Demosthenes/Introduction

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DEMOSTHENES.




INTRODUCTION.


The familiar names of Demosthenes and Cicero will always be linked together. They are specially representative names. The eloquence of the ancient world seems to be summed up in them. There is a further reason why we should think of them together. Both attached themselves to a falling cause; both had to go into exile; both had the satisfaction of being welcomed back from exile; both, finally, when all was lost, were willing to die rather than survive their country's disgrace. There is, indeed, a striking resemblance between the lives and fortunes of the two men, and none of Plutarch's parallels is more appropriate than that in which he has compared them.

The best and noblest eloquence must be the product of earnest political conviction, Cicero clung to the traditions of the old republic, and regarded the concentration of power in one man as equivalent to his country's degradation and fall. The Greek statesman could not imagine a worse calamity than that Greece should cease to exist as an aggregate of free, self-governing communities, and become a dependency on a foreign kingdom or empire. We cannot but sympathise with such a sentiment. It was a noble one, though at the time it may have been becoming more and more incapable of realisation, as indeed was the sincere belief of some perfectly honest men who were politically opposed to Demosthenes. The highest aspects of Greek life, and its best influences on the civilisation of the world, were intimately connected with Greece as existing according to his conception of what she ought to be. His eloquence is at its highest when he dwells on her fixed resolution in past days to resist to the death anything like foreign dictation or interference. Greece, in his view, was nothing if she once brought herself to endure it.

On the whole, perhaps the Greek was rather a greater figure than the Roman orator. He was at least more single-minded and courageous. His political career was more dignified and consistent, and there were fewer weak moments in his life. Cicero, it is true, was a singularly amiable and a most accomplished man; but he was unquestionably vain and self-complacent, Demosthenes gives us the idea that Athens and Greece were always foremost in his thoughts. As an orator and statesman he may claim to rank above Cicero. As an orator, he was the master of a more fervid and impressive eloquence; as a statesman, he had more simplicity of purpose and greater moral courage.

The period of Demosthenes is the fourth century B.C. A brief sketch of it seems almost due to our readers. The speeches of Demosthenes cannot be understood without some acquaintance with Greek politics. Macedon, too, and its rise to importance under king Philip, deserves at least a short notice. The history of the time is somewhat intricate, and could not be thoroughly elucidated in a very moderate compass. An endeavour has been made in the two following chapters to present the reader with a view of its general character.