Demosthenes/Chapter 10

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From the peace of 346 B.C. we may date a revolution in the Greek world. Philip had acquired a new position, and it was acknowledged that he had henceforth a right to take a part in Greek politics. Even Demosthenes had to recognise the fact of a change of sentiment towards him, Isocrates could argue more plausibly than ever that everything pointed to him as the true head and champion of Greece, and, consequently, as the predestined conqueror of Asia, the old antagonist of Greece.

The peace just concluded was soon seen to be a thoroughly hollow one. Philip, it was evident, had no intention of being really bound by it, any longer than it answered his purpose. This the Athenians could hardly fail to understand, however much they might try to deceive themselves; and their feeling towards him was made up of fear and anger. We might have thought that he could have at once organised a Greek confederacy against Persia with almost a certainty of success, but he seems to have been too cautious and astute to expose himself to any serious risks. His policy was to secure a yet firmer footing in the Greek world. Athens, he knew, was his only formidable enemy. There was still a possibility that she might rouse Greece against him, and overpower him by a coalition of which she would be the head. He must therefore endeavour to isolate her by political intrigues, and, by driving her out of the Chersonese, strike a fatal blow at the commerce on which her prosperity largely depended.

With these views he began to meddle with the politics of the Peloponnese. There circumstances favoured his designs. He had the opportunity of playing the part of champion and deliverer to the oppressed. Sparta was the great object of dread to the people of Argos, of Megalopolis, and of Messene. They could not imagine that they had any other enemy to fear. Thebes had hitherto been their protector, but Thebes was no longer in a condition to command their confidence. It was to Philip that they now not unnaturally looked. It was hardly to be expected that they would abstain from invoking his aid against a pressing and immediate danger, because it may have been suggested to them that they were thereby imperilling the best interests of Greece. What they wanted was help against Sparta, and this Philip promised them. He would, he said, soon be with them in person; and meanwhile he sent them some troops, and bade Sparta refrain from any attempt on Messene.

This was a clever movement on Philip's part, and Athens could not very well protest against it or seek to thwart it. All that could be said was that, judging from the past, it was an interference which ultimately meant mischief. Demosthenes succeeded in bringing the Athenians to this point of view. He induced them to send an embassy, himself being at the head of it, into the Peloponnese, the express object of which was to defeat Philip's diplomacy. He visited several of the cities, and addressed warnings to them based on the bad faith of Philip generally, and on his treatment of Olynthus particularly. He told them plainly that in their fear and hatred of Sparta they were allowing themselves to become his accomplices in enslaving and ruining Greece. It seems that one of the chief arguments on which he insisted was the utter impossibility of a sincere and hearty union between free states and a despot. This would be sure to impress the democratic party—always a powerful element in a Greek state. He was heard—so he tells us himself in one of his subsequent speeches—with approbation and applause, but he failed to convince. There were, as he says in another speech, those in every state who were willing to be controlled by a foreign power, if only they could get the upper hand of their fellow-citizens. The old love of freedom and of legal government, which had been the great glory of Greece, seemed to be on the wane. Still Demosthenes accomplished something. Philip thought it necessary to send envoys to Athens with some sort of apology for himself and his general policy; and an embassy also came, perhaps at his suggestion, from some of the states of the Peloponnese. Athens was in a perplexing position. Philip could plausibly say that the Athenians were unreasonably suspicious towards him, and even, in fact, disregarding the spirit of the peace recently concluded. The envoys from Argos and Messene might fairly complain of the seeming connection between Athens and Sparta, and argue that it was a menace to the liberties of the Peloponnese. It was a great and critical occasion, and called for able statesmanship. It was an opportunity to raise yet higher the character of Demosthenes as a public adviser, and he availed himself of it. In the speech which he delivered in B.C. 344, known as the second Philippic, he spoke out in the plainest language both against Philip's insinuations and against the ill-timed complaints of the Peloponnesian envoys. He vindicated at the same time his own policy, and denounced the Philippising faction, in which his rival Æschines was now a conspicuous figure.

Philip, he declares, was the great aggressor of the age; he was a plotter against the whole of Greece. He repeats what he had said as ambassador to the people of Messene by way of warning from the past:—


"Ye men of Messene, how do you think the Olynthians would have looked to hear anything against Philip at those times when he surrendered to them Anthemus, which all former kings of Macedonia claimed, when he cast out the Athenian colonists and gave them Potidæa, thereby incurring your enmity, and giving them the land to enjoy? Think you that they expected such treatment as they got, or would they have believed it if they had been told? Nevertheless, after enjoying for a brief space the possessions of others, they are for a long period deprived by Philip of their own, shamefully expelled—not only vanquished, but betrayed by one another and sold. In truth, these too close connections with despots are not safe for free states. There are manifold contrivances for the guarding and defending of cities—as ramparts, walls, trenches, and the like; these are all made with hands and demand an outlay. But there is one common safeguard in the nature of wise men which is a good security for all, but especially for democracies against despots. What do I mean? Mistrust. Keep this; hold to this; preserve this only, and you can never be injured. What do ye desire? Freedom. Then do you not see that with this Philip's very titles are at variance? Every king and despot is a foe to freedom, an antagonist to laws. Will ye not beware, lest in seeking to be delivered from war you find a master?"


Yet in a speech delivered three years afterwards, which we shall shortly notice, Demosthenes suggests that they might entertain the thought of seeking aid even from Persia. The suggestion, perhaps, was only made in desperation, and must not be taken as representing anything like a change of political sentiments. To the last Demosthenes was a believer in free and popular governments as opposed to tyrannies and despotisms. Still, as he has to admit, such governments are liable to be out-manoeuvred by cunning diplomacy. So it had been with themselves, as he reminds them in the present speech. They had been persuaded to believe that Philip, if he became master of Thermopylæ, would humble their old enemy Thebes, and give them Oropus and Eubœa in exchange for Amphipolis.


"All these declarations on the hustings," he says, with the Philippising party in his eye, "I am sure you remember, though you are not famous for remembering injuries. While the mischief is only coming and preparing, whilst we hear one another speak, I wish every man, though he know it well, to be reminded who it was persuaded you to abandon Phocis and Thermopylæ, by the possession of which Philip commands the road to Attica and Peloponnese, and has brought it to this, that you have now to deliberate, not about claims and interests abroad, but about the defence of your home and a war in Attica, which will be a grievous shock to every citizen when it comes; and indeed it commenced from that day of your infatuation. Had you not been then deceived, there would be nothing now to distress the State."


One point insisted on in this speech is, that the struggle in the Greek states was no longer, as it had hitherto been, one between aristocracy and democracy, but between Philip's party and its opponents.

The following year witnessed a memorable contest between Demosthenes and Æschines. It arose out of the embassies to Philip and the various negotiations with him, which ended, as we have seen, so unfortunately for Athens and Greece. Æchines, it will be remembered, was an adherent of the peace party of Eubulus; and Demosthenes now made a great effort to discredit him, as being, in fact, corruptly responsible for Philip's occupation of Thermopylæ, the destruction of Phocis, and the new and powerful position which he had been able to assume in Greece. The pleadings of both the orators in this great cause have come down to us, and they are specially valuable as supplying us with materials for the history of an intricate period. Demosthenes presses his attack with great vehemence, and resorts, as he well knew how, to the most savage invective. To our minds it is, as a work of art, one of the least pleasing and satisfactory of his speeches. There is a coarseness and vulgarity about the vituperation—and that, too, under circumstances in which very strong condemnation of his rival must have been felt to have been a mistake. He taunts Æschines with having been all along the conscious tool of Philip's cunning policy, when it was perfectly well known that he had himself, from want of clear foresight perhaps, not steadily opposed that policy at more than one critical point. He was not successful; but the victory won by his rival was a very poor one. Æschines was acquitted only by thirty votes. This implies that, on the whole, public opinion was against him, though it may have been felt that distinct and positive evidence was wanting. We may infer that Demosthenes' political influence was very great. He failed probably because, as Dr Thirlwall remarks, he had an extremely intricate case, and could not attack Æschines effectively without having from time to time to defend himself and explain certain ambiguities in his own share in the negotiations.

Athens, as has been said, was now particularly vulnerable in the Thracian Chersonese and the north of the Ægean. To these points the restless Philip directed his attention in 342-341 B.C. It could not be doubted that he was meditating the annexation of this important district, and the conquest of the Greek cities on the northern shores of the Propontis—Perinthus, Selymbria, and above all Byzantium. If he could achieve this, Athens would be completely paralysed. Her maritime supremacy would be at an end, and her supplies of corn would be cut off. She would cease to exist as a commercial power. Philip's designs on Athens in Thrace were not unlike those of Napoleon I. on England in his attacks on Egypt and Spain. It was argued in Parliament at the time, that in carrying on war with France in these countries, we were practically standing on our own defence. Demosthenes took the same line of argument against Philip. A force had been sent out from Athens to the Chersonese as an army of observation on Philip's movements. The general, Diopeithes, was an able, energetic man; and it is interesting to us to know that he was the father of the poet Menander. There were some disputes between the Athenian colonists and the Cardians to the north of the Chersonese. Philip seemed disposed to favour the latter, upon which Diopeithes at once retaliated by invading Macedonian territory. He gained some successes, and for a while even deprived Philip of some of his recent conquests. Considering that the peace of 346 B.C. was still in force, Athens may be said to have been put in the wrong by her over-zealous general, and Philip sent the people a despatch in which he formally complained of these encroachments. All his political adherents at Athens clamoured for the instant recall of Diopeithes. Like other Athenian generals, Diopeithes, who commanded some mercenaries, was almost compelled to provide for them by expeditions which could not he strictly justified. Still, it might be truly argued in his favour that he was really repelling a dangerous aggressor. And on this ground Demosthenes pleaded his cause, and argued that he should be continued in his command. The speech he delivered on this occasion—"On behalf of the Chersonese," as it has been entitled—contains the clear and powerful reasonings of a sagacious statesman.

The people, he maintains, ought to deal with their enemies before they call their own servants to account. It was very well for Philip to complain of an infringement of the peace in this particular instance, but was it not notorious that he had himself deprived Athens of her own possessions? It was a mere blind to say, as some said, that they must make up their minds to have either war or peace. "If it appears that from the very first Philip has robbed us of our territories, and has been all along incessantly gathering the spoil of other nations, Greek and barbarian, for the materials of an attack upon you, what do they mean by saying we must have war or peace?"


"Consider what is actually going on. Philip is staying with a large army in Thrace, and sending for reinforcements, as eye-witnesses report, from Macedonia and Thessaly. Now, should he wait for the trade-winds, and then march to the siege of Byzantium, think ye that the Byzantines would persist in their present folly, and would not invite and implore your aid? I do not believe it. No; they will receive any people, even those they distrust more than us, sooner than surrender their city to Philip—unless, indeed, he is beforehand with them and captures it. If, then, we are unable to sail northward, and there be no help at hand, nothing can prevent their destruction. Well; let us say the Byzantines are infatuated and besotted. Very likely; yet they must be rescued, because it is good for Athens. Nor is it clear that he will not attack the Chersonese; nay, if we may judge from the letter he sent us, he says he will chastise the people in the Chersonese. If the present army be kept on foot, it will be able to defend that country, and attack some of Philip's dominions. But if it become disbanded, what shall we do if he march against the Chersonese? With such facts and arguments before you, so far from disbanding this army which Diopeithes is endeavouring to organise for Athens, you ought yourselves to provide an additional one, to support him with funds, and with other friendly co-operation."


In the following passage he inveighs against his political opponents, and the extreme licence of speech allowed to them in practically advocating the interests of Philip:—

"This, you must be convinced, is a struggle for existence. You cannot overcome your enemies abroad till you have punished your enemies, his ministers, at home. They will be the stumbling-blocks which prevent you reaching the others. Why, do you suppose, Philip now insults you? To other people he at least renders services though he deceives them, while he is already threatening you. Look, for instance, at the Thessalians. It was by many benefits conferred on them that he seduced them into their present bondage. And then the Olynthians, again,—how he cheated them, first giving them Potidæa and several other places, is really beyond description. Now he is enticing the Thebans by giving up to them Bœotia, and delivering them from a toilsome and vexatious war. Each of these peoples did get a certain advantage; but some of them have suffered what all the world knows; others will suffer whatever may hereafter befall them. As for you, I recount not all that has been taken from you, but how shamefully have you been treated and despoiled! Why is it that Philip deals so differently with you and with others? Because yours is the only state in Greece in which the privilege is allowed of speaking for the enemy, and a citizen taking a bribe may safely address the Assembly, though you have been robbed of your dominions. It was not safe at Olynthus to be Philip's advocate unless the Olynthian commonalty had shared the advantage by possession of Potidæa. It was not safe in Thessaly to be Philip's advocate unless the people of Thessaly had secured the advantage by Philip's expelling their tyrants and restoring the synod at Pylæ. It was not safe in Thebes, until he gave up Bœotia to them and destroyed the Phocians. Yet at Athens, though Philip has deprived you of Amphipolis and the territory round Cardia—nay, is making Eubœa a fortress as a check upon us, and is advancing to attack Byzantium—it is safe to speak in Philip's behalf."


He thus concludes the speech:—

"I will sum up my advice and sit down. You must contribute money, and maintain the existing troops, rectifying any abuse you may discover, but not, on any accusation which somebody may bring, disbanding the force. Send out ambassadors everywhere to instruct, to warn, to accomplish what they can for Athens. Further, I say, punish your corrupt statesmen, execrate them at all times and places, and thereby prove that men of virtue and honourable conduct have consulted wisely both for others and for themselves."


It is satisfactory to learn that this speech was successful, and that Diopeithes, who certainly deserved well of his country, was continued in his command, and the Chersonese saved for Athens.

Demosthenes was now the leading Athenian statesman. He had shaken the influence of the peace party, and he seems to have still further strengthened his political position by a speech delivered about three months after that which we have just been considering. The speech in question has always been regarded as one of singular power. As far as we know, nothing new had occurred; but Philip was still in Thrace, threatening the Chersonese and the northern shores of the Propontis, and clearly had designs on Perinthus and Byzantium. Demosthenes repeats in substance the arguments he had recently urged. Greece, he says, is in the utmost peril from its miserable divisions and apathy, and from the unique position which it has allowed Philip to attain. As for Athens, "her affairs have been brought so low by carelessness and negligence, I fear it is a hard truth to say that if all the orators had sought to suggest, and you to pass, resolutions for the utter ruining of the commonwealth, we could not, methinks, be worse off than we are." It had been said at Athens in the speeches of some of the orators, "Wait till Philip declares war, and then it will be time to discuss how we shall resist him." Demosthenes' reply is,—


"If we wait till Philip avows that he is at war with us, we are the simplest of mortals; for he would not declare war, though he marched even against Athens and Piræus—at least, if we may judge from his conduct to others. When he sends his mercenaries into the Chersonese, which the king of Persia and all the Greeks acknowledge to be yours, what can be the meaning of such proceedings? He says he is not at war. But I cannot admit such conduct to be an observance of the peace. Far otherwise. I say that by his present advance into Thrace, by his intrigues in the Peloponnese, by the whole course of his operations with his army, he has been breaking the peace and making war upon you,—unless, indeed, you will say that those who establish military engines are not at war until they apply them to the walls. But that you will not say; for whoever prepares and contrives the means for my conquest, is at war with me before he hurls the dart or draws the bow. Should anything happen, what is the risk you run? The alienation of the Hellespont, the subjection of Megara and Eubœa to your enemy, the siding of the Peloponnese with him. Then, can I allow that one who sets such an engine at work against Athens is at peace with her? Quite the contrary. From the day that he destroyed Phocis I date his commencement of hostilities. So widely do I differ from your other advisers that I deem any discussion about the Chersonese or Byzantium out of place. Succour them—I advise that; watch that no harm befalls them; send all necessary supplies to your troops in that quarter: but let your deliberations be for the safety of all Greece, as being in the most extreme jeopardy."


The Greeks, he declares, must have utterly forgotten themselves in allowing a foreigner and a barbarian a licence in dealing with their affairs which they had never thought of according to such states as Athens or Sparta. This was monstrous, and implied a fatal degeneracy.


"I observe," says the orator, "that all people beginning from yourselves have conceded to Philip a right which in former days was the subject of contest in every Greek war. What is this? The right of doing what he pleases, openly fleecing and pillaging the Greeks one after another, attacking and enslaving their cities. You were at the head of the Greeks for seventy-three years, the Lacedæmonians for twenty-nine, and the Thebans had some power in these latter days after the battle of Leuctra. Yet neither you nor Lacedæmonians nor Thebans were ever licensed to act as you pleased. Far otherwise. When you, or rather the Athenians of that time, appeared to be dealing harshly with certain people, all the rest, even such as had no complaint against Athens, thought proper to side with the injured parties in a war against her. So, when the Lacedæmonians became masters and succeeded to your empire, on their attempting to encroach and make oppressive innovations, a general war was declared against them even by such as had no cause of complaint. But why mention other people? We ourselves and the Lacedæmonians, although at the outset we could not allege any mutual injuries, thought proper to make war for the injustice that we saw done to our neighbours. Yet all the faults committed by the Spartans in those thirty years, and by our ancestors in the seventy, are less than the wrongs which in thirteen incomplete years, while Philip has been uppermost, he has inflicted on the Greeks. Nay, they are scarcely a fraction of them, as I may easily and briefly show. Olynthus and Methone, and Apollonia and thirty-two cities on the borders of Thrace, I pass over—all which he has so cruelly destroyed that a visitor could scarcely tell if they were ever inhabited. And of Phocis, so considerable a people exterminated, I say nothing. But what is the condition of Thessaly? Has he not taken away her constitutions and her cities, and established tetrarchies, to parcel her out, not only by cities, but by provinces, for subjection? Are not the states of Eubœa now governed by despots, and Eubœa is an island near to Thebes and to Athens? Does he not expressly write in his epistles, "I am at peace with those who are willing to obey me"? Neither Greek nor barbaric land contains the man's ambition. And we, the Greek community, seeing and hearing this, instead of sending embassies to one another about it and expressing our indignation, are in such a miserable state, so entrenched in our separate towns, that to this day we can attempt nothing that interest or necessity requires; we cannot combine for succour and alliance; we look unconcernedly on the man's growing power, each resolving to enjoy the interval in which another is destroyed, not caring nor striving for the salvation of Greece. Whatever wrong the Greeks sustained from Lacedæmonians or from us, was at least inflicted by a genuine Greek people. It might be felt in the same manner as if a lawful son, born to a large fortune, committed some fault or error in the management of it. On that ground, one would consider him open to censure and to reproach; yet it could not be said he was an alien and not an heir to the property which he so dealt with. But if a slave or a spurious child wasted and spoilt that in which he had no interest, how much more heinous and hateful would all have pronounced it!"


On the decay of patriotism and the venality of public men throughout Greece, he speaks thus:—

"There must be some cause, some good reason, why the Greeks were so eager for liberty then, and now are so eager for servitude. There was something in the hearts of the multitude then which there is not now, which overcame the wealth of Persia, and maintained the freedom of Greece, and quailed not under any battle by sea or land, the loss whereof has ruined all and thrown the Greek world into confusion. What was this? No subtlety or cleverness; simply this, that whoever took a bribe from the aspirants to power or the corrupters of Greece was universally abhorred. It was a fearful thing to be convicted of bribery; the severest punishment was inflicted on the guilty, and there was no intercession or pardon. The favourable moments for enterprise which fortune frequently offers to the careless against the vigilant, to them that will do nothing against those that discharge their entire duty, could not be bought from orators or generals; no more could mutual concord, nor distrust of tyrants and barbarians, nor anything of the kind. But now all such principles have been sold as in open market, and principles imported in exchange by which Greece is ruined and diseased. What are they? Envy, when a man gets a bribe; laughter, if he confesses it; mercy to the convicted; hatred of those who denounce the crime,—all the usual accompaniments of corruption. For as to ships and men, and revenues and abundance of other material—all, in fact, that may be reckoned as constituting national strength, assuredly the Greeks of our day are more fully and perfectly supplied with such advantages than Greeks of the olden times. But they are all rendered useless, unavailable, unprofitable by the agency of these traffickers."


This is indeed a powerful denunciation of a state of things which we know to be very possible, in which the corruption of public men is treated as a joke, and when exposed and detected, is hardly thought to deserve reprobation and punishment. If all that was best in Greece had really so utterly died out, it would seem that Demosthenes was wasting his breath in idle declamation. But we may well believe that he clung to the old Athenian ideal, and could not bring himself to despair of his country. And it is certain that this and the preceding speech produced an effect, and Athens made efforts which were temporarily successful. "The work of saving Greece," he told them before he sat down, "belongs to you; this privilege your ancestors bequeathed to you as the prize of many perilous exertions."

As one might expect, there were those who sought to persuade the Athenians that Philip's power for aggression had been greatly exaggerated, and that he was by no means so formidable as Sparta had once been, when she led the Peloponnesian confederacy. Demosthenes points out that Philip had introduced what was really a new method of warfare. Athens and Sparta, in the height of their power, had only been able to command a citizen militia from the states in league with them. Such a force was prepared only for a summer campaign, and could not always follow up its blows effectively. Philip, on the other hand, could take the field in winter as well as in summer. His troops were never disbanded, and they were under his sole direction. He was, in fact, to the Greeks what Napoleon was to the Austrians. An able and restless despot, at the head of a well-trained standing army, will often, for a time at least, have a decided advantage in war over a free and constitutional state.

The next year, 340 B.C., events occurred which completely justified the warnings of Demosthenes. Philip attempted the conquest of the cities on the Propontis, Perinthus and Byzantium. He was foiled by prompt intervention from Athens. There was for a brief space a doubt whether Byzantium would accept Athenian aid, so thoroughly had the city become estranged from Athens in consequence of the Social War. Demosthenes went thither at the head of an embassy, and the result was, that an alliance was concluded. Shortly afterwards, the conscientious and much-respected Phocion, though he differed politically from Demosthenes, sailed thither with a powerful armament and a force of Athenian citizens. Through the influence of Leon, one of the leading citizens of Byzantium, who had been Phocion's fellow-student at Athens in the Academy, they were admitted into the city, and charmed the Byzantines by their quiet and admirable behaviour. Succours also arrived from some of the islands of the Ægean—from Cos, Chios, Rhodes. Byzantium was now all but impregnable, and Philip was obliged to abandon the siege both of it and of Perinthus. Even his own territory was invaded by Phocion, and many of the Macedonian cruisers were captured. For Philip it was a year of reverses, as for Athens it was one of success and glory. The two cities on the Propontis decreed her a vote of thanks, and displayed their gratitude by erecting three colossal statues, representing Athens receiving a wreath at their hands in testimony of their deliverance. Demosthenes, too, had his reward. No one could question that to his counsels and energy they owed in great measure the preservation of the Chersonese and their supremacy at sea. Corn cheap and abundant was for the present assured to them. The Athenian people were in a pleased and grateful mood, and the Assembly passed a vote of thanks to Demosthenes, which none of his many political enemies dared to oppose.