Ancient History & Civilisation

IV. THE END OF AN AGE

When the news of his death reached Greece, revolts against the Macedonian authority broke out everywhere. Theban exiles in Athens organized a force of patriots, and besieged the Macedonian garrison in the Cadmeia. In Athens itself, where many had prayed for an end to Alexander, the antiMacedonian party, feeling that its prayers had been heard, crowned themselves with garlands and feasted over the death of him whom they had courted as a god—singing, says Plutarch, “triumphant songs of victory, as if by their own valor they had vanquished him.”42

For a moment Demosthenes was in his glory. He had not fared well during Alexander’s campaigns: he had been convicted of accepting a heavy bribe from Harpalus, and had been flung into jail; he had been allowed to escape, and had lived nine months of fretting exile in Troezen. Now he was recalled, and was sent as envoy to the Peloponnesus to raise allies for Athens in a war of liberation. A united force marched north, met Antipater at Crannon, and was destroyed. The old soldier, who lacked Alexander’s sensitivity to Athenian culture, laid the most arduous terms upon the city, requiring it to pay the cost of the war, to receive a Macedonian garrison, to abandon its democratic constitution and courts, to disfranchise and deport to colonial settlements all citizens (12,000 out of 21,000) possessing less than two thousand drachmas’ worth of property, and to surrender Demosthenes, Hypereides, and two other anti-Macedonian orators. Demosthenes fled to Calauria and took refuge in a temple sanctuary. Surrounded by Macedonian pursuers, he drank a phial of poison, and died before he could drag himself out of the sacred court.

The same tragic year saw the end of Aristotle. He had long been unpopular in Athens: the Academy and the school of Isocrates disliked him as a critic and a rival, while the patriots looked upon him as a leader of the pro-Macedonian party. Advantage was taken of Alexander’s death to bring an accusation of impiety against Aristotle; heretical passages from his books were brought in as evidence; he was charged with having offered divine honors to the dictator Hermeias, who, being a slave, could not have been a god. Aristotle quietly left the city, saying that he would not give Athens a chance to sin a second time against philosophy.43 He withdrew to the home of his mother’s family in Chalcis, leaving the Lyceum in the care of Theophrastus. The Athenians passed sentence of death upon him, but had neither opportunity nor need to execute it. For either through a stomach illness aggravated by his flight, or, as some say,44 by taking poison, Aristotle died a few months after leaving Athens, in the sixty-third year of his age. His will was a model of kindly consideration for his second wife, his family, and his slaves.

The death of Greek democracy was both a violent and a natural death, in which the fatal agents were the organic disorders of the system; the sword of Macedon merely added the final blow. The city-state had proved incapable of solving the problems of government: it had failed to preserve order within, and defense without; despite the appeals of Gorgias, Isocrates, and Plato for some Dorian discipline to tame Ionian freedom, it had discovered no way of reconciling local autonomy with national stability and power; and its love of liberty had seldom interfered with its passion for empire. The class war had become bitter beyond control, and had turned democracy into a contest in legislative looting. The Assembly, a noble body in its better days, had degenerated into a mob hating all superiority, rejecting all restraint, ruthless before weakness but cringing before power, voting itself every favor, and taxing property to the point of crushing initiative, industry, and thrift. Philip, Alexander, and Antipater did not destroy Greek freedom; it had destroyed itself; and the order that they forged preserved for centuries longer, and disseminated through Egypt and the East, a civilization that might otherwise have died of its own tyrannous anarchy.

And yet, had oligarchy or monarchy done any better? The Thirty had committed more atrocities against life and property in the few months of their power than the democracy in the preceding hundred years.45 And while democracy was producing chaos in Athens, monarchy was producing chaos in Macedonia—a dozen wars of succession, a hundred assassinations, and a thousand interferences with freedom—with no redeeming glory of literature, science, philosophy, or art. The weakness and smallness of the state in Greece had been a boon to the individual, if not in body, certainly in soul; that freedom, costly though it was, had generated the achievements of the Greek mind. Individualism in the end destroys the group, but in the interim it stimulates personality, mental exploration, and artistic creation. Greek democracy was corrupt and incompetent, and had to die. But when it was dead men realized how beautiful its heyday had been; and all later generations of antiquity looked back to the centuries of Pericles and Plato as the zenith of Greece, and of all history.

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