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From The Greek Orators by J. F. Dobson, M. A., London: Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1919; pp. 268-270.


By J. F. Dobson




THOUGH as a rule an orator could not hope to be successful in fourth-century Athens without a professional training, yet there were at times men who, either through strength of character or natural gifts, could dispense with a rhetorical education.

Foremost among the men of the peace party was Phocion, an aristocrat by instinct if not by birth; a man admired alike for ability and integrity, so that though he was no great orator, his speeches always commanded respect. He aspired, like Pericles, to be both a statesman and a general, and in the former capacity had at times to speak in the assembly. Various anecdotes in Plutarch point to his efforts to attain a conciseness which was almost laconic. His utterance was as trenchant as it was brief — Demosthenes called him ‘the knife that cuts my speeches down’; and he had a lively wit, which must have pleased his hearers even though his policy was unpopular. On one occasion, when the people applauded him — which was rare, for he neither courted nor expected popularity — he paused in his speech and asked, ‘Have I said something absurd?’

An unsparing critic of the democracy, as he was nevertheless their faithful servant, he continued, from 269 the purest motives, to urge peace, though the best years of his life were spent in war. He was respected for his high character by Philip and Alexander, and acquiesced in the government instituted by Antipater in 322 B.C., but fell a victim of the hatred of the extreme democrats, and was forced to drink hemlock, at the age of eighty years, in 317 B.C.

Demades, his contemporary, and a member of the same political party, is a perfect type of the vulgar demagogue. He depended for his success on a lively wit and a never-failing flow of words. After the battle of Chaeronea, where he was taken prisoner, he became an avowed agent of Philip and Alexander.1 In consequence of his supposed services to Athens after the destruction of Thebes, he attained great popularity, his statue was erected in the market-place, and the more material benefit of perpetual meals in the Prytaneum was decreed to him. He was put to death by Cassander, the son of Antipater; his fellow-citizens melted down his statues and applied the metal to even baser purposes.2 His recorded sayings show imagination — ‘Alexander is not dead; if he were, the whole world would stink of his corpse’; or again, ‘Macedon without Alexander would be like the Cyclops without his eye’;3 finally, Athens is to him ‘not the sea-fighter whom our ancestors knew, but an old woman, wearing slippers and supping barley-water.’4 For the high opinion entertained of his eloquence we may refer to the verdict of Theophrastus — ‘Demosthenes is an orator worthy of Athens; Demades is on a higher 270 plane than Athens.’5 We have no further means of forming any conception of his style.

Pytheas, another orator who raised himself by his talents from a humble position, was much younger than the previous two, who were about contemporary with Demosthenes.6 He was one of the prosecutors of Demosthenes in the affair of Harpalus in 324 B.C. Soon after the death of Alexander he was banished, took service with Antipater, and worked as his agent in the Peloponnese, using his influence to thwart the efforts of Demosthenes towards united resistance. After this we lose sight of him. He is said to have had talent, but to have been handicapped by lack of education. He was the coiner of the famous phrase about the speeches of Demosthenes, that they ‘smelt of the lamp,’ and another equally apt, though less familiar, that Demosthenes ‘had swallowed Isaeus whole.’7


 1  Dinarchus, Demos., § 104, ὁμολογῶν  λαμβάνειν  καὶ  λήψεσθαι.

 2   Plut., Moralia, 820 F, κατεχώνευσαν  εἰς  ἀμίδας.

 3  Demetrius, de Elocutione, §§ 282, 284.

 4  Ibid., § 286.

 5  For this and other judgments, see Plut., Demos., chs. viii.-x.

 6   Ibid., ch. viii.

 7  Dionysius, Isaeus, ch. iv.

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