Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.03.06

Nick Fisher (trans.), Aeschines, Against Timarchos.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2001.  Pp. xv, 397.  ISBN 0-19-924156-2 (pb).  

Reviewed by Ian Worthington, Department of History, University of Missouri-Columbia (
Word count: 1048 words

This is another volume in the Clarendon Ancient History series, the aim of which, as the blurb on the cover states, is to "provide authoritative translations, introductions, and commentaries to a wide range of Greek and Latin texts studied by ancient historians." Aeschines' speech Against Timarchus (1) was delivered in 346 as a self-defence measure, for Aeschines was about to face trial on charges relating to his role in the Athenian embassies to Philip II of Macedon that led to the Peace of Philocrates in the same year. Timarchus was the leading prosecutor. By charging him with homosexual acts in his youth for payment, a crime that the Athenians regarded as morally reprehensible, Aeschines diverted attention away from himself and escaped trial until 343. Moreover, his case against Timarchus was successful.

Aeschines' speech has been widely studied for its historical and social information as well as for what it tells us about the mores of society and especially the Athenians attitude to homosexuality. Yet, as Fisher (hereafter F.) notes in his preface (p. v), this important speech has been much neglected until the past two or three decades, and has never had a commentary on it (nor, for that matter, have Aeschines' two other speeches). This shows again that classical scholarship is best served today not by churning out more stuff on overworked authors but by plugging gaps in the cases of neglected authors or works.

F.'s book is divided into an Introduction (pp. 1-68), Translation (pp. 71-117), and Commentary (pp. 118-356). We also have an Appendix dealing with gambling (pp. 357-362), a Bibliography listing works cited more than once (pp. 363-383), and a good, detailed Index (pp. 385-397). The book's production quality is high, although there are several typos, especially in the Bibliography (e.g., Julia Heskell should be Heskel, and Harris' book is not Aeschines and Athenian Politic), but nothing that detracts from presentation or argumentation. The series does not allow inclusion of a Greek text; F.'s translation and commentary are based on the recent Teubner edition of Aeschines by Mervin Dilts (1997).

The Introduction is split into three parts, the first dealing with the trial and its major characters (pp. 1-24), the second with homosexuality, morality, and the law ("the main issues," pp. 25-67), and the third is a short note about the text and translation (pp. 67-68). In the first part, F. provides an excellent discussion of the political background to the case, the date of Timarchus' trial (early 345, though with reservations: p. 8), and the careers of Aeschines down to 345 (naturally drawing to a large extent on E.M. Harris' Aeschines and Athenian Politics [Oxford: 1995]) and of Timarchus. Whether Demosthenes appeared as part of Timarchus' defence has been a contentious issue for some time, but F. argues that he did (pp. 23-24), and I think he is right to do so.

From the outset, F. emphasizes (pp. 1-2) that Aeschines' speech is of paramount importance as a source for Athenian laws about and attitudes toward homosexual behavior and relations. In the second and longest part of the Introduction, F. turns to deal with this aspect of the speech. What we mean by homosexuality and what the classical Greeks meant (or rather did not mean since they did not have our term) is set against a succinct discussion of how "homosexuality" was conducted, what was accepted and what was not in same sex relationships (or sexual encounters), and especially how and what the laws (some of which go back to the time of Solon) governing homosexual practices tell us of society's attitudes.

F.'s arguments set up a closing section, in this part of his Introduction, on Aeschines' strategy in the case, which F. divorces from the political background. Clearly, the political background was in everyone's mind at the time, but Aeschines was less concerned with this and more with the fact that Timarchus, a politician, had gone too far. Aeschines' speech was skillfully constructed and aimed to show that Timarchus' sexual exploits in his pursuit of youths had transgressed the mores of society. The jury agreed.

F. says that his translation of the speech is to convey Aeschines' arguments clearly and accurately (p. 67), and he includes the various laws and testimony (although all of these in this speech are spurious). It is accurate and good, essential criteria of any translation, but I personally find there is a tendency to the literal. Not that there is anything wrong with this. Set F's translation next to Carey's recent translation in the University of Texas Orators series (Austin: 2000), and one can see a difference in style, but neither one does Aeschines a disservice and neither one can be said to be "wrong". Certainly not F.'s. Enough said.

The strength of the book is in its commentary. F. gives a useful plan of the speech at the start of the Commentary, which more importantly illustrates how skillfully the speech was written (yes, ring composition) and the strategies and arguments (themes) on which Aeschines based his case (pp. 118-119). Aeschines' prowess as a speechwriter is thus highlighted.

I said in my review of Yunis' edition of Demosthenes 18 (Cambridge: 2001) in BMCR 2001.09.19 that it is hard for a reviewer to comment on a commentary since it is impossible to include everything, and there is always an inclination to criticise what has not been included -- or at times what has. The result ultimately serves no one. What I will say about F.'s commentary is that it is very sound and very much needed. While it is geared primarily to those interested in social history, it has a mine of information, an abundance of references to ancient and modern material, and plenty of clear, explanatory notes (for example, on laws and procedures), which will appeal to many scholars and students. F. is sensible in his treatment of various issues, but I have to commend him for almost always having a viewpoint and not sitting on the fence, which happens to be the case in some recent commentaries.

F.'s scholarly output and standing in social history and in law make him a natural choice as commentator on Aeschines 1. He has given us a much-needed and valuable book, which will be used by all with great profit.

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