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Demosthenes, Speeches 20-22

Demosthenes, Speeches 20-22

Three important speeches by the greatest orator of classical antiquity that illuminate Athenian law and culture in the fourth century BC.

Series: The Oratory of Classical Greece, Volume 12, Michael Gagarin, series editor

July 2008
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245 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 |

This is the twelfth 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 recently been attracting particular interest: women and family life, slavery, and religion, to name just a few.

Demosthenes is regarded as the greatest orator of classical antiquity. This volume contains three important speeches from the earliest years of his political career: Against Leptines, a prosecution brought against a law repealing all exemptions from liturgies; Against Meidias, a prosecution for aggravated insult (hybris) brought against an influential politician; and Against Androtion, an indictment of a decree of honors for the Council of Athens. Edward M. Harris provides contemporary English translations of these speeches, two of which (Leptines and Androtion) have not been translated into English in over sixty years, along with introductions and extensive notes that take account of recent developments in Classical scholarship.

  • Series Editor's Preface (Michael Gagarin)
  • Translator's Acknowledgments (Edward M. Harris)
  • 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
  • Introduction to This Volume (Edward M. Harris)
  • DEMOSTHENES (Edward M. Harris)
    • 20. Against Leptines
    • 21. Against Meidias
    • 22. Against Androtion
  • Bibliography for this Volume
  • Index

Edward M. Harris is Professor of Ancient History at Durham University in Durham, England.


The three speeches in this volume were delivered at trials during the decade following the Social War (357-355 BCE). This period marked an important transition in the history of Athenian democracy. Earlier in the fourth century the Athenians attempted to regain the hegemony that they had lost by their defeat in the Peloponnesian War. In 378 the Athenians created a league of allies and portrayed themselves as the champions of Greek freedom against Spartan oppression. The new league got off to a promising start: in 376 Chabrias defeated the Spartan fleet off Naxos, freeing Athens from a Spartan blockade. Many Greek city-states in Ionia and Central Greece joined the new league, and in 375 Timotheus won allies in Western Greece and defeated another Spartan fleet at Alyzia. But the alliance was weakened by the defection of Thebes in 371. After the Thebans defeated the Spartans at Leuctra later that year and invaded the Peloponnese, the Athenians voted to conclude an alliance with Sparta and destroyed the main rationale for the new league. The Athenians further undermined their claim of protecting Greek liberty when they revived their territorial ambitions in Northern Greece. Between 368 and 359, first Iphicrates, then Timotheus commanded Athenian forces that subdued many cities in the Chalcidice and Chersonnese, but they failed to capture Amphipolis.


By 357 the city of Byzantium and the powerful islands of Chios and Rhodes no longer saw any reason to accept Athenian leadership, and they started a revolt with the encouragement of Mausolus, the Carian dynast. The Athenians sent the general Chares with a fleet to blockade Chios, but it was defeated in late 356. The Chians, Rhodians, and Byzantines then attacked Athenian possessions at Imbros and Lemnos and laid siege to Samos. The Athenians responded by sending a fleet of sixty ships under Iphicrates and Menestheus to join Chabrias and attack Byzantium. The rebels struck a decisive blow against this force in 355 at the battle of Embata near Erythrae. The Athenians were now short of funds, and Chares attempted to raise funds by hiring out Athenian troops to the rebellious satrap Artabazus. But this strategy ran aground when the Persian King sent a protest to Athens and threatened to take the side of their enemies. Isolated and without resources, the Athenians were forced to make peace in 355 and accept the withdrawal of their most powerful allies from the league.


The defeat exposed the weaknesses of the Athenian military and sparked a vigorous debate about Athenian foreign policy and financial administration. According to Isocrates (8.61-81), the lesson to be learned from the debacle in the Social War was that the Athenians should abandon their ambitions to regain their naval empire. In his work The Ways and Means, Xenophon advised the Athenians to give up their dreams of conquest and acquire wealth by encouraging commerce and exploitation of the silver mines at Laurion. Several politicians took practical steps to address the crisis. During the Social War Periander enacted a reform of the trierarchy. Androtion and Satyrus may have been assigned to collect arrears of the war tax at this time. Eubulus may have created or reorganized the Theoric Fund during this period and used its resources to embark an ambitious building program (Aes. 3.25). Demosthenes too joined in the debate. In an early speech to the Assembly, Demosthenes (14.16-23) made a proposal to increase the number of contributors in the symmories. In his Olynthiacs delivered in 349/8, Demosthenes (1.19-20, 3.10-13) attacks the habit of taking money from the Military Fund for festivals instead of using it for soldiers' pay and equipment.


One of the proposals to improve Athenian finances during the Social War was a law passed by Leptines in 356 to abolish exemptions from liturgies. These exemptions had been awarded to citizens and foreigners for outstanding public service. Two years later, in 355/4, a man named Apsephion brought a charge against this law on the grounds that it was inexpedient. Demosthenes delivered Against Leptines in support of Apsephion's prosecution; it was his first speech in a public case. Demosthenes not only deals with the central legal charges in the case but also addresses the larger issues of the nature of democracy, the rule of law, and relations between the wealthy and the rest of the community. Demosthenes (20.2-6; cf. 102-103) attacks Leptines' law because it violates basic democratic principles. In particular, it deprives the Assembly of its power to reward its benefactors, whether they be citizens or foreigners (Dem. 20.29-87).


Demosthenes (20.120-124, 134-142) urges the Athenians to maintain their awards to powerful men at home and abroad to show their appreciation for public service and to avoid appearing ungrateful. In a period when Athens was losing power, it was important to maintain good relations with powerful leaders like Leucon, the ruler of the Crimean Bosporus. Athens was dependent on imported grain and could not afford to alienate Leucon, who granted exemptions from export duties for Athenian merchants (Dem. 20.29-40). Athenian foreign policy also relied on the cooperation of friends in the Greek city-states. If these men could not trust the Athenians to respect and maintain the privileges granted to them, the Athenians would find it difficult to encourage others to promote their interests (Dem. 20.41-56). Demosthenes also stresses the need for the Assembly to reciprocate by showing gratitude to wealthy Athenians who are willing to spend their own money on liturgies, trierarchies, and public subscriptions. These arguments show that Demosthenes had a firm grasp of the realities of Athens' position in the Greek world after its defeat in the Social War.


Besides inhibiting the power of the people to reward its benefactors, the law of Leptines also violated basic legal principles. The Athenians believed that their laws should be consistent and not contradict one another. This principle is well illustrated in a law dated to 374, which orders that all other statutes in conflict with this law be destroyed. The Athenian courts did not make ad hoc decisions when rendering verdicts; they voted in accordance with general principles contained in the laws. For the courts to do their work, therefore, the laws passed by the Assembly had to be clear and consistent. Demosthenes points out that Leptines' law violates the law that all awards granted by the Assembly are to remain valid (Dem. 20.95-97). Apsephion, by contrast, respects the need for consistency in Athenian statutes by indicting Leptines' law about exemptions before proposing a measure of his own on the same topic (Dem. 20.102-104). The court evidently found the arguments of Apsephion, Phormio, and Demosthenes convincing because Leptines' law was overturned.


During the previous year, Demosthenes wrote a speech for an accuser Diodorus, who was speaking in support of the politician Euctemon for his prosecution of Androtion in 355/4. It is impossible to know to what extent the arguments in the speech reflect the views of Demosthenes. Much of the personal slander directed at Androtion probably owes more to Diodorus' desire to retaliate against him because Androtion had had his associate Euctemon removed from office and prosecuted his uncle (Dem. 22.2) than to Demosthenes' personal views (Dem. 22.27, 48). The general points made in the speech about Athenian democracy and public policy, however, bear some similarity to statements made in his other speeches from this period. The one of the legal charges against Androtion's proposal was that it granted honors to those serving in the Council during 356/5 when they had not had triremes built. Demosthenes uses this charge as an opportunity to remind the court about the key role of the fleet in maintaining Athenian power and prestige, a timely issue after the Athenian defeat in the Social War (Dem. 22.12-16). At the same time he warns the Athenians that the drive to increase revenues does not give officials the power to trample on the legal rights of individual citizens (Dem. 22.47-58).


Demosthenes delivered his speech Against Meidias at a trial on a charge of outrage (hybris) in early 346. By this time, Demosthenes had given many speeches in the Assembly, performed many liturgies, and become a member of the Council. Despite his efforts, he was still struggling to acquire a position of influence. Part of the reason may have been that he lacked powerful friends and had gained many enemies who stood in his way. One of these enemies was the wealthy politician Meidias. The tension between the two men erupted into violence when Meidias attempted to destroy the costumes for Demosthenes' chorus and then punched him during the Dionysia of 348 (Dem. 21.13-18). Demosthenes immediately brought a charge of committing an offence against the festival at a subsequent meeting of the Assembly, which voted to censure Meidias. He could have let the matter end there, but Meidias continued to harass him. This left him no choice but to proceed against Meidias in court.


The speech Demosthenes composed for the trial is a tour de force, which attempts to transform a single punch into a dangerous assault on democracy and the rule of law. It also sheds valuable light on the intense competition for honors and prestige in Athenian life and on Athenian attitudes towards wealth. The Athenians held many dramatic and choral competitions and assigned affluent men to finance the performances. There was no requirement to spend a certain amount of money. To provide incentives, therefore, the democracy offered prizes for the best performances. Judges were appointed to choose the winners, and the victorious performers were allowed to erect monuments to commemorate their victories.20 The prestige gained in these contests was a major source of prestige, which could prove useful during elections and at meetings of the Assembly. Because the rewards of victory were so great, the competition for prizes could become very intense.


To ensure fairness, the Athenians passed and enforced several laws regulating these contests. Demosthenes (21.58-66) reminds the court how other rich men respected these rules even when competing against personal enemies. By contrast Meidias showed nothing but contempt for these democratic rules (Dem. 21.67-69). In Against Leptines Demosthenes urged the average Athenian to show gratitude toward their benefactors by not withdrawing the exemptions voted to them. In Against Meidias he contrasts Meidias with other law-abiding Athenians to illustrate the right and wrong ways to perform liturgies and other kinds of public service. The two speeches are thus complementary in their approaches to the issue of reciprocity in the relationship between the rich and the rest of the Athenian people. Although those Athenians who spend their money to benefit the people are entitled to honor and respect, they should not become arrogant and feel that they deserve the right to treat others with contempt.


The speech contains several attacks on Meidias' character, but they should not be viewed as irrelevant to the legal issue. To prove the charge of hybris, Demosthenes had to show not only that Meidias had assaulted him but also that he struck him with the intent to humiliate him. He must therefore demonstrate that his opponent did not act on the spur of the moment but as part of a deliberate plan (Dem. 21.38-42). This requires that Demosthenes recount all his previous relations with Meidias, which reveal a consistent pattern of repeated attempts to harm his reputation. For this reason he recalls Meidias' efforts to thwart his charge of slander (Dem. 21.81-101), which resulted in the disenfranchisement of Strato, his plot to have Euctemon bring a charge of desertion against him (Dem. 21.103, 110), and his attempt to have him charged with the murder of Nicodemus (Dem. 21.104, 116-122).


Demosthenes also shows that Meidias uses his wealth for his own pleasure and not for public benefit (Dem. 21.143-174). For instance, his contribution of a trireme was only a ruse to avoid military duty (Dem. 21.160-167). This material is also relevant to the legal charge of hybris because the Athenians believed that the unbridled pursuit of pleasure and excessive wealth were two of the sources of hybris. To strengthen his case, Demosthenes describes several cases in which Demosthenes acted abusively toward other citizens (21.123-142). This evidence supports the charge of hybris by proving that Meidias' character makes him predisposed to committing this crime. If Meidias has treated other people this way, the court should conclude that his actions toward Demosthenes were done in the same way.


The speech is also valuable for the light it sheds on Athenian views about the rule of law. In fact, Demosthenes uses nomos, the Greek word for "law," roughly one hundred times in the speech and often discusses its role in protecting the safety of average citizens. The role of the court is not to rehabilitate the defendant's status or to assuage his anger but to enforce the law when it has been violated (Dem. 21.25, 57). In fact, Demosthenes often reminds judges of their oath to follow the laws (Dem. 21.4, 21, 24, 34, 177, 188, 211-212). The purpose of the court's verdict is to provide a deterrent against future crimes (Dem. 21.4, 9, 227). If the law is not vigorously enforced, similar crimes will occur in the future, and average citizens will not be safe (Dem. 21.21, 37, 79). In particular, no one will be willing to perform liturgies for the public if Meidias is not punished for breaking the law (Dem. 21.66).


Each of the judges on his own is not strong enough to restrain Meidias, but their collective verdict can put an end to his abuse (Dem. 21.121, 140, 222-225). If Demosthenes did not physically retaliate when Meidias struck him, it is because he trusts in the laws and the protection granted by the legal process (Dem. 21.76). Although Meidias has performed public service, he has already received adequate gratitude from the people (Dem. 21.171). In this case, the judges should not take his wealth or social status into account but punish him for breaking the law (Dem. 21.98, 143, 183, 210). Demosthenes sees no conflict between democratic values and the rule of law. On the contrary, the two ideals go hand in hand (Dem. 21.63, 142, 150, 207).




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