Born: 384 BC
Birthplace: Athens, Greece
Died: 12-Oct-322 BC
Location of death: Calauria, Argolis, Greece
Cause of death: Suicide
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Author, Politician
Nationality: Ancient Greece
Executive summary: Attic orator and statesman
Demosthenes, the great Attic orator and statesman, was born in 384 (or 383) B.C. His father, who bore the same name, was an Athenian citizen belonging to the deme of Paeania. His mother, Cleobule, was the daughter of Gylon, a citizen who had been active in procuring the protection of the kings of Bosporus for the Athenian colony of Nymphaeon in the Crimea, and whose wife was a native of that region. On these grounds the adversaries of Demosthenes, in later days, used absurdly to taunt him with a traitorous or barbarian ancestry. The boy had a bitter foretaste of life. He was seven years old when his father died, leaving property (in a manufactory of swords, and another of upholstery), which would have yielded a very comfortable income at Athens, and it was possible to live decently on a tenth of it. Demosthenes was born then, to a handsome, though not a great fortune. But his guardians -- two nephews of his father, Aphobus and Demophon, and one Therippides -- abused their trust, and handed over to Demosthenes, when he came of age, rather less than one-seventh of his patrimony. Demosthenes, after studying with Isaeus -- then the great master of forensic eloquence and of Attic law, especially in will cases -- brought an action against Aphobus, and gained a verdict in favor of Demosthenes. But it does not appear that he ever received any money; and, after some more fruitless proceedings against Onetor, the brother-in-law of Aphobus, the matter was dropped, not, however, before his relatives had managed to throw a public burden (the equipment of a ship of war) on their late ward, whereby his resources were yet further straitened. He now became a professional writer of speeches or pleas for the law courts, sometimes speaking himself. Biographers have delighted to relate how painfully Demosthenes made himself a tolerable speaker -- how, with pebbles in his mouth, he tried his lungs against the waves, how he declaimed as he ran up hill, how he shut himself up in a cell, having first guarded himself against a longing for the haunts of men by shaving one side of his head, how he wrote out Thucydides eight times, how he was derided by the Assembly and encouraged by a judicious actor who met him moping about the Peiraeus. He certainly seems to have been the reverse of athletic (the stalwart Aeschines upbraids him with never having been a sportsman), and he probably had some sort of defect or impediment in his speech as a boy. Perhaps the most interesting fact about his work for the law courts is that he seems to have continued it, in some measure, through the most exciting parts of his great political career. The speech for Phormio belongs to the same year as the plea for Megalopolis. The speech against Boeotus "Concerning the Name" comes between the First Philippic and the First Olynthiac. The speech against Pantaenetus comes betweenthe speech "On the Peace" and the Second Philippic.
The political career of Demosthenes, from his first direct contact with public affairs in 355 B.C. to his death in 322, has an essential unity. It is the assertion, in successive forms adapted to successive moments, of unchanging principles. Externally, it is divided into the chapter which precedes and the chapter which follows Chaeronea. But its inner meaning, the secret of its indomitable vigor, the law which harmonizes its apparent contrasts, cannot be understood unless it is regarded as a whole. Still less can it be appreciated in all its large wisdom and sustained self-mastery if it is viewed merely as a duel between the ablest champion and the craftiest enemy of Greek freedom. The time indeed came when Demosthenes and Philip stood face to face as representative antagonists in a mortal conflict. But, for Demosthenes, the special peril represented by Philip, the peril of subjugation to Macedon, was merely a disastrous accident. Philip happened to become the most prominent and most formidable type of a danger which was already threatening Greece before his baleful star arose. As Demosthenes said to the Athenians, if the Macedonian had not existed, they would have made another Philip for themselves. Until Athens recovered something of its old spirit, there must ever be a great standing danger, not for Athens only, but for Greece -- the danger that sooner or later, in some shape, from some quarter -- no man could foretell the hour, the manner or the source -- barbarian violence would break up the gracious and undefiled tradition of separate Hellenic life.
What was the true relation of Athens to Greece? The answer which he gave to this question is the key to the life of Demosthenes. Athens, so Demosthenes held, was the natural head of Greece. Not, however, as an empress holding subject or subordinate cities in a dependence more or less compulsory. Rather as that city which most nobly expressed the noblest attributes of Greek political existence, and which, by her preeminent gifts both of intellect and of moral insight, was primarily responsible, everywhere and always, for the maintenance of those attributes in their integrity. Wherever the cry of the oppressed goes up from Greek against Greek, it was the voice of Athens which should first remind the oppressor that Hellene differed from barbarian in postponing the use of force to the persuasions of equal law. Wherever a barbarian hand offered wrong to any city of the Hellenic sisterhood, it was the arm of Athens which should first be stretched forth in the holy strength of Apollo the Averter. Wherever among her own children the ancient loyalty was yielding to love of pleasure or of base gain, there, above all, it was the duty of Athens to see that the central hearth of Hellas was kept pure. Athens must never again seek "empire" in the sense which became odious under the influence of Cleon and Hyperbolus -- when, to use the image of Aristophanes, the allies were as Babylonian slaves grinding in the Athenian mill. Athens must never permit, if she could help it, the re-establishment of such a domination as Sparta exercised in Greece from the battle of Aegospotami to the battle of Leuctra. Athens must aim at leading a free confederacy, of which the members should be bound to her by their own truest interests. Athens must seek to deserve the confidence of all Greeks alike.
Such, in the belief of Demosthenes, was the part which Athens must perform if Greece was to be safe. But reforms must be effected before Athens could be capable of such a part. The evils to be cured were different phases of one malady. Athens had long been suffering from the profound decay of public spirit. Since the early years of the Peloponnesian War, the separation of Athenian society from the state had been growing more and more marked. The old type of the eminent citizen, who was at once statesman and general, had become almost extinct. Politics were now managed by a small circle of politicians. Wars were conducted by professional soldiers whose troops were chiefly mercenaries, and who were usually regarded by the politicians either as instruments or as enemies. The mass of the citizens took no active interest in public affairs. But, though indifferent to principles, they had quickly sensitive partialities for men, and it was necessary to keep them in good humor. Pericles had introduced the practice of giving a small bounty from the treasury to the poorer citizens, for the purpose of enabling them to attend the theater at the great festivals -- in other words, for the purpose of bringing them under the concentrated influence of the best Attic culture. A provision eminently wise for the age of Pericles easily became a mischief when the once honorable name of "demagogue" began to mean a flatterer of the mob. Before the end of the Peloponnesian War the festival-money was abolished. A few years after the restoration of the democracy it was again introduced. But until 354 B.C. it had never been more than a gratuity, of which the payment depended on the treasury having a surplus. In 354 B.C. Eubulus became steward of the treasury. He was an able man, with a special talent for finance, free from all taint of personal corruption, and sincerely solicitous for the honor of Athens, but enslaved to popularity, and without principles of policy. His first measure was to make the festival-money a permanent item in the budget. Thenceforth this bounty was in reality very much what Demades afterwards called it -- the "cement" of the democracy.
Years before the danger from Macedon was urgent, Demosthenes had begun the work of his life -- the effort to lift the spirit of Athens, to revive the old civic loyalty, to rouse the city into taking that place and performing that part in which her own welfare as well as the safety of Greece prescribed. His formally political speeches must never be considered apart from his forensic speeches in public causes. The Athenian procedure against the proposer of an unconstitutional law -- i.e. of a law incompatible with existing laws -- had a direct tendency to make the law court, in such cases, a political arena. The same tendency was indirectly exerted by the tolerance of Athenian juries (in the absence of a presiding expert like a judge) for irrelevant matter, since it was usually easy for a speaker to make capital out of the adversary's political antecedents. But the forensic speeches of Demosthenes for public causes are not only political in this general sense. They are documents, as indispensable as the Olynthiacs or Philippics, for his own political career. Only by taking them along with the formally political speeches, and regarding the whole as one unbroken series, can we see clearly the full scope of the task which he set before him -- a task in which his long resistance to Philip was only the most dramatic incident, and in which his real achievement is not to be measured by the event of Chaeronea.
A forensic speech, composed for a public cause, opens the political career of Demosthenes with a protest against a signal abuse. In 355 B.C., at the age of twenty-nine, he wrote the speech "Against Androtion." This combats on legal grounds a proposal that the outgoing senate should receive the honor of a golden crown. In its larger aspect, it is a denunciation of the corrupt system which that senate represented, and especially of the manner in which the treasury had been administered by Aristophon. In 354 B.C. Demosthenes composed and spoke the oration "Against Leptines", who had effected a slender saving for the state by the expedient of revoking those hereditary exemptions from taxation which had at various times been conferred in recognition of distinguished merit. The descendants of Harmodius and Aristogeiton alone had been excepted from the operation of the law. This was the first time that the voice of Demosthenes himself had been heard on the public concerns of Athens, and the utterance was a worthy prelude to the career of a statesman. He answers the advocates of the retrenchment by pointing out that the public interest will not ultimately be served by a wholesale violation of the public faith. In the same year he delivered his first strictly political speech, "On the Navy Boards" (Symmories). The Athenians, irritated by the support which Artaxerxes had lately given to the revolt of their allies, and excited by rumors of his hostile preparations, were feverishly eager for a war with Persia. Demosthenes urges that such an enterprise would at present be useless; that it would fail to unite Greece; that the energies of the city should be reserved for a real emergency; but that, before the city can successfully cope with any war, there must be a better organization of resources, and, first of all, a reform of the navy, which he outlines with characteristic lucidity and precision.
Two years later (352 B.C.) he is found dealing with a more definite question of foreign policy. Sparta, favored by the depression of Thebes in the Phocian War, was threatening Megalopolis. Both Sparta and Megalopolis sent embassies to Athens. Demosthenes supported Megalopolis. The ruin of Megalopolis would mean, he argued, the return of Spartan domination in the Peloponnesus. Athenians must not favor the tyranny of any one city. They must respect the rights of all the cities, and thus promote unity based on mutual confidence. In the same year Demosthenes wrote the speech "Against Timocrates", to be spoken by the same Diodorus who had before prosecuted Androtion, and who now combated an attempt to screen Androtion and others from the penalties of embezzlement. The speech "Against Aristocrates", also of 352 B.C., reproves that foreign policy of feeble makeshifts which was now popular at Athens. The Athenian tenure of the Thracian Chersonese partly depended for its security on the goodwill of the Thracian prince Cersobleptes. Charidemus, a soldier of fortune who had already played Athens false, was now the brother-in-law and the favorite of Cersobleptes. Aristocrates proposed that the person of Charidemus should be invested with a special sanctity, by the enactment that whoever attempted his life should be an outlaw from all dominions of Athens. Demosthenes points out that such adulation is as futile as it is fulsome. Athens can secure the permanence of her foreign possessions only in one way -- by being strong enough to hold them.
Thus, between 355 and 352, Demosthenes had laid down the main lines of his policy. Domestic administration must be purified. Statesmen must be made to feel that they are responsible to the state. They must not be allowed to anticipate judgement on their deserts by voting each other golden crowns. They must not think to screen misappropriation of public money by getting partisans to pass new laws about state-debtors. Foreign policy must be guided by a larger and more provident conception of Athenian interests. When public excitement demands a foreign war, Athens must not rush into it without asking whether it is necessary, whether it will have Greek support, and whether she herself is ready for it. When a strong Greek city threatens a weak one, and seeks to purchase Athenian connivance with the bribe of a border-town, Athens must remember that duty and prudence alike command her to respect the independence of all Greeks. When it is proposed, by way of insurance on Athenian possessions abroad, to flatter the favorite of a doubtful ally, Athens must remember that such devices will not avail a power which has no army except on paper, and no ships fit to leave their moorings.
But the time had gone by when Athenians could have tranquil leisure for domestic reform. A danger, calling for prompt action, had at last come very near. For six years Athens had been at war with Philip on account of his seizure of Athens and Amphipolis. Meanwhile he had destroyed Potidaea and founded Philippi. On the Thracian coasts he had become master of Abdera and Maronea. On the Thessalian coast he had acquired Methone. In a second invasion of Thessaly, he had overthrown the Phocians under Onomarchus, and had advanced to Thermopylae, to find the gates of Greece closed against him by an Athenian force. He had then marched to Heraeon on the Propontis, and had dictated a peace to Cersobleptes. He had formed an alliance with Cardia, Perinthus and Byzantium. Lastly, he had begun to show designs on the great Confederacy of Olynthus, the more warlike Miletus of the North. The First Philippic of Demosthenes was spoken in 351 B.C. The Third Philippic -- the latest of the extant political speeches -- was spoken in 341 B.C. Between these he delivered eight political orations, of which seven are directly concerned with Philip. The whole series falls into two great divisions. The first division comprises those speeches which were spoken against Philip while he was still a foreign power threatening Greece from without. Such are the First Philippic and the three orations for Olynthus. The second division comprises the speeches spoken against Philip when, by admission to the Amphictyonic Council, he had now won his way within the circle of the Greek states, and when the issue was no longer between Greece and Macedonia, but between the Greek and Macedonian parties in Greece. Such are the speech "On the Peace", the speech "On the Embassy", the speech "On the Chersonese", the Second and Third Philippics.
The First Philippic, spoken early in 351 B.C., was no sudden note of alarm drawing attention to an unnoticed peril. On the contrary, the Assembly was weary of the subject. For six years the war with Philip had been a theme of barren talk. Demosthenes urges that it is time to do something, and to do it with a plan. Athens fighting Philip has fared, he says, like an amateur boxer opposed to a skilled pugilist. The helpless hands have only followed blows which a trained eye should have taught them to parry. An Athenian force must be stationed in the north, at Lemnos or Thasos. Of 2000 infantry and 200 cavalry at least one quarter must be Athenian citizens capable of directing the mercenaries.
Later in the same year Demosthenes did another service to the cause of national freedom. Rhodes, severed by its own act from the Athenian Confederacy, had since 355 been virtually subject to Mausolus, prince of Caria, himself a tributary of Persia. Mausolus died in 351, and was succeeded by his widow Artemisia. The democratic party in Rhodes now appealed to Athens for help in throwing off the Carian yoke. Demosthenes supported their application in his speech "For the Rhodians." No act of his life was a truer proof of statesmanship. He failed. But at least he had once more warned Athens that the cause of political freedom was everywhere her own, and that, wherever that cause was forsaken, there a new danger was created both for Athens and for Greece.
Next year (350) an Athenian force under Phocion was sent to Euboea, in support of Plutarchus, tyrant of Eretria, against the faction of Cleitarchus. Demosthenes protested against spending strength, needed for greater objects, on the local quarrels of a despot. Phocion won a victory at Tamynae. But the "inglorious and costly war" entailed an vast outlay on the ransom of captives alone, and ended in the total destruction of Athenian influence throughout Euboea. That island was now left an open field for the intrigues of Philip. Worst of all, the party of Eubulus not only defeated a proposal, arising from this campaign, for applying the festival-money to the war-fund, but actually carried a law making it high treason to renew the proposal. The degree to which political enmity was exasperated by the Euboean War may be judged from the incident of Midias, an adherent of Eubulus, and a type of opulent rowdyism. Demosthenes was choragus of his tribe, and was wearing the robe of that sacred office at the great festival in the theater of Dionysus, when Midias struck him on the face. The affair was eventually compromised. The speech "Against Midias" written by Demosthenes for the trial (in 349) was neither spoken nor completed, and remains, as few will regret, a sketch.
It was now three years since, in 352, the Olynthians had sent an embassy to Athens, and had made peace with their only sure ally. In 350 a second Olynthian embassy had sought and obtained Athenian help. The hour of Olynthus had indeed come. In 349 Philip opened war against the Chalcidic towns of the Olynthian League. The First and Second Olynthiacs of Demosthenes were spoken in that year in support of sending one force to defend Olynthus and another to attack Philip. "Better now than later", is the thought of the First Olynthiac. The Second argues that Philip's strength is overrated. The Third -- spoken in 348 -- carries us into the midst of action. It deals with practical details. The festival-fund must be used for the war. The citizens must serve in person. A few months later, Olynthus and the thirty-two towns of the confederacy were swept from the earth. Men could walk over their sites, Demosthenes said seven years afterwards, without knowing that such cities had existed. It was now certain that Philip could not be stopped outside of Greece. The question was, What point within Greece shall he be allowed to reach?
Eubulus and his party, with that versatility which is the privilege of political vagueness, now began to call for a congress of the allies to consider the common danger. They found a brilliant interpreter in Aeschines, who, after having been a tragic actor and a clerk to the assembly, had entered political life with the advantages of a splendid gift for eloquence, a fine presence, a happy address, a ready wit and a facile conscience. While his opponents had thus suddenly become warlike, Demosthenes had become pacific. He saw that Athens must have time to collect strength. Nothing could be gained, meanwhile, by going on with the war. Macedonian sympathizers at Athens, of whom Philocrates was the chief, also favored peace. Eleven envoys, including Philocrates, Aeschines, and Demosthenes, were sent to Philip in February 346 B.C. After a debate at Athens, peace was concluded with Philip in April. Philip on the one hand, Athens and her allies on the other, were to keep what they respectively held at the time when the peace was ratified. But here the Athenians made a fatal error. Philip was bent on keeping the door of Greece open. Demosthenes was bent on shutting it against him. Philip was now at war with the people of Halus in Thessaly. Thebes had for ten years been at war with Phocis. Here were two distinct chances for Philip's armed intervention in Greece. But if the Halians and the Phocians were included in the peace, Philip could not bear arms against them without violating the peace. Accordingly Philip insisted that they should not be included. Demosthenes insisted they should be included. They were not included. The result followed speedily. The same envoys were sent a second time to Philip at the end of April 346 for the purpose of receiving his oaths in ratification of the peace. It was late in June before he returned from Thrace to Pella -- thus gaining, under the terms, all the towns that he had taken meanwhile. He next took the envoys with him through Thessaly to Thermopylae. There -- at the invitation of Thessalians and Thebans -- he intervened in the Phocian War. Phalaecus surrendered. Phocis was crushed. Philip took its place in the Amphictyonic Council, and was thus established as a Greek power in the very center, at the sacred hearth, of Greece. The right of precedence in consultation of the oracle was transferred from Athens to Philip. While indignant Athenians were clamoring for the revocation of the peace, Demosthenes upheld it in his speech "On the Peace" in September. It ought never to have been made on such terms, he said. But, having been made, it had better be kept. "If we went to war now, where should we find allies? And after losing Oropus, Amphipolis, Cardia, Chios, Cos, Rhodes, Byzantium, shall we fight about the shadow of Delphi?"
During the eight years between the peace of Philocrates and the battle of Chaeronea, the authority of Demosthenes steadily grew, until it became first predominant and then paramount. He had, indeed, a melancholy advantage. Each year his argument was more and more cogently enforced by the logic of facts. In 344 he visited the Peloponnesus for the purpose of counteracting Macedonian intrigue. Mistrust, he told the Peloponnesian cities, is the safeguard of free communities against tyrants. Philip lodged a formal complaint at Athens. Here, as elsewhere, the future master of Greece reminds us of Napoleon Bonaparte on the eve of the first empire. He has the same imperturbable and persuasive effrontery in protesting that he is doing one thing at the moment when his energies are concentrated on doing the opposite. Demosthenes replied in the Second Philippic. "If", he said, "Philip is the friend of Greece, we are doing wrong. If he is the enemy of Greece, we are doing right. Which is he? I hold him to be our enemy, because everything that he has hitherto done has benefited himself and hurt us." The prosecution of Aeschines for malversation on the embassy (commonly known as De falsa legatione), which was brought to an issue in the following year, marks the moral strength of the position now held by Demosthenes. When the gravity of the charge and the complexity of the evidence are considered, the acquittal of Aeschines by a narrow majority must be deemed his condemnation. The speech "On the Affairs of the Chersonese" and the Third Philippic were the crowning efforts of Demosthenes. Spoken in the same year, 341 B.C., and within a short space of each other, they must be taken together. The speech "On the Affairs of the Chersonese" regards the situation chiefly from an Athenian point of view. "If the peace means", argues Demosthenes, "that Philip can seize with impunity one Athenian possession after another, but that Athenians shall not on their peril touch aught that belongs to Philip, where is the line to be drawn? We shall go to war, I am told, when it is necessary. If the necessity has not come yet, when will it come?" The Third Philippic surveys a wider horizon. It ascends from the Athenian to the Hellenic view. Philip has annihilated Olynthus and the Chalcidic towns. He has ruined Phocis. He has frightened Thebes. He has divided Thessaly. Euboea and the Peloponnesus are his. His power stretches from the Adriatic to the Hellespont. Where shall be the end? Athens is the last hope of Greece. And, in this final crisis, Demosthenes was the embodied energy of Athens. It was Demosthenes who went to Byzantium, brought the estranged city back to the Athenian alliance, and snatched it from the hands of Philip. It was Demosthenes who, when Philip had already seized Elatea, hurried to Thebes, who by his passionate appeal gained one last chance, the only possible chance, for Greek freedom, who broke down the barrier of an inveterate jealousy, who brought Thebans to fight beside Athenians, and who thus won at the eleventh hour a victory for the spirit of loyal union which took away at least one bitterness from the unspeakable calamity of Chaeronea.
But the work of Demosthenes was not closed by the ruin of his cause. During the last sixteen years of his life (338-322) he rendered services to Athens not less important, and perhaps more difficult, than those which he had rendered before. He was now, as a matter of course, foremost in the public affairs of Athens. In January 337, at the annual winter Festival of the Dead in the Outer Ceramicus, he spoke the funeral oration over those who had fallen at Chaeronea. He was member of a commission for strengthening the fortifications of the city. He administered the festival-fund. During a dearth which visited Athens between 330 and 326 he was charged with the organization of public relief. In 324 he was chief of the sacred embassy to Olympia. Already, in 336, Ctesiphon had proposed that Demosthenes should receive a golden crown from the state, and that his extraordinary merits should be proclaimed in the theater at the Great Dionysia. The proposal was adopted by the senate as a bill; but it must be passed by the Assembly before it could become an act. To prevent this, Aeschines gave notice, in 336, that he intended to proceed against Ctesiphon for having proposed an unconstitutional measure. For six years Aeschines avoided action on this notice. At last, in 330, the patriotic party felt strong enough to force him to an issue. Aeschines spoke the speech "Against Ctesiphon", an attack on the whole public life of Demosthenes. Demosthenes gained an overwhelming victory for himself and for the honor of Athens in the most finished, the most splendid and the most pathetic work of ancient eloquence the immortal oration "On the Crown."
In the winter of 325-324 Harpalus, the receiver-general of Alexander the Great in Asia, fled to Greece, taking with him 8000 mercenaries, and vast treasure. On the motion of Demosthenes he was warned from the harbors of Attica. Having left his troops and part of his treasure at Taenarum, he again presented himself at the Peiraeus, and was now admitted. He spoke fervently of the opportunity which offered itself to those who loved the freedom of Greece. All Asia would rise with Athens to throw off the hated yoke. Fiery patriots like Hypereides were in raptures. For zeal which could be bought Harpalus had other persuasions. But Demosthenes stood firm. War with Alexander would, he saw, be madness. It could have but one result -- some indefinitely worse doom for Athens. Antipater and Olympias presently demanded the surrender of Harpalus. Demosthenes opposed this. But he reconciled the dignity with the loyalty of Athens by carrying a decree that Harpalus should be arrested, and that his treasure should be deposited in the Parthenon, to be held in trust for Alexander. Harpalus escaped from prison. The amount of the treasure, which Harpalus had stated as 700 talents, proved to be no more than 350. Demosthenes proposed that the Areopagus should inquire what had become of the other 350. Six months, spent in party intrigues, passed before the Areopagus gave in their report. The report inculpated nine persons. Demosthenes headed the list of the accused. Hypereides was among the ten public prosecutors. Demosthenes was condemned, fined fifty talents, and, in default of payment, imprisoned. After a few days he escaped from prison to Aegina, and thence to Troezen. Two things in this obscure affair are beyond reasonable doubt. First, that Demosthenes was not bribed by Harpalus. The hatred of the Macedonian party towards Demosthenes, and the fury of those vehement patriots who cried out that he had betrayed their best opportunity, combined to procure his condemnation, with the help, probably, of some appearances which were against him. Secondly, it can hardly be questioned that, by withstanding the hot-headed patriots at this juncture, Demosthenes did heroic service to Athens.
Next year (323 B.C.) Alexander died. Then the voice of Demosthenes, calling Greece to arms, rang out like a trumpet. Early in August 322 the battle of Crannon decided the Lamian War against Greece. Antipater demanded, as the condition on which he would refrain from besieging Athens, the surrender of the leading patriots. Demades moved the decree of the Assembly by which Demosthenes, Hypereides, and some others were condemned to death as traitors. On the 10th of Boedromion (September 16) 322, a Macedonian garrison occupied Munychia. It was a day of solemn and happy memories, a day devoted, in the celebration of the Great Mysteries, to sacred joy -- the day on which the glad procession of the Initiated returned from Eleusis to Athens. It happened, however, to have another association, more significant than any ironical contrast for the present purpose of Antipater. It was the day on which, thirteen years before, Alexander had punished the rebellion of Thebes with annihilation.
The condemned men had fled to Aegina. Parting there from Hypereides and the rest, Demosthenes went on to Calauria, a small island off the coast of Argolis. In Calauria there was an ancient temple of Poseidon, once a center of Calauria. Minyan and Ionian worship, and surrounded with a peculiar sanctity as having been, from time immemorial, an inviolable refuge for the pursued. Here Demosthenes sought asylum. Archias of Thurii, a man who, like Aeschines, had begun life as a tragic actor, and who was now in the pay of Antipater, soon traced the fugitive, landed in Calauria, and appeared before the temple of Poseidon with a body of Thracian spearmen. Plutarch's picturesque narrative bears the marks of artistic elaboration. Demosthenes had dreamed the night before that he and Archias were competing for a prize as tragic actors; the house applauded Demosthenes; but his chorus was shabbily equipped, and Archias gained the prize. Archias was not the man to stick at sacrilege. In Aegina, Hypereides and the others had been taken from the shrine of Aeacus. But he hesitated to violate an asylum so peculiarly sacred as the Calaurian temple. Standing before its open door, with his Thracian soldiers around him, he endeavored to prevail on Demosthenes to quit the holy precinct. Antipater would be certain to pardon him. Demosthenes sat silent, with his eyes fixed on the ground. At last, as the emissary persisted in his bland persuasions, he looked up and said, "Archias, you never moved me by your acting, and you will not move me now by your promises." Archias lost his temper, and began to threaten. "Now", rejoined Demosthenes, "you speak like a real Macedonian oracle; before you were acting. Wait a moment, then, till I write to my friends." With these words, Demosthenes withdrew into the inner part of the temple -- still visible, however, from the entrance. He took out a roll of paper, as if he were going to write, put the pen to his mouth, and bit it, as was his habit in composing. Then he threw his head back, and drew his cloak over it. The Thracian spearmen, who were watching him from the door, began to gibe at his cowardice. Archias went in to him, encouraged him to rise, repeated his old arguments, talked to him of reconciliation with Antipater. By this time Demosthenes felt that the poison which he had sucked from the pen was beginning to work. He drew the cloak from his face, and looked steadily at Archias. "Now you can play the part of Creon in the tragedy as soon as you like", he said, "and cast forth my body unburied. But I, O gracious Poseidon, quit thy temple while I yet live; Antipater and his Macedonians have done what they could to pollute it." He moved towards the door, calling to them to support his tottering steps. He had just passed the altar of the god, when he fell, and with a. groan gave up the ghost (October 322 B.C.).
As a statesman, Demosthenes needs no epitaph but his own words in the speech "On the Crown", -- I say that, if the event had been manifest to the whole world beforehand, not even then ought Athens to have forsaken this course, if Athens had any regard for her glory, or for her past, or for the ages to come. The Persian soldier in Herodotus, following Xerxes to foreseen ruin, confides to his fellow-guest at the banquet that the bitterest pain which man can know is complete, but helpless, prescience. In the grasp of a more inexorable necessity, the champion of Greek freedom was borne onward to a more tremendous catastrophe than that which strewed the waters of Salamis with Persian wrecks and the field of Plataea with Persian dead; but to him, at least, it was given to proclaim aloud the clear and sure foreboding that filled his soul, to do all that true heart and free hand could do for his cause, and, though not to save, yet to encourage, to console and to ennoble. As the inspiration of his life was larger and higher than the mere courage of resistance, so his merit must be regarded as standing altogether outside and above the struggle with Macedon. The great purpose which he set before him was to revive the public spirit, to restore the political vigor, and to reestablish the Panhellenic influence of Athens -- never for her own advantage merely, but always in the interest of Greece. His glory is, that while he lived he helped Athens to live a higher life. Wherever the noblest expressions of her mind are honored, wherever the large conceptions of Pericles command the admiration of statesmen, wherever the architect and the sculptor love to dwell on the masterpieces of Ictinus and Phidias, wherever the spell of ideal beauty or of lofty contemplation is exercised by the creations of Sophocles or of Plato, there it will be remembered that the spirit which wrought in all these would have passed sooner from among men, if it had not been recalled from a trance, which others were content to mistake for the last sleep, by the passionate breath of Demosthenes.
The orator in whom artistic genius was united, more perfectly than in any other man, with moral enthusiasm and with intellectual grasp, has held in the modern world the same rank which was accorded to him in the old; but he cannot enjoy the same appreciation. Macaulay's ridicule has rescued from oblivion the criticism which pronounced the eloquence of Chatham to be more ornate than that of Demosthenes, and less diffuse than that of Cicero. Did the critic, asks Macaulay, ever hear any speaking that was less ornamented than that of Demosthenes, or more diffuse than that of Cicero? Yet the critic's remark was not so pointless as Macaulay thought it. Sincerity and intensity are, indeed, to the modern reader, the most obvious characteristics of Demosthenes. His style is, on the whole, singularly free from what we are accustomed to regard as rhetorical embellishment. Where the modern orator would employ a wealth of imagery, or elaborate a picture in exquisite detail, Demosthenes is content with a phrase or a word. Edmund Burke uses, in reference to Hyder Ali, the same image which Demosthenes uses in reference to Philip. "Compounding all the materials of fury, havoc, desolation, into one black cloud, he hung for a while on the declivity of the mountains. Whilst the authors of all these evils were idly and stupidly gazing on this menacing meteor, which darkened all their horizon, it suddenly burst, and poured down the whole of its contents upon the plains of the Carnatic." Demosthenes forbears to amplify. "The people gave their voice, and the danger which hung upon our borders went by like a cloud." To our modern feeling, the eloquence of Demosthenes exhibits everywhere a general stamp of earnest and simple strength. But it is well to remember the charge made against the style of Demosthenes by a contemporary Greek orator, and the defense offered by the best Greek critic of oratory. Aeschines reproached the diction of Demosthenes with excess of elaboration and adornment. Dionysius, in reply, admits that Demosthenes does at times depart from simplicity -- that his style is sometimes elaborately ornate and remote from the ordinary usage. But, he adds, Demosthenes adopts this manner where it is justified by the elevation of his theme. The remark may serve to remind us of our modern disadvantage for a full appreciation of Demosthenes. The old world felt, as we do, his moral and mental greatness, his fire, his self-devotion, his insight. But it felt also, as we can never feel, the versatile perfection of his skill. This it was that made Demosthenes unique to the ancients. The ardent patriot, the far-seeing statesman, were united in his person with the consummate and unapproachable artist. Dionysius devoted two special treatises to Demosthenes -- one on his language and style, the other on his treatment of subject-matter. The latter is lost. The former is one of the best essays in literary criticism which antiquity has bequeathed to us. The idea which it works out is that Demosthenes has perfected Greek prose by fusing in a glorious harmony the elements which had hitherto belonged to separate types. The austere dignity of Antiphon, the plain elegance of Lysias, the smooth and balanced finish of that middle or normal character which is represented by Isocrates, have come together in Demosthenes. Nor is this all. In each species he excels the specialists. He surpasses the school of Antiphon in perspicuity, the school of Lysias in verve, the school of Isocrates in variety, in felicity, in symmetry, in pathos, in power. Demosthenes has at command all the discursive brilliancy which fascinates a festal audience. He has that power of concise and lucid narration, of terse reasoning, of persuasive appeal, which is required by the forensic speaker. His political eloquence can worthily image the majesty of the state, and enforce weighty counsels with lofty and impassioned fervor. A true artist, he grudged no labor which could make the least part of his work more perfect. Isocrates spent ten years on the Panegyricus. After Plato's death, a manuscript was found among his papers with the first eight words of the Republic arranged in several different orders. What wonder, then, asks the Greek critic, if the diligence of Demosthenes was no less incessant and minute? "To me", he says, "it seems far more natural that a man engaged in composing political discourses, imperishable memorials of his power, should neglect not even the smallest details, than that the veneration of painters and sculptors, who are darkly showing forth their manual tact and toil in a corruptible material, should exhaust the refinements of their art on the veins, on the feathers, on the down of the lip, and the like niceties."
The ancient fame of Demosthenes as an orator can be compared only with the fame of Homer as a poet. Cicero, with generous appreciation, recognizes Demosthenes as the standard of perfection. Dionysius, the closest and most penetrating of his ancient critics, exhausts the language of admiration in showing how Demosthenes united and elevated whatever had been best in earlier masters of the Greek idiom. Hermogenes, in his works on rhetoric, refers to Demosthenes as "the orator." The writer of the treatise On Sublimity knows of no heights loftier than those to which Demosthenes has risen. From his own younger contemporaries, Aristotle and Theophrastus, who founded their theory of rhetoric in large part on his practice, down to the latest Byzantines, the consent of theorists, orators, antiquarians, anthologists, lexicographers, offered the same unvarying homage to Demosthenes. His work busied commentators such as Xenon, Minucian, Basilicus, Aelius, Theon, Zosimus of Gaza. Arguments to his speeches were drawn up by rhetoricians so distinguished as Numenius and Libanius. Accomplished men of letters, such as Julius Vestinus and Aelius Dionysius, selected from his writings choice passages for declamation or perusal, of which fragments are incorporated in the miscellany of Photius and the lexicons of Harpocration, Pollux and Su´das. It might have been anticipated that the purity of a text so widely read and so renowned would, from the earliest times, have been guarded with jealous care. The works of the three great dramatists had been thus protected, about 340 B.C., by a standard Attic recension. But no such good fortune befell the works of Demosthenes. Alexandrian criticism was chiefly occupied with poetry. The titular works of Demosthenes were, indeed, registered with those of the other orators, in the catalogues of Alexandria and Pergamum. But no thorough attempt was made to separate the authentic works from those spurious works which had even then become mingled with them. Philosophical schools which, like the Stoic, felt the ethical interest of Demosthenes, cared little for his language. The rhetoricians who imitated or analyzed his style cared little for the criticism of his text. Their treatment of it had, indeed, a direct tendency to falsify it. It was customary to indicate by marks those passages which were especially useful for study or imitation. It then became a rhetorical exercise to recast, adapt or interweave such passages. Sopater, the commentator on Hermogenes, wrote on the subject of "adaptations or transcripts of passages in Demosthenes." Such manipulation could not but lead to interpolations or confusions in the original text. Great, too, as was the attention bestowed on the thought, sentiment and style of Demosthenes, comparatively little care was bestowed on his subject-matter. He was studied more on the moral and the formal side than on the real side. An incorrect substitution of one name for another, a reading which gave an impossible date, insertions of spurious laws or decrees, were points which few readers would stop to notice. Hence it resulted that, while Plato, Thucydides and Demosthenes, were the most universally popular of the classical prosewriters, the text of Demosthenes, the most widely used perhaps of all, was also the least pure. His more careful students at length made an effort to arrest the process of corruption, with editions deemed more canonical than those considered "vulgates."
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