Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.02.58

Harvey Yunis (trans.), Demosthenes, Speeches 18 and 19. The Oratory of Classical Greece, vol. 9.   Austin, TX:  University of Texas Press, 2005.  Pp. xxix, 243.  ISBN 0-292-70577-8.  $45.00 (hb).  ISBN 0-292-70578-6.  $22.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Brad L. Cook, San Diego State University (
Word count: 1976 words

Harvey Yunis' new translations of Demosthenes 18 and 19 stand as the most successful modern translations of these two great speeches. The translations consistently convey through 676 sections of Greek text and 541 supporting notes both the literal meaning and the spirit of these two immense speeches to the reader of modern English. As with previous volumes of this series, the student in an ancient studies, history, or rhetoric course will also find great value in the succinct introductions to this ninth volume in The Oratory of Classical Greece series. There is a "Series Introduction" by Michael Gagarin (xi-xxix) that masterfully introduces Greek oratory, the orators, and the workings of Athenian government and courts, along with a brief bibliography for further reading in English. Gagarin has also written the "Introduction to Demosthenes" for the volumes in the series dedicated to the speeches of Demosthenes (3-7). This introduction first appeared in the volume of Demosthenic speeches 50-59 by Victor Bers, and it is still as succinctly clear and valuable as it was then.

Yunis has three introductions to the volume: one to the entire volume (9-19); one on Dem. 18 (23-31); and one on Dem. 19 (114-21). The first includes sections on "The Predicament of Demosthenes' Generation and the Speeches Against Aeschines" (9-13), "The Hallmarks of Demosthenes' Career and Legacy" (13-16), "Discovering Demosthenes' Art" (16-18), and "Notes on the Text" (18-19). In "The Predicament" section Yunis briefly introduces Hellenic international affairs and Athenian internal affairs and political mechanisms in the midst of which Dem. 18 and 19 are delivered. He helpfully, and cleverly, observes that "In practice everything that the litigants had ever done, or could plausibly be said to have done, was fair game" (11, italics mine). He continues, however: "By fighting among themselves for the approval of the people, using words rather than arms, the politicians were obliged to acknowledge the supremacy of the people" (12). The "Ober-ity," if I may, of this statement is overwhelming and perhaps overly sweeping for the tyro. Likewise, to speak of Athenian prejudice against the sort of rhetorical training and activities of Demosthenes and to say that "to overcome the popular prejudice, he relied on sheer talent and energy, and he fastened on the menace posed by Philip and made it his crusade" (14) may be taken to mean that Demosthenes was not sincere and merely another political fraud. But, in the end of the section, Yunis rouses us to further study of Demosthenes' words with: "as On the Crown reveals, Demosthenes was an energetic politician, devoted to this city, and a speaker and writer of astonishing imagination" (16).

The last section, "Discovering Demosthenes' Art" starts out rather grand: "Demosthenes' art, so concentrated that it infuses with the author's purpose the whole and all the parts," but ends on a very utilitarian note: "... form serves strictly the purpose at hand, which is to defend himself and destroy his opponent, and is not elaborated for its own sake or for any other reason" (16). This could be understood to mean, in part, that Demosthenes is not Cicero, delighted with displaying his skill, but it does makes Demosthenes sound like a cutthroat hit man, expert but soulless. Demosthenes 18, however, is anything but soulless, which Yunis perceives but his description of it will, undoubtedly, provoke so much cynicism that the new reader will find it hard to hear any sincerity in Demosthenes' voice: "Since everything Demosthenes says about the conflict with Macedon is subordinated to his polemical purpose, he distorts the facts where he can, casts them in a light favorable to his case where necessary, and otherwise omits them if they are inconvenient. He thereby builds up a story of absolute good versus absolute evil, in which he and his audience are the heroes who, even in defeat, nobly faced down Philip, Aeschines, and rest of the Greek traitors" (18; italics mine). On rhetorical devices Yunis presents a brief description of amplification, parentheses and anacoluthon, apostrophe, hypophora, and such, nearly all of which he treats with such care in his translation that they become audible in English. The translation of Dem. 18 is based on Yunis' own text (2001) and for Dem. 19 he uses Fuhr's Teubner (1914), excepting seven passages where he sides with MacDowell (2000).

The introduction to Dem. 18 (23-31) is a skillful compression of material from his introduction to his Cambridge commentary (2001). Here Yunis sketches the historical, political, and legal world in which the speech was delivered.1 At times poignantly witty ("The Athenians were free to settle among themselves the question of responsibility for their subjection to Macedon" [24]) and always accessible, e.g., on the nature and (ab)use of the graphe paranomon and on Demosthenes' complex array of arguments, Yunis has produced a successful parallel to the fuller introduction in his Cambridge commentary. In some cases, however, I recommend supplementing this introduction with the earlier one, especially with his section on political reality (Yunis 2001, 16-17) where he prudently concludes, "To judge from the outcome of the trial, the audience found D.'s version of the past more compelling, which obviously does not imply that D.'s version was closer to the truth. If it implies anything, it is that D.'s version was closer to the way the jurors wished to recollect the past" (Yunis 2001, 16). Last in this introduction there is a "synopsis" of Dem. 18 (30-31), but I would send the reader to the synopsis in his Cambridge commentary (Yunis 2001, 292-3), which is far clearer and only slightly longer; there is also a numbering error in this synopsis: "110-121" and "122-131" should read "110-125" and "116-131."

The Translation and Notes

Yunis likes to be literal in these translations, and rightly so. He usually retains polysyndeton and asyndeton, e.g., "But the very fact that he chose to bring the present legal action reveals an enemy's malice and insolence and revilement and vilification and everything else of that kind" (18.12), and "Only five days passed during which Aeschines reported false information; you trusted him; the Phocians heard about it, surrendered, perished" (19.17). Oaths, all thirty-five, are retained and literal, as they should be, by Zeus! Demosthenes does not use them for mere emphasis nor does he vapidly call on "the heavens." At 18.13 and 111, Yunis has "by god" instead of "by the gods," but these may be mistakes. His frequent use of em-dashes to mark Demosthenes' self-interruptions and asides is most successful and just the right thing; he notes, e.g., on 18.126, n. 112, "Demosthenes' passion leads him to break up the sentence and pursue a new idea. Such apparently spontaneous passion gives the appearance of sincerity." Once or twice, however, the dashes seem misused, e.g., at 18.68; 19.36, 62.

I applaud Yunis' tendency to be more literal and to add notes to explain and teach. Every now and then, however, it is necessary to change the idiom or to include a note. At 19.66, for example, Demosthenes asks "How would your forebears vote, Athenians, if they could see again . . .?" The last clause is εἰ λάβοιεν αἴσθησιν and Yunis correctly understands Demosthenes to speak of those who have sensory perception as those who are alive, as in Homer (not as MacDowell, "if your ancestors could see it"), but either a note to this effect needs to be added or the mysterious "if they could see again" should be "if they were alive." On rare occasions his literalness causes discomfort, e.g., 18.205, "they thought life not worth living unless they could do it in freedom."

Yunis produces a number of clever phrases, many alliterative. At 18.129, in the notorious description of Aiskhines' mother, he speaks of "midday matrimonies." Compare: "For he who sows the seeds is responsible for the evils that sprout" (18.159), "safety in servitude" (18.203), "despite the danger" (18.203), "scandalous collusion of cowards" (18.297), "the gain does not compensate for the goods bartered away" (19.90), "dawdling and had not departed" (19.154), "he will have lifted his voice and done his vocal exercises in vain" (19.336). The satirical contrast that much of this alliteration creates, especially with "safety" versus "servitude" in 18.203, is absent in Greek but makes delightfully clever English. (This penchant for alliteration in translating Demosthenes is not unique to Yunis; cf., e.g., Vince & Vince at 18.242, "this monkey of melodrama.") Equally clever and effective are such turns of phrase as "frittered away" (19.17 and 178), "blabbermouth" (19.41), "they mired the city in immortal shame" (19.55), "jabbered a bit" (19.182), "it makes me gag" (19.199). At the same time some places may be a bit too English or anachronistic, e.g., "bootlickers" (18.46; cf. the Vinces' "toad-eaters"!), "he had all of you in his pocket" (19.19), "keep a low profile" (19.80), and "aboveboard" (19.147).

Here and there a few translations appear awkward or, perhaps, misleading. At 18.66 "during all my time" for ἐκ παντὸς τοῦ χρόνου is both awkward and misleading; Demosthenes is simply referring to "all prior time" (cf. Yunis' translation of the same phrase at 18.26 as "all along" and "since the beginning of time" at 18.203). The same is true of "during my lifetime" at 19.64 for ἐφ' ἡμῶν; he would always want to say "us" and "our" in such passages. At 18.129, Yunis describes Aiskhines' father "as slave to Elpias, the schoolteacher in the temple of Theseus"; for πρός we should say "near" or "around." "Best" at 18.195 for οὐκ ἄξιον is a reversed and flippant version of what is a most somber, wishfully apotropaic avoidance of speaking of a far worse fate that the city could have faced. At 19.197 that poor Olynthian woman is persuaded to "eat a bit of dessert" for τρώγειν; if this seems most inventive, the invention is to be credited to Liddell and Scott. "Have a bit to eat" or "something to eat" would perhaps be better. In 19.325 (". . . the walls of your Phocian allies were torn down. The Thebans did the tearing down, though Aeschines had dispersed them in his speech") the "them" appears to refer to the walls of the Phokians but refers, in fact, to the people of Thebes.

There are a few places that appear to be more than awkward. For instance, at 18.201, the aorists in a mixed contrary to fact should be translated as pluperfects in English: "if events had turned out as they have, and Philip had been elected leader and master of all." At 19.41 Yunis keeps Demosthenes' quote from a letter of Philip as a direct quote but shifts it into past tense, thereby defeating Demosthenes' effort at vividness. At 19.66 the presence of "done" seems in error when Demosthenes is speaking of the Phokians who "should, because of these men, meet the opposite fate and be allowed to suffer what no other Greeks have done": "have done" should be "have" or "have suffered," and the perfects, τετυχηκέναι and περιῶφθαι should be "have met" and "have been allowed." At 19.81 Demosthenes speaks of Philip's "mercenaries," ξένοι, not "Philip's soldiers." At 19.265, "ignored them" is the opposite of what ἀποβλέπω means. At 19.288 the periphrastic perfect καταστήσασα ἔχει should be "have humiliated" not "humiliated," and in the next sentence "what your decisions would be" for τί παρ' ὑμῖν ἐψήφισται should be "what had been decided among you."

This closing list of quibbles should not dim my opening praise of these new translations: I have heard Demosthenes more clearly in these translations than elsewhere. The production standards are very high. I have failed to find a single typographical error, and the print is crisp and clear on good paper. The stitched, signature-bound hardbacks in this series are so well produced and so modestly priced that I recommend the hardback version of this new volume for those who want to get many good years out of this excellent new translation.


1.   Harvey Yunis, ed., Demosthenes, On the Crown (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). See the review by Ian Worthington at BMCR 2001.09.19.

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