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On the Slanderous Attacks of Theramenes

1 Demosthenes to the Council and the Assembly sends greeting.

I hear that Theramenes2 has uttered various slanderous statements concerning me and in particular that he taunts me with being ill-fated.3 Now I am not astonished that this man should be ignorant that abusive language, which demonstrates no vice on the part of the one against whom it is spoken, carries no weight with fair-minded people. For if one who in his way of life is insolent, by birth is not a citizen, and was reared from childhood in a brothel, had even a faint perception in such matters, it would be more unintelligible than complete ignorance. [2] As for this man, If some day I return and am restored to my rights, I shall plan to have a talk with him about the drunken abuse he directs at me and at you, and I believe that, even if he is devoid of shame, I shall render him more self-restrained. To you, however, in the interest of the common good, I wish to make known by letter what statements I have to make about these matters. Listen to my words with all attention, for I think they are not only worth hearing but also worth remembering. [3]

As for me, I assume that your city is the most fortunate in the world and the dearest to the gods, and I know that Zeus of Dodona and Dione4 and the Pythian Apollo are always saying this in their oracles and confirming with the seal of their approval the opinion that good fortune has her abode in the city among you. Moreover, all that the gods reveal about coming events it is obvious that they prophesy; but the epithets based upon past events they apply to experiences of the past. [4] Now, what I have done as a public man among you belongs in the class of events already past, on the ground of which the gods have bestowed upon you the epithet fortunate. How, then, is it fair for those who followed advice to be denominated fortunate but the adviser to receive the opposite epithet? Unless someone should give this explanation, that for the common good fortune, of which I was the counsellor, it is the gods who vouch, and to think they lie would be sacrilege, but that the personal slander, which Theramenes has directed against me, it is an insolent, shameless and not even intelligent person who has uttered. [5]

Now, it is not only by the words of the oracles coming from the gods that you will find the fortune you have enjoyed to be good but also by viewing it in the light of the facts themselves, if you will scan them rightly. For if as human beings you are willing to regard our affairs, you will find that our city, as a result of the policy I advised, has been very fortunate, but if you shall demand to receive those blessings which are reserved for the gods alone, you aim at the impossible. [6] What, then, is reserved for gods but for men is impossible? To be in absolute control of all the blessings there are, both to possess them themselves and to bestow them upon others, and never in all eternity either to suffer anything bad or to look forward to suffering it. Next, these propositions having been laid down, as is proper, scan your blessings in comparison with those of the rest of mankind. [7] No one, for instance, is so foolish as to assert that what has befallen either the Spartans, whom I never advised, or the Persians, whom I never even visited, is preferable to your present lot. I pass over the Cappadocians, the Syrians, and the beings who inhabit the land of India toward the ends of the earth, all of whom have had the misfortune to suffer many terrible and grievous afflictions. [8] O yes, by Zeus, all will agree that you are faring better than these, but worse, they declare, than the Thessalians, Argives and Arcadians, or certain others, who had the luck to be in alliance with Philip. But you have come off far better than these, not only because you have not been reduced to slavery—and yet what blessing equals that?—but also because, while all those are thought to be responsible for the evils that have befallen the Greeks through Philip and their enslavement, in consequence of which they are hated with good reason, [9] you are seen to have struggled in defence of the Greeks at the expense of your lives, your property, your city, your territory and all you possess, in return for which you are entitled to glory and undying gratitude from all lovers of justice. Therefore, as a result of the counsels I gave, it has been the city's good fortune to fare best of all the states that resisted Philip and there is the added gain of standing in higher repute than those who co-operated with him. [10]

On these grounds, therefore, the gods, while giving favorable oracles to you, are turning back the unjust slander upon the head of him who utters it, and any man would recognize the facts if he chose to examine the practices in which he spends his life. For instance, he does by preference the very things that one might invoke upon him as a curse. [11] He is an enemy to his own parents but a friend to Pausanias the whoremonger, and though he swaggers like a man he allows himself to be used like a woman. He lords it over his own father but submits to degenerates. He regales his fancy with things by which all are disgusted, with foul language and with stories by which his hearers are pained; yet he never ceases to talk, as if he were a simple fellow and the soul of frankness.5 [12] I would not have written this had I not wished to stir in you the recollection of the vices that attach to him. For many terrible and shameful things, which a man would shrink from telling and would guard against mentioning in writing and, as I think, would be disgusted to hear of, each one of you, reminded by these words, knows to attach to this man, so that nothing indecent has been uttered by me and this man upon sight is a reminder to all of his own vices. Farewell.

1 This letter is not cited in ancient authorities and there is less likelihood of its being genuine

2 There is no known connection between this obscure man and the Theramenes who played a conspicuous role during the latter years of the Peloponnesian War.

3 The implication is that Demosthenes was an unlucky person who brought bad luck to the State. Deinarchus in his speech Against Demosthenes 31-33 (Din. 1.31-33) asserts that he also involved his collaborators in his own ill luck. It may he noted that Cicero, For the Manilian Law 10. 28, places felicitas on a par with scientia rei militaris, virtus, and auctoritas.

4 At the shrine of Zeus at Dodona in Epirus it was Dione, and not Hera, who was considered his consort. Elsewhere Dione was identified with Aphrodite or Venus.

5 Blass, who is inclined to reject this letter, calls attention to the Gorgianic antitheses in the preceding passage.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Dinarchus, Against Demosthenes, 31
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