Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.09.22

Patrice Brun, L'orateur Démade: essai d'histoire et d'historiographie.   Bordeaux:  Ausonius, 2000.  Pp. 199.  ISBN 2-910023-22-2.  EUR 28.05.  

Reviewed by Jim Roy, University of Nottingham (
Word count: 3177 words

In a brief preface Brun (B.) explains that while working on a study of the political history of Greeks in the fourth century B.C. he was struck by the bitter hostility shown by ancient sources to the Athenian orator and politician Demades. B. therefore began to examine the evidence for Demades' career, and his investigation and its conclusions developed into a study too big to be included in his text on the fourth century or even in an article of reasonable length. The result is his book on Demades, in which, as B. insists more than once, he is not attempting to rehabilitate Demades but to consider how far the evidence on Demades is reliable and what justification there is for the poor opinion of Demades which has often been carried over from ancient writers to modern accounts. The book thus offers a fresh study of what we know about one of Athens' leading political figures in the period from the battle of Chaeronea in 338 until he died in 319. The book is addressed to those with a specialist interest in Greek, and especially Athenian, politics of these years. It analyses in detail the patchy source material and argues that the evidence can be divided into two major groups: on the one hand, contemporary evidence both literary and epigraphic and some later historical evidence found notably in Diodorus, and on the other hand the majority of later writers. The denigration of Demades is found above all in the later ancient sources, and B. argues that these are for the most part unreliable. B. thus develops a strong argument that Demades' reputation as a corrupt and immoral politician seeking above all his own personal interest and enrichment is an unjustified construct of later writers, and that Demades, if no better, was not significantly worse than other Athenian politicians of his day. However, despite his statements that he is not seeking to rehabilitate Demades, B. occasionally makes large claims for him (e.g. p. 105 that from 338 he was the real inspiration of Athenian foreign policy) and these are less convincing.

The structure of the book is clear. The first chapter sets out B.'s purpose and discusses methodology, and the second (which is of critical importance in B.'s study) analyses sources and historiography. Then seven successive chapters consider in chronological sequence the known episodes of Demades' career: his origins and activity before 338; the period of the "Peace of Demades", 338 to 336; the revolt of Thebes from Macedon and (in B.'s term) the apogee of Demades, 336 to 335; the war of Agis in 331 and (again B.'s term) Demades' pacifism; the honours voted by Athens for Alexander and the Lamian War, 324 to 322; and the submission of Athens to Macedon and the death of Demades, 322 to 319. There follow two thematic chapters, on Demades as a demagogue and on Demades and corruption. The final chapter, under the heading "Who was Demades?", sums up B.'s conclusions. The book also contains a list of the eighteen surviving inscriptions which preserve in whole or part decrees proposed by Demades: the list follows that of Oikonomides in 1956, with added references, notably to Schwenk's catalogue of dated Athenian laws and decrees from the period from 338 to 322. There is an extensive bibliography, and indices of personal names, geographical terms, themes, ancient sources, and modern scholars.

In the first chapter B. points out that the ancient evidence for Demades' career is scattered and of uneven quality and does not include a life of Demades save for a brief and confused notice in the Suda. Later ancient sources tend to see Demades as a corrupt politician, particularly in comparison with the other major Athenian political figures of the day, Demosthenes, Lycurgus, and Phocion, and this hostile view of Demades has been adopted by most modern scholars. B. also points out that there has been no monograph devoted to the career of Demades, though in 1954 De Falco published a volume containing the testimonia and fragments. B. recognises that there have been exceptions to the hostile view of Demades, in particular an article by Williams in 1989, but at this point B. tends to play down the number of scholars who on one specific point or another have reacted against the general condemnation of Demades (though there are references to such work later in the book). B. also discusses at length how modern prejudices can colour modern interpretations of Greek history: the discussion offers little that is new, but it reminds us how France's experiences of German occupation have made collaboration with a dominant foreign power, such as Demades attempted with Macedon, a touchy subject for some French historians.

The second chapter, in which B. discusses sources and historiography, is the most important in the book, since all B.'s later arguments depend on it. We do not have any major text from Demades himself, though there were some favourable contemporary comments on his oratory (notably by Theophrastus as reported in Plutarch's life of Demetrius). Both Cicero and Quintilian noted that no speeches of Demades survived in their own day. B. argues, surely rightly, that the preserved Speech on the Twelve Years is not an authentic speech of Demades and also that the supposed dialogue between Demades and his accuser Deinarchus is a later school exercise. Numerous supposed sayings of Demades, known from antiquity as Demadeia, are recorded: B. points out that they are generally preserved out of context and therefore difficult to evaluate and moreover that, although Demades had a reputation for wit, many of the anecdotes preserving Demadeia show Demades' wit being capped and outdone by someone else. In addition B. draws up a list of those of the Demadeia which were attributed in antiquity not only to Demades but also to other figures. On these various grounds B. finds it difficult to put much weight on the Demadeia as historical evidence. In preserved speeches of other contemporary political figures Demades is naturally attacked, as all political figures were, but the attacks do not include the sweeping condemnation found in later sources. Other contemporary evidence is the remarkable number of preserved inscriptions (eighteen) recording decrees proposed by Demades, far more than is known for any other politician, and this epigraphic material illustrates the range of Demades' interests as well as his ability to persuade the Athenian Assembly. B. also points out that the four mentions of Demades in the history of Diodorus Siculus are positive and concludes that Diodorus drew on a historical tradition representing Demades as a politician anxious to defend the interests of Athens. Since B. later makes considerable use of the material in Diodorus as evidence for Demades' career, it is unfortunate that he does not here examine at any length what Diodorus' source may be and how reliable Diodorus' use of the evidence is. Later writers are generally hostile to Demades, and numerous anecdotes are preserved showing him in a very unfavourable light. B. rightly points out that in many individual cases it is impossible to test the historical reliability of such anecdotes and that in general they seem to have been influenced by a growing tendency to show Demades as venal and self-seeking. Several of the anecdotes occur in Plutarch's life of Phocion, and B. follows Bearzot's 1985 study of Phocion in rejecting many of these as unhistorical. Thus, while B. consistently recognises in this chapter and later the need to scrutinise each individual piece of evidence, he arrives at a general evaluation of the ancient evidence for Demades which broadly divides the material into an earlier, more reliable, body of literary and epigraphic evidence, to which Diodorus is attached, and a later, generally unreliable, body of evidence among which Plutarch is prominent. This view of the evidence underlies all of B.'s reevaluation of Demades' career.

Chapter III examines Demades' family background, and his political activity before 338. One clear fact emerges from a preserved inscription: in 341 Deamdes was among the Athenian citizens who offered financial guarantees for the warships sent to the Chalcidians. This allows the deduction, made earlier by e.g. Jordan and Davies, that in 341 Demades was already a wealthy man and the further deduction, made by Davies, that Demades was then hostile to Philip of Macedon. B. rightly argues that Demades was not a partisan of Macedon from the outset of his career, and that he was not a poor man who became rich by backing Macedon. B. also reviews other evidence, but it is too thin to be of much use. He accepts the persuasive argument of Davies that a fragment of Polyeuctus of Sphettus shows that Demades' father Demeas had some connection with shipping, but Demeas remains a shadowy figure. B. recognises that there is no good evidence for a family connection between Demades and Demosthenes, save that the two families belonged to the same deme and shared a taste for names in Dem... B. also argues that the fact that Demades' grandson, also called Demades, was able to propose a decree some time in the years between 288 and 262, as an inscription shows, means that the grandfather did not then have a bad reputation in Athens: but we know too little to draw firm conclusions from such evidence.

The next five chapters examine in chronological sequence phases of Demades' career from Chaeronea onwards. The difficulty facing B. here is that literary references to Demades' career from 338 onwards, so far as they can be set in historical context, concentrate on critical moments in Athenian politics. Inscriptions surviving from other years sometimes illuminate Demades' activity in the intervals between crises but only to a limited extent. It is thus impossible to reconstruct in detail a coherent narrative of Demades' career, and it is dangerous to assume that, even if broadly consistent in his attitudes, he was not obliged as politicians commonly are to shift his ground according to circumstance. In addition the evidence for particular events is often poor. B. is scrupulous in setting out his arguments in lucid detail for the reader to judge, and so it is clear that he sometimes takes a very personal line in interpreting evidence. His general thesis is that Demades, already a known figure before Chaeronea, consistently played a major role in Athenian politics from 338 onwards. B. takes the reasonable line that for most of the period Athens had little choice but to come to terms with whoever held power in Macedon but did not need to follow Macedonian direction abjectly, and he argues that Demades, like others, pursued a policy of "complementarity", seeking an accommodation with Macedon while preserving what they could of Athenian independence and influence.

B.'s treatment of the aftermath of Chaeronea is typical. He argues, correctly, that Demosthenes' speech On the Crown 285 shows that Demades was given credit in Athens for having negotiated an acceptable peace with Philip after Chaeronea. He rejects the story in Diodorus 16.87 of Demades' jibe at a drunken Philip after the battle, and supposes, admittedly without direct evidence, that Philip selected Demades, a known politician, from among the Athenian prisoners in order to use him in negotiating with Athens. B. also rejects the view presented in later writers, and notably in Plutarch, that Phocion played the leading part in diplomatic exchanges with Philip. The arguments against Plutarch are powerful, and B. also makes a good case against those who see Demades as entering into a dishonourable and self-seeking relationship with Macedon. The passage from Demosthenes certainly guarantees that Demades played a major part in negotiations with Philip (though Demosthenes in 330 may well have chosen to give a partial account of events in 338). Yet exactly what Demades did remains obscure, for want of fuller evidence, and B.'s reconstruction of his role, while extremely interesting and worth further consideration, is speculative.

It would take too long to examine each episode in detail in this review, but B. makes some good points. Plutarch Moralia 818E tells us that Demades was against war with Macedon, but B. argues that when the opportunity for war came with the revolt of Agis of Sparta not just Demades but most Athenians had little enthusiasm for war. He deduces from Lycurgus' speech Against Leocrates that Lycurgus too was against war at that time, although modern historians do not see Lycurgus as a friend of Macedon. B. also notes that in the next few years inscriptions show Demades taking measures to maintain Athens' fleet.

The most contentious events of Demades' career occurred from 324 onwards. First came Alexander's request for deification and his rescript on the return of exiles. B. suggests that the possible return of Samian exiles was a threat to Athens' cleruchy on the island but that Athens sought by negotiation to prevent the loss of Samos. In the circumstances divine honours for Alexander might seem a price worth paying to save the cleruchy, and, B. further suggests, Demades took that view and acted accordingly. This is a very interesting suggestion, but it rests on a few dubious scraps of evidence, and it seems excessive to end the discussion (p.105) with the statement that Demades should be considered the true inspirer of Athenian foreign policy. Then came the Lamian War, over which Demades clearly took a firm stance against Macedon. On this B. takes the view that either, as already argued by Engels, Samos was already lost to Athens and was the chief reason for fighting the war or at least that Samos if not lost was so seriously threatened that it was worth fighting a war over it. On that account Demades will have changed his policy of prudence towards Macedon, as did other Athenians. B. further suggests, however, that the changed situation had diminished the influence of Demades and greatly increased that of Hyperides so that he was able to prosecute Demades and have him convicted. Then came Athens' defeat and surrender. Terms had to be negotiated with Antipater. B. reviews the evidence for the embassies of 322 and then argues (p.115) that Demades had been in the front rank of all Athenian diplomacy since 338 and, although there is no direct evidence, must have been the leading Athenian ambassador in 322. In discussing the sentence of death passed on Demosthenes and Hyperides, B. recognises that Demades proposed the penalty but has surprisingly little to say about it. He does, however, note the inscription passed soon afterwards honouring Thessalians who had sided with Athens in the war and argues, again without specific evidence to support his view, that Demades was the leading figure behind such sentiments which distanced Athens from submission to Macedon. Demades' career ended in 319 when he was put to death by Antipater or his son Cassander. Here again B. sees Diodorus' version as the best of the ancient accounts: Demades went to Macedon as ambassador to persuade Antipater to keep his word that the Macedonian garrison at Munychia would be withdrawn but was killed because Antipater had found a letter from Demades to Perdiccas urging the latter to intervene in Europe. B. however goes beyond Diodorus' version in speculating that Demades had been in contact with Perdiccas to promote Athens' continuing claim to Samos.

Chapter IX on whether Demades was a demagogue first considers Demades' attitude to the theorikon in light of his saying that the theorika were the cement of democracy. B. argues that Demades' attitude was simply that of politicians of the day, and points out that Lycurgus, generally considered prudent in financial management, proposed a distribution of fifty drachmae in 331. B. then goes on to give a very useful overview of the various responsibilities which Demades is known to have held in the Athenian administration, in financial affairs, on religious missions, and with regard to the supply of corn. B. sums up this chapter with the very reasonable conclusion that evidence of this kind shows Demades as a politeuomenos serving Athens and neither better nor worse than other such men.

Chapter X deals with Demades and financial corruption. Naturally the Harpalus affair is prominent, since, as B. recognises, there is no doubt that Demades took money from Harpalus. B. reviews the familiar question of bribery or financial corruption in Athenian politics, and concludes that Demades was no less patriotic than other leading men of his day.

In his conclusion B. develops his views on how the reputation of Demades evolved with the passage of time. He argues that Demetrius of Phaleron promoted the image of Phocion, and denigrated Demades to distance him from Phocion. He then suggests that with the restoration of democracy in 307 Lycurgus was promoted as a democratic hero, especially by Stratocles, so that Demades' role as a leading political figure faded from Athenian history. Then, when in the 280s Athens was freed from Demetrius Poliorcetes, Demosthenes' nephew Demochares became prominent and promoted his uncle's reputation, leaving Demades as the man responsible for Demosthenes' death. B. further argues that the view, once widespread among modern scholars but now dubious, that Athens declined in the fourth century made it easier for moderns to see an unscrupulous Demades as a symbol of that decline.

This is a provocative work that anyone interested in the political history of the period should read. B.'s analysis of the ancient sources shows that the very hostile ancient judgments of Demades do not appear in contemporary evidence but are transmitted by later writers, though he does not fully examine the merits of Diodorus' account and its source. B. shows clearly that the picture of Demades as an unscrupulous traitor who built a career and a fortune on contact with Macedon is not justified. He also shows that Demades was prominent in Athenian politics and held a number of official positions from before 338 until his death. Others have already suggested that in one regard or another the very critical view of Demades carried over from later ancient writers into some modern accounts is not wholly justified, but B. goes further in exposing the general weaknesses of such a verdict. B. insists several times that it is not his aim to rehabilitate Demades, but his arguments come close to attempting such a rehabilitation: from B.'s reconstruction of events Demades emerges as a leading and very active Athenian politician for more than twenty years, a prime agent in Athenian diplomacy, with even (pages 140 and 141) a significant part alongside Lycurgus in restoring Athens' finances. Since B.'s own reconstructions of events are often speculative, his positive image of Demades must be regarded as unproven. B.'s views do, however, have the considerable merit of showing that a very different reading of the sources is at least possible, rejecting the denigration of Demades and seeing him as a politician like others of his day.

The book is well produced, but the first copy sent for review had pages 97 to 112 printed twice in succession and lacked pages 113 to 128. The publishers were courteous and prompt in sending a replacement.

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