Page:EB1911 - Volume 08.djvu/28

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

will not move me now by your promises.” Archias lost his temper, and began to threaten. “Now,” rejoined Demosthenes, “you speak like a real Macedonian oracle; before you were acting. Wait a moment, then, till I write to my friends.” With these words, Demosthenes withdrew into the inner part of the temple,—still visible, however, from the entrance. He took out a roll of paper, as if he were going to write, put the pen to his mouth, and bit it, as was his habit in composing. Then he threw his head back, and drew his cloak over it. The Thracian spearmen, who were watching him from the door, began to gibe at his cowardice. Death. Archias went in to him, encouraged him to rise, repeated his old arguments, talked to him of reconciliation with Antipater. By this time Demosthenes felt that the poison which he had sucked from the pen was beginning to work. He drew the cloak from his face, and looked steadily at Archias. “Now you can play the part of Creon in the tragedy as soon as you like,” he said, “and cast forth my body unburied. But I, O gracious Poseidon, quit thy temple while I yet live; Antipater and his Macedonians have done what they could to pollute it.” He moved towards the door, calling to them to support his tottering steps. He had just passed the altar of the god, when he fell, and with a groan gave up the ghost (October 322 B.C.).

As a statesman, Demosthenes needs no epitaph but his own words in the speech “On the Crown,”—I say that, if the event had been manifest to the whole world beforehand, not even then Political character. ought Athens to have forsaken this course, if Athens had any regard for her glory, or for her past, or for the ages to come. The Persian soldier in Herodotus, following Xerxes to foreseen ruin, confides to his fellow-guest at the banquet that the bitterest pain which man can know is πολλὰ φρονέοντα μηδενὸς κρατέειν,—complete, but helpless, prescience. In the grasp of a more inexorable necessity, the champion of Greek freedom was borne onward to a more tremendous catastrophe than that which strewed the waters of Salamis with Persian wrecks and the field of Plataea with Persian dead; but to him, at least, it was given to proclaim aloud the clear and sure foreboding that filled his soul, to do all that true heart and free hand could do for his cause, and, though not to save, yet to encourage, to console and to ennoble. As the inspiration of his life was larger and higher than the mere courage of resistance, so his merit must be regarded as standing altogether outside and above the struggle with Macedon. The great purpose which he set before him was to revive the public spirit, to restore the political vigour, and to re-establish the Panhellenic influence of Athens,—never for her own advantage merely, but always in the interest of Greece. His glory is, that while he lived he helped Athens to live a higher life. Wherever the noblest expressions of her mind are honoured, wherever the large conceptions of Pericles command the admiration of statesmen, wherever the architect and the sculptor love to dwell on the masterpieces of Ictinus and Pheidias, wherever the spell of ideal beauty or of lofty contemplation is exercised by the creations of Sophocles or of Plato, there it will be remembered that the spirit which wrought in all these would have passed sooner from among men, if it had not been recalled from a trance, which others were content to mistake for the last sleep, by the passionate breath of Demosthenes.

The orator in whom artistic genius was united, more perfectly than in any other man, with moral enthusiasm and with intellectual grasp, has held in the modern world the same Oratory. rank which was accorded to him in the old; but he cannot enjoy the same appreciation. Macaulay’s ridicule has rescued from oblivion the criticism which pronounced the eloquence of Chatham to be more ornate than that of Demosthenes, and less diffuse than that of Cicero. Did the critic, asks Macaulay, ever hear any speaking that was less ornamented than that of Demosthenes, or more diffuse than that of Cicero? Yet the critic’s remark was not so pointless as Macaulay thought it. Sincerity and intensity are, indeed, to the modern reader, the most obvious characteristics of Demosthenes. His style is, on the whole, singularly free from what we are accustomed to regard as rhetorical embellishment. Where the modern orator would employ a wealth of imagery, or elaborate a picture in exquisite detail, Demosthenes is content with a phrase or a word. Burke uses, in reference to Hyder Ali, the same image which Demosthenes uses in reference to Philip. “Compounding all the materials of fury, havoc, desolation, into one black cloud, he hung for a while on the declivity of the mountains. Whilst the authors of all these evils were idly and stupidly gazing on this menacing meteor, which darkened all their horizon, it suddenly burst, and poured down the whole of its contents upon the plains of the Carnatic.” Demosthenes forbears to amplify. “The people gave their voice, and the danger which hung upon our borders went by like a cloud.” To our modern feeling, the eloquence of Demosthenes exhibits everywhere a general stamp of earnest and simple strength. But it is well to remember the charge made against the style of Demosthenes by a contemporary Greek orator, and the defence offered by the best Greek critic of oratory. Aeschines reproached the diction of Demosthenes with excess of elaboration and adornment (περιεργία). Dionysius, in reply, admits that Demosthenes does at times depart from simplicity,—that his style is sometimes elaborately ornate and remote from the ordinary usage. But, he adds, Demosthenes adopts this manner where it is justified by the elevation of his theme. The remark may serve to remind us of our modern disadvantage for a full appreciation of Demosthenes. The old world felt, as we do, his moral and mental greatness, his fire, his self-devotion, his insight. But it felt also, as we can never feel, the versatile perfection of his skill. This it was that made Demosthenes unique to the ancients. The ardent patriot, the far-seeing statesman, were united in his person with the consummate and unapproachable artist. Dionysius devoted two special treatises to Demosthenes,—one on his language and style (λεκτικὸς τόπος), the other on his treatment of subject-matter (πραγματικὸς τόπος). The latter is lost. The former is one of the best essays in literary criticism which antiquity has bequeathed to us. The idea which it works out is that Demosthenes has perfected Greek prose by fusing in a glorious harmony the elements which had hitherto belonged to separate types. The austere dignity of Antiphon, the plain elegance of Lysias, the smooth and balanced finish of that middle or normal character which is represented by Isocrates, have come together in Demosthenes. Nor is this all. In each species he excels the specialists. He surpasses the school of Antiphon in perspicuity, the school of Lysias in verve, the school of Isocrates in variety, in felicity, in symmetry, in pathos, in power. Demosthenes has at command all the discursive brilliancy which fascinates a festal audience. He has that power of concise and lucid narration, of terse reasoning, of persuasive appeal, which is required by the forensic speaker. His political eloquence can worthily image the majesty of the state, and enforce weighty counsels with lofty and impassioned fervour. A true artist, he grudged no labour which could make the least part of his work more perfect. Isocrates spent ten years on the Panegyricus. After Plato’s death, a manuscript was found among his papers with the first eight words of the Republic arranged in several different orders. What wonder, then, asks the Greek critic, if the diligence of Demosthenes was no less incessant and minute? “To me,” he says, “it seems far more natural that a man engaged in composing political discourses, imperishable memorials of his power, should neglect not even the smallest details, than that the veneration of painters and sculptors, who are darkly showing forth their manual tact and toil in a corruptible material, should exhaust the refinements of their art on the veins, on the feathers, on the down of the lip, and the like niceties.”

More than half of the sixty-one speeches extant under the name of Demosthenes are certainly or probably spurious. The results to which the preponderance of opinion leans are given Works. in the following table. Those marked a were already rejected or doubted in antiquity; those marked m, first in modern times:[1]

  1. The dates agree in the main with those given by A. D. Schäfer in Demosthenes und seine Zeit (2nd ed., 1885–1887), and by F. Blass in Die attische Beredsamkeit (1887–1898), who regards thirty-three (or possibly thirty-five) of the speeches as genuine.