖν,
ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι φαῦλα, ἂν μὴ προσέχητε τὸν νοῦν
καὶ τὰ προσήκοντα ποιεῖν ἐθέλητε, εὖ εἰδέναι.
Phil. 4, 50)
the criteria for evaluating whether the news and the messenger were
trustworthy? Lewis points to the following ones: 1) identity
class (status), 3) autopsy (eye-witness), 4) motive (financial gain,
herald). The polis had several possible responses with regard
credibility of messages and messengers:
There were thus several ways to test the
credentials of a messenger. An
individual known to the polis, or who could make himself known, was
to be believed than a stranger; some attempt was made by Greek poleis
integrate such unknown messengers into the structure of the polis. A
wealthy individual was considered more credible than a poor or low
and an eye-witness was more convincing than a messenger with a
account. Proof of disinterested or benevolent motive, as opposed to a
mercenary one also raised the credibility of a messenger. A range of
to adventitious news on the part of the state existed. Broadly, three
were possible — to reject the news as untrue, to make attempts
to accept if as true and act on it. By far the most common reaction to
adventitious messenger was to seek further information, sometimes
original informant as a hostage. [...] But it was not often that a
could be treated in this way; news more usually necessitated a quick
Lewis the relation between public and private as well as of news and
ceaselessly in the ancient polis." (Lewis 1996, 9). This was
the case with regard to women:
The image of women as over-talkative, and as
gossips in a harmful sense,
is present in Greek literature from the poetry of the seventh century
rhetoric of the fourth. [...] Clearly women's gossip could be used to
effect in exposing areas of private behaviour to public view. [...] The
function of gossip is imposing a common moral standard on the community
well-documented [...] The female role was thus a dual one: as wives and
daughters they had a duty to prevent potentially harmful
information leaving the oikos; as neighbours
and fellow citizens they needed to circulate information about others
to impose collective moral standards." (Lewis 1996, 11-12).
Lewis refers to the ambivalent concept of phêmê.
represented more than simply rumour for the Greeks: it was a
which had been current since the time of Hesiod, and, according to
the personification of Rumour had an altar in Athens. It is interesting that the
chose to see Rumour as something divine, rather than mundane,
is passed on by quasi-supernatural means, rather than from person to
in the time of Homer, meant a divine of ominous utterance, and
this to mean 'reputation' or 'report'. Hesiod characterizes phêmê
divine because it cannot be stopped by human means once abroad,
self-generating nature. [...] It was good to find out about
others, but bad to
reveal about yourself and your family. The role of women in his as
disseminators of news and gossip is thus either valuable or harmful,
on one's standpoint. But without gossip it would have been impossible
establish reputations." (Lewis 1996, 12-13)
Lewis, the Agora with all kinds of shops was the main place where
was circulated (Lewis 1996, 14-15). But individual travels were no less
important with regard to economic, military or religious information
1996, 25-50). Official announcements were done by heralds (kêrux)
different from unofficial news coming from the storyteller (logopoios)
(Lewis 1996, 96, 100-101) The Assembly (ekklêsia) was the
place where official
and unofficial news were dealt with. The Council (boule)
about keeping some matters secret in order "to prevent information
reaching the enemy." (Lewis 1996, 116)
Herodotus describes with admiration the Persian
information network that
builds a contrast to the Greek way of sharing news. He writes:
While Xerxes did thus, he sent a messenger (angeleonta)
with news of his present misfortune. Now there is nothing mortal that
accomplishes a course more swiftly than do these messengers (angelon),
by the Persians' skilful contrivance. It is said
that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the
horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of
journey. These are stopped neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor
accomplishing their appointed course with all speed. The
first rider delivers his charge to the second, the second to the
third, and thence it passes on from hand to hand, even as in the Greek
torch-bearers' race in honor of Hephaestus. This riding-post is called
ταῦτά τε ἅμα Ξέρξης ἐποίεε καὶ ἔπεμπε ἐς Πέρσας ἀγγελέοντα
τὴν παρεοῦσάν σφι συμφορήν.
τούτων δὲ τῶν ἀγγέλων ἐστὶ οὐδὲν ὅ τι θᾶσσον παραγίνεται θνητὸν ἐόν:
οὕτω τοῖσι Πέρσῃσι ἐξεύρηται τοῦτο.
λέγουσι γὰρ ὡς ὁσέων ἂν ἡμερέων ᾖ ἡ πᾶσα ὁδός,
τοσοῦτοι ἵπποι τε καὶ ἄνδρες διεστᾶσι κατὰ ἡμερησίην ὁδὸν
ἑκάστην ἵππος τε καὶ ἀνὴρ τεταγμένος:
τοὺς οὔτε νιφετός, οὐκ ὄμβρος, οὐ καῦμα,
οὐ νὺξ ἔργει μὴ οὐ κατανύσαι τὸν προκείμενον αὐτῷ δρόμον τὴν ταχίστην.
ὁ μὲν δὴ πρῶτος δραμὼν παραδιδοῖ τὰ ἐντεταλμένα τῷ δευτέρῳ,
ὁ δὲ δεύτερος τῷ τρίτῳ: τὸ δὲ ἐνθεῦτεν ἤδη κατ᾽ ἄλλον καὶ ἄλλον διεξέρχεται παραδιδόμενα,
κατά περ ἐν Ἕλλησι ἡ λαμπαδηφορίη τὴν τῷ Ἡφαίστῳ ἐπιτελέουσι.
τοῦτο τὸ δράμημα τῶν ἵππων καλέουσι Πέρσαι ἀγγαρήιον.
Hist. 8, 98)
remarks such a system belongs for the Greeks to tyrannies (Lewis 1996,
refers to Aristotle who writes in the Politics:
in fact the close watch upon all things that
usually engender the two
emotions of pride and confidence, and the prevention of the formation
study-circles and other conferences for debate, and the employment
every means that will make people as much as possible unknown to one
another (for familiarity increases
confidence); and for the
people in the city to be always visible and to hang about the
palace-gates (for thus there would
concealment about what they are doing, and they would get into a habit
humble from always acting in a servile way);
and all the other similar devices
of Persian and barbarian tyranny (for
all have the same effect);
and to try not to be uninformed about any chance utterances or actions
of any of the subjects, but to have spies like the women called
(potagogides) at Syracuse and the ‘sharp-ears’ (otakoustas)
that used to be sent out by Hiero wherever there was any gathering or
conference (for when men
are afraid of spies of this sort they keep a check on their tongues,
they do speak freely are less likely not to be found out); and to set men at variance with
one another and cause quarrels between friend and friend and between
and the notables and among the rich. And it is a device of tyranny to
subjects poor, so that a guard may not be kept, and also that the
being busy with their daily affairs may not have leisure to plot
ἀλλὰ πάντα φυλάττειν ὅθεν εἴωθε γίγνεσθαι δύο, φρόνημά τε καὶ πίστις,
καὶ μήτε σχολὰς μήτε ἄλλους συλλόγους ἐπιτρέπειν γίγνεσθαι σχολαστικούς,
καὶ πάντα ποιεῖν ἐξ ὧν ὅτι μάλιστα
ἀγνῶτες ἀλλήλοις ἔσονται πάντες
(ἡ γὰρ γνῶσις πίστιν ποιεῖ μᾶλλον πρὸς ἀλλήλους):
καὶ τὸ τοὺς ἐπιδημοῦντας αἰεὶ φανεροὺς εἶναι καὶ διατρίβειν περὶ θύρας
(οὕτω γὰρ ἂν ἥκιστα λανθάνοιεν τί πράττουσι, καὶ φρονεῖν ἂν ἐθίζοιντο μικρὸν αἰεὶ δουλεύοντες):
καὶ τἆλλα ὅσα τοιαῦτα Περσικὰ καὶ βάρβαρα τυραννικά ἐστι
(πάντα γὰρ ταὐτὸν δύναται):
καὶ τὸ μὴ λανθάνειν πειρᾶσθαι ὅσα τυγχάνει τις λέγων ἢ πράττων τῶν ἀρχομένων, ἀλλ᾽ εἶναι κατασκόπους,
οἷον περὶ Συρακούσας αἱ ποταγωγίδες καλούμεναι,
καὶ οὓς ὠτακουστὰς ἐξέπεμπεν Ἱέρων, ὅπου τις εἴη συνουσία καὶ σύλλογος
(παρρησιάζονταί τε γὰρ ἧττον, φοβούμενοι τοὺς τοιούτους, κἂν παρρησιάζωνται, λανθάνουσιν ἧττον):
καὶ τὸ διαβάλλειν ἀλλήλοις καὶ συγκρούειν καὶ φίλους φίλοις
καὶ τὸν δῆμον τοῖς γνωρίμοις καὶ τοὺς πλουσίους ἑαυτοῖς.
καὶ τὸ πένητας ποιεῖν τοὺς ἀρχομένους τυραννικόν,
ὅπως μήτε φυλακὴ τρέφηται καὶ πρὸς τῷ καθ᾽ ἡμέραν ὄντες ἄσχολοι ὦσιν ἐπιβουλεύειν.
Pol. V, 1313 b)
Lewis, "the official spreading of news from city to city for its own
was virtually unknown in Greece."
(Lewis 1966, 66). Each polis had its own government and laws. They
with each other in cases of war or religious celebrations, the last
ones since the
late fourth century with Philip of Macedon were the occasion for the
dissemination of official news (Lewis 1996, 73). News circulated in
form since end of the fifth century. Lewis remarks that "the oral and
written remained interdependent. The polis, however, never adapted
totally to writing and publication, because the ideology of writing was
with its conception of public life." (Lewis 1996, 153). Media
such as printing and digital technology lead not only to a "structural
transformation of the public sphere" (Habermas 1962) but also of the
relation between the public and the private (Capurro 2003, Buchmann
and the Vocabulary of Military Trickery Everett Wheeler remarks that the
concepts of pseudangelos
and pseudangelia in the sense of false messenger and
false messages were used particularly in a
(Wheeler 1988, 38-41). 
Pseudangelos is mentioned in Book 15 of the
Iliad in the following context. Hera allows Poseidon to help the Greeks
she seduces Zeus to sleep. As Zeus awakes, he is enraged by Poseidon's
intervention. He, Zeus, tells Hera to send him Iris, the messenger
gods (theoisi metangelos) (Homer, Il. XV, 144)
Ida in order
to command Poseidon as quickly as possible to stop the fighting. Zeus
Iris not to be a false messenger (pseudangelos) and to
Poseidon everything he, Zeus, has told to her.
And to Iris first he spoke winged words:
“Up, go, swift Iris; unto the lord Poseidon
bear all these messages (angeilai),
don't be a false messenger (pseudangelos)"
Ἶριν δὲ προτέρην ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα:
‘βάσκ᾽ ἴθι Ἶρι ταχεῖα, Ποσειδάωνι ἄνακτι
πάντα τάδ᾽ ἀγγεῖλαι, μὴ δὲ ψευδάγγελος εἶναι.
Il. XV, 157-159)
Iris, Athenian red-figure lekythos C5th B.C.
Rhode Island School of Design Museum
messenger of the gods is Hermes, the protector of human messengers,
thieves, merchants, and orators.
Hermes, Athenian red-figure lekythos C5th B.C.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Any messenger can be a true or a false one.
From Homer the word passed to Athenian comedy of
the fifth century B.C.
and Aristotle cites a play of unknown author and date
entitled Odysseus the
False Messenger. The function of pseudangelos or pseudangelia,
which first appears in Xenophon, is basically identical to that of pseudoprodosia or pseudoautomolia:
dissemination of false information or luring the enemy into a trap or
move. (Wheeler 1988, 40)
In the Poetics
Aristotle deals with the different kinds of recognizing (anagnorisis)
human being in the context of the representation of an action. One of
recognition based on false inference (paralogismou).
There is also a kind of fictitious discovery
which depends on a false
inference on the part of the audience, for instance in Odysseus
Messenger (to Odussei to pseudangelo), he said he would
bow, which as a matter of fact he had not seen, but to assume that he
would reveal himself by this means is a false inference (paralogismos).
ἔστιν δέ τις καὶ συνθετὴ ἐκ παραλογισμοῦ τοῦ θεάτρου, οἷον ἐν τῷ Ὀδυσσεῖ τῷ ψευδαγγέλῳ:
τὸ μὲν γὰρ τὸ τόξον ἐντείνειν,
ἄλλον δὲ μηδένα, πεποιημένον ὑπὸ τοῦ ποιητοῦ καὶ ὑπόθεσις,
καὶ εἴ γε τὸ τόξον ἔφη γνώσεσθαι ὃ οὐχ ἑωράκει:
τὸ δὲ ὡς δι᾽ ἐκείνου ἀναγνωριοῦντος διὰ τούτου ποιῆσαι παραλογισμός.
Poet. 1455 a 14-15)
inference is based on the presupposition that the observer believes
that he recognizes
someone with a bow as being Odysseus while this is not necessarily the
Red-figure Skyphos of the
Painter, 450-435 BC.
know exactly the Aristotelian reference to the play "Odysseus the False
Messenger" (Karamanou 2019, 68-69), but we know the context in which
uses related terms in the Nicomachean Ethics when analyzing the
between prudence (phronesis) and wisdom (sophia).
the capacity of choosing between different options related to happiness
while wisdom (sophia) concerns the knowledge of what is
(Aristotle, NE 1143 b 20). Aristotle distinguishes prudence from
which is to be praised in case the goals are
good, otherwise it is just cunning (panourgia). But, he
prudence implies cunning the opposite is not the case because good
only be through virtue (arete).
Wickedness (mochtheria) and falsehood (diapseudesthai)
the judgement of reason (Aristotle, NE 1143 b 23-36).
prudence (phronesis) to skill (deinotes)
Aristotle takes a critical distance from Socratic ethics based on
alone. He refers to the saying that some animals have the capacity of
previewing (dynamin pronoetiken) which is the
reason why "some
people go so far to say that certain species of animals have prudence (phronima)"
but he does not make this saying his own (Aristotle, NE 1141 a 27).
distinction between living beings without logos (aloga
beings is in danger of becoming problematic for, as Marcel Detienne and
Jean-Pierre Vernant make clear, human intelligence interferes with
(Detienne and Vernant 1974, 305-306). Prudence in connection with skill
and reason (logos) characterizes human virtue (arete).
regard, Aristotle gives conjectural knowledge a positive value
Vernant 1974, 306) in contrast to Plato who devalues knowledge based on
regard to the ethical value of temperance (sophrosyne)
Vernant 1974, 304). For Aristotle, sagacity (anchinoia)
flexibility of the soul in contrast to the quietness (hesuchia)
temperance (sophrosyne). Socrates relativized the
with regard to bodily activities such as writing and reading, playing
boxing, wrestling, and running (Plato, Charm. 150a-160b; Detienne and
1974, 294-295). Skill (deinotes) as amoral cleverness
goals can be
good or bad was called metis in Greek mythology.
Oceanide, Metis was a daughter
of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys who could change her appearance
(Detienne and Vernant
winged goddess depicted under Zeus' throne, possibly Metis.
In the first
verse of the Odyssey, Odysseus is said to be cunning (polutropon)
Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices,
who wandered full many ways
after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy.
ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν:
(Homer. Od. 1,1)
Vernant point out that Odysseus was polimetis and polumechanos,
always able to find a means to extricate himself from hopeless
Athena and Hephaistos, who are both metis gods, were his
able to make all kinds of crafty devices (panourgos)
Vernant 1974, 25-27). Also, it is worth noting, Hermes was called polumetis
Vernant 1974, 266).
Pithos of Mykonos
with the earliest picture of
the Troyan Horse (670 BC)
https://www.flickr.com/photos/travellingrunes/2949254926/, CC BY-SA
Odysseus and his men
Laconian black-figure cup, 565-560 BC.
Detienne and Vernant, Western metaphysics, particularly Plato and later
Christianity, gave the primacy to truth, overshadowing other kinds of
understanding such as cunning, emphasising the separation between
other animals (Detienne and Vernant 1976, 318).
Pseudangelos and pseudangelia belong to metis
and panourgia particularly in a war context. Wheeler
If the stratagemic vocabulary could borrow from
the language of sophists
and philosophers, such as sophia, techne, and phronesis,
as well as panourgia from the theater, a term from the
of sport would not be peculiar, especially since the language of war
often coincide. [...] Of greater significance, however, are pseudos (lie)
and its adjective pseudes (false). Certainly lying to
enemy or to one's own forces can be a stratagem (cf. Xen., Mem.
4.2.15-17), but Greeks much preferred to use apate rather
than pseudos. In fact the two words, as noted earlier, are
linked: pseudos is the objective aspect of the
process of apate, and if apate's tone is
the same applies to pseudos and pseudes.
archaic Greek thought the opposite of pseudes is
not alethes (true)
but apseudes (not false, without deceit), and the
of aletheia (truth) is lethe (forgetfulness). Pseudos falls
into the same context of deceit and delusion as dolos, metis,
and apate, none of which precisely corresponds to "lie."
Its meaning is either "something which seeks to deceive" or
"something without fulfillment or realization." (Wheeler 1988, 38-39)
In the Hipparchikos, a treatise on the
tasks of the cavalry
commander, Xenophon writes:
He must also have sufficient ingenuity to make a
small company of horse
look large, and conversely, to make a large one look small; to seem to
absent when present, and present when absent (paronta men apeinai,
pareinai); to know how to deceive, not merely how to steal
possessions, but also how to conceal his own force and fall on the
The means to employ for
scaring the enemy are false ambuscades (pseudenedras),
false reliefs (pseudoboetheias) and false information (pseudangelias).
An enemy's confidence is greatest when he is told that the other side
difficulties and is preoccupied.
χρὴ δὲ μηχανητικὸν εἶναι καὶ τοῦ πολλοὺς μὲν φαίνεσθαι τοὺς ὀλίγους ἱππέας,
πάλιν δ᾽ ὀλίγους τοὺς πολλούς, καὶ τοῦ δοκεῖν παρόντα μὲν ἀπεῖναι,
ἀπόντα δὲ παρεῖναι, καὶ τοῦ μὴ τὰ τῶν πολεμίων μόνον κλέπτειν ἐπίστασθαι,
ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς ἑαυτοῦ ἱππέας ἅμα κλέπτοντα ἐξ ἀπροσδοκήτου τοῖς πολεμίοις ἐπιτίθεσθαι.
φοβεῖν γε μὴν τοὺς πολεμίους καὶ ψευδενέδρας οἷόν τε καὶ ψευδοβοηθείας καὶ ψευδαγγελίας ποιοῦντα.
θαρσοῦσι δὲ μάλιστα πολέμιοι, ὅταν ὄντα τοῖς ἐναντίοις πράγματα καὶ ἀσχολίας πυνθάνωνται.
Hipp. 5, 2, 8)
Fake News at the Beginning of World
The US Department of Navy – Naval Historical
Center describes the
scuttling of the German cruiser Admiral Graf Spee in December
17, 1939 as
At dawn on 13 December 1939 the German armored
ship (or "pocket
battleship") Admiral Graf Spee, cruising toward South
America's Rio de la Plata (River
search of enemy merchantmen, sighted distant masts. She had been
the south Atlantic and Indian Oceans
months on a successful campaign to disrupt allied shipping and tie up
and French Naval forces. Twenty-three major warships were actively
her. Now the two sides were about to meet, for those masts belonged to
British cruisers, Exeter, Ajax and Achilles (the
latter part of the Royal New Zealand Navy). Initially thinking these
merchant vessels, Admiral Graf Spee's Captain Hans
for them, continuing his approach once their true nature was known.
British Commodore Henry Harwood, on board Ajax, also
steamed toward his enemy.
The opposing ships closed rapidly to gunfire range, with shooting
just under 20,000 yards. Harwood divided his force, complicating
gunnery, but both sides began hitting early. Exeter was very seriously
by the German's eleven-inch guns: both of her forward eight-inch gun
were knocked out, her bridge crew was largely killed or wounded and
amidships. She gamely remained in action until her remaining turret
longer function. Admiral Graf Spee had also been
struck by Exeter's
shells, and by six-inch projectiles from the other two cruisers. She
smoke screen and turned away, firing on Ajax and Achilles,
and disabled two of the former's gun turrets.
An hour and twenty minutes of intense combat was
followed by a long
day's pursuit as Admiral Graf Spee headed for Montevideo, Uruguay,
harried by Ajax and Achilles.
She arrived just after midnight on 14 December and requested time to
reporting to the Uruguayans that she had been hit some seventy times.
British decided to keep the German warship in port as long as possible
could bring up reinforcements. To this end they resorted to diplomatic
and broadcast misleading reports that the carrier Ark Royal and
battle cruiser Renown were nearby. Captain Langsdorf,
much of his ammunition expended and his ship damaged, was soon
escape was impossible. After consulting with the German Government, in
early evening of 17 December he took his ship out into the broad river
her up, completely demolishing Admiral Graf Spee's after
and leaving her a sunken, burned-out wreck.
Her crew went to Argentina
where, on the night of 19-20 December 1939, Captain Langsdorf took his
life. The Battle of the River Plate, first of World War II's many great
battles, greatly boosted British prestige and morale, but at
The badly injured Exeter,
initially thought not worth repairing, was out of the war for fifteen
Repairs to Ajax lasted
until mid-1940. (Department of the Navy 2006)
The role of
trickery in war is analyzed by Carl von Clausewitz in a chapter on
in war" ("Nachrichten im Kriege") as follows:
A great part of the information [Nachrichten]
obtained in War is
contradictory, a still greater part is false, and by far the greatest
of a doubtful character. What is required of an officer is a certain
discrimination, which only knowledge of men and things and good
give. The law of probability must be his guide. This is not a trifling
difficulty even in respect of the first plans, which can be formed in
chamber outside the real sphere of War, but it is enormously increased
the thick of War itself one report [Nachricht] follows hard upon
heels of another; it is then fortunate if these reports in
other show a certain balance of probability, and thus themselves call
scrutiny. It is much worse for the inexperienced when accident does not
him this service, but one report supports another, confirms it,
finishes off the picture with fresh touches of colour, until necessity
urgent haste forces from us a resolution which will soon be discovered
folly, all those reports having been lies, exaggerations, errors,
&c. In a few words, most reports [Nachrichten] are false,
timidity [Furchtsamkeit] of men acts as a multiplier of lies and
untruths. (Clausewitz 2019, Chapter VI)
großer Teil der Nachrichten, die man im Kriege bekommt,
ist widersprechend, ein noch größerer ist falsch und bei
weitem der größte
einer ziemlichen Ungewißheit unterworfen. Was man hier vom
kann, ist ein gewisses Unterscheiden, was nur Sach- und
Urteil geben können. Das Gesetz des Wahrscheinlichen muß ihn
Schwierigkeit ist nicht unbedeutend bei den ersten Entwürfen, die
man auf dem
Zimmer und noch außer der eigentlichen Kriegssphäre gemacht
werden, aber unendlich
größer ist sie da, wo im Getümmel des Krieges selbst
eine Nachricht die andere
drängt; ein Glück noch, wenn sie, einander widersprechend,
Gleichgewicht erzeugen und die Kritik selbst herausfordern. Viel
den Nichtgeprüften, wenn ihm der Zufall diesen Dienst nicht
eine Nachricht die andere unterstützt, bestätigt, das Bild
mit immer neuen
Farben ausmalt, bis die Notwendigkeit uns in fliegender Eile den
abgedrängt hat, der – bald als Torheit erkannt wird, so wie alle
Nachrichten, als Lügen, Übertreibungen, Irrtümer usw.
Mit kurzen Worten: die
meisten Nachrichten sind falsch, und die Furchtsamkeit der Menschen
neuen Kraft der Lüge und Unwahrheit.
(Clausewitz 1990, 75-76)
The Society of Disinformation
information scientist Thomas
Froehlich has done
extensive research on the society of disinformation (Froehlich 2019,
Froehlich describes a taxonomy of false messages which include:
per se: While in earlier
ages, we might expect lies to
gain no traction (with some exceptions, e.g., Bill Clinton’s “I did not
sex with that woman”), one of Trump’s achievements is to make the lie a
hallmark of his leadership style. [...]
per se: Lacking
knowledge or awareness, being
uninformed about a specific subject or fact. Unfortunately, Donald
provides another strong example: his lack of knowledge of the
how it forms the nature of our democracy, how government works, the
of powers, or the role of the first amendment seems to elude his
misinformation or lies with the
deliberate aim to mislead. The promoters of such untruths can include
governments, government agencies, corporations, or political parties,
or candidates. [...]
information that is incorrect or
inaccurate. The difference between misinformation and disinformation is
the former does not have the intent to deceive. Misinformation may be
mistake, such as getting the time of a movie wrong, or a false rumor,
frequently appears on Facebook [...]
information that makes it
impossible to understand facts and make decisions. Its absence may be
negligence, incompetence, or the desire to mislead; if it comes from a
to mislead, it is disinformation.
An attempt to mislead
by telling the truth, but
not the whole truth. [...]
searching for and
publishing private or identifying
information about an individual or group on the Internet, typically
malicious intent, such as shaming, extortion, coercion, or harassment.
is against their will, and often deliberately distorts the meaning of
private information. [...]
news: Another common form
of disinformation, a type of
“yellow journalism” (news stories with catchy headlines but with little
factual basis) that consists of deliberate disinformation, hoaxes or
stories, spread in traditional media, cable news, or online social
society of disinformation is similar to the house of the Fama described by Ovidius and
quoted in the introduction. This is the other half of the description:
There is no clamor; but the murmuring sound
of subdued voices, such as may arise
from waves of a far sea, which one may hear
who listens at a distance; or the sound
which ends a thunderclap, when Jupiter
has clashed black clouds together. Fickle crowds
are always in that hall, that come and go,
and myriad rumors—false tales mixed with true—
are circulated in confusing words.
Some fill their empty ears with all this talk,
and some spread elsewhere all that's told to them.
The volume of wild fiction grows apace,
and each narrator adds to what he hears.
Credulity is there and rash Mistake,
and empty Joy, and coward Fear alarmed
by quick Sedition, and soft Whisper—all
of doubtful life. Fame sees what things are done
in heaven and on the sea, and on the earth.
She spies all things in the wide universe.
nec tamen est clamor, sed parvae murmura vocis,
qualia de pelagi, siquis procul audiat, undis
esse solent, qualemve sonum, cum Iuppiter atras
increpuit nubes, extrema tonitrua reddunt.
atria turba tenet: veniunt, leve vulgus, euntque,
mixtaque cum veris passim commenta vagantur
milia rumorum confusaque verba volutant.
e quibus hi vacuas inplent sermonibus aures,
hi narrata ferunt alio, mensuraque ficti
crescit, et auditis aliquid novus adicit auctor.
illic Credulitas, illic temerarius Error
vanaque Laetitia est consternatique Timores
Seditioque recens dubioque auctore Susurri.
ipsa, quid in caelo rerum pelagoque geratur
et tellure, videt totumque inquirit in orbem.
I thank Matthew Kelly (University
of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia) for
critical reading and polishing my English.
1. References in (Capurro 2020)
and in (Capurro 1978, 46-49) for the New Testament. In modern Greek the
word for information is plerophoria.
2. For an analysis of the concept of lie from the
perspective of linguistics and communication science see (Knobloch
2014) and (Schottlaender
1927) with regard to lie in the ethics of Greco-Roman philosophy.
Aristotle (1966): Poetics.
J. (Hg.) (2012): Internet
Privacy – Eine
multidisziplinäre Bestandsaufnahme. acatech Studie.
R. (1978): Information.
Ein Beitrag zur
etymologischen und ideengeschichtlichen Begründung des
R. (2003): Medien
Kant und der Cyberspace. In: R. Capurro: Ethik
Stuttgart: Steiner, 182-197.
Work in progress.
R./Holgate, J. (Ed.) (2011): Messages
Angeletics as an Approach to the Phenomenology of Communication. Munich: Fink.
Clausewitz, C. v. (2020): On
War. Project Gutenberg.
(German: Vom Kriege. Augsburg
M./Vernant, J.P. (1974): Les ruses de l'intelligence. La
mètis des Grecs.
Paris: Flammarion. (Engl.
Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society. The University of Chicago
of the Navy - Naval Historical Center, Washington
DC (2006): Battle
of the River Plate,
Th. J. (2019): The
role of pseudo-cognitive authorities and self-deception in
the dissemination of fake news. In: Open Information Science 3,
Froehlich, Th. J. (2020): Ten
Lessons for the Age of Disinformation. Submitted book chapter for Navigating
Fake News, Alternative Facts and Misinformation in a Post-Truth World, edited by Professor Kamiz Dalkir, University of Montreal, to be published in
Habermas, J. (1962): Strukturwandel
der Öffentlichkeit. Frankfurt am Main:
Histories. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Oxford: Oxford University
I (2019): Refiguring Tragedy. Studies in Plays Preserved in Fragments
Reception. Berlin: de Gruyter.
Knobloch, C. (2014): Was man Sprach- und
über die "Lüge" fragen darf – und was nicht. In: Cahiers d'études germaniques,
(1996): News and Society in the Greek Polis. London: Duckworth.
G./Scott, R. (1940): A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford:
München: Artemis Verlag 1983)
R. (1927): Die Lüge in der Ethik der griechisch-römischen
Philosophie. In: Otto
Lipmann, Paul Plaut, Hg.: Die Lüge in
philosophischer, juristischer, pädagogischer, historischer,
sprach- und literaturwissenschaftlicher und entwicklungsgeschichtlicher
Betrachtung. Leipzig: Ambrosius Barth.
L. (1988): Stratagem
and the Vocabulary of Military Trickery. Leiden: Brill.