The Public Orations of Demosthenes/Olynthiac I

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The Public Orations of Demosthenes by Demosthenes, translated by Arthur Wallace Pickard
Olynthiac I
Translated by Arthur Wallace Pickard

Introduction[edit]

It has already been noticed that when Philip took Amphipolis in 357 B.C., the Olynthians made overtures to the Athenians, with whom they had been at war for some years, and that, being rejected, they became allies of Philip, who gave them Anthemus and Poteidaea. In 352, alarmed at Philip's growing power, they once more applied to Athens. Peace was made, and negotiations began with regard to an alliance. In 351 Philip appeared in the territory of Olynthus. He did not, however, at once carry the invasion further, but took pains, during this year and the next, to foster a Macedonian party in the town. In 349 Philip virtually declared war on the Olynthians by demanding the surrender of his step-brother Arrhidaeus, who had taken refuge with them. The Olynthians again appealed to Athens; an alliance was made; Chares was sent with thirty ships and 2,000 mercenaries, but seems to have mismanaged the war by misfortune or by design. Probably he had been badly supplied with funds, and instead of helping Olynthus, resorted to acts of piracy to satisfy his men. The Macedonian troops proceeded to take Stageira and other towns of the Olynthian League, though Philip still professed to have no hostile intentions against Olynthus (see Phil. III, § ii). Chares was recalled and put on his trial; and, probably in response to a further message from Olynthus, Charidemus was transferred thither from the Hellespont. With a considerable mercenary force at his disposal, Charidemus overran Pallene and Bottiaea, and did some damage to Philip's territory, but afterwards gave himself up to dissipation in Olynthus. In the meantime, some of the Thessalians had become restless under Philip's supremacy (see Olynth. I, § 22, II, § ii), and he was obliged to undertake an expedition to suppress the revolt, and to put down Peitholaus (who had apparently become tyrant of Pherae once more, though he had been expelled in 352). But early in 348 he appeared in person in Chalcidice, and took one after another of the towns of the League, including Mecyberna the port of Olynthus, and Torone. He thrice defeated the Olynthians in battle, and at last obtained possession of Olynthus itself by the treachery of Euthycrates and Lasthenes, the commanders of the Olynthian cavalry.

Athens had probably been occupied during the early part of the year [1] with an expedition which she sent (against the advice of Demosthenes) to help Plutarchus of Eretria to repel attacks which were partly, at least, instigated by Philip; and in consequence she had done little for Olynthus, though on a request of the Olynthians for cavalry, she had ordered some of those which had been sent to Euboea to go to Olynthus, and these may have been the Athenians whom Philip captured in that city. The seventeen ships, 2,000 infantry, and 300 cavalry (all citizens), which Athens dispatched under Chares in response to a last urgent appeal from Olynthus, were delayed by storms and arrived too late. Philip entirely destroyed Olynthus and thirty-two other towns, sold their inhabitants into slavery, brought the whole of Chalcidice within the Macedonian Empire, and celebrated his conquests by a festival in honour of the Olympian Zeus at Dium.

The First Olynthiac Oration was delivered before Olynthus itself was attacked or any other towns actually taken (Olynth. I, § 17); and both the First and Second before the discontent with Philip in Thessaly had taken an active form (I, § 22, II, § 7). Both, that is, belong to the summer of 349, and the situation implied is very much the same in both. The First was perhaps spoken when the Olynthians first appealed to Athens in that year, before the mission of Chares; the Second, to counteract the effect of something which had caused despondency in Athens (possibly the conduct of the Athenian generals, or the account given by other orators of Philip's power). In both Demosthenes urges the importance of resisting Philip while he is still far away, and of sending, not mercenaries, but a citizen-army; and while hinting at what he regards as the true solution of the financial difficulty, proposes a special war-tax. The solution which he thinks the right one is more explicitly described in the Third Olynthiac, spoken (probably [Footnote: See note on Olynth. III, Section 4]) in the autumn of the same year, and certainly at a time when the situation had become much more grave. The root of the financial difficulty lay in the existence of a law which prohibited (evidently under severe penalties, Olynth. III, Section 12) any proposal to devote to military purposes that portion of the revenues which constituted the 'Festival' or 'Theoric Fund', and was for the most part distributed to the citizens to enable them to take part in the public festivals, and so join in fulfilling what was no doubt a religious duty as well as a pleasure. This particular form of expenditure is stated to have been introduced by the demagogue Agyrrhius in 394, when it revived in an extended form a distribution of theatre money instituted late in the fifth century by Cleophon; but the special law in question appears to have been of recent date (Olynth. III, Section 12), and was almost certainly the work of Eubulus and his party. Demosthenes himself proposes an extraordinary Legislative Commission, to repeal the mischievous laws and leave the way clear for financial reform. At the same time he attacks the whole policy of Eubulus, charging him with distributing doles without regard to public service, adding to the amenities of Athens instead of maintaining her honour in war, and enriching her politicians while degrading her people. The main object of the speech was unsuccessful; and just about this time (though whether before or after the speech is disputed) Apollodorus proposed that the people should decide whether the surplus revenues should go to the Festival Fund, or be applied to military purposes, and was heavily fined for the illegality of the proposal.

The Three Olynthiacs rank high among the Orations of Demosthenes. Some passages, indeed, show that he had hardly as yet appreciated the genius of Philip, or the unlikelihood of his making a false move either through over-confidence or because he had come to the end of his resources. But the noble patriotism of the speaker, the lofty tone of his political reflections, the clearness of his diagnosis of the evils of his time, and the fearlessness of his appeal for loyal and united self-sacrifice, are nowhere more conspicuous.

Text[edit]

1 I believe, men of Athens, that you would give a great sum to know what policy, in reference to the matter which you are now considering, will best serve the interests of the city, and since that is so, you ought to be ready and eager to listen to those who desire to give you their advice. For not only can you hear and accept any useful proposals which a speaker may have thought out before he came here; but such, I conceive, is your fortune, that the right suggestion will often occur to some of those present on the spur of the moment; and out of all these suggestions it should be easy for you to choose the most advantageous course.

2 The present time, men of Athens, seems almost to cry aloud that you must take matters into your own hands yonder, if you have any interest in a successful termination of the crisis: and yet our attitude appears to be—I do not know what. My own opinion, at all events, is that you should at once resolve to send this assistance; that you should prepare for the departure of the expedition at the first possible moment—you must not fall victims to the same error as before—and that you should dispatch an embassy to announce our intention, and to be present at the scene of action. 3 For what we have most to fear is this—that he, with his unscrupulous cleverness in taking advantage of circumstances—now, it may be, by making concessions; now by uttering threats, which he may well seem likely to fulfil; now by misrepresenting ourselves and our absence from the scene—may turn and wrest to his own advantage some of the vital elements of our power. 4 And yet it may fairly be said, men of Athens, that our best hope lies in that very circumstance which renders Philip's power so hard to grapple with. The fact that the entire control over everything, open or secret,[2] is concentrated in the hands of a single man; that he is at one and the same time general, master, and treasurer; that he is always present in person with his army—all this is a great advantage, in so far as military operations must be prompt and well-timed. But as regards the compact which he would so gladly make with the Olynthians, the effect is just the reverse. 5 For the Olynthians know well that they are not fighting now for honour and glory, nor for a strip of territory, but to avert the devastation and enslavement of their country. They know how he treated[3] those who betrayed to him their city at Amphipolis, and those who received him at Pydna; and it is, I imagine, universally true that tyranny is a faithless friend to a free state, and that most of all, when they occupy adjoining territories. 6 With this knowledge, men of Athens, and with all the reflections that the occasion calls for in your minds, I say that now, if ever before, you must make your resolve, rouse all your energies, and give your minds to the war: you must contribute gladly, you must go forth in person, you must leave nothing undone. There is no longer any reason or excuse remaining, which can justify you in refusing to do your duty. 7 For every one was but recently harping on the desirability of exciting Olynthus to war with Philip; and this has now come to pass of itself, and in the way which most completely suits your interests. Had they taken up the war because you had persuaded them to do so, their alliance might perhaps have been precarious, and their resolution might only have carried them a certain way. But now their detestation of Philip is based upon grievances which affect themselves; and we may suppose that a hostility which is occasioned by their own fears and sufferings will be a lasting one. 8 Since, therefore, men of Athens, such an opportunity has been thrown in your way, you must not let it go, nor fall victims to the mistake from which you have often suffered before. If, for instance, when we had returned from our expedition in aid of the Euboeans,[4] and Hierax and Stratocles came from Amphipolis and stood upon this platform and urged us to sail and take over the city; if, I say, we had continued to display in our own interest the eagerness which we displayed in the deliverance of the Euboeans, you would have kept Amphipolis then, and we should have been free from all the trouble that we have had since. 9 And again, when news kept coming of the investment of Pydna, Poteidaea, Methone, Pagasae, and all the other places— I will not stay to enumerate them all—if we had acted at once, and had gone to the rescue of the first place attacked, with the energy which we ought to have shown, we should now have found Philip much less proud and difficult to deal with. As it is, we are always sacrificing the present, always fancying that the future will turn out well of itself; and so we have raised Philip to a position of such importance as no king of Macedonia has ever before attained. 10 And now an opportunity has come to Athens, in this crisis at Olynthus, as great as any of those former ones: and I believe, men of Athens, that one who was to draw up a true account of the blessings which have been given us by the gods, would, in spite of much that is not as it should be, find great cause for thankfulness to them; and naturally so. For our many losses in the war must in fairness be set down to our own indifference; but that we did not suffer such losses long ago, and that an alliance has presented itself to us, which, if we will only take advantage of it, will act as a counterpoise to them—all this I, for one, should set down as a favour due to their goodness towards us. But it is, I imagine, in politics, as it is in money-making. 11 If a man is able to keep all that he gets, he is abundantly grateful to Fortune; but if he loses it all before he is aware, he loses with it his memory of Fortune's kindness. So it is in politics. When men have not made a right use of their opportunities, they do not remember any good that heaven may actually have granted them: for it is by the ultimate issue that men estimate all that they have enjoyed before. Therefore, men of Athens, you must pay the very utmost heed to the future, that by the better use you make of it, you may wipe out the dishonour of the past. 12 But if you sacrifice these men also, men of Athens, and Philip in consequence reduces Olynthus to subjection, I ask any of you to tell me what is to prevent him from marching where he pleases. Is there a man among you, men of Athens, who considers or studies the steps by which Philip, weak enough at first, has become so strong? First he took Amphipolis, next Pydna, then again Poteidaea, and then Methone. Next he set foot in Thessaly. 13 Then when Pherae, Pagasae, Magnesia[5] were secured for his purposes, just as it suited him, he departed to Thrace. In Thrace, after expelling one prince and setting up another, he fell ill. When he grew easier again, he showed no inclination to take things easily, but at once attacked the Olynthians[6]—and I am passing over his campaigns against the Illyrians and the Paeonians, against Arybbas,[7] and in every possible direction.

14 Why, I may be asked, do I mention these things at the present moment? I wish you to understand, men of Athens, and to realize these two points: first, the unprofitableness of perpetually sacrificing your interests one by one; and, secondly, the restless activity which is a part of Philip's very being, and which will not allow him to content himself with his achievements and remain at peace. For if it is to be his fixed resolve, that he must always be aiming at something greater than he has yet attained; and ours, that we will never set ourselves resolutely to work; ask yourselves what you can expect to be the end of the matter. 15 In God's name, is there one of you so innocent as not to know that the war will be transferred from Olynthus to Attica, if we pay no heed? But if that happens, men of Athens, I fear that we shall be like men who light-heartedly borrow at a high rate of interest, and after a brief period of affluence, lose even their original estate; that like them we shall find that our carelessness has cost us dear; that through making pleasure our standard in everything, we shall find ourselves driven to do many of those unpleasant things which we wished to avoid, and shall find our position even in our own country imperilled.

16 I may be told that it is easy to criticize—any one can do that; but that a political adviser is expected to offer some practical proposal to meet the existing situation. Now I am well aware, men of Athens, that in the event of any disappointment, it is not upon those who are responsible that your anger falls, but upon those who have spoken last upon the subject in question. Yet I do not think that consideration for my own safety should lead me to conceal my conviction as to the course which your interests demand. 17 I say then that there are two things which you must do to save the situation. You must rescue these towns [8] for the Olynthians, and send troops to accomplish this: and you must damage Philip's country with your ships and with a second body of troops. 18 If you neglect either of these things, our campaign, I greatly fear, will be in vain. For suppose that you inflict damage on his country, and that he allows you to do so, while he reduces Olynthus; he will have no difficulty in repelling you when he returns. Suppose, on the other hand, that you only go to the help of Olynthus; he will see that he has nothing to fear at home, and so he will sit down before the town and remain at his task, until time enables him to get the better of the besieged. The expedition, therefore, must be large, and it must be in two parts.

Such is my view with regard to the expedition. 19 As to the sources of supply, you have funds, men of Athens—funds larger than any one else in the world; but you appropriate these without scruple, just as you choose. Now if you will assign these to your troops, you need no further supplies: otherwise, not only do you need further supplies—you are destitute of supplies altogether. 'Well' (does someone say?), 'do you move that this money should form a war-fund?' I assure you that I make no such motion. 20 For while I do indeed believe that a force ought to be made ready [and that this money should form a war-fund], and that the receipt of money should be connected, as part of one and the same system, with the performance of duty; you, on the contrary, think it right to take the money, after your present fashion, for your festivals, and spare yourselves trouble. And therefore, I suppose, our only resource is a general tax—larger or smaller, according to the amount required. In any case, we need funds, and without funds nothing can be done that we ought to do. Various other sources of supply are suggested by different persons. Choose whichever you think best of these, and get to work, while you have the opportunity.

21 It is worth while to remember and to take into account the nature of Philip's position at this moment. For neither are his affairs at present in such good order, or in so perfectly satisfactory a state, as might appear to any but a careful observer; nor would he ever have commenced this present war, if he had thought that he would really have to fight. He hoped at first that by his mere advance he would carry all before him; and he has since discovered his mistake. This disappointment, then, is the first thing which disturbs him and causes him great despondency: 22 and next there is the disposition of the Thessalians, naturally inconstant as we know it has always been found by all men; and what it has always been, that, in the highest degree, Philip finds it now. For they have formally resolved to demand from him the restitution of Pagasae; they have prevented him from fortifying Magnesia, and I myself heard it stated that they intend even to refuse him the enjoyment of their harbour and market dues for the future. These, they say, should go to maintain the public administration of Thessaly, instead of being taken by Philip. But if he is deprived of these funds, the resources from which he must maintain his mercenaries will be reduced to the narrowest limits. 23 Nay, more: we must surely suppose that the chieftains of the Paeonians and Illyrians, and in fact all such personages— would prefer freedom to slavery; for they are not accustomed to obey orders, and the man, they say, is a bully. Heaven knows, there is nothing incredible in the statement. Unmerited success is to foolish minds a fountain-head of perversity, so that it is often harder for men to keep the good they have, than it was to obtain it. 24 It is for you then, men of Athens, to regard his difficulty as your opportunity, to take up your share of the burden with readiness, to send embassies to secure all that is required, to join the forces yourselves, and to stir up every one else to do so. Only consider what would happen, if Philip got such an opportunity to strike at us, and there was war on our frontier. Can you not imagine how readily he would march against us? Does it arouse no shame in you, that, when you have the opportunity, you should not dare to do to him even as much as you would have to suffer, were he able to inflict it?

25 There is a further point, men of Athens, which must not escape you. I mean that you have now to choose whether you are to carry on war yonder, or whether he is to do so in your own country. If the resistance of Olynthus is maintained, you will fight there and will inflict damage on Philip's territory, while you remain secure in the enjoyment of this land of your own which you now possess. But if Philip captures Olynthus, who is to hinder him from marching to Athens? The Thebans? 26 It seems, I fear, too bitter a thing to say; but they will be glad to join him in the invasion. The Phocians? They cannot protect their own country, unless you go to their aid, or some other power. 'But, my good Sir,'[9] you say, 'he will not want to march here.' And yet it would be one of the strangest things in the world, if, when he has the power, he does not carry out the threats, which he now blurts out in spite of the folly that they show. 27 But I suppose that I need not even point out how vast is the difference between war here and war in his country. For had you to camp outside the walls yourselves, for only thirty days, and to take from the country such things as men in camp must have—and I am assuming that there is no enemy in the country— I believe that the loss your farmers would suffer would exceed your whole expenditure on the war up to the present time. What then must we think will be the extent of our loss, if ever war comes to our doors? And besides the loss there is his insolence, and the shame of our position, which to right-minded men is as serious as any loss.

28 When you take a comprehensive view of these things you must all go to the rescue and stave the war off yonder; you who are well-to-do, in order that, with a small expense in defence of the great fortunes which you quite rightly enjoy, you may reap the benefit of the remainder without fear; you who are of military age, that you may gain your experience of war in Philip's country, and so become formidable guardians of a fatherland unspoiled; and your orators, that they may find it easy to render an account of their public life; for your judgement upon their conduct will itself depend upon the position in which you find yourselves. And may that be a happy one, on every ground!


  1. See notes to Speech on the Peace, § 5. Some date the Euboean expedition and the sending of the cavalry one or two years earlier, and the whole chronology is much disputed; but there are strong arguments for the date (348) given in the text.
  2. "power over everything, open or secret". The translation generally approved, 'power to publish or conceal his designs,' is hardly possible. The [Greek: kai] in the phrase [Greek: rh".ta kai aporr".ta] (or [Greek: arr".ta]) cannot be taken disjunctively here, when it is always conjunctive in this phrase elsewhere, the whole phrase being virtually equivalent to 'everything whatever'.
  3. "how he treated", &c. The scholiast says that Philip killed the traitors at Amphipolis first, saying that if they had not been faithful to their own countrymen, they were not likely to be faithful to himself; and that the traitors at Pydna, finding that they were not likely to be spared, took sanctuary, and having been persuaded to surrender themselves on promise of their lives, were executed nevertheless. Neither story is confirmed by other evidence.
  4. "in aid of the Euboeans". in 358 or 357. See Speech for Megalopolitans, Sec. 14 n.
  5. "Magnesia". There seems to have been a town of the same name as the district.
  6. "attacked the Olynthians". This refers to the short invasion of 351 (see vol. i, p. 70), not to that which is the subject of the Olynthiacs.
  7. "Arybbas" was King of the Molossi, and uncle of Philip's wife, Olympias. Nothing is known of this expedition against him. He was deposed by Philip in 343. (See vol. ii, p. 3.)
  8. "these towns". the towns of the Chalcidic peninsula, over which Olynthus had acquired influence. This sentence shows that Olynthus itself had not yet been attacked.
  9. "But, my good Sir", &c. This must be the objection of an imaginary opponent. It can hardly be taken (as seems to be intended by Butcher) as Demosthenes' reply to the question, 'Or some other power?' ('But, my good Sir, the other power will not want to help him.') There is, however, much to be said for Sandys's punctuation, [Greek: "ean m". bo".th".s".th umeis "e allos tis"., 'unless you or some other power go to their aid.' After the death of Onomarchus in 352, the Phocians were incapable of withstanding invasion without help.