BMCR 2001.09.19

Demosthenes, On The Crown. Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics

, , On the crown. Cambridge Greek and Latin classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. xii, 314 pages ; 19 cm.. ISBN 0521620929 $29.95.

1 Responses

The greatest speech by the greatest of the Greek orators whose works survive today is well served by Yunis (hereafter Y.), whose edition follows the standard format of the Cambridge Greek and Latin texts series: critical introduction, text, and commentary. It is gratifying that in the past couple of decades more scholarly attention has focused on the Greek orators, and there has been a proliferation of critical editions and commentaries, as well as translations and books, on them. Demosthenes is no exception. Of particular importance have been H. Wankel’s Rede für Ktesiphon über den Kranz (Heidelberg: 1976), Douglas MacDowell’s editions of Demosthenes 21 (Oxford: 1990) and of Demosthenes 19 (Oxford: 2000), Stephen Usher’s edition of Demosthenes 18 (Warminster: 1993), and the selection of private speeches (in the same Cambridge series as Y.’s book) by Christopher Carey and Robert Reid (Cambridge: 1985). Usher’s recent Greek Oratory, Tradition and Originality (Oxford: 1999) has a very good analysis of Demosthenes’ style and artistry in his private and public speeches, Raphael Sealey’s Demosthenes and his Time (Oxford: 1993) considers Demosthenes’ career from a historical perspective, and my edited Demosthenes: Statesman and Orator (London: 2000), critically discusses Demosthenes’ political career, rhetorical style, and his influence in antiquity and to the present day. Still to come (but well on their way) are the volumes of translations with critical notes of Demosthenes’ speeches in Michael Gagarin’s Oratory of Classical Greece series, published by the University of Texas Press.

Y.’s new edition of this speech will be welcomed; it will be used by scholars and students with much profit, although once past the introduction the Greekless reader will find that absence of translation and Greek lemmata (both features of the Cambridge series) will make the book hard going. On The Crown is a mine of information for political and social history, as well as judicial and even religious matters. It is also a rhetorical masterpiece. Y. not only provides a new text and elucidates the above aspects of the speech (as we should expect) in the introduction and especially commentary but also emphasizes that the speech is a political document, which also needs to be read as such.

The introduction is divided into five parts: (1) a brief survey of Athens’ relations with Philip II (from 357, when the Athenians declared war on him) and of Philip’s reign (pp. 1-6), (2) the background to the case (pp. 7-12), (3) Demosthenes’ speech as a political document and commentary on the mood of the Athenians (pp. 12-17), (4) Demosthenes’ rhetorical style (pp. 17-26), and (5) the text of the speech and its transmission (pp. 26-33).

Part 1 is understandably brief since Y. is simply setting the historical scene. This does give rise to some controversial statements and factual slips. For example, Philip “compelled the Phocians to surrender and made known his intentions to punish them severely, which duly followed later in 346” (p. 3). But the probable tacit agreement between Philip and Phalaecus at Thermopylae, probably at the instigation of Phocis, allowed the Phocians to leave unharmed, and later Philip persuaded the Amphictyonic Council not to impose the normal punishment on them. Also, Y. believes that Demosthenes’ indictment against Aeschines when the second embassy returned to Athens is evidence that Demosthenes already saw the downside of what would be the Peace of Philocrates (pp. 4-5). But the indictment surely grew out of personal enmity. On p. 4, Python’s important mission to Athens was not in early 343 but probably late summer 344. Finally, the citations of modern scholars’ works is perhaps too selective; for example, on Athens’ foreign policy in the fourth century Y. cites Cargill and Badian, but not the important article by Phillip Harding ( Klio 77 [1995], pp. 105-125).

Part 2 is an excellent discussion of the legality of the case and of Aeschines’ graphe paranomon of 336 against Ctesiphon’s proposal to crown Demosthenes for his services to the state, and of the trial and its outcome in 330. Y. rightly shows how Ctesiphon’s proposal was illegal because as a serving magistrate Demosthenes could not be so honored, and thus that Aeschines, while motivated by personal reasons, was acting within the law. It was not until 330 that the case was formally tried, for a number of reasons (Philip’s death, Alexander’s accession and early relations with the Greeks, Agis III’s abortive war, etc.)—I think Y. is sitting a little too much on the fence when he says that “one can only speculate who revived the case and for what reasons” (p. 11). It is highly likely that Aeschines rekindled the charge, and the reasons have been well explained by George Cawkwell ( CQ^2 19 [1969], pp. 163-180), Edward Harris, ( Aeschines and Athenian Politics [Oxford: 1995]), Noriko Sawada, ( Chiron 26 [1996], pp. 57-84 [arguing that Demosthenes reopened the case]), and myself ( Demosthenes: Statesman and Orator, pp. 90-113—the last two not cited by Y.).

In Part 3, “Explaining Chaeronea” (which is a summary of Y’s earlier article on the subject, but there is nothing wrong with this of course—I would not dare say otherwise given my own track record!), Y. neatly shows how Demosthenes’ speech is a work of political literature. This involves an analysis of the speeches of both Aeschines and Demosthenes from the trial, and what they tell us of the Athenians’ attitude to Macedon at the time. Demosthenes could never have lost his case because of the way he portrayed the war against Philip that ended in defeat at Chaeronea as a heroic civic matter. The Athenians made the right choice because they were fighting for freedom and autonomy, ideals that lay at the very heart of the polis system. Even if they had known in advance that they would lose, they should still have followed Demosthenes’ counsel; in defeat they had triumphed, given their cause, and thus nobly followed in the long tradition of fighting against barbarian tyranny. While Y. is right to see the Athenians as cowed in 330, he perhaps over-exaggerates their mood towards the Macedonian hegemony as time continued and their level of military preparedness. The Greeks may well have come to accept the Macedonian hegemony, given the peace and prosperity it afforded them, and the fact that they revolted en masse when Alexander died is hardly a surprise given the succession problems in 323.

Demosthenes’ rhetorical artistry is dealt with in Part 4. There is nothing controversial here, as might be expected. Y. makes the point that Demosthenes’ style is “agonistic rather than epideictic” (p. 18); that is, rhetorical style is used to bolster his arguments and method of presentation merely to win his case, not elaborated for its own artistic sake. This is a practical speech with a specific goal, after all, not a rhetorical treatise. A series of examples follow illustrating Demosthenes’ diction, figures of speech and thought, sentence structure, and use of invective, irony, and narrative, and a useful and succinct section on rhythm ends this part.

Part 5 deals with the text of the speech. As well as telling us how he constituted his text, Y. briefly outlines the history of the speech’s transmission from Demosthenes’ time to the present and the number of copies that were made in the following centuries as Demosthenes’ speeches were increasingly studied (on this aspect, see now Craig Cooper and Phillip Harding in my Demosthenes: Statesman and Orator, pp. 224-245 and 246-271, respectively). Y. emphasizes (rightly) that the apparent supporting evidence which is found in the major manuscripts (all from the tenth century) and in some papyri (such as the texts of Ctesiphon’s original decree at 18.118 or Aeschines’ indictment of that decree at 18.54-55) is spurious. I personally doubt that Demosthenes included any documentation in the speech when he revised and circulated it.

I cannot resist taking issue on one thing. Y. acknowledges that the written version of On The Crown that we have was different from the one orally delivered in court in 330 (more could be said on the relationship of the oral and written versions of speeches), but I cannot accept his view that “it is the right length and complexity for the kind of trial that took place” (p. 26). I have argued that the speech as we have it today (ditto the long speeches of Aes. 3, Dem. 19, Aes. 2, Din. 1) could not be delivered in the “regular” allotted time of about three hours ( JHS 109 [1989], pp. 204-207), and it is a comfort that MacDowell, in his recent attack on my views in the Hansen Festschrift, agrees with this point ( Polis and Politics [Copenhagen: 2000], pp. 563-568). I still maintain that Demosthenes’ trial extended over one day, but even with this extra time I believe that this speech as it was written down was much different in content and length.

So to the text. Y’s text of the speech is a very nice job indeed. He has consulted all the manuscripts (via critical editions) and all the papyri, even some not yet published. Y. prints a select apparatus criticus (relevant only to passages where a doubtful text affects Demosthenes’ sense) which will not appeal to everyone, and necessitate the need to have another text, like the OCT or Budé, open. However, the average Greek class translating this speech will not suffer because of Y.’s practice. Square brackets have been omitted to allow for a more “readable” text, and also, unlike other editions of the speech, the spurious documents (see above) are excluded. The two hypotheses to the speech would have been good to have and are short enough to have been incorporated in the book.

Finally, the commentary (pp. 105-291). This is divided into the various parts of the speech (listed in an appendix on pp. 292-293), each one preceded by a short and useful summary of the contents and argument of that part. Like other editions in the Cambridge series, the commentary is more focused on literary and linguistic matters, allowing Y. to expand greatly on what he said about Demosthenes’ stylistic abilities in his introduction. Particularly masterful is Y.’s treatment of the superb passage at 18.169-187, in which Demosthenes describes the panic after Philip’s seizure of Elatea and his own role in “saving” Athens.

It is always difficult for a reviewer (at least for this reviewer) to comment on a commentary. It is impossible to include everything in a commentary, no matter how long, and belly-aching about what is omitted or how something is explained achieves little. What I will say is that this is a detailed, scholarly commentary, very much geared for those interested in oratory as rhetoric. While Y. does deal with historical events, prosopographical matters, judicial terms and procedures, and so forth, he does so briefly; for example, I would have said more about eisangelia than just a half-dozen word explanation with a quick reference to Todd and Hansen in the commentary on 3.13. Y.’s commentary is thus less comprehensive than that of Wankel (to whom—and to Blass—Y expresses his debt on p. x of his preface). However, my point here is not meant to be critical, for Y. is not trying to outdo Wankel and is working within the confines of this series. I wish I could have produced what Y. has done.

The book also has a map of Greece (p. xiii) and two appendices. The first (pp. 292-293) is a useful synopsis of the various parts of this long speech, and the second (pp. 294-296) is a chronological chart of the main events from 384 to 322 (Demosthenes’ birth and death). The bibliography lists the major works for the period, and there is both a general index and one for Greek words and terms.

In conclusion, while the book does have some limitations on the historical side, it is a very sound work, and Y. should be commended for what is a valuable addition to Demosthenic scholarship.