The Oration of Aeschines Against Ctesiphon

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Author: Aeschines  | Date: 330 BC

INTRODUCTION

To the Oration of Aeschines against Ctesiphon

THROUGH the whole progress of that important contest which Athens maintained against the Macedonians, Demosthenes and Aeschines had ever been distinguished by their weight and influence in the assemblies of their state. They had adopted different systems of ministerial conduct, and stood at the head of two opposite parties, each so powerful as to prevail by turns, and to defeat the schemes of their antagonist. The leaders had on several occasions avowed their mutual opposition and animosity. Demosthenes, in particular, had brought an impeachment against his rival, and obliged him to enter into a formal defence of his conduct during an embassy at the court of Macedon. His resentment was confirmed by this desperate attack; and his success in bearing up against it encouraged him to watch some favorable opportunity for retorting on his accuser.

The defeat at Chaeronea afforded this opportunity. The people in general were, indeed, too equitable to withdraw their confidence from Demosthenes, although his measures had been unsuccessful. But faction, which judges, or affects to judge, merely by events, was violent and clamorous. The minister was reviled, his conduct severely scrutinized, his errors aggravated, his policy condemned, and he himself threatened with inquiries, trials, and impeachments. The zeal of his partisans, on the other hand, was roused by this opposition, and they deemed it expedient to procure some public solemn declaration in favor of Demosthenes, as the most effectual means to silence his accusers.

It was usual with the Athenians, and indeed with all the Greeks, when they would express their sense of extraordinary merit, to crown the person so distinguished with a chaplet of olive interwoven with gold. The ceremony was performed in some populous assembly, convened either for business or entertainment; and proclamation was made in due form of the honor thus conferred, and the services for which it was bestowed.

To procure such an honor for Demosthenes at this particular juncture was thought the most effectual means to confound the clamor of his enemies. He had lately been intrusted with the repair of the fortifications of Athens, in which he expended a considerable sum of his own, over and above the public appointment, and thus enlarged the work beyond the letter of his instructions. It was therefore agreed that Ctesiphon, one of his zealous friends, should take this occasion of moving the Senate to prepare a decree (to be ratified by the popular assembly) reciting this particular service of Demosthenes, representing him as a citizen of distinguished merit, and ordaining that a golden crown (as it was called) should be conferred on him. To give this transaction the greater solemnity, it was moved that the ceremony should be performed in the theatre of Bacchus during the festival held in honor of that god, when not only the Athenians, but other Greeks from all parts of the nation were assembled to see the tragedies exhibited in that festival.

The Senate agreed to the resolution. But, before it could be referred to the popular assembly for their confirmation, Aeschines, who had examined the whole transaction with all the severity that hatred and jealousy could inspire, pronounced it irregular and illegal both in form and matter, and without delay assumed the common privilege of an Athenian citizen to commence a suit against Ctesiphon as the first mover of a decree repugnant to the laws, a crime of a very heinous nature in the Athenian polity.

The articles on which he founds his accusation are reduced to these three:

I. Whereas every citizen who has borne any magistracy is obliged by law to lay a full account of his administration before the proper officers, and that it is expressly enacted that no man shall be capable of receiving any public honors till this his account has been duly examined and approved; Ctesiphon has yet moved that Demosthenes should receive a crown previously to the examination of his conduct in the office conferred on him, and before the passing of his accounts.

II. Whereas it is ordained that all crowns conferred by the community of citizens shall be presented and proclaimed in their assembly, and in no other place whatsoever; Ctesiphon hath yet proposed that the crown should be presented and proclaimed in the theatre.

III. Whereas the laws pronounce it highly penal for any man to insert a falsehood in any motion or decree; Ctesiphon hath yet expressly declared, as the foundation of this his decree, that the conduct of Demosthenes hath been ever excellent, honorable, and highly serviceable to the state; a point directly opposite to the truth.

The two former of these articles he endeavors to establish by an appeal to the laws and ordinances of Athens. Here he was obliged to be critical and copious, which may render the first parts of his pleading not so agreeable to an English reader as that in which he enters into the public transactions of his country and the ministerial conduct of his adversary.

The prosecution was commenced in the year of the fatal battle of Chaeronea. But the final decision of the cause had been suspended about eight years; and this interval was full of great events, to which each of the speakers frequently alluded.

It was the first care of Alexander on his accession to the throne to undeceive those among the Greeks who, like Demosthenes, had affected to despise his youth. He instantly marched into Peloponnesus, and demanded the people of that country to accept him as commander of their forces against Persia. The Spartans alone sullenly refused. The Athenians, on their part, were intimidated, and yielded to his demand with greater expressions of reverence and submission than they had ever paid to his father. He returned to Macedon to hasten his preparations, where he found it necessary to march against his barbarous neighbors, who were meditating a descent on his kingdom. His conflicts with these people occasioned a report to be spread through Greece that the young king had fallen in battle. The Macedonian faction were alarmed: their opposers industriously propagated the report, and excited the Greeks to seize this opportunity to rise up against a power which had reduced them to a state of ignominious subjection. The Thebans unhappily yielded to such instances, took arms, and slaughtered the Macedonian garrison that had been stationed in their citadel.

But this insolence and cruelty did not long remain unpunished. Alexander suddenly appeared before their gates at the head of his army, and in a few days became master of their city, where he executed his vengeance with fire and sword. The miserable state of desolation and captivity to which the Thebans were thus reduced is attributed in the following oration to the pernicious counsels and machinations of Demosthenes, and displayed in the most lively and pathetic terms.

Nor did this extraordinary instance of rigor fail of its intended effect. The Greeks were astonished and confounded. The Athenians thought it expedient to send a deputation of their citizens to congratulate the king of Macedon on his late successes. Demosthenes was one of the persons chosen to execute this commission; but, conscious of the resentment which his well-known zeal against the Macedonian interest must have merited from Alexander, he deserted the other deputies while they were on their journey, and returned precipitately to Athens. Nor, indeed, were his apprehensions groundless; for, although the address was graciously received, yet the king took this occasion of complaining, in a manner which marked his superiority, of those factious leaders among the Athenians, to whom he affected to impute all the calamities of Greece, from the battle of Chaeronea to the destruction of Thebes. He demanded that several of the public speakers, and Demosthenes among the rest, should be delivered up to the power of the Amphictyonic council, there to abide their trial, and to meet the punishment due to their offences. This was in effect to demand that they should be delivered into his own hands. The Athenians were in the utmost consternation, but found means to deprecate his resentment, and prevail on him to be satisfied with the banishment of Charidemus, one of his most distinguished opposers; who accordingly repaired to the court of Darius, where his sage counsel, that the Persian should avoid an engagement with Alexander, provoked the haughty and capricious tyrant to put him to death.

During Alexander’s famous expedition into Asia, and the progress of his stupendous victories, Greece enjoyed a sort of calm, and the Athenians found leisure to decide the contest between their rival statesmen. The parties now appeared before a number of judges, probably not less than five hundred, and these chosen from the citizens at large, men of lively and warm imaginations, and of all others most susceptible of the impressions made by the force and artifice of popular eloquence. The partisans of each side crowded round to assist and support their friend: and the tribunal was surrounded, not only by the citizens of Athens, but by vast numbers from all parts of Greece, curious to hear two so celebrated speakers on a subject so engaging as the late national transactions, and to be witnesses of the decision of a cause which had been for some years the object of general attention and expectation.

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Chicago: Aeschines, "Introduction," The Oration of Aeschines Against Ctesiphon, trans. Thomas Leland, D.D. Original Sources, accessed June 17, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8GJ9LEU4VIKR1WM.

MLA: Aeschines. "Introduction." The Oration of Aeschines Against Ctesiphon, translted by Thomas Leland, D.D., Original Sources. 17 Jun. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8GJ9LEU4VIKR1WM.

Harvard: Aeschines, 'Introduction' in The Oration of Aeschines Against Ctesiphon, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 17 June 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8GJ9LEU4VIKR1WM.