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The Works in This Volume
Contained herein are the Funeral Oration (epitaphios) for those who died in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 (60), the Erotic Essay, of unknown date (61), 56 (or, rather, 55) Prologues (prooimia) or openings of political speeches, also of unknown date, and six Letters, apparently written during Demosthenes' exile (323 to 322) for his part in the Harpalus affair of 324/3. All of these works are grouped together at the end of the Demosthenic corpus since it was common practice by ancient compilers to place such works at the end of a corpus. The only important studies of them in virtually the past century are the three Budé editions of R. Clavaud and J. Goldstein's The Letters of Demosthenes (see below).
The neglect is because of two main reasons: first, scholarly attention has focused on Demosthenes' forensic and political speeches, and second, problems of authenticity. Their lack of attention, however, has caused a major gap in Demosthenic scholarship, for their value as sources of information on history, society, and politics, as well as on Demosthenes' rhetorical style, will be evident from reading them. Furthermore, the Funeral Oration (epitaphios), Prologues, and five of the six Letters are probably genuine (some discussion of their authorship and dates are given in my introductions). Thus, it is my contention that these works should no longer be relegated to mere passing mention in any discussion of Demosthenes.
Historical Background to the Funeral Oration and Letters
The contemporary literary sources of information for Greece in the 330s and 320s are the speeches of the orators Aeschines, Demosthenes, Dinarchus, Hyperides, and Lycurgus. However, they have their pitfalls. Speeches are not historical but rhetorical works, hence their information has to be treated carefully. The orators were out to win their cases (whether in a lawcourt or an Assembly debate), and accuracy of content mattered less than persuasive presentation. Demosthenes has an axe to grind in the Funeral Oration and especially the Letters, in which his aim is to be recalled from a self-imposed exile. In order to understand them more fully, it is necessary to be aware of some historical background.
Demosthenes' political influence in Athens was so great that in 340 he easily persuaded the Athenians to declare war on Philip II, king of Macedonia, who by then wanted to reduce Greece. The war did not last long. Despite some initial reversals for the Macedonian king, in 338 Athens and Thebes, helped by several other states (Dem. 18.237), fought him at Chaeronea in Boeotia on 1 September. At stake for the Greeks was their autonomy; for Philip, Macedonian hegemony over Greece.
The Greeks put together an army of 35,000 infantry and 1,400 cavalry to battle Philip's force of 30,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry (Diodorus Siculus 16.85). Thanks to brilliant strategy, Philip lulled the Athenian contingent into thinking he was retreating, causing the Athenians to rush forward and open the allied line of defense. Alexander, heir to the throne and in charge of the left flank, seized the opportunity to penetrate the Athenian contingent with his cavalry while Philip counter-charged. The young heir was also responsible for annihilating the 300-strong Sacred Band of Thebes. Thus, the battle ended in a Greek rout.
Philip treated the majority of his Greek opponents harshly, establishing oligarchies and garrisons in several cities. The Athenians expected him to march on their city (Lyc. 1.39-45), and Demosthenes and Hyperides proposed a series of emergency measures. Demosthenes prudently left Athens on the pretext of securing grain, for which Dinarchus, for example, later condemned him (cf. 1.80-81). Philip did not, however, besiege Athens. He ordered the Athenians to disband their Second Athenian Naval Confederacy, an empire founded almost half a century earlier in 378. Then he returned the Athenian prisoners captured at Chaeronea unransomed, and Alexander and Antipater escorted the ashes of those who died there to Athens. The democratic institutions of the city were left untouched, and no demand was made for the surrender of anti-Macedonian politicians such as Demosthenes and Hyperides.
Not long after the Battle of Chaeronea, but clearly after he had returned from his mission to secure grain, Demosthenes was chosen by the Athenians to deliver the funeral oration over those who had died in the battle (Dem. 18.285; Plut., Demosthenes 21.2). It was the custom of the Athenians to honor their dead in a solemn public ceremony, which was held in the Ceramicus district of Athens, and for a leading statesman to deliver a funeral oration (Thuc. 2.34). The ceremony was customarily attended by citizens and metics (noncitizen residents). Demosthenes' selection to deliver this somber speech shows his political influence in Athens, despite the fact that his anti-Macedonian policy had resulted in the total defeat of the Greeks. Moreover, his selection is also significant for the Athenians' attitude at this time to Philip: they had granted citizenship to Philip and Alexander after Chaeronea, but this move was simply a political measure arising out of a sense of relief.
Philip was now master of Greece. In the winter of 338/7, he summoned deputations from the Greek states to meet at Corinth (all but the Spartans attended), where he announced a Common Peace, headed by himself, with each state swearing an oath of loyalty to Philip and his descendants. The Macedonian hegemony of Greece was thus formalized in what is commonly called the League of Corinth. A second meeting was soon held, at which Philip presented a proposal for the invasion of Persia, a variation on the panhellenic plan as put forward by Isocrates in his To Philip (5) of 346 (Diodorus Siculus 16.89.2).
Philip never invaded Persia, for in July 336 he was assassinated at Aegae (Diodorus Siculus 16.93-95; Arrian 1.1.1). Greece immediately revolted from the Macedonian hegemony, and in Athens Demosthenes apparently dressed in festal clothes and rejoiced, even though his ten- or eleven-year-old daughter had died less than a week earlier. However, the new king, Alexander III (the Great), took only a few months to subdue the Greeks, reimpose the League of Corinth (Sparta again remained aloof), and prepare to invade Persia.
The invasion was put on hold, for in 335 the Thebans revolted. They were supported by some states (including initially Athens; cf. Diodorus Siculus 17.8.6) and by money from the Persian king. Alexander forced Thebes to surrender, and then razed the city to the ground, in the process killing 6,000 Thebans and taking 30,000 prisoner. The Athenians sent an embassy to the king stressing their loyalty and support. In reply, Alexander demanded the surrender of several leading orators, including Demosthenes and Lycurgus, but later he relented thanks to the diplomatic intervention of Demades.
Finally, in 334, Alexander left for Persia. Until his death in 323, Greece remained passive, apart from the abortive war of Agis III of Sparta in 331 to 330. He tried without success to unite the Greeks against Macedonia, and was defeated and killed by Antipater within a year (Din. 1.34; Diodorus Siculus 17.63.1-3; Curtius 6.1).
Despite the cost to Greek autonomy, the Macedonian hegemony of Greece brought with it a period of peace, which allowed the Greeks some prosperity after their many decades of fighting. Nowhere was this prosperity more evident than in Athens, thanks to the administration of Lycurgus, the treasurer of the Theoric Fund, who from 336 to about 324 held power either in his own name or through subordinates. Lycurgus was able to initiate a building program (this was the period when the Panathenaic Stadium and the Theatre of Dionysus were built); prepare the first official texts of the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides (and have statues cast of them); and make other reforms, all in keeping with a new and grander era in Athenian history after the darkness of recent decades.
Then in late 324 Lycurgus was indicted, perhaps for corruption. He was carried into court on his deathbed ([Plut.] Moralia 842e) but successfully defended himself. After his death, his children were indicted for their father's crimes and imprisoned. They were released thanks to the letter (3) that Demosthenes wrote on their behalf while in exile.
That exile was a result of what is called the Harpalus affair of 324/3. In 324, as Alexander returned to the west, his corrupt treasurer Harpalus fled to Greece with a force of six thousand mercenaries, five thousand talents of stolen money, and thirty warships, and sought asylum in Athens (Diodorus Siculus 17.108.6; Curtius 10.2.1). His aim was to incite the Athenians to lead the Greeks in a revolt against Macedonian power. In the meantime, Alexander's royal messenger, Nicanor, arrived in Greece with his king's Exiles Decree, to be proclaimed at the Olympic festival. The decree ordered all Greek cites (excluding Thebes) to receive back their exiles and gave Antipater the right to coerce any city that refused (Diodorus Siculus 18.8.4). At the same time, there was debate among the Greeks as to whether Alexander should be worshiped as a god, although many states, including Athens, resisted this.
The Exiles Decree flouted the autonomy of the Greek poleis since the return of exiles was outlawed under the League of Corinth's terms ([Dem.] 17.16). We might therefore expect that the Athenians would welcome Harpalus' offer of money and manpower and so revolt against Alexander, but, thanks to Demosthenes, Philocles the general was ordered to deny Harpalus entry ([Plut.], Moralia 846a). He went to the mercenary base at Taenarum in the southern Peloponnese, but not long after returned to Athens, this time exploiting his honorary citizen status by appealing for asylum. Philocles allowed him to enter Athens. A second Assembly meeting was held, at which Hyperides spoke in favor of accepting Harpalus' offer of support, but again Demosthenes won the day. Harpalus was imprisoned, and the money he had brought with him, allegedly seven hundred talents (Hyp. 5.9-10; cf. [Plut.], Moralia 846b), was impounded on the Acropolis (Din. 1.70, 89, [Plut.], Moralia 846b; cf. Hyp. 5.9-10), and a guard posted over it (cf. Din. 1.62). Since the Greek states were each about to send an embassy to Alexander over the Exiles Decree, Demosthenes realized that harboring Harpalus would jeopardize a successful outcome for the Athenian embassy, hence his course of action.
With Harpalus in prison, Demosthenes went to Olympia as head of the Athenian religious delegation—an excuse to meet with Nicanor about the Exiles Decree (Din. 1.81-82; Hyp. 5.18-19). Soon after he returned, he spoke in favor of recognizing Alexander's divine status. Although there is the insinuation in the two prosecution speeches in his later trial that he was bribed to do so (Din. 1.94, 103; Hyp. 5.31-32), it is more likely that his sudden change was intended to improve the success of the Athenian embassy to Alexander.
Then things began to go wrong for Demosthenes. Soon after his imprisonment, Harpalus escaped (Diodorus Siculus 17.108.7); the people turned on Demosthenes and accused him and several others of taking bribes from Harpalus (Diodorus Siculus 17.108.8). When only half of the alleged seven hundred talents could be found, the accusations appeared valid. Demosthenes proposed that the Areopagus conduct an investigation into the affair (Din. 1.1). He also offered to submit to the death penalty if the Areopagus found him guilty, as did others including Philocles (Din. 3.2, 5, 16, 21; cf. Hyp. 5.34). Clearly this measure had little effect, for as the inquiry progressed, Demosthenes issued a challenge (proklesis) to the people to present the Areopagus with evidence for their accusation (Din. 1.6; Hyp. 5.2). Until now, Demosthenes had protested his innocence; then he confessed he did take money not as a bribe but for the Theoric Fund (Hyp. 5.12-13).
It took six months for the Areopagus to issue its report (Din. 1.45) in which it accused Demosthenes and several others of receiving bribes from Harpalus (in Demosthenes' case twenty talents of gold). Significantly, however, and something that Demosthenes would stress in his Letters (2.1, 15 and 3.42), it cited no evidence. Around the same time, news arrived that Alexander had rejected the Athenian embassy's pleas concerning the Exiles Decree. The timing was hardly a coincidence, for Demosthenes had said that he had been sacrificed as part of a conspiracy by the Areopagus to please Alexander (Letter 2.2; cf. Hyp. 5.14). Demosthenes was put on trial, with several others, in about March 323.
He was prosecuted by ten men, but we have only the prosecution speeches written by Dinarchus and Hyperides, as well as those written by Dinarchus against Aristogeiton and Philocles from their trials. Demosthenes was condemned, as were Demades (Din. 2.15) and Philocles (Letter 3.31). However, the others were exculpated. After about a week's imprisonment following his trial, Demosthenes fled into exile, from where he wrote several letters to the Athenians protesting his innocence in the Harpalus affair.
The news that Alexander had so unexpectedly died on June 10 or 11, 323, was greeted with skepticism at first: "If Alexander were really dead, the whole world would smell from his corpse," said Demades (Plut., Phocion 22.3). When that death was confirmed, and with there being no undisputed heir to the Macedonian throne, the Athenians were instrumental in encouraging the Greeks to revolt from Macedonia. This revolt is commonly called the Lamian War, and Demosthenes saw it as his chance to return to Athens.
The Lamian War was short-lived, although a Macedonian victory was not always assured. At the strategic town of Thermopylae, the Greeks defeated the Macedonians in battle, and Antipater managed to escape to the town of Lamia for refuge. There he remained for the winter of 323/2. During this time, Demosthenes had first toured the Peloponnese, and some time later, on the motion of his cousin Demon, he was officially recalled to Athens (Plut., Demosthenes 27). It was probably about this time that he wrote the sixth letter, urging resistance to Macedonia.
The Battle of Thermopylae was the high point for the Greeks in the Lamian War. At some point during that winter, the Athenian general Leosthenes was killed while attempting to breach Lamia (Diodorus Siculus 18.13.5, Justin 13.5.12). He was succeeded by Antiphilus, but in early spring, Antipater escaped thanks to the timely arrival of Leonnatus and 20,000 reinforcements (Diodorus Siculus 18.14.5). Although Antiphilus killed Leonnatus in battle, Antipater's escape was the break that Macedonia needed. In the summer of 322 the Greek fleet was defeated, as were the Greek land forces by Antipater at Crannon (central Thessaly). Seeing the writing on the wall, Demosthenes and Hyperides fled from Athens, and to prevent his capture, Demosthenes committed suicide by drinking poison.
The Prologues and the Erotic Essay
The Erotic Essay is an epideictic work, written for a youth named Epicrates, about whom nothing is known. It is influenced by both Plato and Isocrates, and echoes of their writings and beliefs are evident in it. The author attempts to counsel Epicrates and the audience on what is best for a person, the answer being the study of philosophy. Through a study of that discipline a person will become virtuous and a morally upright citizen. The content and style of the Erotic Essay is the most removed from Demosthenes' other writings, and it is almost certainly spurious. Based on internal evidence, it was written probably between the late 350s and 335 (so during Demosthenes' lifetime), but its author is unknown.
The Prologues are openings to political speeches that may well have been delivered in the Assembly. In addition to the rhetorical functions (capturing the goodwill of the audience and balancing the epilogue), these prologues give us insights into the Athenians' attitude to their democracy as well as to the audience's reactions and even expectations at an Assembly. The authorship of the prologues is disputed, but they are most likely Demosthenic, and some of them correspond closely (even at times exactly) with the prologues of his extant political speeches.
Note on the Text
The text used in this volume is that of N. W. and N. J. DeWitt, Demosthenes 7, Loeb Classical Library (London: 1949; repr. 1986). Major variations between that text and others that affect the translation are cited where relevant. Other texts are
- W. Rennie, Demosthenis Orationes, vol. 3, Oxford Classical Text (Oxford: 1931).
- R. Clavaud, DémosthËne, Discours d'apparat (…pitaphios, …roticos), Budé Text (Paris: 1974).
- R. Clavaud, DémosthËne, Prologues, Budé Text (Paris: 1974).
- R. Clavaud, DémosthËne, Lettres et Fragments, Budé Text (Paris: 1987).
The only commentary on any of the works in this volume is that of J. A. Goldstein, The Letters of Demosthenes (New York: 1968).
References in my introductions and notes to the works by author's name and text (e.g., Clavaud in the Budé text) refer to the above.