The Oration on the Classes

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Author: Demosthenes  | Date: 355 BC

INTRODUCTION

To the Oration on the Classes

THE title of this oration is taken from one particular part of it, in which the speaker enlarges on the method of dividing the citizens into Summoriai, or Classes, in order to raise the supplies, and to answer the exigencies of the state. The design of it was to allay an extravagant ferment which had been raised at Athens, and to recommend caution and circumspection, at a time when danger was apprehended. Artaxerxes Ochus, King of Persia, had been for some time employed in making preparations for war. These were represented to the Athenians as the effect of a design formed against Greece, and against their state in particular. They were conscious of having given this prince sufficient umbrage, by the assistance which their general Chares had afforded to some of his rebellious subjects: they were entirely possessed by the notions of their own importance, and therefore readily listened to their suggestions who endeavored to persuade them that some important blow was meditated against their dominions. An assembly of the people was convened; and the general temper both of the speakers and auditors is distinctly marked out in several passages of the following oration. The bare mention of a war with Persia at once recalled to their minds the glorious days of their ancestors, and the great actions of Athens and her generals against the Barbarians. These were now displayed with all the address and force of eloquence, and the people urged to imitate the bright examples of antiquity; to rise up in arms against the Persian and to send their ambassadors through Greece to summon all the states to unite with Athens against the common enemy. To flatter the national vanity of their countrymen was an expedient which many speakers had found effectual for establishing their power and credit in the assembly. And possibly some might have spoken with a corrupt design of diverting the attention of their countrymen from those contests and dangers in which they were now immediately concerned. But, however this may be, the impropriety of those bold and precipitate measures which they recommended is urged with the utmost force in the following oration; in which we shall find the speaker moderating the unseasonable zeal of his countrymen without absolutely shocking their prejudices. Demosthenes is more generally known as an orator by the fire and energy with which he rouses his countrymen to arms. But the delicacy of address and artifice which he displays in this and many of the following orations is a part of his character no less worthy of attention. A youth of twenty-eight years, thoroughly acquainted with the constitution, interests, and connections of his country, rising for the first time in a debate on public affairs, opposing himself with boldness and resolution, and at the same time with the utmost art and insinuation, to the general bent of the assembly, calming the turbulence of his countrymen, and presenting their true interests to their view in the strongest and most striking colors, is an object truly pleasing and affecting.

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Chicago: Demosthenes, "Introduction," The Oration on the Classes, trans. Thomas Leland, D.D. Original Sources, accessed January 26, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=HUE24UZ8VPMNNWS.

MLA: Demosthenes. "Introduction." The Oration on the Classes, translted by Thomas Leland, D.D., Original Sources. 26 Jan. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=HUE24UZ8VPMNNWS.

Harvard: Demosthenes, 'Introduction' in The Oration on the Classes, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 26 January 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=HUE24UZ8VPMNNWS.