The end of his life
For the next few years Demosthenes probably spent some of his time in composing private speeches for others, though the extant speeches of this period are mostly of doubtful authenticity. He also remained as a prominent figure in Athenian politics. He had not changed his views, but he seems to have been deposed from the leadership of the patriotic party by
others whose patriotism was of a more violent type than his, so that he must be now counted as a moderate in opinion. It may have been this position which brought him into danger in 324 B.C.
Harpalus, who had been left as Alexander's governor at Babylon, on receipt of a rumour of his master's death in India, made off with the royal treasure, and, accompanied by a force of six thousand men, took ship and sailed for Greece. He appeared off Piraeus, and the fervid patriots proposed that Athens should welcome him and use his treasure and his men to help them in a revolt.
Demosthenes opposed an open breach with Alexander, and on his motion admission was refused to the flotilla. Harpalus came a second time without his army, and was admitted. Close on his heels came messengers from Alexander to demand his surrender, but this was resisted by Demosthenes and Phocion. On the motion of Demosthenes it was decided to temporize; Harpalus was to be treated as a prisoner, and the treasure deposited in the Parthenon. The amount of the treasure was declared by Harpalus as 720 talents, but it soon became known that only 350 talents had been lodged in the Acropolis. Harpalus in the meantime had escaped from prison and disappeared, and suspicion was roused against all who had had any kind of dealings with him. To allay the public excitement Demosthenes proposed that the Council of the Areopagus should investigate the mystery of the lost talents. Six months later the Council gave its report, issuing a list of nine public men whom it declared guilty of receiving part of the lost money. The name of Demosthenes himself headed the list; he
was charged with having received twenty talents for helping Harpalus to escape. This declaration did not constitute a judicial sentence, but in consequence of it prosecutions were instituted, ten public prosecutors were appointed, and Demosthenes was found guilty. He was condemned to pay a fine of fifty talents, and being unable to raise the money he was cast into prison. He soon escaped, and fled first to Aegina and then to Troezen, where, according to Plutarch, he sat daily by the sea, watching with sad eyes the distant shores of Attica.
The whole affair is obscure; we do not know how Demosthenes defended himself, but we possess two of the speeches for the prosecution, by Hyperides and Dinarchus. Neither is explicit. The report of the Areopagus was held to have established the facts, so that no further evidence was required; it was the business of the court only to interpret motives and decide the degree of each defendant's guilt.
Hyperides (Against Dem., fr. 3, col. xiii
) affirms that Demosthenes began by admitting the receipt of the money; but he afterwards denied it, declaring that he was ready to suffer death if it could be proved that he had received it (Dinarchus, Against Dem., § 1
). It was certainly Demosthenes who proposed that the Areopagus should investigate the affair.
Two details in the case give rise to perplexity: the fine inflicted—two and a half times the amount involved—was light, considering that the law demanded ten-fold restitution; secondly, it is difficult to see when Demosthenes can have received the money. Harpalus could not pay him at the time of his escape,
or indeed at any time subsequent to his arrest, for he did not take the money to prison with him. It seems improbable that the money should have been paid earlier, for Demosthenes was acting against Harpalus all the time. Professor Butcher supposed that payment might have been made when Demosthenes resisted the surrender of Harpalus to Alexander.1
Two theories have been proposed with a view to the complete or partial exculpation of the orator—one, that he was absolutely innocent, but became the victim of a combination of his political enemies, the extreme patriots, who were dissatisfied with his moderate policy, and his ancient foes the Macedonian party. The other view is that he received the money and spent it, or intended to spend it, on secret service of the kind on which every State spends money, though it is generally impossible to give a detailed account of such expenses. Even if he could not prove such a use, the offence of receiving bribes was a venial one, as even his prosecutor Hyperides admits, if they were not received against the interests of the State. In Demosthenes' favour we have the late evidence of Pausanias, who affirms that an agent of Harpalus, when examined by Alexander with regard to this affair, divulged a list of names which did not contain that of Demosthenes.
A minor charge of bribery is brought by Dinarchus, who asserts that Demosthenes received 300 talents from the Great King to save Thebes in 335 B.C., but sacrificed Thebes to his own avarice because he wished to keep ten talents which had been promised to the Arcadians for their assistance. The story is ridiculous.
In 323 B.C. Alexander died; the hope of freedom revived, and Demosthenes started at once on a tour of the Peloponnese to urge on the cities the need of joint action. He was reconciled with the party of Hyperides and recalled from exile. He was fetched home in a trireme, and a procession escorted him from the harbour to the city. By a straining of the law, the public paid his fine. The Lamian war opened successfully under Leosthenes, but at the battle of Crannon Antipater crushed the Greek forces. Athens was forced to receive a Macedonian garrison, to lose her democratic constitution, and to give up her leaders to the conqueror's vengeance. Demades carried a decree for the death of Demosthenes and Hyperides. Demosthenes had already escaped and taken sanctuary in the temple of Posidon on the island of Calauria. Here he was pursued by an agent of Antipater, one Archias, known as the exile-hunter, who had been an actor. This man tried to entice him forth by generous promises, but Demosthenes answered, ‘Your acting never carried conviction, and your promises are equally unconvincing.’ Archias then resorted to threats, but was met by the calm retort, ‘Now you speak like a Macedonian oracle; you were only acting before; only wait a little, so that I may write a few lines home.’ While pretending to write he sucked poison from the end of his pen, and then let his head sink on his hands, as if in thought. When Archias approached again he looked him in the face and said, ‘It is time for you to play the part of Creon, and cast out this body unburied. Now, adored Posidon, I leave thy precinct while yet alive; but Antipater and his Macedonians have left not even thy shrine undefiled.’ He essayed
to walk out, but fell and died upon the steps of the altar.2
Lucian, in his Encomium of Demosthenes,
has given a fanciful account of Antipater receiving the news from Archias; these are the concluding words:
‘So he is gone, either to live with the heroes in the Isles of the Blest or along the path of those souls that climb to Heaven, to be an attendant spirit on Zeus the giver of Freedom; but his body we will send to Athens, as a nobler memorial for that land than are the bodies of those who fell at Marathon.’3