2. An Athenian, son of Hagnon, and of the demus of Steiria in the tribe Pandionis.
According, however, to other statements, he was a native of Cos, and Hagnon only adopted him (Plut. Nic. 2 ;
Schol. ad Aristoph. Frogs 541, 968 ;
Suid. s. v. Δεξιός
It is doubtful also whether the Hagnon in question was the same as the Athenian founder of Amphipolis; but he must have been at any rate a man of high repute, since we find it mentioned (Xen. Hell. 2.3.30
), that Theramenes first acquired notice and respect from the character of his father. In B. C. 411, he became prominent as an oligarchical revolutionist, and a leading member of the new government of the 400 (Thuc. 8.68
; Xen. Hell. l.c.
In this, however, he does not appear to have occupied as eminent a station as he had hoped to fill, while at the same time the declaration of Alcibiades and of the army at Samos against the oligarchy made it evident to him that its days were numbered. Acting accordingly with Aristocrates and others, each of whom, like himself, hoped for the foremost place in a restored democracy, he withdrew from the more violent aristocrats and began to cabal against them; professing however to desire, not the overthrow of the existing constitution, but its full establishment, and demanding therefore that the promised assembly of the 5000 should be no longer a name, but a reality. Of this opposition, in fact, Theramenes was the life.
He exclaimed against the fortification by the oligarchs of Eetioneia (the mole at the mouth of the Peiraeeus), as part of a design for admitting the enemy into the harbour; for a confirmation of his suspicions he pointed to the fact that the oligarchical ambassadors who had been sent to negotiate peace with Sparta, had returned without having come to any agreement that could be openly avowed; and he insisted that a Peloponnesian fleet, which made its appearance not long after in the Saronic gulf, professedly on its way to help Euboea, was connected with the plot that he was denouncing.
He seems also to have instigated the mutiny of the soldiers, who were employed on the works at Eetioneia, and when charged with this by his colleagues in the council, he stoutly denied it, and offered to go down himself and quell the tumult. On his arrival at the scene of disturbance he affected at first to rebuke the mutineers ; but, when they called upon him to declare whether he considered the fortification to be for the public good, he consented to its destruction.
In the subsequent deposition of the 400, Theramenes of course took a prominent part, and in particular came forward as the accuser of Antiphon and Archeptolemus, who had been his intimate friends, but whose death he was now the mean and cowardly instrument in procuring (Thuc. 8.89
; Lys. c. Erat.
p. 126; Diod. 13.38
). In B. C. 410, Theramenes was sent with 30 ships to prevent the construction of the moles and the bridge, which the Euboeans and Boeotians were building over the Euripus, to connect Euboea with the mainland, and so to render it more defensible against the Athenians.
He was unable, however, to interrupt this work; and he then proceeded to cruise among the islands, where he exacted contributions, strengthened the democratic factions, and overthrew the oligarchical government at Paros (Diod. 13.47
; comp. Strab. ix. pp. 400, 403, x. p. 407).
In the same year he went with a squadron to aid Archelaus, king of Macedonia, in the reduction of Pydna [ARCHELAUS]; but, the siege lasting a long time, he sailed away to Thrace to join the fleet under Thrasybulus, and they then cruised about and levied money until they were called away by a despatch from the Athenian navy at Cardia.
The great battle of Cyzicus followed, in which Theramenes commanded one of the three divisions of the Athenian force, the other two being under Alcibiades and Thrasybulus respectively (Xen. Hell. 1.1
. §§ 12, &c.; Diod. 13.49
). Theramenes also shared in the further successes of Alcibiades, and early in B. C. 408, in particular, he took a main part in the siege of Chalcedon, and the reduction of Byzantium. (Xen. Hell. 1.3
. §§ 2, &c.; Diod. 13.64
At the battle of Arginusae, in B. C. 406, Theramenes held a subordinate command in the right wing of the Athenian fleet, and he was one of those who, after the victory, were commissioned by the generals to repair to the scene of action and save as many as possible of the disabled galleys and their crews.
A storm, it is said, rendered the execution of the order impracticable; yet, instead of trusting to this as his ground of defence, Theramenes thought it safer to divert the popular anger from himself to others, and accordingly came prominently forward to accuse the generals of the neglect by which so many lives had been lost; and it appears to have been chiefly through his machinations that those of their number who had returned to Athens, were condemned to death.
In his notice of this transaction, Diodorus tells us that the victorious generals endeavoured in the first instance to fix the blame on Theramenes, and thus incurred his enmity; and Theramenes himself, when taxed afterwards by Critias with his base treachery in the matter, is reported by Xenophon to have excused his conduct by a similar allegation.
A truly wretched apology at the best ; but even the statement on which it rests is contradicted by Xenophon's narrative, and it seems quite possible (according to bishop Thirlwall's suggestion) that, over and above the cowardly motive of self-preservation, Theramenes may have been, throughout the whole affair, the agent of an oligarchical conspiracy to get rid of some of the most eminent and formidable opponents of that faction. (Xen. Hell. 1.6.35
. §§ 4, &100.2.3. §§ 32, 35; Diod. 13.98, 101; Thirlwall's Greece,
vol. iv. p. 138.) From this time certainly up to the establishment of the thirty tyrants, we find him the unscrupulous confederate of the oligarchs, and from Lysias (c. Agor.
p. 130), we learn that the people on one occasion rejected him from the office of general on the ground of his being no friend to the democratic government.
This would probably be early in B. C. 405, when three new commanders were appointed (Xen. Hell. 2.1.16
) as colleagues to Conon, Adeimantus, and Philocles.
But during the siege of Athens by Lysander in the same year, and after the failure of the Athenian embassy, which had proposed to capitulate on condition of keeping their walls and the Peiraeeus, Theramenes offered to go himself to Lysander and learn the real intentions of the Lacedaemonians, promising at the same time to obtain peace without the necessity of giving hostages, or demolishing the fortifications, or surrendering the ships; while he held out vague and mysterious hopes besides of some further favour to be obtained from the enemy by his means. His offer, after some considerable opposition, was accepted, and he set forth on his mission, determined not to return till his countrymen should be so weakened by famine as to be ready to assent to any terms that might be imposed on them.
After an absence accordingly of three months in the Lacedaemonian camp, he again presented himself in Athens, and declared that Lysander, having detained him so long, had at length desired him to go to Sparta with his proposals, as he himself had no authority to settle any thing. To Sparta therefore the traitor was sent, with nine colleagues, and the terms which they brought back with them, and which the Athenians had now no alternative but to accept, were such as to lay their country prostrate at the feet of Lacedaemon (Xen. Hell. 2.2
. §§ 16, &c.; Lys. c. Erat.
p. 126, c. Agor.
pp. 130, 131; Plut. Lys. 14
In the following year, B. C. 404, Theramenes took the foremost part in obtaining the decree of the assembly for the destruction of the old constitution and the establishment of the Thirty, in the number of whom he was himself included.
The measure indeed was not carried without opposition, but this was overborne by the threats of Lysander, whose presence Theramenes had taken care to secure.
The whole transaction is grossly misrepresented by Diodorus, who, choosing to be the panegyrist of Theramenes, informs us that he protested against the innovation in the government, but was obliged to give way to the menaces of Lysander, and that the people then elected him one of the Thirty, in the hope that he would check the violence of his colleagues (Xen. Hell. 2.3
. §§ 1, 2; Lys. c. Erat.
pp. 126, 127, c. Agor.
p. 131; Plut. Lys. 15 ; Diod. 14.3
As a matter of fact, indeed, he did endeavour to do so ; for, if not virtuous enough to abhor the reign of terror which they introduced, he had sufficient sagacity to perceive that their volence would be fatal to the permanence of their power.
He remonstrances, however, and his opposition to their tyrannical proceedings had no effect in restraining them, but only induced the desire to rid themselves of so troublesome an associate, whose former conduct moreover had shown that no political party could depend on him, and who had earned, by his trimming, the nickname of Κόθορνος
,--a boot which might be worn on either foot.
He was therefore accused by Critias before the council as a traitor, and an enemy of the oligarchy, and when his nominal judges, favourably impressed by his able defence, exhibited an evident disposition to acquit him, Critias introduced into the chamber a number of men armed with daggers, and declared that, as all who were not included in the privileged Three Thousand might be put to death by the sole authority of the Thirty, he struck the name of Theramenes out of that list, and condemned him with the consent of all his colleagues. Theramenes then rushed to the altar, which stood in the councilchamber, but was dragged from it and carried off to execution. When he had drunk the hemlock, he dashed out the last drops from the cup as if he were playing the game of the Κότταβος
, exclaiming, " This to the health of the lovely Critias ! " Diodorus tells us that Theramenes was a disciple of Socrates, and that the latter strove to prevent the eleven from dragging him away to death, which seems to be merely a different version of the story in the Pseudo-Plutarch (Vit. X. Or. Isocr. ad init.
), that Isocrates,
who was a pupil of Theramenes in rhetoric, was the only person who stood up to help him in his extremity, and desisted only on Theramenes saying that it would increase his distress, should any of his friends involve themselves in his calamity. Both Xenophon and Cicero express their admiration of the equanimity which he displayed in his last hour; but surely such a feeling is sadly out of place when directed to such a man. (Xen. Hell. 2.3
; Diod. 14.4
; Cic. Tusc. Quaest.
1.40; Arist. Ran. 541, 965-968 ;
Suid. s. v. Θηραμένης
; V. Max. 3.2
. Ext. 6 ; Hinrichs, de Theram. Crit. et Thrasyb. rebus et ingenio.