The First Philippic

Author: Demosthenes  | Date: 351 BC


To the First Philippic

*(1) Demosthenes was at that time but thirty years old, which made it necessary for him to apologize for his zeal in rising before the other speakers: and the ingenious turn which he gives it not only prevents any unfavorable impression on the minds of his hearers, but engages their affection, and excites their attention, by the tacit promise of better counsel than they had hitherto received.

*(2) It has been already observed in the preface to these orations that Demosthenes takes many occasions of extolling the efforts of Athens to reduce the Spartan power, and to regain that sovereignty which they lost by the victory of Lysander at Aegos-Potamos. These efforts he everywhere represents as high instances of magnanimity and public spirit: though revenge and jealousy had no less share in them. The victories which the Athenians gained over Sparta at Corinth, Naxos, etc., and which he here alludes to, happened about twenty-four years before the date of this oration; so that he might well appeal to the memories of many persons present.

*(3) The number of Philip’s forces at that time amounted to twenty thousand foot and three thousand horse; a great army compared with those of the Greeks. At their march to Marathon the Athenians could not assemble more than ten thousand troops.

*(4) His hearers were of all others most devoted to public games and entertainments, and must therefore have been particularly sensible of the beauty of this image.

*(5) The success which had hitherto attended Philip’s arms must naturally have inspired him with those designs which he afterward executed against the Athenians; and resentment of their late opposition at Thermopylae might have made him less careful to conceal them, at least in his own court. This the orator represents as arrogant and extravagant menaces: not that a man who had so just a conception of the weakness of the Athenian politics, and the vigor and abilities of their enemy, could really believe such designs extravagant and romantic; but it was part of his address sometimes to avoid shocking the national vanity of his countrymen. After all their losses, and amid all their indolence, they could not entertain a thought so mortifying, as that the conquerors of Persia and the arbiters of Greece could ever see their liberty essentially affected, or their power and glory entirely wrested from them by a king of Macedon.

*(6) These rumors and inquiries of the Athenians were occasioned by the wound Philip received at Methone, the year before, and which was followed by a dangerous fit of sickness. Longinus quotes this whole passage as a beautiful instance of those pathetic figures which give life and force and energy to an oration.

*(7) This is plainly the sense of it: but it must be expressed covertly, as Demosthenes has done, not to transgress against that decorum which, Cicero says, this orator made his first rule. For there were certain things which the ancients presumed not to express, but in terms obscure and gentle, that they might not pronounce what were called verba male ominata. They did not dare to say to any person, "If you should be killed; if you should die": they concealed as much as possible the melancholy and odious idea of an approaching, or even of a distant death. The Greeks said ei ti pathois; the Romans, si quid humanitus contingat.

*(8) They had nothing more at heart than the recovery of this city. So that the orator here gives the last and most heightening stroke to his description of their indolence. And at the same time, by artfully hinting at such an event as possible, he rouses their attention, and enlivens their hopes and expectations. The Italian commentator illustrates this passage in the following manner: "Monet orator, quod quamvis accidat, ejusdem, compotes fieri, ipsis tamen non satis id fore ad turbandas res Macedonicas; cum aliis tot locis, quae memoravimus, privati, ad tantam rerum molem parum opis habere possint, ex una duntaxat civitate." Accordingly, the passage before us has been rendered to this effect: "If some favorable conjuncture should deliver up Amphipolis to you, etc., you could not receive the least benefit from the possession, with respect to Macedon." The assertion of the orator, as expressed in the present translation, has been pronounced extraordinary, and the argument inconclusive. The substance, therefore, of the present argument I shall here endeavor to collect: "You are all earnest to be informed whether Philip be dead or no. But, unless you change your measures, his death or life can make no difference, or prove of any consequence. Indeed, if some accident should take him off, nothing more would be necessary to give you the full advantage of the confusion which such an event must occasion than to appear on the frontier of Macedon with a powerful force. This would make you absolute masters of the country. But in your present circumstances, what would it avail, even if such a favorable incident as that of Philip’s death should give you an opportunity of recovering Amphipolis? So important an acquisition (which would in a great measure enable you to command all Macedon) must still be lost; unless you had your forces ready, you could not take possession of it." Whether there be anything unreasonable in this assertion, or impertinent in this argument, must be submitted to the reader. With deference to his judgment, I must declare that it appears to me to have rather more force, and to set the fatal consequence of the indolence and irresolution of the Athenians in a stronger light, than the other interpretation, whose propriety may be at once determined by comparing the passage with the sentence immediately preceding. In that the orator declares, that in case of Philip’s death, the Athenians had no more to do but to appear on the frontier of Macedon, in order to gain the absolute disposal of the affairs of that kingdom: Isth’ oti plesion men ontes, apasin an tois pragmasi tetaragmenois epistantes, opos boulesthe dioikesaisthe. We must therefore be at some pains to clear Demosthenes of the suspicion of inconsistency, if the very next sentence be understood as containing a declaration, That although the Athenians should not only appear on the borders of Macedon, but there possess themselves of a post of the utmost consequence, still they could derive no advantage from their acquisition- far from having the whole kingdom at their disposal. What seems to have tempted the Italian commentator to suggest this interpretation is the expression didonton umin ton kairon Amphipolin- if some conjunctures should give you Amphipolis; which he takes in a literal sense. But the genius of spirited eloquence, and of our orator in particular, fully warrants us to regard it only as a lively figure, and to understand no more by giving up than affording a favorable opportunity of gaining.

*(9) The year before, Cersobleptes, unable to defend this country against Philip, had put the Athenians in possession of it. Cardia, one of the chief cities, refused to acknowledge these new sovereigns, and had recourse to the protection of Philip, who, under pretence of supporting them, carried his arms into Chersonesus.

*(10) Philip had already committed some acts of hostility against this state, but had not as yet formed the siege of Olynthus, or taken any measures tending to it; for in such a case Demosthenes would not have touched so lightly on an enterprise which he afterward dwells on so often and with so much force.

*(11) M. Tourreil translates this passage thus: "et qu’il risque de retrouver en vous ces memes Atheniens qu’il rencontra sur son chemin en Eubee" (for which there is no warrant in the original); and taking for granted that all the expeditions here mentioned were made against Philip, he endeavors to settle the date of this to Euboea by conjecture. But it does not appear from history that Philip carried his arms into the island before his attempt on Thermopylae. In the three succeeding Olynthiac orations there is not the least mention of such a thing, though there is a particular recital of his expeditions in the third, and though afterward the orator inveighs loudly against his hostile attempts in Euboea. I apprehend, therefore, that the expedition hinted at in this place was that which the Athenians made about seven years before in favor of the Euboeans against Thebes; when in five days they brought an army in Euboea, and in thirty obliged the Thebans to come to terms, and evacuate the island (according to Aeschines). Demosthenes mentions this in other places; particularly about the end of the oration on the state of the Chersonesus, where he quotes part of the speech made by Timotheus to encourage the Athenians to this expedition. In the above note I have endeavored to suggest some reasons why the expeditions here alluded to could not have been made against Philip. But it has been affirmed, that if this were so it would be almost impertinent in our orator to mention them; that, as facts, they must be found spiritless, if taken in a general sense; and, as arguments, inconclusive. The translator can with sincerity declare, that if any representation of his tends in the least to depreciate the value of the great original, he readily gives it up as utterly erroneous and indefensible. But at the same time, he must observe, that if it be a fault to make use of such facts and such arguments, it is a fault which Demosthenes has frequently committed. Thus he speaks of the vigorous opposition of his countrymen to the Lacedaemonians; of their marching against the Corinthians and Megareans; of their expelling the Thebans from Euboea. In the second Philippic oration he tells his countrymen that the Macedonian must regard them as the great and strenuous defenders of Greece; because he must be informed of the spirit which their ancestors discovered in the days of his predecessor Alexander. If we are not to allow the orator to reason from the conduct of his contemporaries, on former occasions, to the conduct which they ought to pursue, or which may be expected from them in their contest with Philip, what shall we say of an argument deduced from their ancestors in the heroic age of Athens? The truth seems to be, that although the facts supposed to be alluded to in this passage had been passed over by historians, yet we are not from hence to conclude that they had no weight or importance in the Athenian assembly. We are not to judge of the light in which they appeared there from the obscurity into which distance of time and place may have now cast them. The reasons of this are obvious.

*(12) Tourreil refers this to some action which he supposes might have happened in Boeotia in the course of the Phocian war, and in which the Athenians might have had their share of the honor. But from the text it should seem that the event alluded to must have happened at some considerable distance of time, and have descended to the orator by tradition. About forty years before this oration, when Thebes and Sparta began to quarrel, Lysander, the Spartan general, threatened the Thebans with a very dangerous war, and began with laying siege to this city of Haliartus. The Thebans applied for aid to the Athenians, which they readily granted (though the Thebans had just before pressed for the utter demolition of their state), and obliged Pausanias to raise the siege, after Lysander had been killed. I apprehend that this is the expedition here alluded to. It was the more remarkable, as the Athenian power was then at the lowest ebb. "You, Athenians!" says Demosthenes in his oration on the Crown, "at a time when the Lacedaemonians had the absolute command both at sea and land; when Attica was quite encompassed with their commanders and their garrisons; when Euboea, Tanagra, all Boeotia, Megara, Aegina, Cleone, and the other islands were in their possession; when the state had not one ship, not one wall, ye marched out to Haliartus."

*(13) He glances particularly at Aristodemus and Neoptolemus. As to Aeschines, he had not been with Philip till six years after.

*(14) In the Greek it is epistolimaious dunameis. Instead of enumerating the various senses in which the commentators interpret this expression, I shall copy an observation on it by the Abbe D’Olivet, whose interpretation I have followed: "I have without any refinement chosen a plain expression, which seems to hit the thought of Demosthenes directly, and to paint strongly the bitter ridicule of the passage." It was usual for the Athenians, on any emergency, to write to all quarters to demand soldiers. They were answered, that in such a place such a number would be provided: from another place so many more might be expected. But in the end it appeared that these were by no means so many effective men. There were great abatements to be made from the numbers promised; and we find besides, from this oration, that the foreigners were not paid at all, or ill paid; so that these grand armies were nowhere complete but in the letters written to demand them on one part and to promise them on the other. If I am not mistaken, this is what Demosthenes calls dunameis epistolimaious- armies which exist only in letters.

*(15) In consequence of his engagements with the Thessalians, he commanded their ports and ships.

*(16) This was in the same war which he alludes to in the beginning of the oration. Corinth was appointed as the place of general rendezvous for the Greeks who confederated against Sparta.

*(17) Instead of Polystratus, which is a name little known in history, Monsieur Tourreil proposes to read Callistratus, who, according to Xenophon and Diodorus, was colleague to Iphicrates and Chabrias in the war of Corcyra. But, as Mr. Mounteney has observed, Polystratus is again mentioned by Demosthenes, together with Iphicrates, in the oration on the immunities; so that it is probable this is the true reading.

*(18) He here alludes to an affair which had happened some time before, and had occasioned great commotion. The Athenians had sent Chares at the head of a powerful force to reduce Byzantium, Cos, and Chios, which had revolted from them. But this general, when he had a prospect of success in that enterprise, suffered himself to be corrupted by Artabazus, a rebellious satrap of Asia, and assisted him against an army of seventy thousand men. Chares received a reward proportioned to the service; but this action raised the indignation of the Athenians, as he had not only deserted the cause of the republic, but also incensed the King of Persia. Demosthenes, however, here shifts the blame from Chares to his soldiers, who refused to obey him, or rather to the people, who took no care to provide for their pay.

*(19) So the orator affects to speak; though I apprehend it does not appear from history that they were at that time directly at war with him. They had, indeed, joined with the Phocians, and Philip was at the head of the opposite confederacy. Thus far they were engaged against each other, though neither of them as principals in the quarrel. The Athenians, indeed, might have made some attempts to recover Amphipolis; they certainly made some ineffectual preparations to relieve Potidaea and Methone; and after Philip’s attempt on Thermopylae, did station some forces on their frontiers to oppose him in case he renewed his attack. But still the war was not declared in form. But of this I shall speak more hereafter.

*(20) In the text they were mentioned particularly. Ten taxiarchs (strategoi, or generals) and phylarchs, and two hipparchs. Each of the ten tribes chose a new general every year, and each of these (originally, when all went to the field) had the command for one day in his turn. Philip was very pleasant on this number of commanders. "I never," said he, "could find but one general," meaning Parmenio; "but the Athenians can get ten every year." Anciently, the people on extraordinary occasions chose a polemarch, to determine when the opinions of the generals were equally divided. The taxiarch commanded the infantry, the phylarch the cavalry of his tribe. The whole body of horse was divided into two corps, each of which was commanded by a general of horse, or hipparch.

*(21) When in the Social War the revolters invaded it with a fleet of a hundred sail.

*(22) Monsieur Tourreil says that this Menelaus was the brother of Philip by another marriage. But though Philip and his brother were not on good terms, yet it is not likely that the Athenians would have trusted on so nearly allied to their enemy.

*(23) The regular method of choosing all officers. However, the choice was sometimes left to the commander-in-chief.

*(24) It is not impossible but that the people might have been struck with the freedom and candor of the orator, and given some marks of their approbation.

*(25) The Attic talent is computed by Tourreil equal to L187 10s.; by Prideaux, to L188 6s.; by Arbuthnot, to L193 15s. It contained sixty minae, and each mina one hundred drachmae. By the computation of the orator, it appears that the provisions he recommends to be supplied were to last one year.

*(26) Dionysius of Halicarnassus gives us the rest of this oration as a sixth Philippic, pronounced in the archonship of Themistocles. But it appears to me, as well as to the other interpreters, a natural conclusion of the first Philippic; and therefore I could not prevail on myself to separate them. The scholiast is of the same opinion, and flatly accuses Dionysius of a mistake. Mr. Mounteney has expressed greater deference for this critic. He supposes that this second part is not that which Dionysius quotes, but that there was another oration, since lost, which began with the same words; for he observes, that the former part is plainly imperfect of itself, and the two parts are joined in all the copies and manuscripts, and that naturally and consistently, I must confess, with all submission to these authorities, that although I could not presume to separate them, yet I am not quite satisfied that these two parts are one oration. In the first place, I cannot think that the first Philippic would end abruptly if this second part was away; for we find in the first part all that the orator proposes to speak to in the beginning; and it concludes, not unlike a speech in Parliament, with a motion in form, for such and such subsidies to be raised for the maintenance of such and such forces. And as to the manner in which the second part begins, supposing it a distinct oration, we cannot object to that, as Dionysius quotes an oration beginning exactly in the same manner. It might also be observed, that in the beginning of the oration, having for some time exhorted the Athenians to change their conduct and act with vigor. Demosthenes says expressly that he intends to speak no more on that subject, and yet this second part is entirely taken up with it; and lastly, there are some passages in the second part which, I suspect, do not agree to the particular time when the first oration against Philip was pronounced. If this second part be really a distinct oration, spoken after the destruction of Olynthus (for this city was taken the year before the archonship of Themistocles), how comes it that this event is not mentioned in it? It had just then thrown the Athenians into the greatest consternation; and as it was the orator’s business to encourage them, possibly he might have kept it out of view on purpose; though, perhaps, he does hint at it obscurely, and as far as was consistent with prudence, as I shall observe by and by.

*(27) In the Greek it is a an umin areske cheirotonesate, chose those things which may be agreeable to you. I own I do not see how their entering into the resolution they liked best would of consequence enable them to oppose Philip effectually. Perhaps it might be of disservice, for in other places the orator is ever cautioning them against following the bent of their inclinations. If we should make a very small alteration in the text, and for areske read arkese, those things which may be sufficient for your purposes, I apprehend the sense would be better and more agreeable to Demosthenes. I have taken the liberty to translate after this reading.

*(28) Winds which blew regularly every year at the rising of the dogstar, when the Greeks were obliged to retire from action on account of the excessive heats, and which, as they blew from the north, of consequence opposed any attempt of invading Macedon, or sending any forces to those parts which were the seat of Philip’s wars at first.

*(29) If this be really a part of the first Philippic, these hostilities must have preceded the attempt on Thermopylae, else the orator could not have distinguished them into those which happened some time ago, and that committed lately. Now, I cannot tell how to reconcile such open acts of hostility with the other parts of Philip’s conduct at that time. There was a peace subsisting between him and the Athenians which he affected to observe; and so far does he appear from making any open and professed attack on them, that in the taking of Potidaea and Pydna he would not act as principal, but as ally to the Olynthians, and, when these cities were taken, dismissed the Athenian garrisons with all imaginable respect and honor; and on all occasions courted and cajoled the Athenians. This, then, is one of those passages which I suspect do not agree to the particular time when the first Philippic was spoken. But if we suppose that this, which I call the second part, is really the oration which Dionysius quotes, and which was spoken to engage the Athenians to defend the islanders and the cities of the Hellespont against the attempts of Philip, then all the difficulty vanishes. The hostilities here mentioned agree very well to a time of open war. Now, Diodorus Siculus informs us, that it was after Olynthus was taken that the Athenians declared war against Philip in form; and we find, that immediately on this, he attacked them and their tributary states with such fury that they were soon glad to sue for peace.

*(30) There were two of these appropriated to religious ceremonies, and all extraordinary emergencies and occasions of the state- the Paralian and the Salaminian. Harpocration understands here the Paralian.

*(31) For the Panathenaea and Dionysia (as these festivals are called in the original) I refer the reader to Potter, and other writers on the antiquities of Greece.

*(32) In the original it is who is the choregus, that is, the citizen who provided the music, of which each tribe had a band; and the gymnasiarch, he who presided over the wrestlers, and provided what was necessary for that entertainment.

*(33) The rich citizens who were obliged, not only to command, but to equip a vessel of war at their own expense, either severally or jointly, for the service of the public. As this was an office of great expense, it was allowed to anyone who was nominated to point out some citizen richer than himself, and to desire he might be substituted in his place, provided he was willing to exchange fortunes with that citizen, and then to take on him the office of trierarch. This is what Demosthenes calls allowing the exchange, which in its nature must have occasioned confusion and delay.

*(34) Metoichoi, which is translated strangers, were those foreigners who were permitted to sojourn at Athens on certain conditions. This whole passage is an exact description of the proceedings of the Athenians in defence of Olynthus, and of the event. I had it in view when I observed that possibly we might find some obscure allusions to that affair.

*(35) This letter has not descended to us. It is probable, from the context, that he expressed in it a contempt for the Athenian power, and insisted how little dependence the Euboeans could have on that state. And if this be so, it confirms an observation which I made before (see a preceding note), viz. that the Athenians had as yet given Philip no remarkable opposition in Euboea. The letter must have been written when Philip began to raise commotions in that island in order to make himself master of it. I am induced to think, both from history and Demosthenes, that he did not make any attempts of this kind so early as the first Philippic, and, therefore, that this is no part of that oration.

*(36) They could then command three hundred ships of war, and those capable of engaging a navy of double that number. They had twenty thousand foot and two thousand eight hundred horse; and their revenue amounted to above twelve hundred talents.

*(37) The learned reader will find a beautiful passage in Aulus Gellius (l. iii. c. 27), where, on the contrary, a man of true prudence who engages in the business and dangers of the world is compared to a skilful boxer who is ever attentive to defend himself and annoy his adversary.

*(38) This is the reading which Mr. Mounteney adopts- Peri ton pragmaton etc., instead of chrematon.

*(39) The taking of Pydna, and Potidaea, and Amphipolis may warrant what the orator here says. Yet I should choose to apply it to their suffering Olynthus by their misconduct to fall under the power of Philip.

*(40) I shall trouble the reader but with one argument more in favor of my suspicion that this is no part of the first Philippic. The passage I now quote I cannot think it applicable to the transactions of the Athenians and Philip before his attempt on Thermopylae, when, from the time of Argeus’s death, they acted against each other only indirectly; and, instead of punishing Philip, the Athenians could not even prevail on themselves to defend those dominions which they claimed as their own. But it is a very exact description of what happened after their declaration of war against Philip, which succeeded the taking of Olynthus; for this declaration was made from a sense of the danger of Philip’s growing power, a resentment of his infractions, and a resolution to reduce him; and yet they were quickly obliged to defend themselves against farther attempts.

*(41) Wherever the Lacedaemonians had power they were always for establishing oligarchies.

*(42) So the King of Persia was called. The intent of this embassy was supposed to be to make such demands as must produce a war with the Persian, which Isocrates had exhorted him to very early.

*(43) Possibly, these rumors were spread by Philip’s friends, to persuade the Athenians that his views and schemes were removed to a great distance from Athens.


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Chicago: Demosthenes, "Notes," The First Philippic, trans. Thomas Leland, D.D. Original Sources, accessed March 29, 2023,

MLA: Demosthenes. "Notes." The First Philippic, translted by Thomas Leland, D.D., Original Sources. 29 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Demosthenes, 'Notes' in The First Philippic, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 29 March 2023, from