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Public character

Aeschines cannot be considered as a statesman, since he had no definite policy. He was, as he admitted himself, an opportunist. ‘Both individual and state,’ he says, ‘must shift their ground according to change of circumstances, and aim at what is best for the time’;1 and though he claims to be ‘the adviser of the greatest of all cities,’2 he never had in public matters any higher principle than this following of the line of least resistance.

It is necessary, however, to consider whether he was actually the corrupt politician that Demosthenes makes him out to be.

Athenian opinion with regard to corrupt practices was less strict than ours; Hyperides admits that there are various degrees of guiltiness in the matter of receiving bribes; the worst offence is to receive bribes from improper quarters, i.e. from an enemy of the State, and to the detriment of the State (Hyperides, adv. Dem., xxiv).

This principle implies a corollary that to receive bribes for doing one's duty and acting in the best interests of one's country is a venial offence, if indeed it is an offence at all; in which case a man's guilt or innocence may be a matter for his individual conscience to determine.

Demosthenes definitely accused Aeschines of changing his policy in consequence of bribes received from Philip. It is known that at the beginning of his public life he was an opponent of Macedon, and we have his own account of his conversion on the occasion of the embassy to Megalopolis:

“You reproach me for the speech which I made, as an envoy, before ten thousand people in Arcadia; you say that I have changed sides, you abject creature, who were nearly branded as a deserter. The truth is that during the war I tried to the best of my ability to unite the Arcadians and the rest of the Greeks against Philip; but when I found that nobody would give help to Athens, but some were waiting to see what happened and others were marching against us, and the orators in the city were using the war as a means of meeting their daily expenses, I admit that I advised the people to come to terms with Philip, and make the peace which you, who have never drawn a sword, now say is disgraceful, though I say that it is far more honourable than the war.

After the conclusion of the peace of Philocrates the accusations were more definite. Demosthenes asserts that Aeschines had private interviews with Philip when on the second embassy, and that for his services he received certain lands in Boeotia;3 he recurs to this charge in the de Corona, many years later. Aeschines does not deny or even mention this charge either in the speech On the Embassy or in the accusation of Ctesiphon. Demosthenes, having, apparently, little direct evidence, tries to establish his case by emphasizing the relations of Aeschines with the traitor Philocrates; but this is a weak argument, for though Aeschines at one time boasted of these relations, on a later occasion he repudiated them, and even ventured to rank Demosthenes himself with Philocrates.4 Perhaps we should attach more importance to the other fact urged by Demosthenes, that Aeschines from time to time urged the city to accept Philip's vague promises of goodwill; but before we condemn him on this ground we must recollect that Isocrates, a man of far greater intelligence than Aeschines, and of undoubted honesty, had come so completely under the spell of Philip's personality as to place a thorough belief in the sincerity of his professions (above, p. 148). Aeschines may have been duped in the same manner.

But the most severe condemnation of Aeschines' policy is contained in his own speeches.

During a visit to the Macedonian army in Phocis he was guilty of a gross piece of bad taste by joining with Philip in dancing the paean to celebrate the defeat of Phocis. He admits the charge, and maintains that it was even a proper thing to do (de Leg., § 163). His conduct at the Amphictyonic Council was far more serious (above, p. 166). He was invited to make a speech, and as he began, was rudely interrupted by a Locrian of Amphissa. In revenge it ‘occurred to him’5 to recall the impiety of the Amphissians in occupying the Cirrhaean plain. He caused to be read aloud the curse pronounced after the first Sacred War, and by recalling the forgotten events of past generations worked up his audience to such a pitch of excitement that on the following morning—for it was too late to take action that night—the whole population of Delphi marched down to Cirrha, destroyed the harbour buildings, and set fire to the town. Though this action undoubtedly plunged Greece into an Amphictyonic War, Aeschines, quite regardless of the awful consequences, can only dwell upon the remarkable effects of his own oratory.

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