[Or. VII.]—In this speech Isokrates contrasts the Athenian democracy as it existed in the middle of the 4th century B.C. with the democracy of Solon and of Kleisthenes (§ 16). He dwells chiefly on two features of the elder democracy:— 1. the preference of election (αἵρεσις
) to ballot (κλήρωσις
) in the appointment of state officers, §§ 22 ff.; 2. the supervision of public morals exercised by the Council of the Areiopagos: §§ 36—55. It is owing to the prominence of the latter topic that the speech has been called Ἀρεοπαγιτικός
. It is cast in a
deliberative form. Isokrates supposes himself to have given notice in writing to the prytanes of an intention to speak ‘On the Safety of Athens’ (περὶ σωτηρίας πρόσοδον ἀπογράψασθαι
, §§ 1, 15); and to be now urging
in the ekklesia, as absolutely necessary to the welfare of the city, the restoration of censorial power to the Areiopagos (cf. § 84). Like the De Pace
(Or. VIII.), this speech was not delivered, or meant for delivery, in the assembly. The deliberative form was adopted merely for the sake of giving greater life and impressiveness to the pleading.
The date is to be inferred from five indications:—
(1) There was now peace on the frontiers of Attica (τὰ περὶ τὴν χώραν
), and a confident sense of security at Athens, §§ 1—3: (2) The Athenians had ‘lost all the cities in Thrace’, (§ 9): (3) had spent more than 1000 talents on mercenaries, ib.
: (4) had got a bad name in Hellas and incurred the enmity of Persia, § 10: (5) had been forced ‘to save the friends of the Thebans’ and to lose their own allies, ib.
These notices point to one of two dates; to 346 B.C., in which peace was concluded between Athens and Philip; or to 355, in which the Social War, begun in 357, was closed by a peace between Athens and her allies.
The year 346 best suits (2), since it was only in
347 that Philip became master of Olynthos and its confederate towns. On the other hand, a general sense of security (1) could not be said to have existed at Athens in 346. The war with Philip had been thoroughly disheartening; and the deep dismay at Athens when Philip occupied Phokis a few days1
after the final ratification of the peace, has been described by Demosthenes2
. Further, if the speech belonged to 346, we should have expected in §§ 6, 7
some mention of Olynthos, the latest and most striking instance of sudden disaster to a confident city; and in §§ 8, 81 some mention of Macedonia as a quarter from which danger was supposed to threaten Athens; for, though Isokrates did not himself admit any such danger, he could not ignore the large party who in 346 apprehended it, and to whom he refers when he writes in that very year to Philip: Or. V. §§ 73—80.
The year 355 evidently fits (1), (2) and (4) of
the conditions mentioned above. Though the necessity of recognising the autonomy of Chios, Kos, Rhodes and Byzantium had been humiliating for Athens, the number of smaller States which still paid the syntaxis was large enough to inspire the Athenians with pride and confidence, in the absence of any danger so formidable as that which presently began to threaten them from Macedonia. The troops of Chares had been almost wholly mercenaries, and it had been felt as a relief at Athens when Artabazos helped to pay them. Artaxerxes III., incensed by the aid given to his rebellious satrap, had sent (probably in 355) an embassy to Athens, threatening to help the Chians with 300 ships; and this threat had hastened the peace3
. As regards (2), it must be allowed that, if 355 is the true date, the ἁπάσας
of § 9 is a rhetorical exaggeration. According to common usage, αἱ ἐπὶ Θρᾴκης πόλεις
mean not only the towns of the Chalkidic peninsula, but often also the Greek colonies all along the southern coasts of Thrace4
. Philip had not yet got Olynthos or the
32 towns of its confederacy. He had, however, alienated the entire Olynthian confederacy from the Athenian interest; and had taken, in 358—356, Amphipolis, Pydna and Potidaea. As to (5), the words in § 10, τοὺς μὲν τῶν Θηβαίων φίλους σώζειν ἠναγκασμένοι τοὺς δ᾽ ἡμετέρους αὐτῶν ἀπολωλεκότες
, have been explained in two different ways. Schäfer5
refers them to the circumstance that during the Phokian war the Messenians, Argives and Megalopolitans had been threatened by Sparta, and on applying to Sparta had received a qualified promise of support. Rauchenstein6
finds a better clue in the fact that Chios, Rhodes and Byzantium had been, since 364, friendly with Thebes7
. In allowing these important allies to be severed from her confederacy, and in guaranteeing their autonomy, Athens was therefore giving a deliverance to ‘friends of the Thebans.’ The sense thus put on σώζειν
is somewhat strange; but, on the whole, the explanation
seems tenable. The latter half of 3558
B.C. may be taken as the date of the Areopagitikos.
‘It will be asked why I come forward to speak on the “safety” of Athens at a time when she has a fleet of more than two hundred triremes; peace on her frontiers; the command of the sea; numerous allies. It is, in truth, this very persuasion of security which alarms me. The rise and the fall, first of Athens, then of Sparta, prove that anxious watchfulness leads to success,—arrogance, to ruin. Our
present prosperity is hollow. We have lost the cities in Thrace, spent great sums on mercenaries,—become unpopular in Greece,—revived our enmity with Persia,—saved the friends of Thebes and lost our own. Yet we have twice9
held a public thanksgiving; and in the ekklesia we are taking affairs as easily as if their position was absolutely satisfactory. The reason of this apathy lies deep. The whole political constitution of Athens is vitiated. When the victories, first of Konon, then of Timotheos, had given Athens the control of Hellas, she could not keep it for a moment. Her polity, her very soul, is distempered; and yet we do not attempt to minister to its disease. Chatting in the workshops, we admit that never under a democracy was there worse government; but in practice we are content to have it so. It is on this account that I have given notice of an intention to speak on the “safety” of Athens. Year by year her course becomes more perilous; and the only hope which I can see for her is in a return to the old paths. I wish to put before you the characteristics of that elder democracy which Solon founded and which Kleisthenes reconstituted. You can then choose between it and the present (§§ 1—19).
‘Under that democracy, licence was not confounded with freedom. Political “equality” has been understood in two
senses—as meaning either that all are to share absolutely alike, or that every man is to receive his due. Our ancestors preferred that “equality” which does not efface the distinction between merit and worthlessness. They did not take officials
at random from the crowd, but picked the fittest for each task10
. They held, also, that appointment to office by lot was less truly democratic than selection. In the one case, chance prevails—in the other, the desire of choosing genuine friends of popular government. This system satisfied the people generally, because, in those days, everyone had his own business to attend to. Office was not yet looked upon as an easier source of income than private industry. The people collectively reigned; the rich men, who had leisure, served it as a duty (§§ 20—27).
‘Such was their political system. From it followed their
relations to the gods and to each other. Their zeal in the services of religion was not spasmodic, but equable as the blessings for which it expressed their gratitude—regular as the sequence of seed-time and harvest. Their private intercourse was embittered by no class-feeling; the poor were proud of the great houses, and the rich helped all the enterprises of the needy. In a word, it was safe to have money, and easy to borrow it (§§ 28—35).
‘If it is inquired to what causes such results may be
traced, the principal cause will be found to be this—that the education of the citizen did not end with his boyhood. The Court of the Areiopagos was the recognised guardian of public decorum. Its influence at that time upon the whole community may be judged from its influence at this day upon its own members. We see how the worst men, when raised to it, cease to obey their own natures and become loyal to its traditions. It was the principle of this Court that deterrent laws, however strict, are useless without positive moral discipline; that the happiness of citizens depends, not on
guardian of the unwritten law.
having the walls of their porticoes covered with laws, but on having justice in their hearts. The Areiopagos aimed, not at punishing merely, but at preventing crime. It was especially watchful over young men. For the poorer youths, work was found in agriculture and commerce; for the richer, in vigorous exercises of mind and body. This watch was maintained over the daily life even of adults, and was aided by the division of the town into wards, of the country into demes. The Supreme Court knew well that two things chiefly restrain crime; probability of detection and certainty of punishment. Thus controlled, the young men of that time did not spend their days in the haunts popular now; nay, if they had to cross the marketplace, they did so with downcast eyes. Disrespect to elders, dissipation, buffoonery, were not then in fashion.
‘I do not mean to be hard upon youthful follies. My censure is meant for those statesmen who, a little before our own time11
, abolished the controlling power of the Areiopagos. While that power lasted, Attica was so secure from invasion
and from faction that the houses in the country were handsomer than those within the walls; many citizens never came to town even for the festivals. The contrasts of a thoroughly vulgar policy were not to be seen then. There were no citizens casting lots for their daily bread12
the lawcourts, while they paid strangers liberally to fight their battles: no choregi, blazing in golden robes, who were doomed to shiver through the winter in rags. The Areiopagos, while it had power, found employment for the poor and restrained the excesses of the wealthy (§§ 36—55).
‘Some who have heard this account of our ancestors’ life, while admiring it, have thought that my advice was unpractical—long habit cannot be broken through,—and also dangerous to myself. I shall be suspected, they say, of desiring an oligarchy. Now if I were praising some new
This is no plea for oligarchy.
scheme of government, and urging the appointment of a special commission to carry it out, I might incur suspicion. As it is, I have only been urging a return to that old system under which, as everyone knows, Athens was greatest. On all other occasions, too, I have censured dynasty and supported democracy—not a reckless democracy, but one tempered like that of Sparta, in which the principle of equality is most truly expressed. If we go through the chief cities of Hellas, a democratical, not an oligarchical, form of government will be found to have been most frequently prosperous.
‘Even our corrupt democracy would seem god-made by the side of the government of the Thirty Tyrants. It was
their doing that the walls of Athens were levelled; that the dockyards, which had cost 1,000 talents, were destroyed by contract for three; that 1,500 citizens were put to death untried, and more than 5,000 banished. When the exiles were restored, the ekklesia generously voted the payment of a debt contracted by the adherents of the Thirty in making war upon the Peiraeus; Athens resumed, on the proposal of Sparta herself, the empire of the sea, and, later, was besought for help by the Power which, under the Thirty, had constantly dictated to her. I say this to show, first, that I am no friend of oligarchies: next, that even a bad democracy is a less evil than an oligarchy.
‘You may ask why, then, I am dissatisfied with this
democracy, seeing that it has been productive of so much good? I answer that it is not enough to excel the Tyrants; we must strive to reach the standard of our ancestors. No race ought to be better than the Athenians. As other
countries have their special products, Attica has her breed of men; we are of that breed, but at this moment we dishonour it. Enough of this: I return to my immediate subject (§§ 56—77).
‘If our general system of government remains unaltered, all its particular phenomena must continue the same—our conduct of war, our conduct of debate, the spirit of our private life. If we go back to the old system we shall get the old results. Then the Greeks trusted us; then the
Persians launched no war-ship west of Phaselis; moved no camp beyond the Halys13
. The generals can tell you how the Greeks hate us now; the mind of the Persian king may be seen in his letters. Then, the citizens were so educated as to be a terror to invaders and to live comfortably with each other; now, not a man will fight but for pay, and there are more citizens destitute than solvent. If we imitate our ancestors we shall get rid of our own troubles and save Hellas. Believing this, I have come forward to urge it; reflect, and vote as you think best for Athens’ (§§ 78—84).
The purpose of the Areopagitikos
involves a contrast between old times and new; it has therefore a double interest, as a picture of the past and of the present. As a picture of the older democracy it supplements the Panegyrikos.
describes the external relations of Athens at the time of her most splendid activity14
; the Areopagitikos
portrays the inner life by which that activity was created and nourished. As a picture of the new
democracy, this speech may be compared with another spoken four15
years later—with the First Philippic
of Demosthenes. The First Philippic
sets forth vividly the utter indifference of the Athenian public to the foreign concerns of Athens, their halfheartedness in all things, their habitual indolence broken by spasmodic efforts which always came too late: the Areopagitikos
exposes in detail that civil and domestic life of which such a foreign policy was the counterpart. Demosthenes saw the true remedy in a more earnest attention to the actual crisis. Isokrates, who saw the inner decay but believed in no urgent danger from without, found the remedy in a simple return to old forms and manners16
The powers exercised by the Areiopagos before the reforms of Ephialtes were of two kinds, definite and indefinite. The definite powers were:—1. A limited criminal jurisdiction: 2. the supreme direction of religious worship, especially of the cultus of the Eumenides. The indefinite powers were:—1. A general supervision of all magistrates and law-courts: 2. a general guardianship of the laws, with the right of protest (though not of veto) when proposed new laws conflicted with old: 3. a general control of the education of the young: 4. a general censorship of public morals: 5. competence to assume, in emergencies of the State, a dictatorial authority17
The definite powers of the Areiopagos were never at any time taken from it18
. But Ephialtes abolished almost19
wholly the indefinite powers. It is for the revival of these—especially of (3) and (4)—that Isokrates is anxious. While it possessed these, the Areiopagos had been the strongest influence, though mainly a negative influence, in the State; it had been able to impress a conservative character upon the whole civic body20
. Deprived of these, it was merely a criminal court of narrow competence. Its connection with what was most venerable in the old religion, and the high standing of its individual members, still secured to it, indeed, a large measure of respect. Isokrates speaks of the influences which, even in his own day, changed bad men when
they became members of the college21
. But politically the Areiopagos was now powerless. The plea of Isokrates for a restoration of its strength is strikingly illustrated by the protest of Aeschylos against its enfeeblement. It is not on any welldefined function, but rather on those prerogatives which, being vague, were boundless, that orator and poet alike insist:—
“Here, on the Hill of Ares,
Once seat and camp of Amazons who came
In anger against Theseus, and defied
From their new ramparts his acropolis,
And poured blood unto Ares, where is now
The hill, the rock of Ares—in this place
Awe kin to dread shall hold the citizens
From sinning in the darkness or the light,
While their own voices do not change the laws.
This Court, majestic, incorruptible,
Instant in anger, over those who sleep
The sleepless watcher of my land I set.