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Deme'trius PHALEREUS or Deme'trius of Phaleron

28. PHALEREUS, the most distinguished among all the literary persons of this name. He was at once an orator, a statesman, a philosopher, and a poet. His surname Phalereus is given him from his birthplace, the Attic demos of Phalerus, where he was born about Ol. 108 or 109, B. C. 345. He was the son of Phanostratus, a man without rank or property (D. L. 5.75; Aelian, Ael. VH 12.43); but notwithstanding this, he rose to the highest honours at Athens through his great natural powers and his perseverance. He was educated, together with the poet Menander, in the school of Theophrastus. He began his public career about B. C. 325, at the time of the disputes respecting Harpalus, and soon acquired a great reputation by the talent he displayed in public speaking. He belonged to the party of Phocion; and as he acted completely in the spirit of that statesman, Cassander, after the death of Phocion in B. C. 317, placed Demetrius at the head of the administration of Athens. He filled this office for ten years in such a manner, that the Athenians in their gratitude conferred upon him the most extraordinary distinctions, and no less than 360 statues were erected to him. (Diog. Laert. l.c.; Diod. 19.78; Corn. Nep. Miltiad. 6.) Cicero says of his administration, "Atheniensium rem publicam exsanguem jam et jacentem sustentavit." (De Re Publ. 2.1.) But during the latter period of his administration he seems to have become intoxicated with his extraordinary good fortune, and he abandoned himself to every kind of dissipation. (Athen. 6.272, xii. p. 542; Aelian, Ael. VH 9.9, where the name of Demetrius Poliorcetes is a mistake for Demetrius Phalereus; Plb. 12.13.) This conduct called forth a party of malcontents, whose exertions and intrigues were crowned in B. C. 307, on the approach of Demetrius Poliorcetes to Athens, when Demetrius Phalereus was obliged to take to flight. (Plut. Demetr. 8; Dionys. Deinarch. 3.) His enemies even contrived to induce the people of Athens to pass sentence of death upon him, in consequence of which his friend Menander nearly fell a victim. All his statues, with the exception of one, were demolished. Demetrius Phalereus first went to Thebes (Plut. Demnetr. 9; Diod. 20.45), and thence to the court of Ptolemy Lagi at Alexandria, with whom he lived for many years on the best terms, and who is even said to have entrusted to him the revision of the laws of his kingdom. (Aelian, Ael. VH 3.17.) During his stay at Alexandria, he devoted himself mainly to literary pursuits, ever cherishing the recollection of his own country. (Plut. de Exil. p. 602f.) The successor of Ptolemy Lagi, however, was hostile towards Demetrius, probably for having advised his father to appoint another of his sons as his successor, and Demetrius was sent into exile to Upper Egypt, where he is said to have died of the bite of a snake. (D. L. 5.78; Cic. pro Rabir. Post. 9.) His death appears to have taken place soon after the year B. C. 283.

Demetrius Phalereus was the last among the Attic orators worthy of the name (Cic. Brut. 8; Quint. Inst. 10.1.80), and his orations bore evident marks of the decline of oratory, for they did not possess the sublimity which characterizes those of Demosthenes: those of Demetrius were soft, insinuating, and rather effeminate, and his style was graceful, elegant, and blooming (Cic. Brut. 9, 82, de Orat. 2.23, Orat. 27; Quint. Inst. 10.1.33); but he maintained withal a happy medium between the sublime grandeur of Demosthenes, and the flourishing declamations of his successors.


Demetrius' numerous writings, the greater part of which he probably composed during his residence in Egypt (Cic. de Fin. 5.9), embraced subjects of the most varied kinds, and the list of them given by Diogenes Laertius (5.80, &c.) shews that he was a man of the most extensive acquirements. These works, which were partly historical, partly political, partly philosophical, and partly poetical, have all perished. The work on elocution (περὶ ἑρμηνείας) which has come down under his name, is probably the work of an Alexandrian sophist of the name of Demetrius. [See above, No. 3.] It is said that A. Mai has discovered in a Vatican palimpsest some genuine fragments of Demetrius Phalereus. For a list of his works see Diogenes Laertius, who has devoted a chapter to him. (5.5.)


His literary merits are not confined to what he wrote, for he was a man of a practical turn of mind, and not a mere scholar of the closet; whatever he learned or knew was applied to the practical business of life, of which the following facts are illustrations. The performance of tragedy had greatly fallen into disuse at that time at Athens, on account of the great expenses involved in it; and in order to afford the people less costly and yet intellectual amusement, he caused the Homeric and other poems to be recited on the stage by rhapsodists. (Athen. 14.620; Eustath. ad Hom. p. 1473.) It is also believed that it was owing to his influence with Ptolemy Lagi that books were collected at Alexandria, and that he thus laid the foundation of the library which was formed under Ptolemy Philadelphus. There is, however, no reason whatever for calling him the first in the series of librarians at Alexandria, any more than there is for the belief that he took part in the Greek translation of the Septuagint. A life of Demetrius Phalereus was written by Asclepiadas (Athen. 13.567), but it is lost.

Further Information

Among the modern works upon him and his merits, see Bonamy, in the Mémoirs de l'Acad. des lnscript. vol. viii. p. 157, &c.; H. Dohrn, De Vita et Rebus Demetrii Phalerei, Kiel, 1825, 4to.; Parthey, Das Alexandr. Museum, pp. 35, &c., 38, &c., 71; Ritschl, Die Alexand. Biblioth. p. 15.

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345 BC (2)
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hide References (12 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (12):
    • Polybius, Histories, 12.13
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 10, 1.33
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 10, 1.80
    • Plutarch, Demetrius, 8
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.78
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 20.45
    • Cicero, Brutus, 8
    • Cicero, Brutus, 82
    • Cicero, Brutus, 9
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 12.43
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 3.17
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 9.9
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