Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.05.12

D.M. MacDowell, Demosthenes: Against Meidias (Oration 21). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990. ISBN 0-19-814763-5.

Reviewed by Alexander Sens, Georgetown University.

This impressive new volume is the first commentary on a long Demosthenic speech to be published in English in many years. MacDowell, a leading authority on Greek law and editor of Andokides' On the Mysteries (1961) and Aristophanes' Wasps (1971) in the Clarendon Press series, is to be commended for having chosen to turn his attention to the fascinating and informative Against Meidias, as well as for having produced a work of careful scholarship which will be warmly received by specialists. While few beginners will be likely to tackle as long an oration as this for their first experience with Demosthenes, the inclusion of a translation and the care which M. has taken in both the introduction and commentary to explain potentially unfamiliar terminology will make the volume interesting and accessible to moderately advanced students.

The introduction is divided into five sections:

(1) The Quarrel between Demosthenes and Meidias. M. provides a concise account of the long enmity beween the two men. He is extremely cautious about accepting the frequently-expressed view that political motives impelled Demosthenes to proceed with his prosecution of Meidias for an event which had occurred two years earlier: while it is often difficult to distinguish personal from political motivation when dealing with men such as these, he concludes, "in this case personal motives may have predominated" (p. 13).

(2) Prosecution and Offence. M. gives a general account of the procedure of probole, for which the speech provides practically the only information, and briefly considers the concepts of asebeia and hybris; his discussion of hybris, in particular, will be useful as a critical survey of recent work on the topic.

(3) Composition and Delivery. Most scholars have understood Aiskhines' claim, made more than fifteen years later, that Demosthenes "sold for thirty mnai both the insolence to himself and the adverse vote which the people gave against Meidias in the precinct of Dionysos" (3.52), to mean that Demosthenes dropped his prosecution of Meidias and thus never delivered the speech; they have found additional support for this view in several alleged flaws in the composition of the oration. In considering the passage of Aiskhines, M. leaves open the possibility that Demosthenes, having attained Meidias' conviction, subsequently proposed only a monetary fine,1 perhaps because he judged that he would be unable to persuade the jurors to condemn him to death: Aiskhines, M. notes, could have used "sold" in a derogatory way of a proposal which resulted in the payment of money to the public treasury rather than in the death penalty.2 On alleged inconcinnities within the speech itself M. is again cautious, generally agreeing with Erbse (above, n. 1) that many of them can be explained as the result of rhetorical expediency on Demosthenes' part. He does, however, acknowledge three indications that the speech as we have it is a draft which Demosthenes would have delivered in a somewhat different form, if he delivered it at all: the absence of any comment by D. on the laws he has had read in 94 and 113, the repetition of the eranos simile in 101 and 184-5, and the way in which Demosthenes discusses Meidias' rich supporters in 213-8 as though he were introducing a topic not yet considered. The evidence, in M.'s view, does not as yet allow a firm decision on the question of whether the speech was actually delivered or not.3

(4) Structure and Rhetoric. M. provides a satisfactory schematic overview of the organization of the speech and a brief but helpful discussion of some of the rhetorical strategies employed by Demosthenes.

(5) Manuscripts and Text. After briefly discussing the documents (though they are omitted in A and excluded from the ancient colometry, decisions on their authenticity must be made on internal grounds for each individual document) and the passages obelized by ancient critics (obelization provides evidence for ancient critical practice but not for the constitution of text), M. considers the medieval manuscripts, of which he has collated a far greater number (47) than have previous editors. His discussion of the relationships among them (pp. 48-85) is a model of clarity, demonstrating satisfactorily that none of his recentiores stands as an independent authority for the constitution of the text, since all derive from the tenth-century manuscripts A, F, or Y.

M.'s apparatus has benefitted from fresh attention to the oldest manuscripts (SAFYP), of which corrections and marginalia have been reported efficiently and quite fully; M. also includes reports of variant readings from the ancient testimonia, which are themselves listed in a separate register. His editorial practice in this volume is decidedly conservative (cf., e.g., 185 ouden, 199 theôrêsete, 215 ephainesthe), just as it has been in both of his previous texts in the Clarendon series.4 This conservatism is not in my view excessive, however, for it is informed and tempered by acute philological observation and sound judgment. In 137, for example, it is good to see Taylor's emendation orrôdountas (horôntas SFYP dediotas A) printed in the text for the first time in this century. It is also a welcome feature of this edition that M. has chosen not to elide vowels in order to avoid hiatus or violations of Blass's Law when such changes are not supported by any of the manuscripts: the elimination of unwanted syllables has often been conducted with excessive zeal by modern editors,5 and at the very least M.'s readers will not be misled about the readings of the manuscripts in this regard. M. prints, by my count, eight emendations of his own, of which three are in the documents. Two involve only the alteration of an accent (209 prosschoien, 212 prooint'), but the rest are more substantial. Particularly attractive is his conjecture epoiêsen daknomenos for endeiknumenos in 148; legal grounds motivate several other changes, such as the deletion of adeian ê in 33 and of the puzzling expression graphas idias from the law of hybris in 47: with regard to the latter, M. may well be right in tentatively suggesting that in both this law and in the oracle in 52 idias could have been drawn into the text from a marginal gloss idiai in its late sense of "separate," meaning that the documents were not contained in the original speech. On the authenticity of the documents M. stands in agreement with the most recent editor of the speech (J. Humbert), accepting as genuine the laws on probole (8, 10), hybris (47), and bribery (113), as well as the oracles in 52-3.6

In a short review it is difficult to convey properly the flavor of the detailed and thorough commentary (202 pages). M. devotes the most space to discussion of linguistic, legal, and historical matters; purely stylistic points are also briefly discussed, though less frequently (cf., e.g., 2, 16, 72, 200, 205). As will hardly surprise those familiar with his past work, M. is particularly strong on Athenian law, displaying both an exemplary control of the evidence and an admirable clarity in his presentation of it. Problems in the interpretation of the legal institutions and procedures mentioned in the speech are discussed thoroughly and with an even hand; M. is also very good on legal language, and his decisions on the authenticity of the legal documents have been placed on a firm legal and philological footing. On page after page of the commentary M. offers a vast wealth of helpful lexical and syntactical information, and while the translation which accompanies the text has obviated the need for much elementary guidance in construing the Greek, M. has still provided a fair amount. I find his interpretations on points of translation for the most part judicious and compelling, and have only a few minor quibbles. In 148, for instance, the interpretation of koinêi ... idiai rejected by M., "in public speeches ... in private conversations" (Goodwin, Vince), is more appropriately ironic than his own "concerning the community ... concerning individuals" -- there is no need to restrict logôn only to public speeches. In 150, it seems to me unnecessary and forced to insist that Meidias is not the implied object of helkei kai biazetai -- for Demosthenes to say that Meidias is compelled by the "barbaric and devilish part of his nature" (M.'s translation) to act in the outrageous way that he does would hardly make him appear overly sympathetic, as M. seems to suggest.

M. prints the hypotheses along with a brief introductory discussion in an appendix, and there are two indices (English and Greek). The book is well produced. I noticed only a few errors, all insignificant (for "lurinus" in the apparatus on p. 156 read "Iurinus").

This is an excellent edition, carefully researched and lucidly written, and it would be a great pity if its exorbitant cost were to restrict its circulation: let us hope that it will make its appearance in more affordable paperback before too long!


  • [1] This interpretation of the passage, first suggested by G. Grote, History of Greece (London 1862) 8.90 n. 1, and more recently adopted by H. Erbse (Hermes 84 [1956] 152), has gained little currency in subsequent discussions; cf., e.g., K.J. Dover, Lysias and the Corpus Lysiacum (Berkeley 1968) 172-4; F. Zucker, Gnomon 32 (1960) 608.

  • [2] That the fine cannot have been paid to Demosthenes himself has been recently stressed by E.M. Harris, HSCP 92 (1989) 117-36 (an article published between the final submission of M.'s book to the press and its appearance in print), who, in arguing that Aiskhines is fabricating the story entirely, does not address the possibility that Aiskhines might have been using apedoto in this figurative manner.

  • [3] Subsequent discussions will now have to address the arguments advanced by Harris (above, n. 2, esp. pp. 132-6) that it must have been delivered; in so arguing, Harris adopts the position, firmly rejected by M., that the procedure by which Demosthenes brought Meidias to trial was a graphê hybreôs.

  • [4] Cf. J. Redfield, CP 59 (1964) 286; C. Austin, CR 23 (1973) 133.

  • [5] Cf. J. Humbert, Démosthène. Plaidoyers politiques II (Paris 1959) 12.

  • [6] Humbert somewhat oddly retains these oracles in his text after having pronounced them spurious in his introduction.