The World's Famous Orations/Volume 1/Against Eratosthenes
Born about 440 B.C., died in 380; fled from the Thirty Tyrants In 404 after they had put his brother to death; returned to Athens after the restoration of the Democracy, and won great reputation as an orator, but only 34 of his 160 known speeches have survived.
It is an easy matter, O Athenians, to begin this accusation. But to end it without doing injustice to the cause will be attended with no small difficulty. For the crimes of Eratosthenes are not only too atrocious to describe, but too many to enumerate. No exaggeration can exceed, and within the time assigned for this discourse it is impossible fully to represent them. This trial, too, is attended with another singularity. In other causes it is usual to ask the accusers: 'What is your resentment against the defendants?' But here you must ask the defendant: 'What was your resentment against your country? What malice did you bear your fellow citizens? Why did you rage with unbridled fury against the state itself?'
The time has now indeed come, Athenians, when, insensible to pity and tenderness, you must be armed with just severity against Eratosthenes and his associates. What avails it to have conquered them in the field, if you be overcome by them in your councils? Do not show them more favor for what they boast they will perform, than resentment for what they have already committed. Nor, after having been at so much pains to become masters of their persons, allow them to escape without suffering that punishment which you once sought to inflict; but prove yourselves worthy of that good fortune which has given you power over your enemies.
The contest is very unequal between Eratosthenes and you. Formerly he was both judge and accuser; but we, even while we accuse, must at the same time make our defense. Those who were innocent he put to death without trial. To those who are guilty we allow the benefit of law, even tho no adequate punishment can ever be inflicted. For should we sacrifice them and their children, would this compensate for the murder of your fathers, your sons, and your brothers? Should we deprive them of their property, wouldthis indemnify the individuals whom they have beggared, or the state which they have plundered? Tho they can not suffer a punishment adequate to their demerit, they ought not, surely, on this account, to escape. Yet how matchless is the effrontery of Eratosthenes, who, being now judged by the very persons whom he formerly injured, still ventures to make his defense before the witnesses of his crimes? What can show more evidently the contempt in which he holds
Let me now conclude with laying before you the miseries to which you were reduced, that you may see the necessity of taking punishment on the authors of them. And first, you who remained in the city, consider the severity of their government. You were reduced to such a situation as to be forced to carry on a war, in which, if you were conquered, you partook indeed of the same liberty with the conquerers; but if you proved victorious, you remained under the slavery of your magistrates. As to you of the Piræus, you will remember that tho you never lost your arms in the battles which you fought, yet you suffered by these men what your foreign enemies could never accomplish, and at home, in times of peace, were disarmed by your fellow citizens. By them you were banished from the country left you by your fathers. Their rage, knowing no abatement, pursued you abroad, and drove you from one territory to another. Recall the cruel indignities which you suffered; how you were dragged from the tribunal and the altars; how no place, however sacred, could shelter you against their violence. Others, torn from their wives, their children, their parents, after putting an end to their miserable lives, were deprived of funeral rites; for these tyrants imagined their government so firmly established that even the vengeance of the gods was unable to shake it.
But it is impossible for one, or in the course of one trial, to enumerate the means which were employed to undermine the power of this state, the arsenals which were demolished, the temples sold or profaned, the citizens banished or murdered, and those whose dead bodies were impiously left uninterred. Those citizens now watch your decree, uncertain whether you will prove accomplices of their death or avengers of their murder. I shall desist from any further accusations. You have heard, you have seen, you have experienced. Decide then!
- Delivered in Athens in 403 B.C., and 'the most splendid of his extant speeches,' says R. C. Jebb. Eratosthenes, as one of the Tyrants, was responsible for the death of the brother of Lysias. Abridged.