), the orator, was born in Attica in the demus of Cothocidae, in B. C. 389, as is clear from his speech against Timarchus (p. 78), which was delivered in B. C. 345, and in which he himself says that he was then in his forty-fifth year.
He was the son of Tromes and Glaucothea, and if we listen to the account of Demosthenes, his political antagonist, his father was not a free citizen of Athens, but had been a slave in the house of Elpias, a schoolmaster.
After the return of the Athenian exiles under Thrasybulus, Tromes himself kept a small school, and Athenias in his youth assisted his father and performed such services as were unworthy of a free Athenian youth. Demosthenes further states, that Aeschines, in order to conceal the low condition of his father, changed his name Tromes into Atrometus, and that he afterwards usurped the rights of an Athenian citizen. (Dem. De Coron.
pp. 313, 320, 270.)
The mother of Aeschines is described as originally a dancer and a prostitute, who even after her marriage with Tromes continued to carry on unlawful practices in her house, and made money by initiating low and superstitious persons into a sort of private mysteries.
She is said to have been generally known at Athens under the nickname Empusa.
According to Aeschines himself, on the other hand, his father Atrometus was descended from an honourable family, and was in some way even connected with the noble priestly family of the Eteobuladae.
He was originally an athlete, but lost his property during the time of the Peloponnesian war, and was afterwards driven from his country under the tyranny of the Thirty.
He then served in the Athenian armies in Asia and spent the remainder of his life at Athens, at first in reduced circumstances. (Aesch. De fals. Leg.
pp. 38, 47.) His mother, too, was a free Athenian citizen, and the daughter of Glaucias of Acharne. Which of these accounts is true, cannot be decided, but there seems to be no doubt that Demosthenes is guilty of exaggeration in his account of the parents of Aeschines and his early youth.
Aeschines had two brothers, one of whom, Philochares, was older than himself, and the other, Aphobetus, was the youngest of the three. Philochares was at one time one of the ten Athenian generals, an office which was conferred upon him for three successive years; Aphobetus followed the calling of a scribe, but had once been sent on an embassy to the king of Persia and was afterwards connected with the administration of the public revenue of Athens. (Aesch. De fals. Leg.
p. 48.) All these things seem to contain strong evidence that the family of Aeschines, although poor, must have been of some respectability. Respecting his early youth nothing can be said with certainty, except that he assisted his father in his school, and that afterwards, being of a strong and athletic constitution, he was employed in the gymnasia for money, to contend with other young men in their exercises. (Dem. De Coron.
p. 313; Plut. Vit.
x orat. Aesch.
It is a favourite custom of late writers to place great orators, philosophers, poets, &c., in the relation of teacher and scholar to one another, and accordingly Aeschines is represented as a disciple of Socrates, Plato, and Isocrates. If these statements, which are even contradicted by the ancients themselves, were true, Aeschines would not have omitted to mention it in the many opportunities he had.
The distinguished orator and statesman Aristophon engaged Aeschines as a scribe, and in the same capacity he afterwards served Eubulus, a man of great influence with the democratical party, with whom he formed an intimate friendship, and to whose political principles he remained faithful to the end of his life.
That he served two years as περίπολος
from his eighteenth to his twentieth year, as all young men at Athens did, Aeschines (De fals. Leg.
p. 50) expressly states, and this period of his military training must probably be placed before the time that he acted as a scribe to Aristophon; for we find that, after leaving the service of Eubulus, he tried his fortune as an actor, for which he was provided by nature with a strong and sonorous voice.
He acted the parts of τριταγωνιστής
but was unsuccessful, and on one occasion, when he was performing in the character of Oenomaus, was hissed off the stage. (Dem. De Coron.
After this he left the stage and engaged in military services, in which, according to his own account (De fals. Leg.
p. 50), he gained great distinction. (Comp. Dem. De fals. Leg.
After several less important engagements in other parts of Greece, he distinguished himself in B. C. 362 in the battle of Mantineia; and afterwards in B. C. 358, he also took part in the expedition of the Athenians against Euboea, and fought in the battle of Tamynae, and on this occasion he gained such laurels, that he was praised by the generals on the spot, and, after the victory was gained, was sent to carry the news of it to Athens. Temenides, who was sent with him, bore witness to his courage and bravery, and the Athenians honoured him with a crown. (Aesch. De fals Leg.
Two years before this campaign, the last in which he took part, he had come forward at Athens as a public speaker (Aesch. Epist.
12), and the military fame which he had now acquired established his reputation. His former occupation as a scribe to Aristophon and Eubulus had made him acquainted with the laws and constitution of Athens, while his acting on the stage had been a useful preparation for public speaking. During the first period of his public career, he was, like all other Athenians, zealously engaged in directing the attention of his fellow-citizens to the growing power of Philip, and exhorted them to check it in its growth.
After the fall of Olynthus in B. C. 348, Eubulus prevailed on the Athenians to send an embassy to Peloponnesus with the object of uniting the Greeks against the common enemy. and Aeschines was sent to Arcadia. Here Aeschines spoke at Megalopolis against Hieronymus an emissary of Philip, but without success; and from this moment Aeschines, as well as all his fellow-citizens, gave up the hope of effecting anything by the united forces of Greece. (Dem. De fals. Leg.
pp. 314, 438; Aesch. De fals. Leg.
p. 38.) When therefore Philip, in B. C. 347, gave the Athenians to understand that he was inclined to make peace with them, Philocrates urged the necessity of sending an embassy to Philip to treat on the subject. Ten men, and among them Aeschines and Demosthenes, were accordingly sent to Philip, who received them with the utmost politeness, and Aeschines, when it was his turn to speak, reminded the king of the rights which Athens had to his friendship and alliance.
The king promised to send forthwith ambassadors to Athens to negotiate the terms of peace.
After the return of the Athenian ambassadors they were each rewarded with a wreath of olive, on the proposal of Demosthenes, for the manner in which they had discharged their duties. Aeschines from this moment forward was inflexible in his opinion, that nothing but peace with Philip could avert utter ruin from his country.
That this was perfectly in accordance with what Philip wished is clear, but there is no reason for supposing, that Aeschines had been bribed into this opinion, or that he urged the necessity of peace with a view to ruin his country. (Aesch. in Ctesiph.
p. 62.) Antipater and two other Macedonian ambassadors arrived at Athens soon after the return of the Athenian ones, and after various debates Demosthenes urgently advised the people to conclude the peace, and speedily to send other ambassadors to Philip to receive his oath to it.
The only difference between Aeschines and Demosthenes was, that the former would have concluded the peace even without providing for the Athenian allies, which was happily prevented by Demosthenes. Five Athenian ambassadors, and among them Aeschines but not Demosthenes (De Coron.
p.. 235), set out for Macedonia the more speedily, as Philip was making war upon Cersobleptes, a Thracian prince and ally of Athens. They went to Pella to wait for the arrival of Philip from Thrace, and were kept there for a considerable time, for Philip did not come until he had completely subdued Cersobleptes.
At last, however, he swore to the peace, from which the Phocians were expressly excluded. Philip honoured the Athenian ambassadors with rich presents, promised to restore all Athenian prisoners without ransom, and wrote a polite letter to the people of Athens apologizing for having detained their ambassadors so long. (Dem. De fals. Leg.
pp. 394, 405.) Hyperides and Timarchus, the former of whom was a friend of Demosthenes, brought forward an accusation against the ambassadors, charging them with high treason against the republic, because they were bribed by the king. Timarchus accused Aeschines, and Hyperides Philocrates. But Aeschines evaded the danger by bringing forward a counter-accusation against Timarchus (B. C. 345), and by showing that the moral conduct of his accuser was such that he had no right to speak before the people.
The speech in which Aeschines attacked Timarchus is still extant, and its effect was, that Timarchus was obliged to drop his accusation, and Aeschines gained a brilliant triumph.
The operations of Philip after this peace, and his march towards Thermopylae, made the Athenians very uneasy, and Aeschines, though he assured the people that the king had no hostile intentions towards Athens and only intended to chastise Thebes, was again requested to go as ambassador to Philip and insure his abiding by the terms of his peace.
But he deferred going on the pretext that he was ill. (Dem. De fals. Leg.
p. 337.) On his return he pretended that the king had secretly confided to him that he would undertake nothing against either Phocis or Athens. Demosthenes saw through the king's plans as well as the treachery of Aeschines, and how just his apprehensions were became evident soon after the return of Aeschines, when Philip announced to the Athenians that he had taken possession of Phocis.
The people of Athens, however, were silenced and lulled into security by the repeated assurances of the king and the venal orators who advocated his cause at Athens. In B. C. 346, Aeschines was sent as πυλαγόρας
to the assembly of the amphictyons at Pylae which was convoked by Philip, and at which he received greater honours than he could ever have expected.
At this time Aeschines and Demosthenes were at the head of the two parties, into which not only Athens, but all Greece was divided, and their political enmity created and nourished personal hatred.
This enmity came to a head in the year B. C. 343, when Demosthenes charged Aeschines with having been bribed and having betrayed the interests of his country during the second embassy to Philip.
This charge of Demosthenes (περὶ παραπρεσβείας
) was not spoken, but published as a memorial, and Aeschines answered it in a similar memorial on the embassy (περί παραπρεσβείας
), which was likewise published (Dem. De fals. Leg.
p. 337), and in the composition of which he is said to have been assisted by his friend Eubulus.
The result of these mutual attacks is unknown, but there is no doubt that it gave a severe shock to the popularity of Aeschines.
At the time he wrote his memorial we gain a glimpse into his private life. Some years before that occurrence he had married a daughter of Philodemus, a man of high respectability in his tribe of Paeania, and in 343 he was father of three little children. (Aesch, De falss. Leg.
It was probably in B. C. 342, that Antiphon, who had been exiled and lived in Macedonia, secretly returned to the Peiraeeus with the intention of setting fire to the Athenian ships of war. Demosthenes, discovered him, and had him arrested. Aeschines denounced the conduct of Demosthenes as a violation of the democratical constitution. Antiphon was sentenced to death; and although no disclosure of any kind could be extorted from him, still it seems to have been believed in many quarters that Aeschines had been his accomplice. Hence the honourable office of σύνδικος
to the sanctuary in Delos, which had just been given him, was taken from him and bestowed upon Hyperides. (Demosth. De Coron.
p. 271.) In B. C. 340 Aeschines was again present at Delphi as Athenian πυλαγόρας
, and caused the second sacred war against Amphissa in Locris for having taken into cultivation some sacred lands. Philip entrusted with the supreme command by the amphictyons, marched into Locris with an army of 30,000 men, ravaged the country, and established himself in it. When in 338 he advanced southward as far as Elatea, all Greece was in consternation. Demosthenes alone persevered, and roused his countrymen to a last and desperate struggle.
The battle of Chaeroneia in this same year decided the fate of Greece.
The misfortune of that day gave a handle to the enemies of Demosthenes for attacking him; but notwithstanding the bribes which Aeschines received from Antipater for this purpose, the pure and unstained patriotism of Demosthenes was so generally recognised, that he received the honourable charge of delivering the funeral oration over those who had fallen at Chacroneia. Ctesiphon proposed that Demosthenes should be rewarded for the services he had done to his country, with a golden crown in the theatre at the great Dionysia. Aeschines availed himself of the illegal form in which this reward was proposed to be given, to bring a charge against Ctesiphon on that ground.
But he did not prosecute the matter till eight years later, that is, in B. C. 330, when after the death of Philip, and the victories of Alexander
, political affairs had assumed a different aspect in Greece.
After having commenced the prosecution of Ctesiphon, he is said to have gone for some time to Macedonia. What induced him to drop the prosecution of Ctesiphon, and to take it up again eight years afterwards, are questions which can only be answered by conjectures.
The speech in which he accused Ctesiphon in B. C. 330, and which is still extant, is so skilfully managed, that if he had succeeded he would have totally destroyed all the political influence and authority of Demosthenes.
The latter answered Aeschines in his celebrated oration on the crown (περί στεφάνου
. Even before Demosthenes had finished his speech, Aeschines acknowledged himself conquered, and withdrew from the court and his country. When the matter was put to the votes, not even a fifth of them was in favour of Aeschines.
Aeschines went to Asia Minor.
The statement of Plutarch, that Demosthenes provided him with the means of accomplishing his journey, is surely a fable.
He spent several years in Ionia and Caria, occupying himself with teaching rhetoric, and anxiously waiting for the return of Alexander
to Europe. When in B. C. 324 the report of the death of Alexander
reached him, he left Asia and went to Rhodes, where he established a school of eloquence, which subsequently became very celebrated, and occupies a middle position between the grave manliness of the Attic orators, and the effeminate luxuriance of the so-called Asiatic school of oratory. On one occasion he read to his audience in Rhodes his speech against Ctesiphon, and when some of his hearers expressed their astonishment at his having been defeated notwithstanding his brilliant oration, he replied, " You would cease to be astonished, if you had heard Demosthenes." (Cic. De Orat.
3.56; Plin. Nat. 7.30
; Plin. Ep. 2.3
; Quinctil. 11.3.6.) From Rhodes he went to Samos, where he died in B. C. 314.
The conduct of Aeschines has been censured by the writers of all ages; and for this many reasons may be mentioned.
In the first place, and above all, it was his misfortune to be constantly placed in juxtaposition or opposition to the spotless glory of Demosthenes, and this must have made him appear more guilty in the eyes of those who saw through his actions, while in later times the contrast between the greatest orators of the time was frequently made the theme of rhetorical declamation, in which one of the two was praised or blamed at the cost of the other, and less with regard to truth than to effect. Respecting the last period of his life we scarcely possess any other source of information than the accounts of late sophists and declamations. Another point to be considered in forming a just estimate of the character of Aeschines is, that he had no advantages of education, and that he owed his greatness to none but himself. His occupations during the early part of his life were such as necessarily engendered in him the low desire of gain and wealth; and had he overcome these passions, he would have been equal to Demosthenes.
There is, however, not the slightest ground for believing, that Aeschines recommended peace with Macedonia at first from any other motive than the desire of promoting the good of his country. Demosthenes himself acted in the same spirit at that time, for the craftiness of Philip deceived both of them.
But while Demosthenes altered his policy on discovering the secret intentions of the king, Aeschines continued to advocate the principles of peace.
But there is nothing to justify the belief that Aeschines intended to ruin his country, and it is much more probable that the crafty king made such an impression upon him, that he firmly believed he was doing right, and was thus unconsciously led on to become a traitor to his country.
But no ancient writer except Demosthenes charges him with having received bribes from the Macedonians for the purpose of betraying his country.
He appears to have been carried away by the favour of the king and the people, who delighted in hearing from him what they themselves wished, and, perhaps also, by the opposition of Demosthenes himself.
Aeschines spoke on various occasions, but he published only three of his orations, namely, against Timarchus
, on the Embassy
, and against Ctesiphon
As an orator, he was inferior to none but Demosthenes.
He was endowed by nature with extraordinary oratorical powers, of which his orations afford abundant proofs.
The facility and felicity of his diction, the boldness and the vigour of his descriptions, carry away the reader now, as they must have carried away his audience.
The ancients, as Photius (Phot. Bibl. 61
) remarks, designated these three orations as the Graces,
and the nine letters which were extant in the time of Photius, as the Muses.
Letters ascribed to Aeschines
Besides the three orations, we now possess twelve letters which are ascribed to Aeschines, which however are in all probability not more genuine than the so-called epistles of Phalaris, and are undoubtedly the work of late sophists.
Sources for the Life of Aeschines
The principal sources of information concerning Aeschines are:
The orations of Demosthenes on the Embassy, and on the Crown, and the orations of Aeschines on the Embassy and against Ctesiphon.
These four orations were translated into Latin by Cicero; but the translation is lost, and we now possess only an essay which Cicero wrote as an introduction to them: De optimo genere Oratorum.
The life in Plutarch's Vitae decem Oratorum.
- 3. The life of Aeschines by Philostratus.
- 4. The life of Aeschines by Libanius.
- 5. Apollonius' Exegesis.
The last two works are printed in Reiske's edition, p. 10, foll.
The best modern essay on Aeschines is that by Passow in Ersch and Gruber's Encyclopädie,
ii. p. 73, &c.
There is also a work by E. Stechow, De Aeschinis Oratoris Vita, Berlin, 1841, 4to., which is an attempt to clear the character of Aeschines from all the reproaches that have been attached to it; but the essay is written in exceedingly bad Latin, and the attempt is a most complete failure.
The first edition of the orations of Aeschines is that of Aldus Manutius in his Collectio Rhetorum Graecorum, Venice, 1513, fol. An edition with a Latin translation, which also contains the letters ascribed to Aeschines, is that of H. Wolf, Basel. 1572, fol. The next important edition is that by Taylor, which contains the notes of Wolf, Taylor, and Markland, and appeared at Cambridge in 1748-56 in his collection of the Attic orators. In Reiske's edition of the Attic orators Aeschines occupies the third volume, Lips. 1771, 8vo. The best editions are those of I. Bekker, vol. iii. of his Oratores Attici, Oxford, 1822, 8vo., for which thirteen new MSS. were collated,
and of F. H. Bremi, Zurich, 1823, 2 vols. 8vo.
The oration against Demosthenes has been translated into English by Portal and Leland.