Greatest Speeches In History Series – DEMOSTHENES

In this greatest speeches in history series, DEMOSTHENES gives a speech against Philip of Macedon, to defend the freedom of the city states against imperialism.

DEMOSTHENES:  It was my lot, Aeschines, when a boy, to frequent the schools suited to my station, and to have wherewithal to avoid doing anything mean through want.  When I emerged from boyhood, I did as was consistent with my origin; filled the office of Choregus, furnished galleys, contributed to the revenue, and was wanting in no acts of munificence, public or private, but ready to aid both my country and my friends.  When I entered into public life, I deemed it proper to choose the course which led to my being repeatedly crowned both by this country and the other Greek states, so that not even you, my enemies, will now venture to pronounce the part I took other than honourable.  Such then were my fortunes…

But you, venerable man, who look down upon others, see what kind of fortunes were yours compared with mine!  Brought up from your boyhood in abject poverty, you both were helper in your father’s school, and you ground the ink, sponged the forms, and swept the room, doing the work of a household slave, not of a freedom youth.  When grown up, you recited your mother’s books as she performed her mysteries, and you helped in her other trickeries.  At night, dressed like a bacchanal, and draining the goblet, and purifying the initiated, and rubbing the, with clay and with bran, rising from the lustration, you ordered them to cry, ‘I’ve fled the evil; I’ve found the good’; bragging that none ever roared so loud before; and truly I believe it; for do not doubt that he who now speaks out so lustily, did not then howl most splendidly…

I come to the charges that apply to your life and conversation.  You chose that line of policy (ever since the plan struck your mind) by which, as long as the country flourished, you led the life of the hate, frightened, and trembling, and perpetually expecting the scourge for the offences of which you were conscience; but when all the others were suffering, you were seen in high spirits by all.  But he who was so cheerful after the death of thousands of his fellow-citizens, what does he deserve to suffer at the hands of the survivors?…

Draw then the parallel between your life and mine, Aeschines, quietly and not acrimoniously; and demand of this audience which of the two each of them had rather choose for his own.  You were an usher – I a scholar; you were an initiator – I was initiated; you danced at the games – I presided over them; you were a clerk of the Assembly, I a member; you, a third-rate actor, I a spectator; you were constantly breaking down – I always hissing you; your measures were all in the enemy’s favour – mine always in the country’s; and, in a word, now on this day the question as to me is whether or not I shall be crowned, while nothing whatever is alleged against my integrity; while it is your lot to appear already as a calumniator, and the choice of evils before you is that of still continuing your trade, or being put to silence by failing to obtain a fifth of the votes…

Among all other men I observe these principles and these distinctions to prevail.  Does any one wilfully do wrong? He is the object of indignation and of punishment.  Does any one commit an error unintentionally?  he is pardoned, not punished.  Has one who neither does any wrong nor commits any error devoted himself to a course which to all appeared expedient, and has he been in common with all disappointed of success?  It is not fair to reprobate or to attack him, but to condole with him.  All this is established not only in all our jurisprudence, but by Nature herself in her unwritten laws, and in the very constitution of the human mind.  Thus has Aeschines so far surpassed all other men in cruelty and calumny, that those same things which he enumerates as misfortunes he also imputes to me as crimes…

In what circumstances then ought a statesman and an orator to be vehement?  When the State is in jeopardy upon the ruin of affairs – when the people are in conflict with the enemy – then it is that the strenuous and patriotic citizen appears.  But when Aeschines cannot pretend to have any ground whatever for even charging me with any offence in public life, or, I will add, in private, either in the name of the country or his own – for him to come forward with a vamped up attack on my crowning and my honours, and to waste so many words upon this subject, is the working of personal spite and envy, and a little mind, and shows no good man.

To me, indeed, Aeschines, it appears from these speeches of yours, as if you had instituted this impeachment through a desire of making a display of vociferation, not of punishing any one’s misconduct.  For it is not the speech of the orator, Aeschines, that avails, nor yet the compass of his voice, but his feeling in unison with the community and bearing enmity or affection towards them whom his country loves or hates.  He that thus possesses his soul speaks ever with right feeling.  But he that bows to those from whom the country has danger to apprehend, does not anchor in the same roadstead with the people; accordingly he does not look for safety from the same quarter. But mark me, I do:  for I have always made common cause with the people, nor have I ever taken any course for my peculiar and individual interest.  Can you say as much?  Then how?  – You, who, instantly after the battle, went on the embassy to Philip, the cause of all that in these times befell your country; and that after refusing the office at all former periods, as every one knows?  – But who deceives the country?  Is it not he that says one thing and thinks another?  And who is he upon whom at every assembly solemn execration is proclaimed? Is it not such a man as this?  What worse charge can any one bring against an orator than that his words and his sentiments do not tally?  yet you have been discovered to be such a man; and you still lift your voice and dare to look this assembly in the face!…

What alliance ever accrued to the country of your making?  Or what succours, or goodwill, or glory of your gaining?  Or what embassy, or what other public functions, whereby the state acquired honour?  What domestic affair, or concern of the Greek states, or of strangers, over which you presided, was ever set right through you?  What galleys, what armaments, what arsenals, what repairs of the walls, what cavalry?  In what one of all these particulars have you ever proved useful?  What benefit has ever accrued to either rich or poor from your fortunes?  None.  – ‘But, hark!’ says some one, ‘if nothing of all this was done, at least there existed good dispositions and public spirit.’ Where? When? you most wicked of men? – Your contributing nothing was not owing to your poverty but to your taking special care nothing you did should ever counteract the schemes of those to whom all your policy was subservient.  In what, then, are you bold, and where are you munificent?  When any thing is to be urged against your countrymen, then are you most copious of speech – most profuse of money – most rich in memory – a first rate-actor – the Theocrines of the stage!…

Two qualities, men of Athens, every citizen of ordinary worth ought to posses (I shall be able in general terms to speak of myself in the least invidious manner): he should both maintain in office the purpose of a firm mind and the course suited to his country’s pre-eminence, and on all occasions and in all his actions the spirit of patriotism.  This belongs to our nature; victory and might are under the dominion of another power.  These dispositions you will find to have absolutely inherent in me.  For observe; neither when my head was demanded, nor when they dragged me before the Amphyctions, nor when they threatened, nor when they promised, nor when they let loose on me these wretches like wild beasts, did I ever abate in any particular my affection for you.  This straightforward and honest path of policy, from the very first, I chose; the honour, the power, the glory of my country to promote – these to augment – in these to have my being.  Never was I seen going about the streets elated and exulting when the enemy was victorious, stretching out my hand, and congratulating such as I thought would tell it esle where, but hearing with alarm any success of our own armies, moaning and bent to the earth like these impious men, who rail at this country as if they could so so without also stigmatizing themselves; and who, turning their eyes abroad, and seeing the prosperity of the enemy in the calamities of Greece, rejoice in them, and maintain that we should labour to make them last for ever!

Let no, oh gracious God, let not such conduct receive any manner of sanction from thee!  Rather plant even in these men a better spirit and better feelings!  But if they are wholly incurable, then pursue themselves, yea, themselves by themselves, to utter and untimely perdition by land and by sea; and to us who are spared vouchsafe to grant the speediest rescue from our impending alarms, and an unshaken security!

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page
contemporary-monologues-from-plays-and-stand-alone