The Public Orations of Demosthenes/For the Freedom of the Rhodians

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Translated by Arthur Wallace Pickard


Dionysius of Halicarnassus places the speech in 351 B.C. He is not always accurate, and the internal evidence has been thought by some to suggest a date perhaps two years earlier. The reasons, however, for this are not strong, and there has recently been a disposition to accept Dionysius' date.

As the result of the Social War, Chios, Cos, Rhodes, and Byzantium had made themselves independent of Athens. They had been assisted by Mausolus, King of Caria, a vassal of Persia. After the termination of the war, a Carian garrison occupied Cos and Rhodes; the democratic constitution of Rhodes was overthrown and the democratic party driven into banishment, as the result of an oligarchic plot, which Mausolus had fostered. In 353 Mausolus died, and was succeeded by Artemisia, his sister and wife. The exiles appealed to Athens for restoration, and for the liberation of Rhodes from the Carian domination. It is evident that the feeling in Athens against the Rhodians was very strong, owing to their part in the late war, for which the democratic party had been responsible; and there was some fear of the possible consequences of offending Artemisia and perhaps becoming involved in war with Persia. Demosthenes, nevertheless, urges the people to assist them, and to forget their misconduct. He appeals to the traditional policy of Athens, as the saviour of the oppressed and protectress of democracies, and warns them of the danger which would threaten Athens herself, if the conversion of free constitutions into oligarchies were allowed to go unchecked. He takes a different view from that of his opponents of the probable attitude of Artemisia, and utters an impressive warning against corrupt and unpatriotic statesmen, which foreshadows his more vehement attacks in the orations against Philip.

The appeal was unsuccessful, for in the speech on the Peace (§ 25) Demosthenes speaks of Cos and Rhodes as still subject to Caria.

The speech is more eloquent than the last, and more outspoken. Political principles and ideals are enunciated with some confidence, and illustrated by striking examples from history. But there also appears for the first time that sense of the difficulty of rousing the Athenians to action of any kind, which is so strongly expressed in later speeches.


1 It is, I think, your duty, men of Athens, when you are deliberating upon affairs of such importance, to grant freedom of speech to every one of your advisers. And for my part, I have never yet felt any difficulty in pointing out to you the best course; for I believe that, broadly speaking, you all know from the first what this is. My difficulty is to persuade you to act upon your knowledge. For when a measure is approved and passed by you, it is as far from execution as it was before you resolved upon it. 2 Well, you have to render thanks to Heaven for this, among other favours—that those who went to war with you not long ago, moved by their own insolent pride, now place their own hopes of preservation in you alone. Well may we rejoice at our present opportunity! For if your decision in regard to it is what it should be, you will find yourselves meeting the calumnies of those who are slandering this city with a practical and a glorious refutation. 3 For the peoples of Chios, Byzantium, and Rhodes accused us of entertaining designs against them; and on this ground they combined against us in the recent war. But now it will be seen[1] that, while Mausolus, who under the pretence of friendship towards Rhodes, directed and instigated their efforts, in reality robbed the Rhodians of their freedom; while their declared allies, Chios and Byzantium, never came to aid them in their misfortunes; 4 you, of whom they were afraid, and you alone, have been the authors of their salvation. And because all the world will have seen this, you will cause the popular party in every city to consider your friendship a guarantee of their own safety; nor could you reap any greater blessing than the goodwill which will thus be offered to you, spontaneously and without misgivings, upon every hand.

5 I notice, to my surprise, that those who urge us to oppose the king in the interest of the Egyptians,[2] are the very persons who are so afraid of him when it is the interest of the popular party in Rhodes that is in question. And yet it is known to every one that the Rhodians are Hellenes, while the Egyptians have a place assigned them in the Persian Empire. 6 I expect that some of you remember that, when you were discussing our relations with the king, I came forward and was the first to advise you[3] (though I had, I believe, no supporters, or one at the most), that you would show your good sense, in my opinion, if you did not make your hostility to the king the pretext of your preparations, but prepared yourselves against the enemies whom you already had; though you would resist him also, if he attempted to do you any injury. 7 Nor, when I spoke thus, did I fail to convince you, but you also approved of this policy. What I have now to say is the sequel to my argument on that occasion. For if the king were to call me to his side and make me his counsellor, I should give him the same advice as I gave you—namely, that he should fight in defence of his own possessions, if he were opposed by any Hellenic power, but should absolutely forego all claim to what in no way belongs to him. 8 If, therefore, you have made a general resolve, men of Athens, to retire from any place of which the king makes himself master, either by surprise or by the deception of some of the inhabitants, you have not resolved well, in my judgement: but if you are prepared, in defence of your rights, even to fight, if need be, and to endure anything that may be necessary, not only will the need for such a step be less, the more firmly your minds are made up, but you will also be regarded as showing the spirit which you ought to show.

9 To prove to you that I am not suggesting anything unprecedented in bidding you liberate the Rhodians, and that you will not be acting without precedent, if you take my advice, I will remind you of one of those incidents in the past which have ended happily for you. You once sent out Timotheus, men of Athens, to assist Ariobarzanes,[4] adding to your resolution the provision that he must not break our treaty with the king; and Timotheus, seeing that Ariobarzanes was now openly in revolt against the king, but that Samos was occupied by a garrison under Cyprothemis, who had been placed there by Tigranes, the king's viceroy, abandoned his intention of helping Ariobarzanes, but sat down before Samos, relieved it, and set it free. 10 And to this day no war has ever arisen to trouble you on account of this. For to enter upon a war for the purpose of aggrandizement is never the same thing as to do so in defence of one's own possessions. Every one fights his hardest to recover what he has lost; but when men endeavour to gain at the expense of others, it is not so. They desire to do this, if it is allowed them; but if they are prevented, they do not consider that their opponents have done them any wrong.

11 Now listen for a moment, and consider whether I am right or wrong, when I conclude that if Athens were actively at work, Artemisia herself would now not even oppose our action. If the king effects in Egypt all that he is bent upon, I believe that Artemisia would make every attempt to secure for him the continued possession of Rhodes—not from any goodwill towards him, but from the desire to be credited with a great service to him, while he is still in her neighbourhood,[5] and so to win from him as friendly a reception as possible. 12 But if he is faring as we are told, if all his attempts have failed, she will consider, and rightly, that the island can be of no further use to the king, except as a fortified post to command her own dominions—a security against any movement on her part. Accordingly she would prefer, I believe, that you should have it, without her openly surrendering it to you, rather than that he should occupy it. I think, therefore, that she would not even make an attempt to save it; or that if she actually did so, it would be but weakly and ineffectively. 13 For although I cannot, of course, profess to know what the king will do, I must insist that it is high time that it should be made clear, in the interests of Athens, whether he intends to lay claim to Rhodes or not: for if he does so, we have then to take counsel, not for the Rhodians alone, but for ourselves and for the Hellenes as a whole.

14 At the same time, even if the Rhodians who are now in possession of the town held it by their own strength, I should never have urged you to take them for your allies, for all the promises in the world. For I observe that they took to their side some of their fellow citizens[6], to help them overthrow the democracy, and that, having done this, they turned and expelled them: and I do not think that men who failed to keep faith with either party would ever be trustworthy allies for yourselves. 15 And further, I should never have made my present proposal, had I been thinking only of the interests of the popular party in Rhodes. I am not their official patron,[7] nor have I a single personal friend among them; and even if both these things were otherwise, I should not have made this proposal, had I not believed it to be for your advantage. For as for the Rhodians, if I may use such an expression when I am pleading with you to save them, I share your joy[8] at what has happened to them. For it is because they grudged you the recovery of your rights that they have lost their own freedom; and that, instead of the equal alliance which they might have had with Hellenes, better than themselves, they are in bondage to foreigners and slaves, whom they have admitted to their citadels. 16 Indeed, if you resolve to go to their aid, I may almost say that this calamity has been good for them; for, Rhodians as they are, I doubt if they would ever have come to their right mind in prosperity; whereas actual experience has now taught them that folly generally leads to manifold adversities; and perhaps they will be wiser for the future. This lesson, I feel sure, will be no small advantage to them. I say then that you should endeavour to save these men, and should bear no malice, remembering that you too have been greatly deceived by conspirators against you, and yet would not admit that you deserved yourselves to suffer for such mistakes.

Observe this also, men of Athens. 17 You have waged many wars both against democracies and against oligarchies; and of this no doubt you are as well aware as I. But I doubt whether any of you considers for what objects you are fighting in each case. What then are these objects? In fighting against a democracy, you are fighting either over some private quarrel, when the parties have failed to settle their disputes by the means publicly provided;[9] or you are contending for a piece of territory, or about a boundary, or for a point of honour, or for paramountcy. But in fighting against an oligarchy, it is not for any such objects—it is your constitution and your freedom that are at stake. 18 And therefore I should not hesitate to say that I believe it would be better for you, that all the Hellenic peoples should be democracies, and be at war with you, than that they should be governed by oligarchies, and be your friends. For with a free people you would have no difficulty, I believe, in making peace whenever you desired: but with an oligarchical State friendship itself cannot be safe. For there can be no goodwill between Few and Many—between those who seek for mastery, and those who have chosen the life of political equality.

19 It surprises me also that though Chios and Mytilene are ruled by oligarchies, and though now the Rhodians and all mankind, I may almost say, are being brought into the same bondage, no one considers that any danger threatens our own constitution also, or reflects that if every State is organized upon an oligarchic basis, it is not possible that your own democracy should be suffered to remain. For they know that no people but you could ever bring them forth into a state of liberty again; and they will wish to put an end to so likely a source of trouble to themselves. 20 As a rule we may regard wrongdoers as enemies only to those whom they have wronged. But when men destroy free constitutions and convert them into oligarchies, I say that you must think of them as the common enemies of all whose hearts are set on freedom. 21 Again, men of Athens, it is only right that you, a democracy yourselves, should show towards other democracies in distress the same spirit as you would expect them to show towards you, if any such calamity (which God forbid!) should happen to you. It may be said that the Rhodians are justly punished. If so, this is not the time to exult over them. When men are prosperous they should always be found taking thought how best to help the distressed; for the future is unknown to all men.

22 I have often heard it stated here in your presence, that when our democracy had met with disaster,[10] you were joined by certain others in your anxiety for its preservation. Of these I will only refer on the present occasion to the Argives, and that briefly. For I cannot desire that you, who enjoy the reputation of being always the saviours of the distressed, should prove inferior to the Argives in that work. These Argives, though their territory borders on that of the Spartans, whom they saw to be masters by land and sea, neither hesitated nor feared to display their goodwill towards you; but when envoys came from Sparta (so the story goes) to demand the persons of certain Athenian refugees, they even voted that unless the envoys departed before sunset, they should be adjudged public enemies. 23 If then the democracy of Argos in those days showed no fear of the might of the Spartan Empire, will it not be a disgrace if you, who are Athenians, are afraid of one who is a barbarian—aye, and a woman?[11] The Argives, moreover, could point to many defeats sustained at the hands of Sparta, while you have often defeated the king, and have not once proved inferior either to his servants or to himself. For if ever the king has gained any success against Athens, it has been by bribing the basest of the Hellenes to betray their countrymen; in no other way has he ever succeeded. 24 Indeed, even such success has done him no good. You will find that no sooner had he rendered Athens weak,[12] by the help of the Spartans, than he had to fight for his own kingdom against Clearchus and Cyrus. His successes, therefore, have not been won in the open field, nor have his plots brought him any good. Now some of you, I notice, are in the habit of speaking contemptuously of Philip, as though he were not worth reckoning with; while you dread the king, as a powerful enemy to any whom he chooses to oppose. But if we are not to defend ourselves against Philip, because he is so mean a foe, and are to give way in everything to the king, because he is so formidable, who is there, men of Athens, against whom we shall ever take the field?

25 Men of Athens, you have among you those who are particularly skilful in pleading with you the rights of the rest of the world; and I should be glad to give them this single piece of advice—that they should seek to plead your rights with the rest of the world,[13] and so set an example of duty. It is monstrous to instruct you about rights, without doing right oneself; and it is not right that a fellow citizen of yours should have studied all the arguments against you and none of those in your favour. 26 Ask yourselves, in God's name, why it is that there is no one in Byzantium to tell the Byzantines that they must not occupy Chalcedon,[14] which belongs to the king and formerly belonged to you, but upon which they had no sort of claim; or that they must not make Selymbria, once your ally, a contributory portion of the Byzantine state; or include the territory of Selymbria[14] within the Byzantine frontier, in defiance of the sworn treaty which ordains the independence of the cities? 27 Why was there no one to tell Mausolus, while he lived, and Artemisia after his death, that they must not occupy Cos and Rhodes and other Hellenic cities as well, which the king their master ceded to the Hellenes by the treaty,[15] and for the sake of which the Hellenes of those days faced many a peril and fought many a gallant fight? Even if there actually are such advisers[16] in both cases, at least it is not likely that they will find listeners. 28 For my part I believe that it is right to restore the exiled democracy of Rhodes. But even if it were not right, I think it would be proper to urge you to do it, when I consider the course taken by such speakers as these; and for this reason. If all the world, men of Athens, were bent upon doing right, it would be a disgrace to us if we alone were unwilling to do so: but when all the world is preparing itself in order to be able to commit wrong, then for us alone to abstain from every enterprise, on the plea of right, is no righteousness, to my mind, but cowardice. For I observe that the extent to which rights are admitted is always in proportion to the claimant's power at the moment. 29 I can illustrate this by an instance familiar to all of you. There are two treaties[17] between the Hellenes and the king. The first was made by our own city, and all men praise it; the second by the Spartans, and it is denounced by all. The rights defined in these two treaties are not the same. For whereas a common and equal share of private rights is given by law to weak and strong alike, in a settlement of international rights it is the stronger who legislate for the weaker.

Well, you already know what the right course is.[18] 30 It remains to inquire how you can carry out your knowledge into action; and this will be possible, if you come to be regarded as public champions of universal liberty. But the great difficulty which you find in doing your duty is, to my mind, natural enough. All other men have only one conflict to face—the conflict with their declared foes; and when these are subdued, there is no further obstacle to their secure enjoyment of their happiness. 31 But for you there is a double conflict. In addition to that to which all men are liable, there is another which is harder, and which must be faced first: for you have to win the victory in your councils over those who are deliberately working in your midst against the interests of the city; and because, thanks to them, you can effect nothing that is demanded of you without a struggle, it is natural that you should often miss your mark. 32 The chief reason for the fearless adoption of such a course in public life by so many men is perhaps to be found in the benefits which they obtain from those who hire them. Yet at the same time, some of the blame may fairly be laid at your own doors. For you ought, men of Athens, to think of a man's post in public life as you think of his post in the army in the field. And how do you think of this? If a man leaves the post assigned to him by his general, you think that he deserves to be disfranchised and to lose all share in the privileges of a citizen. 33 And so when men desert the post of civil duty, committed to them by our forefathers, and follow an oligarchical[19] policy, they should forfeit the privilege of acting as advisers to yourselves. As it is, while you believe that those of your allies are best disposed towards you, who have sworn to have the same friends and foes as yourselves, the politicians in whom you place most faith are those whom you well know to have chosen the side of the enemies of Athens.

34 It is easy enough, however, to find reasons for accusing them and reproaching all of you. But to find words or actions which will enable us to rectify what is now amiss with us, is a task indeed. Moreover, the present is not, perhaps, the time for entering into every point: but if only you can confirm the policy which you have chosen by some suitable action, it may be that other conditions will each in turn show some improvement. 35 I think, therefore, that you ought to take this enterprise in hand with vigour, and to act worthily of your country. Remember with what delight you listen to the praises of your forefathers,[20] the recital of their deeds, the enumeration of their trophies. Consider then that your forefathers dedicated these trophies, not that you might gaze at them in idle wonder, but that you might imitate the actions of those who placed them there.

  1. "now it will be seen". i.e. if you come to a right decision, and help the Rhodians.
  2. "the Egyptians". See Speech on Naval Boards, Sec. 31 n.
  3. "to advise you". i.e. in the Speech on the Naval Boards (see especially Sec.Sec. 10, 11 of that Speech).
  4. "Ariobarzanes", Satrap of the Hellespont, joined in the general revolt of the princes of Asia Minor against Persia in 362, at first secretly (as though making war against other satraps) but afterwards openly. Timotheus was sent to help him, on the understanding that he must not break the Peace of Antalcidas (378 B.C.), according to which the Greek cities in Asia were to belong to the king, but the rest were to be independent (except that Athens was to retain Lemnos, Imbros, and Scyros). When Ariobarzanes broke out in open revolt, Timotheus could not help him without breaking the first provision; but the Persian occupation tion of Samos was itself a violation of the second, and he was therefore justified in relieving the town.
  5. "while he is in her neighbourhood". Artaxerxes almost certainly went in person to Egypt about this time. (That he went before 346 is proved by Isocrates, "Philippus", Sec. 101; and he was no doubt expected to go, even before he went.) The alternative rendering, 'since he is still to be a neighbouring power to herself,' is less good, since he would be this, whether he conquered Egypt or not.
  6. "some of their fellow-citizens". i.e. some of the democratic party.
  7. "official patron" ([Greek: "proxenos".). The 'official patron' of another State in Athens was necessarily an Athenian, and so differed from the modern consul, whom he otherwise resembled in many ways (cf. Phillipson, "International Law and Custom of Ancient Greece and Rome", vol. i, pp. 147-56).
  8. [Greek: humin sygchair''o].
  9. "publicly provided". i.e. in treaties between the States.
  10. "when our democracy", &c.: i.e. in 404, when, at the conclusion of the Peloponnesian War, the tyranny of the Thirty was established, and a very large number of democratic citizens were driven into exile. The Argives refused the Spartan demand for the surrender of some of these to the Thirty (Diodorus xiv. 6).
  11. "one who is a barbarian-aye, and a woman" ([Greek: "barbaron anthr".pon kai tauta gynaika".). This has been taken to refer (1) to Artaxerxes and Artemisia. But [Greek: "kai tauta". cannot be simply [Greek: "pros tont"."., and [Greek: "kai tauta gynaika". must refer to the same person as [Greek: "barbaron anthr".pon".; (2) to Artaxerxes alone, the words [Greek: "kai tauta gynaika". being a gratuitous insult such as it was customary for Athenians to level at any Persian; (3) to Artemisia alone, [Greek: anthr".pos] being feminine here as often. It is not possible to decide certainly between (2) and (3). Artemisia is more prominent in the speech than the king, but it is the king who is referred to in the next sentence.
  12. "rendered Athens weak". The success of Sparta in the Peloponnesian War was rendered possible, to a great extent, by the supply of funds from Persia. In 401 Cyrus made his famous expedition against Artaxerxes II, and Clearchus (with other generals) commanded the Greek troops which assisted him. The death of Cyrus in the battle of Cunaxa in 401 put an end to his rebellion.
  13. "rights of the rest of the world". Weil suggests that it may have been argued that to intervene in Rhodian affairs would be to break the treaty made with the allies in 355 (about), at the end of the Social War, whereby their independence was guaranteed.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Chalcedon" was on the Asiatic shore of the Bosporus, and therefore by the Peace of Antalcidas belonged to the king (see n. on Sec. 9). By the same treaty, Selymbria, on the north coast of the Propontis, ought to have been independent. The Byzantines, who had obtained their independence of Athens in the Social War, were extending their influence greatly at this time.
  15. "the treaty". again the Peace of Antalcidas.
  16. "even if there actually are such advisers". or, 'even if any one actually asserts the existence of such persons.'
  17. "two treaties". The first must be the Peace of Callias (444 B.C.), the terms of which are given in the Speech on the Embassy, Sec. 273. The second was the Peace of Antalcidas.
  18. "the knowledge of what is right". The parallel passage in Sec. 1 seems to confirm this rendering, rather than the alternative, 'the intention to do what is right.'
  19. "oligarchical". This expression is partly directed at those who, in opposing the exiled democrats, supported the oligarchs of Rhodes; and it may be partly explained by the fact that the policy of Eubulus, who wished to avoid all interferences which might lead to war, was particularly satisfactory to the wealthier classes in Athens. But it was a common practice to accuse an opponent of anti-democratic sentiments, and of trying to get the better of the people by illegitimate means (cf. Speech on Embassy, Sec. 314, &c.).
  20. Cf. Speech on Naval Boards, Sec. 41.