A selection of Demosthenes’ public speeches, political in nature. My copy is the Everyman’s Library edition prepared by John Warrington, 1954.
My thoughts: I hadn’t heard of Demosthenes before his name appeared on my list of Greek classics. Consistently labelled as the greatest orator in history, Demosthenes was a vocal opponent of the Macedonian threat to both Athens and Greek independence, repeatedly warning the Athenians of the risk Phillip of Macedon and his sympathisers posed. After a failed uprising in Athens once Macedonian rule had been established, Demosthenes fled and eventually took his own life to avoid capture.
His most famous speech On the Crown was a defence of his friend Ctesiphon, who had proposed an award – a golden crown – for Demosthenes’ own patriotic acts and statesmanship. Demosthenes’ nemesis Aeschines brought the case against Ctesiphon on fairly spurious charges to attack Demosthenes, who responds by demolishing the prosecution. Despite Athenian forces being defeated by the Macedonians, Demosthenes continued to hold to the view that it was better to strive against external aggression and ally with other Greek states than submit to oppression, and it seems the Athenian public agreed with him and continued to hold him in high regard.
“But never, never, can you have done wrong, O Athenians, in undertaking the battle for the freedom and safety of all! I swear it by you forefathers – those that met the peril at Marathon, those that took the field at Plataea, those in the sea-fight at Salamis … and many other brave men who repose in the public monuments, all of whom alike as being worthy of the same honour the country buried, Aeschines, not only the successful or victorious! Justly! For the duty of brave men has been done by all …” On the Crown, page 87
Interestingly Plutarch claimed that Demosthenes suffered from a speech impediment which he worked hard to eradicate. He would practice speeches with his mouth full of pebbles, and shout his words over the crashing of waves on the beach. Obviously from his reputation, his successes in the courts and perceived threat to the Macedonian overlords, he was quite successful in his training.
Demosthenes’ personal attacks on Aeschines are particularly fun
“This creature [Aeschines] is a reptile by nature, that from the beginning never did anything honest or liberal … what advantage has your eloquence been to your country? Now do you speak to us about the past? As if a physician should visit his patients and not order or prescribe anything to cure the disease, but on the death of any one, when the last ceremonies were performing, should follow him to the grave and expound how, if the poor fellow had done this and that he never would have died. Idiot! Do you speak now?” On the Crown, page 95
“Ill betide thee, say I, and may the Gods, or at least the Athenians, confound thee for a vile citizen and a vile third-rate actor!” On the Crown, page 102
Personal rating: 4
The sanity in between: Anne of Green Gables
I recently watched Anne with an ‘e’ on Netflix, which is a beautifully filmed and excellently acted version of this children’s classic, but far darker than I remembered the book. So of course I needed to re-read it. I had read it some years ago when I ran out of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, but I enjoyed it even more this time around. A simply wonderful book, with quite lovely descriptions and heart-warming characters which will be no news to its many admirers. In the space of ten minutes, I found these three delightful lines:
“…when a man is courting he always has to agree with the girl’s mother in religion and her father in politics” Chapter 18
“It’s all very well to say resist temptation, but it’s ever so much easier to resist it if you can’t get the key” Chapter 18
“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” Chapter 19
It will be a rare pleasure to re-read this book again when I get to the 1900s 😊
Next : Back to Aristotle and a taste of Politics.