Introduction to Demosthenes
[c. 384–322 BC]
Demosthenes was regarded by later generations as Athens’ most accomplished orator. He also came to symbolize Athens’ unequal struggle against Philip of Macedon; his speeches advocating resistance to Philip, or defending this policy in retrospect, were later regarded as classics. His suicide in 322 BC, after he had encouraged the Athenians to an unsuccessful attempt to throw off the Macedonian yoke, coincided with the end both of a fully independent Athenian foreign policy and of full democracy.
Demosthenes was born about 384. He began his career as an orator at the age of twenty-one with a successful prosecution of the guardians to whom his dead father had entrusted his estate. Numerous law-court speeches followed, in which Demosthenes acted as speech-writer for others; he also launched prosecutions in his own right against leading political figures. From the late 350s, Demosthenes became a powerful voice in the popular assembly, warning that the growing power of Macedonia posed a threat to Athens. Macedonia had long been regarded as a rather backward and unstable region on the fringes of the Greek world. But it was now united under Philip II, who showed every sign of expansionist aims. Demosthenes argued that Macedonian power ought to be checked as soon as possible, and as far from Athens as possible. The case was put most forcefully in his Olynthiac speeches of 349, where Demosthenes called upon the Athenians to send military aid to the city of Olynthus in the Chalcidice. In 346 Demosthenes was a member of the negotiating team that agreed a treaty between Philip and Athens, which the Athenians called the Peace of Philocrates. But Demosthenes later repudiated the treaty and distanced himself from it, and, in a series of speeches known since antiquity as thePhilippics, denounced Philip and urged bold military action. War became inevitable in 340 when Philip laid siege to Byzantium and threatened Athens’ access to grain from the Black Sea. Finally in 338, as Philip advanced southwards, Demosthenes engineered an alliance with Athens’ neighbour Thebes and mobilized an army to meet Philip in Boeotia near the town of Chaeronea.
The result was a crushing defeat for the allies. Demosthenes, who was present at the battle, was later accused by his enemies of abandoning his shield and running away. But despite this accusation, and despite the failure of his policy, he evidently stood high in Athenian public opinion at this time, as he was chosen to deliver the funeral oration over the Chaeronea war-dead. Furthermore, in 336, when the danger had receded, he was also voted an honorific crown in recognition of his services to Athens. In that same year, Philip was assassinated and his son, the young Alexander, then only twenty years old, acceded. Thebes saw an opportunity to revolt from Macedon, and Demosthenes encouraged the Athenians to do the same. But Athens remained neutral, Thebes was destroyed and Demosthenes was lucky not to have been surrendered to Alexander in the aftermath. At this time Demosthenes delivered one of his most famous and most successful speeches, On the crown. In this speech, technically a defence of Ctesiphon, the man who had moved the motion to vote Demosthenes his gold crown after Chaeronea, Demosthenes set out a defence and justification of his whole policy of opposition to Philip.
The final act of Demosthenes’ life came when news of Alexander’s death in Asia in 323 reached Athens. Demosthenes had shortly before been forced into exile on a charge of receiving a bribe; now he returned to the city and lent his support to Athens’ attempt to shake off Macedonian domination. The forces of Athens and Aetolia besieged Antipater, Alexander’s regent, in Lamia in Thessaly, in what became known as the Lamian War. But Antipater was finally relieved, and in the battle of Crannon in 322 he defeated Athens and her allies decisively. Demosthenes fled to Calauria in the Peloponnese, where he committed suicide rather than fall into Antipater’s hands. Antipater imposed on Athens a garrison at Munychia, and insisted that the poorest Athenians be stripped of their political rights.
Plutarch pairs Demosthenes with the Roman statesman and orator Cicero. The pairing was well established before Plutarch. Both men were considered masters of oratory in their respective languages and models for later orators and stylists; both employed their oratorical powers in ultimately unsuccessful struggles against autocracy: Demosthenes against Philip, Cicero against first Julius Caesar, then Octavian and finally Mark Antony, who had him murdered. Furthermore, Cicero himself seems to have cultivated the comparison with Demosthenes; he even used the name ‘Philippics’ for a series of his own speeches in which he denounced Mark Antony.
Plutarch sets out some of the similarities he saw between the two men in the prologue to the two Lives which immediately precedes Demosthenes. First he notes similarities in character: ‘the same personal ambition, the same love of liberty and the same lack of courage in the face of war or physical danger’. Then he lists similarities in fortunes: they were both orators from humble beginnings ‘who opposed kings and tyrants, who each lost their daughters, who were exiled from their native cities, recalled with honour, forced to seek refuge again, were finally captured by their enemies and lost their lives at the same time as their fellow-countrymen lost their liberty’ (ch. 3). Plutarch also declares in the prologue that he will not compare the two men as orators but as statesmen. In reality the two spheres of their activity are not so easily separated; this Life has much on Demosthenes’ education and development as a speaker, and uses his own words as a source for his actions and intentions. In this respect, Demosthenes has much in common with biographies of poets and philosophers, a popular form of writing in the ancient world, which gave much attention to training and development and which ransacked an author’s works for details of his life.
Plutarch is particularly interested in this Life in the tension between Demosthenes’ power as a speaker to inspire others to action and his own personal cowardice and failure, most notably at the battle of Chaeronea. This weakness of character is evident early on: his voice is weak, he is laughed at in his first attempts at public-speaking and demoralized because of it; he has to learn by dint of good technique to carry conviction (chs. 6–7). Later, Plutarch remarks on Demosthenes’ consistency of policy and concern to speak the truth and not pander to his audience, but notes that he was let down by lack of courage and financial dishonesty (ch. 13). However, despite the accusations of cowardice at Chaeronea, even Philip, in the aftermath of his victory, is forced to acknowledge the power of Demosthenes’ oratory, which ‘had forced him to risk his supremacy and his life on the outcome of a small part of a single day’ (ch. 20). And if, in Plutarch’s account, Demosthenes’ cowardice at Chaeronea, and his later acceptance of a bribe, marred his career, he dies nobly and bravely, refusing to submit to his enemies or to beg for his life. He kills himself by secretly taking poison, which he has hidden in his pen – a fitting end, Plutarch seems to imply, for a man whose words had been so powerful. The Life thus finishes on a high note and Demosthenes, for all his failings, ends as a man of deep moral courage, who finally matched his deeds to his words.
Demosthenes’ own speeches, especially his On the crown, formed one of Plutarch’s most important sources of information for this Life. Many of these are still extant and we can see that Plutarch refers to and quotes from Demosthenes’ speeches frequently; indeed, sometimes, as at the start of chapters 18 and 19, Plutarch’s narrative is very close to Demosthenes’ own wording and seems to recall it deliberately. Plutarch also used Aeschines’ speech Against Ctesiphon, which attacked Demosthenes and was delivered on the same occasion as Demosthenes’ On the crown; but Plutarch is aware of Aeschines’ bias and warns against it on two occasions (chs. 4, 22). He also cites the historians Theopompus (c. 371–287 BC) and Douris of Samos (c. 340–260), as well as philosophers such as Theophrastus, Hermippus and Panaetius. Finally, Plutarch several times refers to information drawn from Demetrius of Phaleron; the latter, a philosopher and pro-Macedonian governor of Athens after Demosthenes’ death, can be assumed, like the other writers, to have been hostile to Demosthenes and to have presented him in a rather poor light; but Demosthenes’ own speeches will have put the case for the defence. Most of these writers are now lost, and Plutarch’s Demosthenes, together with hisPhocion and parts of Diodorus Books 16–18, remain the only narrative accounts of this period of Athenian history. There is some overlap with material in another, shorter Life of Demosthenes, which is preserved in a collection of orators’ Lives ascribed to Plutarch in the manuscripts (Lives of the ten orators). But the style and treatment are so different that the latter text cannot be by Plutarch; it did not influence Plutarch’s Life, but rather drew on some of the same sources.
Prologue to the Lives of Demosthenes and Cicero
1. The author of the poem which celebrates Alcibiades’ victory in the chariot race at Olympia (whether it be Euripides, as most people think, or another writer), tells us, Sosius Senecio,1 that the first necessity for a happy life is to be born a native of a ‘famous city’.2But in my opinion if a man is to enjoy true happiness, this will depend most of all upon his character and disposition, and consequently it will make no difference if he happens to belong to an obscure and humble city, any more than it need do if he is born the son of a small or a plain-looking woman. For it would be absurd to suppose that Iulis, which is no more than a small town on the little island of Ceos, or Aegina, which a famous Athenian appealed to his countrymen to subdue because it was ‘the eyesore of Piraeus’,3should be capable of producing a fine actor or poet4 but not a man who was just, independent, wise and magnanimous. It is true, certainly, that the arts – since one of their objects is to bring fame and employment to the men who practise them – are likely to wither in cities which are poor and undistinguished; but virtue, on the other hand, like a tough and hardy plant, will take root and flourish in any place where it can lay hold upon a noble nature and a persevering spirit. Therefore, if we fall below the standards which we ought to attain in thought and action, we must not blame the insignificance of our native city, but rather our own shortcomings.
2. However, when a man has undertaken to compose a history, the sources for which are not easily available in his own country, or do not even exist there, the case is quite different. Because most of his material must be sought abroad or may be scattered among different texts, his first concern must be to base himself in a famous city which is well populated and favourable to the arts. Here he may not only have access to all kinds of books, but through hearsay and personal inquiry he may succeed in uncovering facts which elude writers and are preserved in more reliable form in human memory; and with these advantages he can avoid the danger of publishing a work which is defective in many or even the most essential details. But I, for my part, live in a small city and choose to stay there to prevent its becoming even smaller.5 When I visited Rome and other parts of Italy, my public duties and the number of pupils who came to me to study philosophy took up so much of my time that I had no leisure to practise speaking the Latin tongue, and so it was not until quite late in life that I began to study Roman literature. When I did I made a surprising discovery, which was nevertheless a genuine one. I found that it was not so much through words that I was enabled to grasp the meaning of things, but rather that it was my knowledge of things which helped me to understand the words that denoted them. To be able to appreciate the beauty and the pithiness of the Roman style, the figures of speech, the oratorical rhythms and the other embellishments of the language would be a most graceful and enjoyable accomplishment. But the study and practice required would be formidable, and I must leave such ambitions to those who have the youth and the leisure to pursue them.
3. Accordingly, in this fifth book6 of my Parallel Lives, which is devoted to Demosthenes and Cicero, I shall examine against each other the nature and the disposition of each in the light of their respective actions and political conduct, but I shall make no critical comparison of their speeches, nor attempt to determine which was the more agreeable or powerful orator. As Ion puts it:7 ‘The dolphin’s strength deserts him on dry land’8 – a saying that Caecilius,9 who goes to excess in everything, forgot when he rashly ventured to publish a comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero. But if it came easily to every man to practise the famous imperative ‘Know yourself’,10 we should not perhaps think of it as a divine commandment.
Demosthenes and Cicero resemble each other so closely that it seems that god originally fashioned them out of the same mould, and implanted in them many of the similarities in their characters, notably the same personal ambition, the same love of liberty in their political careers and the same lack of courage in the face of war or danger – and many similarities in their fortunes too. History offers us no other parallel, in my opinion, of two orators who raised themselves from small beginnings to positions of authority and power, who opposed kings and tyrants, who each lost their daughters, who were exiled from their native cities, recalled with honour, forced to seek refuge again, were finally captured by their enemies and lost their lives at the same time as their fellow-countrymen lost their liberty. In short, if there were to be a contest between nature and fortune, as between two artists, it would be difficult to decide whether nature made them more alike in their characters or fortune in the circumstances of their lives. But the discussion should begin with the older man first.
Life of Demosthenes
4. Demosthenes’ father, who bore the same name, was of a good family, as Theopompus records,11 and was nicknamed ‘Knife-maker’, because he owned a large factory and employed slaves who were skilled in this type of manufacture. As for the charge made by Aeschines against Demosthenes’ mother, that she was the daughter of a barbarian woman and that her father was a certain Gylon who was exiled from Athens for treason, I cannot say whether this is true or a malicious slander.12 Demosthenes’ father died when he was seven and left him a considerable inheritance, the estate being valued at a little less than 15 talents, but he was disgracefully treated by his guardians, who appropriated part of his patrimony to their own uses, neglected the rest and even failed to pay the boy’s tutors.13 For this reason he seems not to have received the education which a boy of good family should have had. Besides, because he was delicate and physically under-developed, his mother discouraged him from training in the wrestling-school and his tutors did not press him to attend it. He was a skinny and sickly child from the beginning and it is said that it was to make fun of his puny physique that the other boys called him Batalus.14 According to one account, Batalus was an effeminate flute-player, who was ridiculed for this in a comedy by Antiphanes.15 Another story has it that Batalus was a poet who wrote sensual lyrics and drinking-songs. It also appears that ‘batalus’ was a word then used in Attica for a part of the body not decent to name. They say that Demosthenes was also nicknamed ‘Argas’. The name may have been given to him on account of his manners, which were savage and harsh, since some of the poets use this word of the snake. Or it may have referred to his speech which offended the ears of his listeners, since Argas was the name of a composer of scurrilous and disagreeable songs. So much on that score.
5. His desire to become a public speaker is said to have originated as follows. Callistratus, the orator, was due to speak in court on the question of Oropus,16 and the trial was eagerly awaited, partly because of the eloquence of Callistratus, who was then at the height of his powers, and partly because of the importance of the issue, which was in the forefront of everyone’s minds. So when Demosthenes heard several of his teachers and schoolmasters discussing their plans for attending the trial, he begged and implored his own tutor to take him to the hearing. As it happened, this man knew some of the officials who were on duty at the doors of the courts, and secured a seat where the boy could sit and listen without being seen. Callistratus won the case and was extravagantly praised, and when Demosthenes saw him being escorted by a large following and congratulated on all sides, he was seized with the desire to emulate his fame. But what gained his admiration and appealed to his intellect even more strongly was the power of Callistratus’ eloquence, which, as he saw, was naturally adapted to tame and subdue all opposition.
As a result he abandoned all other studies and all the normal pastimes of boyhood, and threw himself wholeheartedly into the practice of declamation, in the hope that he would one day take his place among the orators. He employed Isaeus as his teacher in the art of speaking, even though Isocrates was also lecturing at this time; one tradition has it that because he was an orphan, he could not pay Isocrates the required fee of 10 minas, but alternatively he may have preferred Isaeus’ style as being more vigorous and effective in actual use. On the other hand, Hermippus says that he discovered an anonymous book of memoirs, according to which Demosthenes was a pupil of Plato and owed his instruction in the art of speaking chiefly to him. He also says that, according to Ctesibius, Demosthenes secretly obtained from Callias the Syracusan and others the treatises on rhetoric of Isocrates and Alcidamas,17 and learned these thoroughly.
6. However this may be, once Demosthenes had come of age,18 he began to prosecute his guardians and to compose speeches attacking them.19 They resorted to various legal evasions and procured retrials, but Demosthenes gained some hard-won experience ‘by running risks and sparing no effort’,20 as Thucydides puts it, and finally won his case, though he did not succeed in recovering even the smallest fraction of his inheritance. However, in this way he acquired some practice and assurance in public-speaking and got a foretaste of the distinction and power which forensic eloquence can bring, and so he ventured to come forward and engage in public affairs. We are told that Laomedon of Orchomenus originally took up long-distance running on the advice of his doctors to protect him against some disease of the spleen, and that once he was obliged to go into training in the first place to recover his health, he soon afterwards entered the Olympic Games and became one of the best long-distance athletes of his time. Similarly, Demosthenes was obliged to make his first appearance in the courts in the effort to recover his property; thereafter he developed such skill and power in public debate that in the political championships, so to speak, he outstripped all his rivals among the orators in the public assembly.
And yet, when he first came before the people he was interrupted by heckling and laughed at for his inexperience: this was because his manner of speaking appeared confused and overloaded with long sentences, and his expression contorted by a formality which his audience found harsh and wearisome. It appears, too, that his voice was weak and his utterance indistinct and that he suffered from a shortness of breath, which had the effect of breaking up his sentences and making his meaning difficult to follow. At last, when he had left the assembly and was wandering about the Piraeus in despair, he met another orator named Eunomus of Thriasia, who was by then a very old man. Eunomus reproved him and said: ‘You have a style of speaking which is very like Pericles’, and yet out of sheer timidity and cowardice you are throwing away your talents. You will neither stand up to the rough and tumble of the assembly, nor train your body to develop the stamina that you need for the law-courts. It is through your own sheer feebleness that you are letting your gifts wither away.’21
7. On another occasion,22 it is said, when he had again been rebuffed by the people and was going home in a state of bewilderment and depression, Satyrus the actor, who knew him well, followed him and accompanied him indoors. Demosthenes then told him, with tears in his eyes, that although he took more trouble than any other orator to prepare his speeches and had almost ruined his health in his efforts to train himself, he never succeeded in gaining the ear of the people: drunken sailors23 and illiterate louts were listened to with respect and could hold the platform, but he was always ignored. ‘What you say is true,’ Satyrus told him, ‘but I will soon put that right if you will just recite to me a longish speech from Sophocles or Euripides.’ Demosthenes did this, whereupon Satyrus repeated the same passage and so enhanced its effect, by speaking it with the appropriate characterization and tone of voice, that the words seemed to Demosthenes to be quite transformed. Now that he could see how much grace and dignity an orator gains from a good delivery, he understood that it is of little or no use for a man to practise declamation if he does not also attend to the arrangement and delivery of what he has to say. After this, we are told, he built an underground study, which, in fact, was preserved intact even up to our own time. Every day, without fail, he would go down to work at his delivery and to train his voice, and he would often remain there for two or three months on end, and would shave only one side of his face, to prevent himself out of shame from going out even if he wanted to.24
8. Besides these formal exercises, he took advantage of his interviews, conversations and other dealings with the outside world to give himself further training. For as soon as he was free, he would review in due order everything that had been discussed and the arguments used for and against each course of action. Any speeches that he happened to have heard delivered, he would afterwards analyse by himself and work them up into regular propositions and periods, and he would introduce all kinds of corrections or paraphrases into speeches that had been made against him by others, or into his own replies to them. It was this habit which created the impression that he was not really an eloquent speaker, but that the skill and the power of his oratory had been acquired by hard work. There is strong evidence for this in the fact that Demosthenes was very seldom heard to make an impromptu speech. The people often called on him by name, as he sat in the assembly, to speak on the subject under debate, but he would not come forward unless he had given thought to the question and could deliver a prepared speech. For this reason, many of the popular leaders used to sneer at him, and Pytheas in particular told him mockingly that his arguments smelled of the lamp. Demosthenes had a sharp retort for this. ‘I am sure that your lamp, Pytheas,’ he told him, ‘sees very different kinds of goings-on than mine.’ However, to other people he did not entirely deny the charge: he used to admit that his speeches were prepared, but said that he did not write them out word for word. Moreoever, he also used to declare that the man who prepares what he is going to say is the true democrat, for the fact that he takes this amount of trouble indicates respect for the people, whereas to speak without caring what they will think of one’s words is the sign of a man who favours oligarchy and is inclined to rely on force rather than persuasion. Another fact often cited as a proof that Demosthenes lacked the confidence to speak on the spur of the moment is that when he was being shouted down by the people, Demades25 would often take his place and make an impromptu speech in his support, but that Demosthenes never did this for Demades.
9. How was it then, one might ask, that Aeschines could refer to him as a man of the most astonishing boldness in his speeches? Or that Demosthenes was the only man to stand up and refute Python of Byzantium when he was arrogantly attacking the Athenians and pouring forth a flood of abuse against them?26 Or again, when Lamachus of Myrrhine had composed a panegyric on Philip and Alexander, which was also full of abuse of Thebes and Olynthus, and was reading it out aloud at Olympia, how was it that Demosthenes came forward and marshalled a complete array of historical facts to remind the audience of the benefits which the peoples of Thebes and Chalcidice had conferred on Greece and of the misfortunes for which the flatterers of Macedonia had been responsible? With these arguments he worked upon the feelings of his audience so powerfully that the sophist took fright at the uproar which arose against him and slunk away from the festival.27 The fact is that while Demosthenes did not wish to model himself upon Pericles in every respect, he especially admired and sought to imitate the modulation of his speech and the dignity of his bearing, and also his determination not to speak on impulse or on any subject which might present itself, and he seems to have been persuaded that it was to these qualities that Pericles owed his greatness. For the same reasons, Demosthenes did not aspire to the kind of reputation which is won in a sudden crisis, and he was very seldom willing to expose his oratorical power to the mercy of fortune. However, those speeches which he delivered impromptu displayed more courage and spirit than those which he wrote out, if we are to believe the evidence of Eratosthenes,28 Demetrius of Phaleron29 and the comic poets. Eratosthenes tells us that often in his speeches he seemed to be transported into a kind of ecstasy, and Demetrius says that on one occasion he pronounced to the people the well-known metrical oath which runs, ‘By earth, by all her fountains, streams and floods’,30 as if he were possessed by some god. As for the comic poets, one of them calls him a ‘dealer in petty bombast’, and another makes fun of his fondness for antithesis: ‘In taking, he retook!’ ‘That’s a phrase Demosthenes would have loved to take up’31 – unless, by Zeus, Antiphanes intended this too as a dig at Demosthenes’ speech on Halonnesus, where he urged the Athenians not to ‘take’ the island as a gift from Philip, but to ‘retake’ it as a right.32
10. At any rate, it was universally agreed that Demades, when he used his natural gifts, was invincible as an orator, and that when he spoke on the spur of the moment he far excelled Demosthenes’ carefully prepared efforts. Ariston of Chios has given us Theophrastus’ verdict on these two orators. When he was asked what kind of orator he considered Demosthenes to be, he replied, ‘An orator worthy of Athens,’ but of Demades he said, ‘He is too good for Athens.’ According to the same philosopher, Polyeuctus of Sphettus, one of the leading Athenian politicians, declared that Demosthenes was the greatest orator, but Phocion the most effective, because his speeches packed the greatest proportion of sense into the fewest words. In fact we are told that Demosthenes himself, whenever Phocion rose to answer him, would mutter to his friends: ‘Here comes the chopper of my speeches.’ It is not clear from the phrase whether Demosthenes felt like this towards Phocion because of his oratory, or because of his life and character, and so was implying that even a single word from a man in whom the people felt so much confidence carries more weight than any number of lengthy periods.
11. Demetrius of Phaleron has described the various exercises which Demosthenes took up to overcome his physical deficiencies, and he says that he learnt of these from the orator himself when he was an old man. He corrected his lisp and his indistinct articulation by holding pebbles in his mouth while he recited long speeches, and he strengthened his voice by running or walking uphill, discoursing as he went, and by reciting speeches or verses in a single breath. Besides this, he kept a large mirror in his house and would stand in front of it while he went through his exercises in declamation.
There is a story that a man once came to Demosthenes, asked him to represent him in court and explained to him at length how he had been physically assaulted. ‘But you did not suffer this ill-treatment you are telling me about,’ said Demosthenes. At this the man raised his voice, and shouted, ‘What do you mean, I did not suffer it?’ ‘Ah, now’, said Demosthenes, ‘I can hear the voice of a man who has been attacked and beaten.’ So important did he consider the tone and the bearing of a speaker in convincing his audience.
His own manner of speaking was very popular with the general public, but men of sensibility, such as Demetrius of Phaleron, thought it mean, vulgar and weak. On the other hand, Hermippus tells us that when Aesion, a contemporary of Demosthenes, was asked his opinion of the ancient orators as compared with the moderns, he said that anyone who heard the orators of the past must admire the decorum and the dignity of their manner, but that when we read Demosthenes’ speeches, we must admit that they are superior in their construction and more powerful in their effect. It goes without saying that his written speeches contain many harsh and bitter judgements, but in his extempore replies he could also be humorous. For example, when Demades exclaimed, ‘Demosthenes teach me? Athena might as well take lessons from a sow!’33 Demosthenes retorted, ‘That was the Athena who was seen the other day in a brothel in Collytus.’ When a well-known thief who was nicknamed ‘brazen’ tried to make fun of the orator’s late hours and midnight studies, Demosthenes answered, ‘I know my lighted lamp must be a nuisance to you. But you Athenians should not be surprised at the number of thefts that are committed when we have thieves of brass, while the walls of our houses are made only of clay.’ There are many more stories of this kind, but his other qualities, and his moral character, are best examined as they emerge from his achievements as a statesman.
12. Demosthenes first began to take an active part in affairs after the outbreak of the Phocian War:34 we know this partly from his own statements and partly from the speeches he made against Philip. Some of these were delivered after the war had ended, and the earliest of them touch upon matters which were closely connected with it.35 It is evident that when he was preparing his speech for the prosecution of Meidias, he had reached the age of thirty-two36 but had not yet acquired any influence or reputation in the political arena. It was his lack of confidence on this score, so it seems to me, which was the principal reason for his dropping the case in return for a sum of money, in spite of his personal animosity towards Meidias. ‘For he was not a sweet-tempered man, nor kindly towards his opponents,’37 but sharp and even forceful in avenging any wrongs done to him. However, he recognized that it was no easy task, indeed scarcely within his power, to destroy a man such as Meidias, who was well protected not only by his oratory but by his friends and his wealth, and so he gave way to those who pleaded on his enemy’s behalf. I doubt very much whether the 3,000 drachmas he was paid would have appeased the hatred he felt towards Meidias, if he had hoped or felt able to get the better of his enemy.
But, once Demosthenes had found a noble cause to engage his political activity – that is, pleading the cause of the Greeks against Philip – and began fighting for it honourably, he quickly became famous and his reputation was enhanced by the courage of his speeches. The result was that he was admired in Greece and treated with respect by the king of Persia, and King Philip took more notice of him than of any other Athenian statesman, and even his enemies were forced to agree that they were dealing with a man of distinction:38 both Aeschines and Hypereides admit as much, even in their denunciations of him.
13. For this reason I do not know what evidence Theopompus had for his statement that Demosthenes was of a fickle and unstable disposition and incapable of remaining faithful for any length of time either to the same policies or the same men. On the contrary, it is clear that he remained loyal to the same faction and the same line of policy that he had chosen from the beginning, and indeed he was so far from forsaking these principles during his lifetime that he deliberately sacrificed his life to uphold them. Demades, when he wanted to excuse his change of policy, would plead that he had often said things that were contrary to his former opinions but never contrary to the interests of the state. Melanopus, who was an opponent of Callistratus, was often bribed by him to change sides, and he would then say to the people, ‘This man is my personal opponent, but the essential thing is that the public interest should prevail.’ Nicodemus the Messenian, who first took the side of Cassander and later supported Demetrius,39 declared that there was no inconsistency in this, because it is always best to obey whoever is in power. We cannot bring any of these charges against Demosthenes, nor accuse him of being a man who ever wavered or deviated from his course, in word or deed. He maintained a single unchangeable harmony throughout, and continued in the same key that he had chosen from the start.40
Panaetius the philosopher remarks that in most of Demosthenes’ speeches, for example in On the crown, Against Aristocrates, in the one on those who should be exempted from taxation,41 and in the Philippics, we can trace the conviction that honour alone ought to be pursued for its own sake. In all these orations, Demosthenes does not try to persuade his fellow-citizens to do what is most agreeable, or easy, or profitable, but time and again he argues that they ought to place their honour and their obligations before their safety or self-preservation. In short, if only the nobility of his aspirations and the dignity of his words had been matched by an equivalent courage in war and integrity in his other dealings, he would have deserved to be ranked not with orators such as Moerocles, Polyeuctus and Hypereides, but with the men of Athens’ greatest days, such as Cimon, Thucydides42 and Pericles.
14. Among Demosthenes’ contemporaries we may say that Phocion, although he championed an unpopular policy and had the reputation of favouring the Macedonians, was considered, by virtue of his courage and integrity, to be a statesman of the calibre of Ephialtes and Aristides and Cimon.43 Demosthenes, on the other hand, according to Demetrius of Phaleron, could not be relied on when it came to fighting, nor was he altogether immune from taking bribes. He could resist any number of offers from Philip or from Macedon, but he not only yielded to but was finally overwhelmed by the Persian gold, which poured down from Susa and Ecbatana in a torrent.44 And so while he was admirably fitted to extol the virtues of former generations, he was not so good at imitating them. Yet in spite of these shortcomings, he led a more exemplary life than the other orators of his time. (I leave Phocion out of the reckoning.) And it is undeniable that he went further than any of them in speaking frankly to the people, and that he often opposed the desires of the majority and continually criticized their faults, as we may see from his speeches. Even Theopompus45 records that when the Athenians called upon him to impeach a man, and, finding that he refused, began to create an uproar, he rose and declared, ‘Men of Athens, I shall continue to give you advice, whether you ask for it or not, but I refuse to become a false accuser, even if you insist on it.’ And his conduct in the case of Antiphon46 was not at all that of a man who courts the favour of the people. Antiphon had been acquitted by the assembly, but Demosthenes had him arrested and brought before the Council of the Areopagus,47 and, disregarding the affront to the sovereignty of the people which his action implied, he succeeded in proving him guilty of having promised Philip to set fire to the dockyards. As a result, Antiphon was handed over to justice by the Areopagus and later executed. Demosthenes also accused the priestess Theoris of a number of misdemeanours, among them of teaching slaves to cheat their masters. As one of the parties before the court, he was allowed to propose her sentence and caused her to be put to death.
15. Demosthenes is also said to have written the speech which was used by Apollodorus to obtain judgement against Timotheus the general, whom he was suing for debt, and likewise the speeches which Apollodorus used against Stephanus and Phormion.48 In this instance, Demosthenes was rightly considered to have acted dishonourably, for he had also written Phormion’s defence, and was thus, as it were, selling the two adversaries blades from the same knife-shop49 with which they could fight one another.
Among his public speeches he wrote the Against Androtion, Against Timocrates and Against Aristocrates to be delivered by others; he must have composed these before he had begun his political career, for it appears that these speeches were made public when he was only thirty-two or thirty-three years of age.50 But he himself delivered the speech Against Aristogeiton, as well as the one concerning tax-exemptions. He says that he took up the latter case at the request of Ctesippus, the son of Chabrias, but according to other accounts, he did so because he was wooing the young man’s mother. He did not, however, marry her but a Samian woman, as Demetrius of Magnesia tells us in his treatise On persons of the same name. As for the speech which was made against Aeschines, entitledOn the false embassy, it is not certain that this was ever delivered, although Idomeneus51 has recorded that Aeschines was acquitted by a bare thirty votes. But this is contradicted by the speeches of both Demosthenes and Aeschines, in On the crown, for neither of them refers to the case of the embassy as ever having come to court. This is a question I shall leave others to decide.
16. Demosthenes’ political position was clear enough even while peace still prevailed, for he allowed no act of Philip’s to pass uncriticized, and seized upon every occasion to incite and inflame the Athenians against him. In consequence, nobody was more talked of at Philip’s court, and when Demosthenes visited Macedonia as one of a delegation of ten,52 Philip listened to all their speeches, but took most trouble to answer Demosthenes. As regards other official courtesies or marks of honour, Philip did not pay him so much attention, but singled out Aeschines and Philocrates for his especial favour. So when they complimented Philip as the most eloquent speaker, the handsomest man and the drinker with the biggest capacity in the company, Demosthenes could not refrain from belittling these tributes and retorting sarcastically that the first of these qualities was excellent for a sophist, the second for a woman and the third for a sponge, but none of them for a king.53
17. When the course of events began to move inexorably towards war, since Philip was incapable of sitting quietly at home, and the Athenians were constantly being stirred up against him by Demosthenes, first of all Demosthenes urged his countrymen to invade Euboea,54 which had been subdued and handed over to Philip by its local tyrants; and as a result of the resolution which he proposed, the Athenians crossed over to the island and drove out the Macedonians. Secondly, when Macedonia was at war with the citizens of Byzantium and Perinthus, Demosthenes persuaded the Athenians to lay aside their grievances and forget the wrongs they had suffered from these peoples in the Social War,55 and to dispatch a force which succeeded in relieving both cities.56Furthermore, he led a number of diplomatic missions throughout Greece, where, through a combination of discussion and exhortation, he succeeded in uniting almost all the Greeks against Philip. The result was that an army of 15,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry was raised, besides the citizen forces of each city, and the allies readily agreed to pay these mercenaries.57 It was on this occasion, according to Theophrastus, when the Greek states requested that a quota for their contributions should be fixed, that the demagogue Crobylus remarked, ‘War has an appetite that cannot be satisfied by quotas.’
Greece was now wrought up to a high pitch of expectation at the thought of her future, and her peoples and cities all drew together, Euboeans, Achaeans, Corinthians, Megarians, Leucadians and Corcyraeans. But there remained the most important task of all for Demosthenes to accomplish, namely, to persuade Thebes to join the alliance.58 The Thebans had a common frontier with the Athenians and an army ready to take the field, and at that time they were regarded as the finest soldiers in Greece. But it was no easy matter to persuade them to change sides; moreover, during the recent Phocian War59 Philip had rendered them a number of services and cultivated their goodwill, and the various petty quarrels which arose because of their proximity to Athens were continually breaking out afresh and exacerbated the relations between the two cities.60
18. However, Philip, encouraged by his success in dealing with Amphissa,61 marched on to take Elateia62 by surprise and proceeded to occupy Phocis. The news stunned the Athenians. No speaker dared to mount the rostrum, nobody knew what advice should be given, the assembly was struck dumb and appeared to be completely at a loss. It was at this moment that Demosthenes alone came forward and urged the people to stand by the Thebans. Then, in his usual manner, he put heart into his compatriots and inspired them with fresh hopes, and he was sent off with others as an ambassador to Thebes. At the same time Philip, as we learn from Marsyas the historian, sent Amyntas and Clearchus of Macedonia, Daochus of Thessaly and Thrasydaeus to oppose the Athenians and put the case for Macedon. For their part, the Thebans could see clearly enough where their interests lay, but each of them could also visualize the horrors of war, for the sufferings they had endured in the Phocian conflict were still fresh in their memories. Yet in spite of this, Demosthenes’ eloquence – so Theopompus tells us – stirred their courage, kindled their desire to win glory and threw every other consideration into the shade. As if transported by his words, they cast off all fear, self-interest or thought of obligation towards Macedon and chose the path of honour. So complete and so glorious was the transformation wrought by his oratory that Philip promptly began making overtures for peace,63 and Greece, full of expectation, was up in arms to support Demosthenes for the future – so much so that, not only did the Athenian generals take their orders from him, but also the Boeotarchs. At this moment he could control all the meetings of the Theban assembly as effectively as those of the Athenians, he was beloved by both nations and exercised supreme authority; moreover, he never used his position unconstitutionally nor did he go beyond his powers, so Theopompus tells us, but acted with complete propriety.
19. However, it seems that at that very moment a sort of divinely ordained fortune or the cyclical course of events was putting an end to the freedom of the Greeks: this force opposed all their efforts in the common cause and showed many signs of what was to come. Among these were the ominous prophecies uttered by the Pythian priestess, and an ancient oracle which was quoted from the Sibylline books:64
Let me be far from the battle at Thermodon
Watching it from high in the clouds, like an eagle.
The vanquished weep, and the victor has perished.
Now the Thermodon is said to be a small stream near my native town of Chaeronea, which flows into the River Cephisus. However, I know of no stream which bears this name today, but my guess is that the one which is now called Haemon (‘Blood’) was then known as Thermodon. It flows past the Heracleum, where the Greeks pitched their camp, and I imagine that after the battle this river was filled with blood and corpses, and that its present name of Haemon was substituted for the original one. However, Douris65writes that the Thermodon was not a river at all, but that some soldiers who were pitching a tent and digging a trench around it found a small stone image with an inscription on it, signifying that this was Thermodon carrying a wounded Amazon in his arms;66 he also reports that there was current another oracle about it, which ran as follows:
Bide your time for the battle of Thermodon, bird of black pinions;
There you shall find the flesh of mankind to devour in abundance.
20. It is difficult to discover the exact truth about these prophecies, but certainly Demosthenes is said to have had complete confidence in the Greek forces and to have been elated by the strength and spirit of so many men, all of them eager to engage the enemy: in consequence, he would not allow his countrymen to pay attention to the oracles or listen to the prophecies. Indeed, he even suspected that the Pythian priestess was on the side of Philip, and he reminded the Thebans of the example of Epaminondas and the Athenians of Pericles, both of whom acted only on the promptings of reason and regarded prophecies of this kind as mere pretexts for faint-heartedness. Up to this point, then, Demosthenes acted like a brave man, but in the battle67 which followed, so far from achieving anything honourable, he completely failed to suit his actions to his words. He left his place in the ranks and took to his heels in the most shameful fashion, throwing away his arms in order to run faster, and he did not hesitate to disgrace the inscription on his shield, on which, according to Pytheas, were engraved in letters of gold the words ‘With good fortune’.
In the first flush of victory, Philip felt insolently exultant at his success. He went out in a drunken revel to look at the bodies of the dead, and chanted the opening words of the decree which had been passed on Demosthenes’ initiative, dividing it up metrically, and beating time: ‘Demosthenes, son of Demosthenes, of Paeania, moves as follows …’ But when he sobered up and understood the magnitude of the dangers that had surrounded him, he trembled to think of the power and skill of the orator who had forced him to risk his supremacy and his life on the outcome of a small part of a single day.68 For the fame of this speaker had travelled even to the Persian king, who had sent letters to the satraps on the coast ordering them to offer money to Demosthenes and to pay more attention to him than to any other Greek, since he could create a diversion and keep the king of Macedon busy at home by means of the troubles he stirred up in Greece. This intelligence was discovered long afterwards by Alexander, who found in Sardis letters from Demosthenes and papers belonging to the king’s generals and containing details of the sums of money which had been given to him.
21. However, at this moment when the news of the disaster to Greece became known, the orators who opposed Demosthenes attacked him and prepared indictments and impeachments against him. But the people not only acquitted him of these charges, but continued to honour him and appealed to him as a loyal citizen to remain in public life. Consequently, when the bones of those who had fallen at Chaeronea were brought home to be buried, they chose Demosthenes to deliver the panegyric in honour of the dead. So far from displaying a cowardly or ignoble spirit in the hour of disaster (as Theopompus implies in his exaggerated description of the scene), they made it clear by the special honour and respect which they paid their counsellor that they did not regret the advice he had given them. So Demosthenes delivered the funeral oration, but henceforth he would not put his own name to any of the decrees he proposed in the assembly: instead, he used those of his friends, one after the other, and avoided his own as being ill-omened and unfortunate, until he once more took courage after Philip’s death. And Philip died soon afterwards;69 in fact he survived his victory at Chaeronea by less than two years, and this it would seem was foretold in the last verse of the oracle: ‘The vanquished weep, and the victor has perished.’
22. Now Demosthenes had obtained secret intelligence of Philip’s death, and in order to inspire the Athenians with hope for the future, he appeared before the Council70 with an air of high spirits and told them he had had a dream which seemed to presage that some great stroke of good fortune was in store for Athens. Not long afterwards, messengers arrived with the report of Philip’s death. The Athenians immediately offered up sacrifices for the good news and voted a crown for Pausanias, the king’s assassin, while Demosthenes appeared in public dressed in magnificent attire and wearing a garland on his head, even though his daughter had died only six days before. These details are reported by Aeschines,71 who attacked him for his action and reviled him as an unnatural father. This only proves the weakness and vulgarity of his own nature, if he considers that the wearing of mourning and an extravagant display of grief are the signs of a tender heart, but finds fault with a man who bears his loss in a serene and resolute fashion.
For my part, I cannot say that the Athenians did themselves any credit in putting on garlands and offering sacrifices to celebrate the death of a king who, when he was the conqueror and they the conquered, had treated them with such tolerance and humanity.72For apart from provoking the anger of the gods, it was a contemptible action to make Philip a citizen of Athens and pay him honours while he was alive, and then, as soon as he had fallen by another’s hand, to be beside themselves with joy, trample on his body and sing paeans of victory, as though they themselves had accomplished some great feat of arms. On the other hand I praise the behaviour of Demosthenes for leaving his personal misfortunes to be lamented over by the women and devoting himself to the action he thought necessary for his country. I hold it to be the duty of a man of courage and one who wishes to be considered fit to govern never to lose sight of the common good, to find consolation for his private griefs and troubles in the well-being of the state and to conduct himself with a dignity73 far greater than actors show when they play the part of kings or tyrants: for these men as we see them in the theatres do not laugh or weep as their feelings dictate, but as the subject of the drama demands.
Apart from these considerations, it is our duty not to leave our neighbour without any consolation in his misfortune, but to find words which will relieve his sorrow and turn his thoughts to less distressing subjects, just as those who are suffering from sore eyes are advised to look away from brilliant or dazzling colours and towards softer or more verdant shades. And I believe that a man can find no better consolation for his private griefs than to balance them against the well-being of his fellow-citizens, when his country’s fortunes are prospering, thus making the happier circumstances of the majority outweigh the misfortunes of the individual.74 I have been led to offer these reflections because I have noticed how this speech of Aeschines has melted the hearts of many people and encouraged them to give way to an unmanly tenderness.
23. The cities were again banding together, and Demosthenes fanned the flames. He helped to provide the Thebans with arms, and they attacked the Macedonian garrison in their city and killed many of them,75 and the Athenians began to prepare to go to war in their support. Demosthenes now completely dominated the assembly and he wrote letters to the Macedonian king’s generals in Asia inciting them to declare war on Alexander,76 whom he referred to as a boy, and compared to Margites.77 But as soon as Alexander had established his authority in his own kingdom and led his army to Boeotia, the Athenians’ courage wilted, Demosthenes’ ardour was extinguished, and the Thebans, betrayed by their allies, fought alone and lost their city.78 Panic reigned in Athens, and Demosthenes was chosen with a number of others to form a delegation to visit Alexander, but he dreaded the king’s anger so much that he turned back at Cithaeron and abandoned his mission.
Alexander at once sent to Athens to demand that ten of the popular leaders should be surrendered to him. This is the account given by Idomeneus and Douris, but, according to most of the more reliable authorities, he only specified eight, namely Demosthenes, Polyeuctus, Ephialtes, Lycurgus, Moerocles, Demon, Callisthenes and Charidemus.79 It was on this occasion that Demosthenes reminded the Athenians of the fable of the sheep who gave up their watch-dogs to the wolves, and he compared himself and his colleagues to sheep-dogs who fought to defend the people, and referred to Alexander as the lone wolf of Macedon.80 He added, ‘You know how corn-merchants sell whole consignments of their stock by showing a few grains of wheat which they carry around with them in a bowl as a sample. In the same way, if you deliver us up, you are delivering up yourselves, every one of you.’ These details we have from Aristobulus of Cassandreia.81
The Athenians debated these demands in the assembly but could not decide how to reply to them. Then Demades, in return for five talents which he had been offered by the eight men, volunteered to go to the king and plead on their behalf: he may have trusted in his personal friendship with Alexander, or he may have counted on finding him sated with blood, like a lion that has been glutted with slaughter. At any rate, Demades persuaded the king to pardon the eight men, and arranged terms of peace for the city.82
24. When Alexander had left, Demades and his confederates were all-powerful and Demosthenes was completely humbled. Later, when Agis the Spartan organized a revolt against Macedonia,83 Demosthenes made a feeble effort to support him, but then he cowered ignominiously because the Athenians refused to take part in the uprising, Agis was killed in battle and the resistance of the Spartans was crushed.
It was at this time too that the indictment against Ctesiphon on the subject of the crown came up for trial. The case had originally been prepared in the archonship of Chaerondas, shortly before the battle of Chaeronea, but it did not come into court until ten years later in the archonship of Aristophon.84 Although this was a private suit, no public action ever attracted more attention, not only on account of the fame of the orators, but also because of the admirable conduct of the jurors. Demosthenes’ accusers were then at the height of their power and supporters of Macedon, yet the jurors would not bring in a verdict against him but acquitted him so decisively that Aeschines did not obtain a fifth of their votes.85 The result was that Aeschines immediately left Athens and spent the rest of his life in Rhodes and Ionia as a teacher of rhetoric.
25. Not long afterwards, Harpalus86 arrived in Athens from Asia. He had fled from the king’s service because he knew that he was guilty of many misdeeds committed through his love of extravagance, and because he dreaded his master, who had by then become an object of terror to his friends. He, therefore, sought refuge in Athens and placed himself, his ships and his treasure in the people’s hands. The other orators at once rallied to his support and urged the Athenians to receive him as a suppliant and protect him, while at the same time they cast longing eyes upon his wealth. Demosthenes, on the other hand, began by advising the Athenians to turn him away and urged them to beware of involving the city in a war by taking such an unnecessary and unjustifiable action. But a few days later, when an inventory was being made of the treasure, Harpalus noticed that Demosthenes was admiring a cup of Persian manufacture and was examining closely the style and the workmanship of the moulding. He then invited him to balance it in his hand and feel the weight of the gold. Demosthenes was astonished at this and asked how much it would fetch, at which Harpalus smiled and replied, ‘It would fetch you 20 talents.’ Then as soon as it was dark, he sent the cup and the 20 talents to Demosthenes’ house. Harpalus was exceptionally shrewd at discerning the character of a man who had a passion for gold, which he recognized from the expression which passed over his face and the gleam that lit up his eyes. And he was not deceived in this instance, for Demosthenes could not resist the bait, and having once, as it were, admitted a garrison into his house, immediately went over to Harpalus’ side.
The next day Demosthenes appeared in the assembly, having first carefully swathed his throat with woollen bandages; then, when he was called upon to rise and speak, he made gestures to signify that he had lost his voice. The wits of the day made fun of him by remarking that the orator had been seized overnight, not with a sore throat, but with a silver one. Afterwards, it became clear to the whole people that he had been bribed, and when he tried to get a hearing to explain his conduct, the people showed their indignation by raising an uproar and shouting him down. At this, someone rose and said sarcastically, ‘Men of Athens, won’t you give a hearing to the man who has the cup in his hand?’87 At that time, then, the Athenians sent Harpalus away from the city, and as they were afraid that they might have to account for the money which the orators had received, they organized a thorough search and ransacked all the speakers’ houses, except for that of Callicles, the son of Arrhenides. His was the only house which they exempted, because he was newly married and his bride was living there, so Theopompus tells us.
26. But Demosthenes decided to meet the issue squarely and put forward a motion that the matter should be referred for investigation to the Council of the Areopagus, and those whom the Areopagus found guilty should be punished. However, he was himself one of the first whom the Areopagus condemned, and when he was brought to court, he was fined 50 talents and committed to prison in default of payment.
He tells us88 that he was overcome with shame at these accusations and that since his weak health made it impossible for him to endure imprisonment, he escaped thanks to the negligence of some of his jailers, and the active assistance of others. At any rate, the story goes that he had not fled far from Athens before he discovered that he was being pursued by some of his opponents, and so he tried to hide himself. Presently, they caught up with him, called out to him by name, and begged him to accept some help for his journey. They explained that they had brought money from home for this very purpose and were only pursuing him to put it into his hands, and they urged him to take heart and not let himself be cast down by what had happened. At this Demosthenes broke out into even more anguished cries of grief and exclaimed, ‘What comfort can I have at leaving a city where even my enemies treat me with a generosity I shall hardly find among friends anywhere else?’
He showed little strength of character during his exile, but spent much of his time in Aegina or Troezen, looking towards Attica with tears in his eyes. The only sayings of his which have come down to us from this period are quite unworthy of him and quite inconsistent with the bold actions for which he was responsible when he was active in politics. It is said, for example, that as he was leaving the city, he stretched out his hands towards the Acropolis and exclaimed, ‘Athena, goddess and guardian of Athens, how can you take pleasure in these three savage and intractable creatures, the owl, the snake89 and the people?’ And when young men came to visit and converse with him, he would try to dissuade them from having anything to do with politics. He told them that if, at the beginning of his political career, he had been offered two roads, the one leading to the rostrum and the assembly, and the other to destruction,90 and if he could have foreseen the innumerable evils which lie in wait for the politician – the fears, the jealousies, the slanders and the struggles – he would have chosen the path which led directly to death.
27. But while Demosthenes was still in exile, Alexander died,91 and the Greek states combined yet again to form a league against Macedon. They were encouraged in this action by the gallant exploits of the Athenian general Leosthenes, who had succeeded in driving Antipater into the city of Lamia, where he held him besieged. At this, the orators Pytheas and Callimedon the ‘Crayfish’ fled from Athens, joined Antipater and travelled about with the latter’s supporters and ambassadors, urging the rest of the Greeks not to rebel against Macedon or to ally themselves with Athens. Demosthenes, on the other hand, attached himself to the Athenian envoys, and threw all his energies into helping them incite the various states to attack the Macedonians and drive them out of Greece. Phylarchus92 tells us that in Arcadia Pytheas and Demosthenes actually met face to face and abused one another in the assembly, the one speaking for Macedon and the other for Greece. Pytheas, so the story goes, argued that just as we can always expect to find sickness in a house when we see asses’ milk being carried into it, so a city must be in a state of decay if it receives an embassy from Athens. Demosthenes then turned his illustration against him, by pointing out that asses’ milk is given to restore health and that the Athenians only came to benefit the sick.
At any rate, the people of Athens were so pleased with Demosthenes’ efforts that they voted for him to be recalled from exile. The decree was introduced by Demon of Paeania, who was a cousin of Demosthenes, and a trireme was dispatched to Aegina to bring him home. When he landed at Piraeus, every archon and priest was present and the entire citizen-body gathered to watch his arrival and give him an enthusiastic welcome. On this occasion, according to Demetrius of Magnesia, Demosthenes lifted up his hands to heaven and congratulated himself, because he was returning on that day more honourably than Alcibiades had done, for his fellow-citizens had been persuaded, not compelled, to welcome him back.93 The fine, which had been inflicted on him, however, still remained in force, for it was unconstitutional for the people to abolish a penalty by an act of grace, and so they devised a means to evade the law. It was the custom at the festival of Zeus the Saviour to pay a sum of money to those who prepared and decorated the altar, and so they appointed Demosthenes to make these arrangements for the sum of 50 talents, which had been the amount of his fine.
28. However, Demosthenes did not have long to enjoy his return to his native land as the Greek cause was soon crushed. In the month of Metageitnion the battle of Crannon94 took place, in Boedromion a Macedonian garrison entered Munychia and in Pyanepsion Demosthenes met his death,95 in the following way.
When reports came in that Antipater and Craterus were marching upon Athens, Demosthenes and his supporters escaped secretly from the city, and the people condemned them to death on the motion of Demades. Meanwhile, they had split up and fled in different directions, and Antipater sent out troops to scour the country and arrest them: these detachments were under the command of Archias, who was known as ‘the exile-hunter’. This man was a citizen of the colony of Thurii in Italy, and it was said that he had at one time been a tragic actor, and that Polus of Aegina, the finest actor of his time, had been a pupil of his. According to Hermippus, however, Archias had been one of the pupils of Lacritus the orator, while Demetrius of Phaleron says that he was a pupil of Anaximenes. At any rate, Archias discovered that Hypereides the orator, Aristonicus of Marathon and Himeraeus the brother of Demetrius of Phaleron had all taken refuge in the sanctuary of Aeacus at Aegina. He then had them dragged out by force and sent to Antipater at Cleonae.96 There they were put to death, and it is said that Hypereides’ tongue was also cut out.
29. When Archias learnt that Demosthenes had taken sanctuary in the temple of Poseidon at Calauria,97 he crossed over in some small boats, with a detachment of Thracian spearmen, and tried to persuade Demosthenes to leave the sanctuary and go with him to Antipater, assuring him that he would not be harshly treated. It so happened that Demosthenes had experienced a strange dream the night before, in which he had seen himself acting in a tragedy and competing with Archias. But although he acted well and won the applause of the audience, the verdict went against him because of the lack of stage decorations and costumes and the poverty of the production. So when Archias offered him this string of assurances, Demosthenes remained seated where he was, looked him full in the face and said, ‘Archias, I was never convinced by your acting, and I am no more convinced by your promises.’ Then, when Archias became angry and began to threaten him, he said, ‘Ah, before this you were acting a part, but now you are speaking like the genuine Macedonian oracle.98 Give me a few moments to write a letter to my family.’ With these words he retired into the inner part of the temple. There he picked up his tablets as if he were about to write, put his pen to his mouth and bit it, as was his habit when he was thinking out what to say. He kept the reed between his lips for some while, then covered his head with his cloak and bent down. The soldiers who stood at the door jeered at him, because they supposed that he was afraid to die and called him a faint-hearted weakling, while Archias came near, urged him to get up and began to repeat his assurances about reconciling him to Antipater. By this time Demosthenes recognized from his sensations that the poison was beginning to work upon him and overcome him, and he uncovered his head, looked steadfastly at Archias and said, ‘Now you can play the part of Creon as soon as you wish and throw my body to the dogs without burying it.99 I, my dear Poseidon, will leave your sanctuary while I am still alive, although Antipater and his Macedonians would have been ready to defile it with murder.’ With these words he asked to be supported, since by now he was trembling and could scarcely stand, and as they were helping him to walk past the altar, he fell, and with a groan breathed his last.100
30. As for the poison, Ariston says that he sucked it from the reed as I have described, but a man named Pappus, from whom Hermippus took his account of the scene, says that when Demosthenes had fallen by the side of the altar, the opening words of a letter were found on his tablets, beginning ‘Demosthenes to Antipater’ and nothing more. The speed and suddenness of his death astonished everybody, and the Thracian guards who had been standing at the door said that he took the poison into his hand from a cloth, put it to his mouth and swallowed it. They had supposed that what he had swallowed was gold,101 but the young girl who waited on him told Archias, in answer to his questions, that Demosthenes had long carried this cloth girdle with him as a last resort to protect him against his enemies. Eratosthenes says that Demosthenes carried the poison in a hollow bracelet, which he wore as an ornament upon his arm. There is no need for me to list all the different versions of this scene which have been given by the many authors who have described it. I will mention only that of Demochares, one of his kinsmen, who says that in his opinion Demosthenes did not die from poison but, thanks to the honour and benevolence shown him by the gods, he was delivered from the cruelty of the Macedonians by a swift and painless death. He died on the sixteenth of the month Pyanepsion, the most solemn day of the festival of the Thesmophoria,102 which the women observe by fasting in the temple of the goddess.
Soon after his death, the people of Athens paid him fitting honours by erecting his statue in bronze103 and by decreeing that the eldest member of his family should have the right to dine in the prytaneum at public expense.104 On the base of his statue was carved this famous inscription:
If only your strength had been equal, Demosthenes, to your wisdom,
Never would Greece have been ruled by a Macedonian Ares.105
It is of course absurd to say, as some writers have done, that Demosthenes himself composed these lines in Calauria just before he took the poison.
31. A little while before I arrived in Athens,106 the following episode is said to have occurred. A soldier, who had been summoned by his commanding officer to be tried for some offence, put what little money he had between the hands of this statue which are represented as clasped together. Beside the statue grew a small plane-tree, and the leaves from the tree, whether they were blown there by chance or placed there on purpose by the soldier, piled up over the gold and hid it for a long time. Finally, the soldier returned and found his treasure intact, and later the story spread abroad and became a theme to inspire the wits of the city to compete with one another in their epigrams celebrating the incorruptibility of Demosthenes.
As for Demades, he did not live long to enjoy his infamy. The vengeance of the gods for the part he had played in the death of Demosthenes took him to Macedonia, where he justly met his death at the hands of the people he had so basely flattered. He had for some time already been disliked by the Macedonians, but he now incurred an accusation which it was impossible for him to evade. A letter of his was intercepted in which he had urged Perdiccas to intervene in Macedonia and rescue the Greeks, who he said were attached to it only by an old and rotten thread, by which he meant Antipater.107 Deinarchus of Corinth accused him of treason, and Cassander was so enraged at his treachery that he killed Demades’ son as he stood by his father’s side, and then ordered Demades himself to be put to death. Through this terrible fate, he learnt that traitors always betray themselves first, a truth which Demosthenes had often prophesied to him, but which he would not believe.
And so, Sosius, you have the life of Demosthenes, which we have drawn from all that we have read or heard about him.