Aeschines and Demosthenes—the Speeches on the Crown.
The last great picture of political life at Athens is an oratorical contest in which, so far as eloquence is concerned, art, allied with genius, wins the day against clever empiricism. The theory of Greek eloquence had its final and its most splendid illustration in that trial which brought forth the two speeches On the Crown: nor could this part of our discussion conclude more fittingly than with an endeavour to call up some faint image of Demosthenes as in that great cause he stood opposed to Aeschines.
In 338, after Chaeroneia, Demosthenes had been
Origin of the case against Ktesiphon.
an active and liberal member of the Commission for the fortification of Athens; he had also been a trustee and a supporter of the theorikon. About March, 3361
, Ktesiphon proposed that Demosthenes should for these services receive a golden wreath
of honour from the State, and that the proclamation of his merit should be made in the theatre at the Great Dionysia. This proposal was adopted by the Senate, and deposited as a bill (προβούλευμα
) among the public records. But before the bill could become an act (ψήφισμα
) it must be passed by the ekklesia. Aeschines, to hinder this, gave notice in 336 that he intended to proceed against Ktesiphon for having proposed an unconstitutional measure: because (1) The accounts of Demosthenes, as trustee, had not been audited when the proposal was made, and no person liable to render such account could receive a public honour: (2) the proclamation should be made in the ekklesia, and could not lawfully be made in the theatre: (3) to record a bill describing Demosthenes as a public benefactor was to deposit a lying document among the public archives.
The first point was legally good. The second was a quibble. The third was the gist of the case. Had that policy towards Macedon which Demosthenes had pursued since 351 been condemned by Chaeroneia? Or, in spite of its failure, had it been right and patriotic?
Mere notice of the action against Ktesiphon was enough to stop the passage of the bill into an act. For six years Aeschines found it easy to shirk bringing the action. Alexander's strength was growing: in 334 he crossed the Hellespont, and in October, 331, the series of his victories culminated at Arbela. In 330, however, Agis raised war against Macedon in the Peloponnesos. In the spring of 330, probably,
when there were still hopes of the Spartans prevailing, the patriotic party were emboldened to renew the bill of 337, now a dead letter. Aeschines was driven into a corner. He must again give notice of his action, or the bill will become law. And, having given notice, he must this time follow it up, or suffer the public judgment to go against him by default. So, in the summer of 330, the action was brought.
No public cause had ever drawn so great a
Extraordinary interest of the cause.
concourse, not merely of Athenians, but of Greeks from all parts of Hellas. Thirteen years before, the contest between Demosthenes and Aeschines on the Embassy had attracted a crowd. But, since then, the reputation of both men had greatly risen. And this was to be something more than a dazzling display or an exchange of personalities. It was to be a public verdict, after full hearing, on an issue which came home, for good or evil, to every Greek city, to every hearth, almost to every conscience: and for this verdict all Greece was in suspense.
Aeschines was now fifty-nine. Fifteen years
earlier—when he spoke against Timarchos—he says that he was already grey, and looked more than his age. He was not tall, but was exceedingly handsome, and of a robust frame,—in contrast with his rather younger rival (Demosthenes was now fiftyfour) who, as a youth, had neglected the ordinary physical education. With his splendid voice, his trained elocution, and his practice in the statuesque manner which best suited him, Aeschines must have had an advantage over his opponent in many
accessories of effect. Near him in the court stood a group of men who came to speak for him or to support him by their presence;—‘oligarchs’, as the other side called them,—leading members of the Macedonizing party. Round Demosthenes were gathered friends and advocates of the opposite politics—chiefly generals or men distinguished in other offices of the State. The dikasts who formed the court were probably at least a thousand in number. There was, besides, a throng of Athenian and other Greek spectators.
Aeschines, as accuser of Ktesiphon, opens the
case. He warns the court not to be influenced by the strength of the cabal on the other side. He shows that a crown could not be given to an official whose audit was pending. He argues that the proclamation could not lawfully be made in the theatre. Then he comes to the great point. Demosthenes is not a public benefactor. He reviews the conduct of Demosthenes in four periods—from the Amphipolitan war to the peace of Philokrates; from the peace to the renewal of war; from that renewed war to Chaeroneia; lastly, the present. It was only when Philip had passed Thermopylae, when the Phocians were ruined and Thebes strengthened, and when the makers of the peace began to be reproached, that Demosthenes became the opponent of Macedon. It was Demosthenes who brought on the new war; who was the cause of the Amphictyonic Council attacking Amphissa, and thereby of Philip being called in: and all this in face of divine portents:—
Aeschines in Ctes. §§ 130—134.
‘Did not the gods send us warnings and signs to be on our
guard, aye, were they not eloquent with all but the voices of men? If ever I saw a city which the gods were seeking to save, and which certain talkers were bent on ruining, it was ours. Was not the occurrence at the Mysteries enough to enjoin watchfulness—the death of the initiated celebrants? Did not Ameiniades warn us to heed this, and to send to Delphi and ask the god what should be done, and did not Demosthenes object, pretending that the Pythian priestess ‘had Macedonian proclivities’—the ribald, the insolent, revelling in the license that you allowed him? Last of all, did he not send out the soldiers—before sacrifices had been consummated or accepted—to a peril which he foresaw? Yet the other day he hazarded the assertion that Philip's reason for not marching upon our territory was that the sacrifices had not been favourable. What do you deserve, then, Demosthenes, you who have the blood of Hellas upon your head? If the conqueror forbore to enter the country of the conquered because the sacrifices were against him, and you, when you could not tell what might happen, sent out the troops before the sacrifices had given a good omen, ought you to be crowned in honour of the city's disasters, or ought you long ago to have been cast beyond her borders?
‘And, accordingly, what paradox or what portent is there that has not come to pass in our time? Our days have not fallen on the common chances of the mortal life: we have been set to bequeath a story of marvels to posterity. Is not the king of Persia, he who cut through Athos and who bridged the Hellespont, he who demands earth and water from the Greeks, he who, in his letters, presumes to style himself lord of all men from the sunrise to the sunset, is he not struggling at this hour—no longer for authority over others—but for his own life? Do you not see the men who delivered the Delphian temple invested not only with that glory but with the leadership against Persia? While Thebes —Thebes, our neighbour city, has in one day been swept from the face of Greece,—justly, it may be, in so far as her general policy was erroneous, yet in consequence of a folly which was no accident, but the judgment of Heaven. The unfortunate Lacedaemonians, though they did but touch
this affair, in its first phase, by their occupation of the temple,—they who once claimed the leadership of Greece,— are now to be sent to Alexander in Asia to give hostages, to parade their disasters, and to hear their own and their country's doom from his lips, when they have been judged by the clemency of the master whom they have provoked. Our city, the common asylum of the Greeks, to which of old embassies used to come from all Greece to obtain deliverance for their several cities at our hands—is now battling, no more for the leadership of Greece, but for the ground on which it stands. And these things have befallen us since Demosthenes took the direction of our policy. The poet Hesiod well interprets such a case. There is a passage, meant to educate democracies and to counsel cities generally, in which he warns us not to accept dishonest leaders. I will recite the lines myself,—the reason, I think, for our learning the maxims of the poets in boyhood is that we may use them as men:—
‘Oft hath the bad man been the city's bane, And scourged his sinless brethren for his sin; Oft hath the all-seeing Father vexed their town With dearth and death, and brought the people low, Slain their strong host, cast down their fencèd wall, Broken their ships upon the stormy sea.’
‘Strip these lines of their poetical garb, look at them closely, and I think you will say that these are no mere verses of Hesiod's;—they are a prophecy of the Demosthenes Administration; for, by that Administration's agency, our ships, our armies, our cities have been swept from the world.’
He then contends that Demosthenes is to blame for the league with Thebes, for the miseries of the present, and for the neglect of three successive opportunities to rise against Alexander: Demosthenes is ready to seek bribes, but not to do manly deeds:—
‘‘Oh, yes,’ it will be replied: ‘but then he is a friend of
the Constitution.’ If, indeed, you have regard only to his
delicacy—which stops at words—you will be deceived, as you were before; but not if you look at his character and at the facts. I will help you to estimate the characteristics which ought to be found in ‘a friend of the Constitution,’ in a sober-minded citizen; I will oppose to them the character that may be looked for in an unprincipled revolutionist; then you shall draw your comparisons, and consider on which part he stands—not in his language, remember, but in his life. Now all, I think, will allow that these attributes should belong to ‘a friend of the Constitution,’—first, he should be of free descent by both parents, so that the disadvantage of birth may not embitter him against those laws which preserve the democracy; secondly, he should be able to show that some benefit has been done by his ancestors to the people, or, at the worst, that there has been no enmity between them which could prompt him to revenge the misfortunes of his fathers on the State. Thirdly, he should be virtuous and temperate in his private life, so that no profligate expense may lead him into taking bribes to the hurt of the people. Next, he should be sagacious and able to speak—since our ideal is that the best course should be chosen by the intelligence, and then commended to the hearers by the trained eloquence, of the orator—though, if we cannot have both, sagacity must needs take rank before eloquence. Lastly, he must have a stout heart, or he may play his country false in the crisis of danger or of war. The friend of oligarchy must be the opposite of all this. I need not repeat the points. Now consider—How does Demosthenes answer to to these conditions? The scrutiny shall be strictly just.’
In the passage which follows, the speaker's hatred breaks out with an intensity which betrays conscious weakness. By half his parentage, Demosthenes is ‘a Scythian, Greek in nothing but language, and hence showing, in his very wickedness, the character of the alien’:—
‘But in his private life, what is he? The trierarch sank,
to rise a pettifogger, a spendthrift ruined by his own follies.
Then, having got a bad name in this trade too by showing his speeches to the other side, he bounded on the stage of public life, where his profits out of the city were as enormous as his savings were small. Now, however, the flood of royal gold his floated his extravagance. But not even this will suffice. No wealth could ever hold out long against vice. In a word, he draws his livelihood not from his own resources but from your dangers. What, however, are his qualifications in respect to sagacity and to power of speech? A clever speaker—an evil liver. And what is the result to Athens? The speeches are fair—the deeds are vile. Then, as to courage, I have a word to say. If he denied his cowardice, or if you were not aware of it, the topic might have called for discussion; but since he himself admits it in the assemblies, and you know it, it remains only to remind you of the laws on the subject. Solon, our ancient law-giver, thought that the coward should be liable to the same penalties as the man who refuses to serve, or who has quitted his post. Cowardice, like other offences, is indictable. Some of you will perhaps ask in amazement— Is a man to be indicted for his temperament? He is. And why? In order that every one of us, fearing the penalties of the law more than the enemy, may be the better champion of his country. Accordingly, the lawgiver excludes alike the man who declines service, the coward, and the deserter of his post, from the lustral limits of the marketplace, and suffers no such person to receive a wreath of honour or to enter places of public worship. But you, Ktesiphon, exhort us to set a crown on the head to which the laws refuse it: you, by your private edict, call a forbidden guest into the forefront of our solemn festival, and invite into the temple of Dionysos that dastard by whom all temples have been betrayed!’
The peroration is notable in the history of oratory:—
‘Remember, then, that the city whose fate rests with you
is no alien city, but your own. Give the prizes of ambition
by merit, not by chance; reserve your rewards for those whose manhood is truer and whose characters are worthier; look at each other and judge, not only with your ears but with your eyes, who of your number are likely to support Demosthenes. His youthful companions in the chase or the gymnasium? No, by the Olympian Zeus! He has not spent his life in hunting or in any healthful exercise, but in cultivating rhetoric to be used against men of property. Think of his boastfulness, when he claims, by his embassy, to have snatched Byzantium out of the hands of Philip, to have thrown the Acarnanians into revolt, to have astonished the Thebans with his harangue! He thinks that you have reached a point of fatuity at which you can be made to believe even this—as if your fellow-citizen were the Goddess of Persuasion, instead of a pettifogging mortal. And when, at the end of his speech, he calls as his advocates those who shared his bribes, imagine that you see on this platform, where I now speak before you, an array drawn up to confront their profligacy—the benefactors of Athens; Solon, who ordered the democracy by his glorious laws, the philosopher, the good legislator, entreating you, with that gravity which so well became him, never to set the rhetoric of Demosthenes above your oaths and above the law; Aristides,— who assessed the tribute of the Confederacy, and whose daughters, after his death, were dowered by the State,—indignant at the contumely threatened to Justice, and asking, Are you not ashamed? When Arthmios of Zeleia brought Persian gold to Greece, and visited Athens, our fathers wellnigh put him to death, though he was our public guest, and proclaimed him expelled from Athens and from all territory that the Athenians rule; while Demosthenes, who has not brought
us Persian gold, but has taken bribes for himself, and has kept them to this day, is about to receive a golden wreath from you!
And Themistokles, and they who died at Marathon and Plataea, aye, and the very graves of our forefathers—do you not think that they will utter a voice of lamentation, if he who covenants with barbarians to work against Greece shall be—crowned?’
This was the true climax. But Aeschines felt the pressure of the Attic rule. He must not end
thus. The storm must be laid in a final harmony. And so he passed on to the most tremendous failure that ever followed so close upon a triumph:—
‘O Earth and Sunlight! O ye influences of Goodness, of Intelligence, of that Culture by which we learn to distinguish things beautiful or shameful—I
have done my duty, I have finished. If the part of the accuser has been performed well and adequately to the offence, then I have spoken as I wished, —if defectively, yet I have spoken as I could. Judge for yourselves from what has been spoken or from what has been left unsaid, and give your sentence in accordance with justice and with the interests of Athens.’
Apart from all faults of form, the hearers must
Fatal weakness of the Speech.
have felt that this speech had one signal fault of matter. Aeschines had not dared to show his colours. He had not dared to say—‘I maintain that it was expedient to be friendly with Macedon, and therefore I deny that Demosthenes was a patriot’. He had tried to save appearances. He had dealt in abuse and in charges of corruption. But he had left the essence of the Demosthenic policy absolutely untouched.
Ktesiphon, as ostensible defendant, introduced
the defence. Demosthenes then spoke. He stands, he says, in a greater danger than Aeschines—his whole political existence is at stake. After noticing irrelevant changes made by his adversary, he draws a picture of Greece at the end of the Phocian war. The results of the Peace of Philokrates were due to Athens being misled by the Macedonian party. Having given the judges a firm basis for an estimate
of his policy, he turns to the two legal points. Then he comes to the great point. Has he deserved well of Greece? He describes the Hellenic policy which he, on the part of Athens, had represented; he recalls the course of events down to the moment before Philip seized Elateia; and he proceeds:—
‘Having by these means brought the cities into such
Demosth. De Cor. §§ 168—191.
dispositions to wards each other, Philip, encouraged by these decrees and these replies, came in his strength, and seized Elateia—sure that, happen what would, we and the Thebans could never more conspire. Enough—you all know what a storm then awoke in the city. Yet listen to me for a moment, suffer me to give you the barest outline.
‘It was evening when a courier came to the presidents of the assembly with the news that Elateia had been seized. The presidents instantly arose from table—they were supping at the moment: some of them hastened to clear the marketplace of the shopmen, and to burn the wickerwork of the booths: others, to send for the Generals and order the sounding of the call to the Assembly. The city was in a tumult. At dawn next day the presidents convoked the Senate, you hurried to the Ekklesia, and before the Senate could go through its forms or could report, the whole people were in assembly on the hill. Then, when the Senate had come in, when the presidents had reported the news that they had received, and had introduced the messenger, who told his tale, the herald repeatedly asked, Who wishes to speak?
But no one came forward. Again and again he put the question—in vain. No one would rise, though all the generals, though all the public speakers were present, though our Country was crying aloud, with the voice that comes home to all, for a champion of the commonwealth—if in the solemn invitation given by the herald we may truly deem that we hear our Country's summons. Yet, if they should have come forward who wished Athens safe, every man in this court, aye, every man in Athens, would have risen and moved towards the platform. Every man of
you, I know well, wished the city to be saved. Or, if it was a time for the capitalists, there were our three hundred richest men; or if for the representatives of patriotism and wealth combined, there were the men who, a little later, proved at once their loyalty and their opulence by giving such large benevolences. But no—it seems that that crisis, that hour, demanded not merely a patriot, not merely a capitalist, but a man who had followed the train of events from the beginning, who had accurately reasoned out why and wherefore Philip was acting thus. A man who did not know this, who had not made it the subject of long and thorough research, might be ever so loyal, might be ever so rich, but he was not the man to see what should be done or to direct your course. Such a man was found that day in me.
I came forward and spoke words to which, for two reasons, I now claim your attention; first, that you may see how I was the only one of the speakers or the statesmen who, in danger, did not desert the patriot's post, but brought myself to the proof by proposing and framing measures for your welfare in the very hour of panic; secondly, because this bestowal of a few moments will place you in a much better position for estimating the future of your entire policy.
‘What I said was this:—‘They who are so much alarmed by the belief that Philip has already got the Thebans do not, I think, comprehend the situation; I feel convinced that, if this was the case, we should have been hearing of him, not at Elateia, but on our frontiers. That he has come, however, to make things ready at Thebes, I am certain. Look (I said) how it stands. Every Theban that could be bribed or blinded has been made a tool by Philip: those who withstood him from the first, and who oppose him now, he can never
win. What does he mean? Why has he seized Elateia? He means, by displaying his power and planting his camp close at hand, to cheer and embolden his own friends, and to strike terror into his opponents, so that they may either concede from fear what they now refuse, or may be compelled to the concession. Now, if we choose (I said) to make this a time for remembering any unpleasantness that the
Thebans may have brought into their relations with us, and to distrust them as if they were to be classed with enemies, then, in the first place, we shall be doing what Philip would pray for; in the next, I am afraid that those who are now his adversaries may open their arms to him, and so, with one accord, they will all become Philip's men, and he and they will march on Attica together. If, however, you will listen to me, and will give yourselves to thinking, instead of wrangling, over my suggestions, I believe that I shall be pronounced to be in the right, and shall avert the danger impending over Athens. What, then, do I advise? First, that we should remit our present fear: next, that we should transfer it to another object, and tremble, as one man, for the Thebans—they are much nearer to the danger than we, and must bear its first brunt:—then, that you should march out to Eleusis, all of you that are of the age for service, as well as the Knights, and show the world that you, too, are in arms, so that your friends at Thebes may be at no disadvantage for making their protest on behalf of justice, but may know that, even as the men who are selling their country to Philip have a power hard by at Elateia to help them, so they who are ready to do battle for freedom are secure of prompt aid from you, if they are attacked. Next, I would have you elect ten ambassadors and empower them, in conjunction with the Generals, to fix the time and the strength of the expedition. The ambassadors once at Thebes, what line are they to take? Mark my words here. They must not ask the Thebans for anything—it would be discreditable at such a time— but must promise to afford aid if it should be required, since the Thebans are in extremities, and our view of what may come is less disturbed than theirs. Then, if the Thebans accept these offers and listen to us, we shall have compassed our own desires, and at the same time shall come before the world in an attitude worthy of Athens; or if, by any chance, the diplomacy should miscarry, they will have themselves to blame for any error they may commit now, and we shall stand guiltless of everything dishonourable or craven.’
‘Thus, or to this effect, I spoke, and left the platform. Everyone approved—there was not a dissentient; and what then? I did not make a speech and leave others to move a resolution. I did not move a resolution, and leave others to go on an embassy. I did not go on an embassy, and leave others to persuade the Thebans. No. I went through with the business from the beginning to the end; I gave myself to you without reservation in face of the perils that encompassed the city.—[Read me the decree that was made that day.] * * * * * * These were the first steps towards the adjustment of our relations to Thebes, at a time when enmity, hatred and distrust had been sown between our cities by yonder men.
‘The people gave their voice, and the danger that hung upon our borders went by like a cloud. Then
was the time for the upright citizen to show the world if he could suggest anything better:—now
, his cavils come too late. The statesman and the adventurer are alike in nothing, but there is nothing in which they differ more than in this. The statesman declares his mind before the event, and submits himself to be tested by those who have believed him, by fortune, by his own use of opportunities, by everyone and everything. The adventurer is silent when he ought to have spoken, and then, if there is a disagreeable result, he fixes an eye of malice upon that.
As I have said, then
was the opportunity of the man who cared for Athens and for the assertion of justice. But I am prepared to go further:—If anyone can now
show a better course, or, in a word, can point out any precaution which was possible and which I did not adopt, I plead guilty. If anyone has had a new light as to something which it would have been expedient to do then, I protest that this ought not to be concealed from me. But if there neither is nor was any such thing; if no one to this very hour is in a position to name it; then what was your adviser to do? Was he not to choose the best of the visible and feasible alternatives? And this is what I did, Aeschines, when the herald asked, Who wishes to speak?
His question was not, Who wishes to rake up old accusations?
or, Who wishes to give pledges of the future?
In those days, you sat dumb in the assemblies. I came forward and spoke. Come now—it is better late than never: point out what argument should have been discovered—what opportunity that might have served has not been used by me in the interests of Athens—what alliance, what policy was available which I might better have commended to our citizens?’
Having shown that the course taken by his party was the most advantageous open to loyal Athenians, the speaker goes on to take yet higher ground. This course failed. But it is not therefore to be regretted. By it alone could honour have been saved:—
‘As, however, he bears so hardly upon the results, I am
ready to make a statement which may sound startling. I ask every man, as he fears Zeus and the gods, not to be shocked at my paradox until he has calmly considered my meaning. I say that, if the event had been manifest to the whole world beforehand, if all men had been fully aware of it, if you, Aeschines, who never opened your lips, had been ever so loud or so shrill in prophecy or in protest, not even then ought Athens to have forsaken this course, if Athens had any regard for her glory, or for her past, or for the ages to come. Now
, of course, she seems to have failed; but failure is for all men when Heaven so decrees. In the other case, she, who claims the first place in Greece, would have renounced it, and would have incurred the reproach of having betrayed all Greece to Philip. If she had indeed betrayed without a blow those things for which our ancestors endured every imaginable danger, who would not have spurned, Aeschines, at you?
Not at Athens—the gods forbid!—nor at me. In the name of Zeus, how could we have looked visitors in the face if, things having come to their present pass—Philip having been elected leader and lord of all—the struggle against it had been sustained by others without our help, and this, though never once in her past history our city had preferred inglorious safety to the perilous vindication of honour? What Greek, what barbarian does
not know that the Thebans, and their predecessors in power, the Lacedaemonians, and the Persian King, would have been glad and thankful to let Athens take anything that she liked, besides keeping what she had got, if she would only have done what she was told, and allowed some other Power to lead Greece? Such a bargain, however, was for the Athenians of those days neither traditional nor congenial nor supportable. In the whole course of her annals, no one could ever persuade Athens to side with dishonest strength, to accept a secure slavery, or to desist, at any moment in her career, from doing battle and braving danger for preeminence, for honour and for renown.
‘You, Athenians, find these principles so worthy of veneration, so accordant with your own character, that you praise none of your ancestors so highly as those who put them into action. You are right. Who must not admire the spirit of men who were content to quit their country, and to exchange their city for their triremes, in the cause of resistance to dictation; who put Themistokles, the author of this course, at their head, while as for Kyrsilos, the man who gave his voice for accepting the enemy's terms, they stoned him to death, yes, and his wife was stoned by the women of Athens? The Athenians of those days were not in search of an orator or a general who should help them to an agreeable servitude. No. They would not hear of life itself if they were not to live free. Each one of them held that he had been born the son, not only of his father and his mother, but of his country also. And wherein is the difference? It is here. He that recognises no debt of piety save to his parents awaits his death in the course of destiny and of nature. But he that deems himself the son of his country also will be ready to die sooner than see her enslaved. In his estimate, those insults, those dishonours which must be suffered in his city when she has lost her freedom will be accounted more terrible than death.
‘If I presumed to say that it was I
who thus inspired you with a spirit worthy of your ancestors, there is not a man present who might not properly rebuke me. What I do maintain is that these principles of conduct were your own;
that this spirit existed in the city before my intervention, but that, in the successive chapters of events, I had my share of merit as your servant. Aeschines, on the contrary, denounces our policy as a whole, invokes your resentment against me as the author of the city's terrors and dangers, and, in his anxiety to wrest from me the distinction of the hour, robs you of glories which will be celebrated as long as time endures. For, if you condemn Ktesiphon on the ground that my public course was misdirected, then you will be adjudged guilty of error: you will no longer appear as sufferers by the perversity of fortune.
‘But never, Athenians, never can it be said that you erred when you took upon you that peril for the freedom and the safety of all! No, by our fathers who met the danger at Marathon, no, by our fathers who stood in the ranks at Plataea, no, by our fathers who did battle on the waters of Salamis and Artemision, no, by all the brave who sleep in tombs at which their country paid those last honours which she had awarded, Aeschines, to all of them alike, not alone to the successful or the victorious! And her award was just. The part of brave men had been done by all. The fortune experienced by the individual among them had been allotted by a Power above man.’
The nobility of this great speech declares itself
not least in this, that the inevitable recital of personal services never once sinks into self-glorification. It is held above that by the speaker's proud consciousness that he has wrought, not for himself, but for Athens and Greece, not for ambition, but for sacred things, for duty and for honour, and that he can show this by proofs the most triumphant. When, at the end, he offers himself for comparison with any other counsellor, his right to do so has been so luminously established that this is felt to be no vaunt by which his dignity is lowered. On the
contrary, it is a self-vindication demanded by respect alike for himself and for those by whom his counsels had been adopted. In relation to the Attic theory of eloquence, it is most instructive to compare the perorations of Aeschines and Demosthenes.
The two perorations compared.
Aeschines, not being a true artist, stands in awe of the art. He does not venture to be original and to stop at his real climax. He must needs conform with the artistic usage of a final harmony; and he mars all. Demosthenes, the master, can make his art obey him. With true instinct, he feels this to be the rare case which the rule does not fit. The emotions of the hearers have been stirred beyond the point of obedience to the pulses of an ordered music. His intense appeal to the memories of his countrymen ends in a storm of imprecation and of prayer:—
‘Here is the proof. Not when my extradition was
demanded, not when they sought to arraign me before the Amphictyonic Council, not for all their menaces or their offers, not when they set these villains like wild beasts upon me, have I ever been untrue to the loyalty I bear you. From the outset, I chose the path of a straightforward and righteous statesmanship, to cherish the dignities, the prerogatives, the glories of my country: to exalt them: to stand by their cause. I do not go about the marketplace radiant with joy at my country's disasters, holding out my hand and telling my good news to anyone who, I think, is likely to report it in Macedon; I do not hear of my country's successes with a shudder and a groan and a head bent to earth, like the bad men who pull Athens to pieces, as if, in so doing, they were not tearing their own reputations to shreds, who turn their faces to foreign lands, and, when an alien has triumphed by the ruin of the Greeks, give their praises to that exploit, and vow that vigilance must be used to render that triumph eternal.
‘NEVER, POWERS OF HEAVEN, MAY ANY BROW OF THE IMMORTALS BE BENT IN APPROVAL OF THAT PRAYER! RATHER, IF IT MAY BE, BREATHE EVEN INTO THESE MEN A BETTER MIND AND HEART; BUT IF SO IT IS THAT TO THESE CAN COME NO HEALING, THEN GRANT THAT THESE, AND THESE ALONE, MAY PERISH UTTERLY AND EARLY ON LAND AND ON THE DEEP: AND TO US, THE REMNANT, SEND THE SWIFTEST DELIVERANCE FROM THE TERRORS GATHERED ABOVE OUR HEADS, SEND US THE SALVATION THAT STANDS FAST PERPETUALLY.’
Two thousand years have challenged a tradition which lives, and will always live, wherever there is left a sense for the grandest music which an exquisite language could yield to a sublime enthusiasm— that, when Demosthenes ceased, those who had come from all parts of Greece to hear, that day, the epitaph of the freedom which they had lost, and a defence of the honour which they could still leave to their children, had listened to the masterpiece of the old world's oratory, perhaps to the supreme achievement of human eloquence. But this wonderful speech, though the greatest, is not the most characteristic work of its author. The speech On the Crown is a retrospect: Demosthenes was a prophet. His genius as an orator takes its
The enthusiasm of Demosthenes— its character
peculiar stamp from the concurrence of two conditions which have seldom been united with an equal completeness, which are not likely, perhaps, to be completely united again, but which, whenever they have so met, have made an epoch of poetry or of oratory. The first is that a free and highly civilised race should be threatened with the overthrow of its civil liberties; the second, that this political
disaster should have, at the same time, the aspect of a religious defilement. When the national peril is also a menaced pollution, when the cause of altars and of hearths is not only formally or nominally, but in the inmost feelings of the people, one, then the two mightiest inspirations of humanity co-operate, and they who arise to warn, to counsel or to reprove seem both to others and to themselves most like the interpreters of Heaven. The Greeks were, in their own view, something even more than a chosen people; they were, as they conceived, a race primarily and lineally distinct from all the races of men, the very children of the gods, whose holy separation was attested by that deep instinct of their nature which taught them to loathe the alien. No one can ever understand Demosthenes who does not continually keep in mind how Demosthenes regarded Philip—not as the descendant of Herakles, not as a prince of the Argive house who, in a royal exile like that of Teukros, happened to reign over foreign highlanders, but as the personal embodiment of barbarian violence, as the type and the head of those aliens whose foul swarms threatened to break the pure circle of Hellas and to obliterate, or contaminate, everything which Greeks regarded as a sacred distinction of their life. If, as has been complained, his eloquence, instead of flowing, rushes, if his intensity is found monotonous, if he is perceived to be deficient in ease and clearness, let it be remembered that, Greek and artist as he is, things stronger than blood give him his affinity with Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Once only, perhaps, in the history of the world has
a man of Indo-Germanic race, with something like the same gifts, stood in something like the mental attitude of Demosthenes, and this in the city which of all cities has most resembled his own. Florence, with its active and conscious citizenship, its intelligence and curiosity, its fickleness, its patriotism for Italy, was the Athens, as steady and somewhat rigid Venice was the Sparta, of the Italian republics; and the Athens of Eubulos had more ignoble analogies with the Florence of Lorenzo2
. When invasion was threatening from the North, when political freedom was in danger, and when it seemed that the Church also must be scourged before it could be regenerated, a prophet arose whose one hope was of a resurrection for the spirit of his people and whose passionate denunciations sought to burst, while there was time, the fatal bonds of a cynical lethargy. ‘O Italy! O Rome! I give you over to the hands of a people who will wipe you out from among the nations! I see them descending like lions. Pestilence comes marching hand in hand with war. The deaths will be so many that the buriers shall go through the streets crying out: Who hath dead, who hath dead? And one will bring his father and another his son. O Rome! I cry again to you to repent! Repent, Venice! Milan, repent!’3
The soul of Demosthenes was among men when, in the Dome of Florence, above the sobs and wailings of a great multitude, the anguish of Savonarola went forth on words that were as flame.