BMCR 2002.05.13

Die Parapresbeia-Reden des Demosthenes und des Aischines; Demosthenes: On the False Embassy

, Die Parapresbeia-Reden des Demosthenes und des Aischines: Kommentar und Interpretationen zu Demosthenes, or. XIX, und Aischines, or. II. Bochumer altertumswissenschaftliches Colloquium; Bd. 40. Trier: WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 1999. 566 pages. ISBN 9783884763452
, On the False Embassy (Oration 19), edited with introduction, translation, and commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. xviii, 368 pages. ISBN 9780198153030

Of the two long speeches in which Demosthenes deals with his political arch-enemy Aeschines, the earlier one (given in 343) has long stood in the shadow of its later twin (the famous speech On the Crown, delivered in 330). In the last few years, this situation has changed significantly. In 1999, Thomas Paulsen (henceforth P.) published — as his Habilitationsschrift — a detailed commentary (without edition) on Demosthenes’ speech in the False Embassy trial as well as on its counterpart delivered by Aeschines (or. 2), together with a number of comparative essays on both texts, and in 2000, Douglas M. MacDowell’s (hereafter M.) bilingual edition and commentary on Demosthenes or. 19 came out. As both books deal very largely with the same subject-matter (M., too, has to continuously take account of Aeschines’ counter-speech, even though he provides no formal running commentary on it), there is naturally some overlap in content between them; but as neither of the authors seems to have had knowledge of the other’s nearly simultaneous work (P.’s book apparently came out too late for M. to take note of it), both approached their task independently of each other and came to interestingly different results on a number of aspects. So what we have here is, in fact, two separate and very important modern voices on one of the most fascinating political trials in late-Classical Athens.

P.’s introduction starts with a succinct survey of earlier research on the two speeches (9-15), then lays out his own aims and methods for the commentary (15-23; P. notably sets himself apart from Wankel’s monumental commentary on Dem. or. 18 and stresses repeatedly that he wants to provide practical help for university students — German-speaking ones especially — reading these speeches, surely a laudable intention 1), and concludes with another concise survey, this one of earlier editions of and commentaries on the two speeches (24-27). There follows a chapter on the historical and sociopolitical background of the False Embassy Trial (first an outline of the development of relations between Athens and Macedonia in the time of Philip II, 28-51, then a sketch of Athenian political and judiciary institutions in the middle of the 4th cent. BC, 51-62) and a chapter setting out detailed structures for both speeches (63-80). The bulk of the book is taken up by the two commentaries: 220 pages for Dem. or. 19 (81-299) and 120 pages for Aeschin. or. 2 (300-419). The numbers show that the length of the commentaries are proportional to the length of the respective speeches (with Demosthenes’ speech being approximately 1.9 times as long as Aeschines’); at least quantitatively, then, P. makes good on his promise to deal with both speeches equitably. I will offer more detailed comments on select passages of these commentaries below (in direct comparison with passages of M.’s); but let it be said at once that P.’s comments are always to the point, never becoming prolix or rambling; he keeps the citing of references or parallels to a select minimum, just as he promised on 22.

After these 340 pages of detailed commentary, the book is rounded off by two very substantial chapters offering a number of comparative essays on the two speeches, which could effectively be regarded as almost a book in themselves. In the first one (“The intertextual references between the two speeches”, 420-467), P. first lists the many instances where the two speakers refer to what the other either will say (Demosthenes about Aeschines) or has said (Aeschines about Demosthenes), and seeing how often these references really mesh with each other, he concludes from the sheer number of these instances that the transmitted text of both speeches rather faithfully preserves the form of the speeches as delivered in front of the jury. In the next section of this chapter (431-446) he more closely considers the relationship between the orally presented form of the speeches and their edition in writing and comes to the conclusion that Aeschines — quite naturally, one would think — after the trial worked in the passages he had to improvise after hearing Demosthenes’ argument, while Demosthenes made only slight adaptations to his speech. P. rejects the opinion of some earlier scholars (most notably Blass and Weil) that Demosthenes’ speech was not altered at all after the trial but preserved the form in which Demosthenes had originally conceived it (443-445).2 The last and longest section of this chapter considers the interesting question which of the two opponents is actually lying when they contradict each other (446-467); he comes to the disheartening conclusion that you cannot really trust either of them, but that Demosthenes lies more frequently than Aeschines.

The last substantial chapter of P.’s book offers a “summarizing interpretation” of both speeches under the heading “Proofs and propaganda” (468-527). The first section is devoted to the ‘documentary proofs’ (written documents and witnesses) presented by Demosthenes and concludes that all of them are in fact irrelevant for proving anything (468-479). Demosthenes’ handling of the corruption charge against Aeschines (479-501) does not fare much better: the orator has to try to make up his lack of hard evidence by simply stating over and over again (90 times!) that his opponent was bribed, by cunningly using antithetical arrangements of past events to suggest that bribery must have taken place and by not even shunning to contradict himself (see 492f.) to insinuate the suspicion of corruption into the hearts of his listeners. As for the other charges levelled by Demosthenes and their rebuttal by Aeschines (501-511), P. concludes that each one of them can be trusted in one point of their argument: Aeschines may have furthered Philip’s aims, but more because he was led to believe that this was best also for Athens than because he was bribed; he may have lied, but this cannot be proved, and even less can it be proved that he was bought. In a further section which looks at Aeschines’ defensive tactics (511-516) P. points out the surprising fact that Aeschines surprisingly never replies explicitly to the charge of bribery — in P.’s opinion (512) because he wanted to show by his silence that he considered it simply absurd. The next section (517-521) looks at the πίστεις ἄτεχνοι presented by Aeschines and shows that in a number of instances (especially in the second half of the speech) they are more relevant to the argument (and thus more convincing) than they were in Demosthenes’ case. In a final look at the structure of both speeches (521-525) P. demonstrates that they actually rely on diametrically opposed principles: Demosthenes relies on premeditated chaos to swamp his audience with a welter of allegations and to hide the fact that he has no unequivocal evidence to prove them, while Aeschines, after an apparently improvised and seemingly (but deliberately) confused prooemium, sets out an exceptionally clear structure to show that he has really nothing to hide and everything developed much more simply and innocently than Demosthenes would like to believe.

All in all, P.’s last two chapters go very far in penetrating the mechanisms that both speakers employed to further their aims; I can highly recommend these pages to everyone interested in looking behind the façade of classical Attic oratory.

M., who has proved himself by many substantial publications to be an expert in the history, law, and oratory of classical Athens,3 sets about his task in ‘classic’ commentary style: After an ample introduction (1-53), we get a text of Demosthenes’ speech with facing translation (57-203 4) and then — as the third large section of the book — the commentary itself (204-355). Although it comprises fewer pages than P.’s, the smaller type and a different layout make clear that it is in fact not shorter than its German counterpart; and, additionally, there is the translation as a kind of shorthand interpretation itself.5

The introduction comprises four chapters: the first (“The Peace of Philokrates”, 1-14) deals with the historical background of the False Embassy Trial and is thus roughly equivalent to P.’s sketch of the relations between Athens and Philip II; the second (“The Prosecution of Aiskhines”, 14-22) discusses the background and prehistory of the trial itself (this topic is partially covered by P. in his section on Athenian political and legal procedures). More interesting is the third section (“Demosthenes’ Speech”, 22-30), where we may note several disagreements with P.’s positions. One concerns the length of the speeches as orally delivered: while M. (239) reckons that Demosthenes had two hours and 12 minutes for his speech (namely the equivalent of a third of the total 11 amphoreis of water which were allotted to all the speeches during the trial and which were measured out by a water-clock) which would probably mean that he could not deliver the whole written text transmitted to us, P. (60f. and 445f.), following others,6 calculates that Demosthenes had in fact 3 hours and 12 minutes at his disposal;7 with this amount, he would even have had some time left to present documents and testimony. It is almost impossible to attain certainty here, but we must at least admit that P.’s calculation may be right. Another serious difference between the two commentators concerns the state in which Demosthenes’ speech has been transmitted to us: while P. (431-445, especially 435f., 441, 442, 445) believes that Demosthenes reworked some — but only very few — passages after the trial, M. (24-26), following the lead of Blass and other scholars, makes a case that what we have is actually Demosthenes’ draft as it was written down before the trial and not altered afterwards.8 M. concedes that one “cannot definitely exclude the possibility that Demosthenes after the trial inserted a few new passages into the text …”; but he rightly points out that “it is not obvious what would have been the point of making a small number of insertions without carrying out a proper revision of the whole oration …” (26).9 One of his best reasons for thinking so is that in the whole text of Demosthenes’ speech there is no clear acknowledgement that Philocrates — the main culprit for the peace with Philip that had turned out so much to Athens’ disadvantage — had been condemned to death and fled the city shortly before the False Embassy Trial. One may also ask why Demosthenes should have bothered to publish a reworked version of his speech after the trial; after all he had been defeated (though narrowly) in it, and circulating a written version — be it ever so much improved (which the version we have is clearly not) — could only remind people of this defeat.10 All in all, P. takes too little account of the possibility that not only the defendant but the accuser as well may have inserted improvised passages into his speech during the trial to which the defendant then had to reply; we may therefore read reactions of Aeschines to something Demosthenes had said and which are now absent in Demosthenes’ text not because Demosthenes took them out but because he never wrote them down in the first place. So M. is probably right in assuming that — as in the case of the Midiana — we in fact have the draft of Demosthenes’ speech in the False Embassy Trial.

The largest section of the introduction (“Manuscript and Text”, 30-53) deals with the establishment of a new text for Demosthenes’ speech.11 M. has not only taken account of all papyri known to contain passages of Demosthenes’ speech, but has also made the most extensive investigation into the medieval manuscript base of the text: of 109 known manuscripts which present the whole or parts of or. 19, he has made complete or (more frequently) partial collations of 49 (previously, only 12 had been collated). As a result of his investigations, M. considers that only five older manuscripts (SAFQY) are worthy of being cited throughout in the apparatus, while Butcher in his OCT cited also P and L fairly frequently; of the 23 fragments from ancient (mostly papyrus) manuscripts cited by M., Butcher knew only two. With this considerably altered text base for the speech, it will come as no surprise that M.’s text differs from the OCT in a number of instances, some of which will be considered below.

The proof of a pudding is in the eating, and the proof of a commentary in its discussion of details (of text and content). Both commentaries under review on the whole provide good assistance to the reader concerned with the text(s) they comment on, but they are far from agreeing on every point, be it textual or interpretive. A number of examples must suffice here to show this:

Dem. or. 19.19: Together with Butcher, P. reads τοιούτους λόγους καὶ τηλικαῦτα καὶ τοσαῦτ’ ἔχοντας ἀγαθά, while M., supported by the majority of the manuscripts, has τοιαῦτ’ instead of τοσαῦτ’. P. rightly assumes that the ἀγαθά are described here quantitatively and qualitatively, but to keep τοσαῦτ’, he attributes the qualitative aspect to τηλικαῦτα, which, however, is rather taken quantitatively itself (see LSJ s.v. τηλικοῦτος II). Thus M. seems to be right (he translates “such a speech, including such great advantages, of such a kind …”); compare 19.64 ( τηλικούτων … καὶ τοιούτων πραγμάτων), 19.94 ( τηλικαῦτα καὶ τοιαῦτα).

Dem. or. 19.20: While M. reads ἀπήγγειλε (in keeping with the preceding διεξῆλθε),12 P. (like Butcher) has ἀπήγγελλε (in keeping with the following ἀπελογίζετο) and well defends his preference for the imperfect as probably showing how ridiculously Aeschines (in Demosthenes’ view) dwelt at length on the points he wanted to make.

Dem. or. 19.37: P. follows Butcher in adopting Cobet’s exclusion of καί φησιν αὐτὸς αἴτιος γεγενῆσθαι, while M. retains it in the text, stating that “pleonasm is a common feature of D.’s style” (223). Maybe, but this looks much more like an explanatory gloss than a pleonasm, and Weil very pertinently pointed out that the balance of ἐκεῖνος ἐκδέχεται τὴν αἰτίαν with οὗτος ἀπήγγειλεν is broken by it.13

Dem. or. 19.39: While P. tries to defend the transmitted reading οὐδ’ ἐνθυμηθῆναι instead of Blass’s conjecture οὐδέν’ ἐνθυμηθῆναι — declaring it “rätselhaft” — M. like Butcher adopts the conjecture, providing the convincing explanation that the next sentence can function as an effective antithesis to this preceding one only if one reads οὐδένα (as against ἐγώ).

Dem. or. 19.42: P. follows Butcher in adopting the text transmitted by S ( εἰ μὲν ἀκοῦσαι μὲν ἔδει φενακισθῆναι δὲ τὴν πόλιν), while M. sides with the other manuscripts and reads εἰ μὲν ἀκοῦσαι μόνον ἔδει καὶ φενακισθῆναι τὴν πόλιν. M. seems to be right, arguing that S introduces “an unsuitable contrast between ἀκοῦσαι and φενακισθῆναι. The point of the sentence is a contrast between mere words … and action; ἀκοῦσαι μόνον … καὶ φενακισθῆναι is contrasted with πραχθῆναι τῷ ὄντι” (224).

Dem. or. 19.54, a most interesting discrepancy. Both commentators adopt the same text ( τὸ τὸν Φίλιππον ὑπάρχειν αὑτοῖς πεισθῆναι, while Butcher has αὐτοῖς in this expression) and both discuss the same two possible interpretations, but each adopts the one that the other rejects: M. translates “that Philip had been persuaded to side with them”, while P. thinks — rightly in my opinion — that this would require αὐτοῖς and himself opts for the other solution, making the Phocians (to whom also αὑτοῖς refers) the subject of πεισθῆναι : “the fact that they had been convinced that Philip was on their side, made them weak”. At the very least this interpretation is in harmony with the preferred text.

Dem. or. 19.64: Like Butcher (who followed Cobet), P. deletes Φίλιππος as “eindeutige Glosse”, while M. retains the name, arguing “D. often adds inessential words for emphasis or other rhetorical effect” (234). It is hard, however, to detect anything of that here.

Dem. or. 19.65: For the strange προτεθεῖσαν, with which also P. (123) is obviously uncomfortable (though somehow trying to account for it), M. provides a convincing remedy, conjecturing προτιθεῖσιν.

Dem. or. 19.83: P., together with Butcher (who follows Weidner and others), deletes μηδὲ Θηβαίους as redundant and obscuring the progression of the thought; M.’s defence of the words (243) is not convincing.

Dem. or. 19.94: While P. is inclined to retain τὴν ἀρχήν transmitted in some manuscripts before τὴν πρώτην ἔφερον τοῦ φενακισμοῦ, M., like Butcher, does not accept it into the text, thinking it must be “an explanatory gloss” (247). I would agree, but there remain some difficulties about the exact meaning of τὴν πρώτην φέρειν : might we have to supply something like yῆφον ?

One could discuss more examples like this, but by now the picture should be fairly clear. In the places where and M. disagree with each other,14 it cannot be said that one is always right and the other always wrong; both always have to be heard, and then one can try (like a judge in an Athenian court) to make up one’s mind. In most instances, both are very competent advocates of the cases they present,15 and both provide their readers with magnificent tools for the texts they deal with. These are lucky times for anyone wanting to tackle the False Embassy Trial and all issues related to it; he will be well advised to use both these books, if possible, always side by side.


1. On p. 21, P. stresses his intention to deal with both speeches as impartially as possible. It may be said that he very largely succeeds and that this novel approach to take this almost unique opportunity and provide a thorough investigation of the pleadings of both the accuser and the accused (the only other occasion where both speeches have been preserved is the Trial of the Crown in 330, with Aeschines this time being the accuser and Demosthenes speaking for the defence) is most fruitful. To add a personal note: I offered my students a seminar comparing the two speeches two times and was very glad to have P.’s book available on the second occasion.

2. As this is also the position of M., we shall have to return to the question below.

3. To cite just the books among his many publications: Aristophanes: Wasps, Oxford 1978; The law in classical Athens, Oxford 1978; Andokides: On the mysteries, Oxford 1989; Demosthenes: Against Meidias, Oxford 1990; Aristophanes and Athens, Oxford 1995.

4. There is no equivalent of that in P., which, however, is very understandable. Adding the text of two very long speeches plus a translation would have swelled the book out of all proportion. Moreover, to make up for the lack of a translation, P. very often gives a rendering into German of interesting or difficult phrases of both texts in his commentary.

5. This is in fact the aim of the translation as stated by M. himself in his preface.

6. Most notably Bruno Keil, Anonymus Argentinensis: Fragmente zur Geschichte des perikleischen Athen aus einem Strassburger Papyrus, Strassburg 1902, 252-256.

7. He arrives at this figure by adopting two assumptions different from M.’s: unlike M., he thinks that the 11 amphorai were not divided exactly into thirds but rather a bit unevenly by allotting whole amphorai (namely 4 : 4 : 3) to the three different parts of the trial, and he follows Keil (see n. 6), who reckoned the time measured by one amphora as 48 minutes (and this is adopted by P.), while M. follows J. Rhodes, A Commentary on the Aristotelian Athenaion Politeia, Oxford 1981, 719-728, who allots only 36 minutes to an amphora.

8. Both commentators agree that the victorious Aeschines incorporated passages into the text of his speech which he had had to improvise as a response to his opponent during the actual trial.

9. P. (440), following Weil, considers that Demosthenes could not have foreseen (as he in fact does in or. 19.235) Aeschines attacking him for lavishly entertaining the Macedonian ambassadors and therefore must have added those remarks later on; but even those details may have suggested themselves to such a fertile imagination as Demosthenes’ beforehand.

10. One might in this context compare Milo’s sardonic reaction after Cicero sent him a reworked version of his defence speech which in its original form had been insufficient to save the defendant.

11. On 24-26, P. explains why he felt that no such textual work of his own was needed.

12. This is rendered rather better by “described” (M.) than by “paraphrasierte” (P.).

13. In the same paragraph, I find P.’s explanation of δυνήσεσθαι (pointing to the Athenians’ utter inability to call Philip to account for his actions) more convincing than M.’s ( δυνήσεσθαι does not here refer to physical power but to what “could be done with propriety”, 223).

14. It should not be overlooked that they are also fairly often in agreement with each other. Examples: In Dem. or. 19.33, both and M. rightly reject Dobree’s exclusion of δεινῶν καὶ adopted by Butcher. In 19.39 both again rightly put ποιῶν back into the text against Butcher. In 19.43 both adopt the manuscripts’ οὔτ’ ἤλπισεν against Bekker’s conjecture οὐδ’ ἤλπισεν accepted by Butcher; in 19.48 both retain ἐπαγγέλλεσθαι, deleted by Butcher following Benseler. In 19.51 both argue for putting ἐπανέχοντες back into the text, after this or a similar reading had been eliminated by Weil, followed by Butcher; in 19.56 both retain ὕστερον, again unnecessarily bracketed by Weil and Butcher. And both reject textual emendation in 19.90, retaining the transmitted δικαίως (Weil conjectured δὴ καὶ ὥς).

15. On the whole, P. judges Demosthenes more unfavourably than Aeschines and more severely than M. does. For example, where each of them comments on Demosthenes’ statement in 19.65 that no men of military age had been left in Phocis, P. indignantly declares: “Die Übertreibungen von D. sind hier scham- und grenzenlos” (122), while M. is much more reticent: “it must be an overstatement to say that no men of military age were left at all” (235).