The Oration on the Treaty With Alexander

Author: Demosthenes  | Date: 344 BC


To the Oration on the Treaty with Alexander

THE death of Philip, king of Macedon, was an event at first judged fatal to the interest of that kingdom, which gave the Athenians hopes of recovering their superiority, and encouraged them to form some confederacies against his successor, whose spirit and abilities were not yet completely discovered.

It is not here necessary to recount the actions of this prince on his accession to the throne; it may be sufficient to observe, that a treaty had been concluded by his father with the Greeks, and was by him confirmed, in which it was provided that the laws, privileges, and liberties of the several states should be secured and confirmed. But such engagements are seldom found sufficient to restrain a violent youthful ambition. The Macedonian was soon emboldened to discover his contempt of this treaty by acting in several instances contrary to its articles. The Athenians, who still retained some remains of their ancient spirit, resented these his infractions. An assembly was convened to take the treaty into consideration, and to determine on the proper method of procedure in consequence of Alexander’s conduct. On this occasion was the following oration delivered, which contains a distinct specification of the several instances of violation now complained of.

Critics seem willing to ascribe this oration to Hegesippus or to Hyperides. It is observed that the style is diffuse, languid, and disgraced by some affected phrases, and that the whole composition by no means breathes that spirit of boldness and freedom which appears in the oration of Demosthenes. But these differences may possibly be accounted for without ascribing it to another author. Dejection and vexation, a consciousness of the fallen condition of his country, despair and terror at the view of the Macedonian power, might have naturally produced an alteration in the style and manner of the orator’s address. A great epic genius, when in its decline, is said by Longinus to fall naturally into the fabulous. In like manner, a great popular speaker, when hopeless and desponding, checked and controlled by his fears, may find leisure to coin words, and naturally recur to affected expressions when the torrent of his native eloquence is stopped. Nor is the oration now before us entirely destitute of force and spirit. It appears strong and vehement, but embarrassed. The fire of Demosthenes sometimes breaks forth through all obstacles, but is instantly allayed and suppressed as if by fear and caution. The author, as Ulpian expresses it, speaks freely and not freely; he encourages the citizens to war, and yet scruples to move for war in form; as if his mind was distracted between fear and confidence.

In a word, I regard the oration on the treaty with Alexander as the real work of Demosthenes, but of Demosthenes dejected and terrified, willing to speak consistently with himself, yet not daring to speak all that he feels. It may be compared to the performance of an eminent painter necessarily executed at a time when his hands or eyes labored under some disorder, in which we find the traces of his genius and abilities obscured by many marks of his present infirmity.


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Chicago: Demosthenes, "Introduction," The Oration on the Treaty With Alexander, trans. Thomas Leland, D.D. Original Sources, accessed October 28, 2021,

MLA: Demosthenes. "Introduction." The Oration on the Treaty With Alexander, translted by Thomas Leland, D.D., Original Sources. 28 Oct. 2021.

Harvard: Demosthenes, 'Introduction' in The Oration on the Treaty With Alexander, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 28 October 2021, from