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Demosthenes, Speeches 50-59

Demosthenes, Speeches 50-59

This set of ten law court speeches gives a vivid sense of public and private life in fourth-century BC Athens.

Series: The Oratory of Classical Greece, Volume 6, Michael Gagarin, series editor

January 2003
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237 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 |

This is the sixth volume in the Oratory of Classical Greece. This series presents all of the surviving speeches from the late fifth and fourth centuries BC in new translations prepared by classical scholars who are at the forefront of the discipline. These translations are especially designed for the needs and interests of today's undergraduates, Greekless scholars in other disciplines, and the general public.


Classical oratory is an invaluable resource for the study of ancient Greek life and culture. The speeches offer evidence on Greek moral views, social and economic conditions, political and social ideology, law and legal procedure, and other aspects of Athenian culture that have been largely ignored: women and family life, slavery, and religion, to name just a few.



Demosthenes is regarded as the greatest orator of classical antiquity; indeed, his very eminence may be responsible for the inclusion under his name of a number of speeches he almost certainly did not write. This volume contains four speeches that are most probably the work of Apollodorus, who is often known as "the Eleventh Attic Orator." Regardless of their authorship, however, this set of ten law court speeches gives a vivid sense of public and private life in fourth-century BC Athens. They tell of the friendships and quarrels of rural neighbors, of young men joined in raucous, intentionally shocking behavior, of families enduring great poverty, and of the intricate involvement of prostitutes in the lives of citizens. They also deal with the outfitting of warships, the grain trade, challenges to citizenship, and restrictions on the civic role of men in debt to the state.


  • Series Editor's Preface (Michael Gagarin)
  • Translator's Preface (Victor Bers)
  • Series Introduction (Michael Gagarin)
    • Oratory in Classical Athens
    • The Orators
    • The Works of the Orators
    • Government and Law in Classical Athens
    • The Translation of Greek Oratory
    • Abbreviations
    • Note on Currency
    • Bibliography of Works Cited
  • Introduction to Demosthenes (Michael Gagarin)
    • Life
    • Works
    • Style
    • Significance
    • Supplementary Bibliography
  • Introduction to This Volume (Victor Bers)
    • Apollodorus
    • Text
  • 50. Against Polycles
  • 51. On the Trierarchic Crown
  • 52. Against Callippus
  • 53. Against Nicostratus
  • 54. Against Conon
  • 55. Against Callicles
  • 56. Against Dionysodorus
  • 57. Against Eubulides
  • 58. Against Theocrines
  • 59. Against Neaera
  • Index

Victor Bers is Professor of Classics at Yale University.


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Although this volume of The Oratory of Classical Greece bears the title Demosthenes I, Speeches 50-59, only one speech in the group, Against Conon (54), has been unanimously regarded by antiquity and modern scholars as the work of Demosthenes. Some scholars have doubted whether Demosthenes wrote On the Trierarchic Crown (51). Most accept Against Callicles (55) and Against Eubulides (57) as authentic Demosthenic compositions, though conceding that the former has technical characteristics different from Demosthenes' mature prose and that the latter is unpolished. Against Dionysodorus (56) remains controversial: the authors of one book (Carey and Reid 1985) express doubt that Demosthenes could have written the speech, but even more recently Usher 1999: 257 writes: "His participation in the case, in some capacity, [is] highly likely." Doubt over the authorship of Against Theocrines (58), a speech that condemns Demosthenes for abandoning a just cause (§42), goes back to at least the first century AD.

The speeches Against Polycles (50), Against Callippus (52), Against Nicostratus (53), and Against Neaera (59), as well as Against Stephanus II (46) and Against Timotheus (49), are in all probability by the well-known politician Apollodorus, the son of Pasion. Apollodorus is important enough in the history of Greek oratory to have been called (in modern times) "The Eleventh Attic Orator." See below for a short account of Apollodorus' career and the matter of authorship.

Aside from On the Trierarchic Crown (51), which is addressed to the Council of Five Hundred (boul\e), all the speeches in this volume were written for delivery before large, often boisterous, popular courts, the dikast\eria. Even though we have only the written form in which they have been transmitted to us, all the speeches presented here, indeed all Greek oratory meant to be delivered and not just read, hold many signs that the orator needed to be something of a performer. For many hours at a time, speakers had to hold the interest of their audiences--spectators as well as members of the legislative or judicial bodies they were addressing. They strove do this by a variety of strategies. On the level of content, speakers often claim that the verdict given in their case will have enduring consequences for good or evil well beyond the matter at hand and their own interests: excellent examples include 56.48 and 59.114. On the level of style, speakers exploit the linguistic resources of the Greek language, including its rich store of particles, facility with clauses of great complexity, flexibility of word order, wide repertory of rhetorical figures, and overall sense of shape. Even the speeches in this volume that are regarded as unworthy of Demosthenes himself seem vigorous in style and capable of maintaining the audience's sustained interest.

These ten speeches fall into a variety of procedural types (see the Introductions to the individual speeches); a modern reader will probably see other classifications as more pertinent. Although they involve individual citizens and do not directly involve policy decisions emanating from the Council of Five Hundred and the Assembly, the majority involve relations of individual Athenians with state institutions and life in the public sphere. The first two (50 and 51) have to do with the conduct of one branch of the Athenian military, the outfitting and management of warships. The speeches Against Eubulides (57) and Against Neaera (59) arose from challenges to citizenship. Against Theocrines (58) argues that the defendant is in debt to the state and therefore barred from acting as prosecutor. The speech Against Dionysodorus (56) was written for a commercial case in which the principals were not Athenian citizens or even resident aliens (metoikoi); nevertheless, the jury is reminded that the supply and price of grain were very important to the city. The speech Against Conon (54) describes brawling in both the streets of Athens and a military camp, an extension of Athenian "civic space." A soured friendship forms the background of Against Nicostratus (53), but here too the city was in some sense an interested party, since it stood to gain from the sale of private slaves to the public treasury. We find explicit charges of abuse of the city's judicial system (sykophantia) in most of the speeches, including Against Callicles (55), which describes a dispute between two neighboring families over trivial flood damage, if the speaker can be trusted about the extent of the damage. Finally, whenever a speaker, co-speaker (syn\egoros), opponent, or witness was a man of prominence, the particular issue to be judged might have been less important than the protracted struggle of aristocrats for status and power in public competition judged by common citizens. This was certainly the case whenever Demosthenes, Apollodorus, or their associates were involved.

These "private speeches," then, are hardly divorced from the larger community, in both its organized and informal aspects. That said, it is also true that some speeches derive from the world of private, even intimate, associations. Although one must never make the mistake of assuming any speaker's account to be entirely credible, we do find stories of rural neighbors (53 and 55), bands of young men joined in raucous, intentionally shocking behavior (54), families in severe economic distress (57), and the intricate involvement of prostitutes with the lives of citizens (59). Similarly, though forensic speeches were stylized speech events that to a greater or lesser extent conformed to an etiquette specific to the lawcourts, we can at least get an occasional snatch of colloquial Attic speech, especially in speeches thought to have been written by Apollodorus.


From several points of view, there is considerable irony in the incorporation of speeches by Apollodorus, son of Pasion, into the corpus of Demosthenic speeches. The two orators descended from families about as different from each other as possible in the Athens of the fifth and fourth centuries BC. At least during one period, moreover, their personal relations are likely to have been unfriendly in the extreme (see For Phormio [36]). If scholars have correctly identified those speeches that were attributed to Demosthenes by the manuscripts but were in fact composed by Apollodorus, there are very large stylistic differences between the two.

Demosthenes descended from a family of undoubted Athenian citizenship whose wealth can, with some probability, be traced back to his paternal grandfather. By contrast, Apollodorus' father Pasion was a slave; worse, he was not even of Greek origin but probably came from Phoenicia. But Pasion was extraordinarily lucky in his owners, his character, and his commercial acumen. He was the chattel of two bankers doing business in Athens and served his masters so well that they freed him from slavery. At some point, he acquired ownership of their successful bank and also came to own a factory that made shields. Pasion lavished part of his growing wealth on the city. In gratitude, the Athenians granted him citizenship, elevating him from the status of metoikos.

Apollodorus, Pasion's first son, was born about 394, some ten years earlier than Demosthenes. As a man with a foreign accent, Apollodorus' father would probably not have been able to make more than a token effort at speaking in an Athenian court. The son, however, spoke perfect Attic Greek and presumably received some rhetorical training. He was therefore prepared in his early twenties to argue in court over a matter that arose from his father's bank (see Against Callippus [52]). About seven years later, Apollodorus undertook a similar case when he prosecuted the general Timotheus to recover money borrowed from his father (Against Timotheus [Dem. 49]). Apollodorus later became embroiled in a protracted legal battle with Phormio, the ex-slave to whom Pasion entrusted first his bank and eventually his wife (Apollodorus' mother): he had provided in his will that Phormio marry her after his own death (see Dem. 36 and 45). As a rich Athenian citizen, Apollodorus was required to perform liturgies (Series Introduction), starting with a trierarchy in 368. But even as liturgies confirmed high status, they could also provoke litigation (see Against Polycles [50]).

Apollodorus was also in court with his neighbor in a dispute connected, at least in part, with the conflict with Phormio (see Against Nicostratus [53]). Apollodorus' views on foreign and domestic politics are controversial,11 but in 348 he was clearly close to Demosthenes' position on the need to resist Philip of Macedon (see Against Neaera [59.3]). Apollodorus' actions brought him into conflict with the politician Stephanus, and that conflict forms the real background to Against Neaera, a speech written for a trial that ostensibly deals with a Corinthian prostitute's usurpation of Athenian citizenship. That trial took place not latter than 340, after which Apollodorus disappears from our evidence.

As already suggested, the authorship of forensic speeches is never a simple matter. In the case of Demosthenes and Apollodorus there are some special complications arising from the legal combat between Apollodorus and Phormio. A speech in defense of Phormio attributed to Demosthenes (36) was so stunningly effective that it stymied Apollodorus' prosecution. Despite that setback, Apollodorus persisted in his legal pursuit, delivering two speeches, Against Stephanus I and Against Stephanus II (45 and 46), attacking a man who had appeared as a witness favorable to Phormio. Thus we have three speeches concerned with Phormio that the manuscripts attribute to Demosthenes, the first favoring Apollodorus' opponent, the second and third favoring Apollodorus, indeed written for him to deliver. The attributions might be flatly wrong, or perhaps Demosthenes switched sides. If the latter is true, the switch can be regarded as proof that a speechwriter of that period resembled a modern lawyer who, in principle at least, works for clients without regard to his personal beliefs. Making no such allowance for professional impartiality, Demosthenes' enemy Aeschines condemned him for disloyalty and avarice (see Aes. 2.165 with note in The Oratory of Classical Greece, Vol. 3). Even if Demosthenes did switch sides, there is the further possibility that 45 and 46 are the collaborative work of Demosthenes and Apollodorus.

The relations of the two men aside, there are good grounds for believing that Apollodorus was the author of a number of works that found their way into the collected speeches of Demosthenes. With the exception of Against Stephanus I (45), all the speeches written for trials in which Apollodorus was a principal player show a looser and more repetitious style than speeches certainly written by Demosthenes. Several technical characteristics, especially the frequency of runs of three short syllables and hiatus, confirm this general impression. It is therefore extremely probable that speeches 50, 52, 53, and 59 in this volume are all the work of Apollodorus.


This translation normally follows the Oxford Classical Text of W. Rennie (Oxford, 1931).