BMCR 2005.02.39

Athenian Political Oratory, 16 Key Speeches

, Athenian political oratory : 16 key speeches. New York: Routledge, 2004. 1 online resource (ix, 264 pages). ISBN 0203335104. $24.95.

The invaluable historical, social, and legal information contained in the Attic orators cannot be overstressed. The words of the orators, who participated in the legal and/or political process, help to recreate Athenian history and Greek history in general. Yet, it is often hard to set speeches as required reading in courses on Greek history or society because translations are usually lacking or dated. The aging Loeb edition of the orators and the two Penguin Classics Greek Political Oratory and Demosthenes and Aeschines (both out of print) are evidence of this. Fortunately, specialized books on Greek oratory and editions of the Greek orators, often with an English translation, have been appearing with welcome frequency over the past few years. In addition, the University of Texas Press is publishing a translation of all of the Greek orators under the general editorship of Michael Gagarin, and several volumes in this series have now appeared.

There is still, however, the problem when teaching courses of having to read speeches which are in several books (as in the Loeb volumes or the Texas series). What is needed is a good, representative collection of orators’ works within one set of covers, and this is what Phillips sets out to give us in Athenian Political Oratory, 16 Key Speeches. His aim, as he states in the Preface, is to “provide students of Greek history with a collection of translated speeches illustrating political developments” (p. vii) from 404-323 BCE. He chooses this period, from the end of the Peloponnesian War to the death of Alexander the Great, because of the “especially valuable and copious evidence” of oratory (p. viii). Phillips’ book is not meant to be a scholarly work: his audience is the undergraduate, and he wants to impart to it the importance and use of oratory in Greek history and politics (pp. vii-viii).

The book is divided into four main sections: “General Introduction” (pp. 1-13), “Part One: The Thirty Tyrants” (pp. 15-66), “Part Two: Philip and Athens” (pp. 67-186), and “Part Three: Athens under Alexander” (pp. 187-219). These are followed by explanatory notes on the translated speeches (pp. 221-255), a short, working bibliography (pp. 257-259), and an index (pp. 261-264).

The “General Introduction” is divided into three parts, and it provides the undergraduate reader with a concise description of various aspects of Athenian life and society. The first part deals with Athenian oratory (such as the Canon of the Ten Attic Orators, oratory and history, the study of rhetoric, the division of speeches). The second deals with Athenian law and government (for example, the legal system and types of legal action, the courts, sycophancy, the Assembly, taxation, and liturgies). The third part, called “Some Aspects of Athenian Life,” discusses the Athenian calendar, money, warfare, and the “agonistic nature of Greek society” (p. 12). At the heart of each section is the historical importance of oratory and the way it was used in the Athenian legal and political spheres.

Each of the three main historical sections of the book begins with a brief description of the historical background, discussion of the available source material, and some notes on the orator or orators whose speeches are translated. We then have the speeches, each one preceded by a short introduction and having a summary of its main arguments and structure.

The first section (“The Thirty Tyrants”) deals with the period from the end of the Peloponnesian War to the re-establishment of democracy in Athens. It provides the backdrop for three speeches by Lysias, a contemporary of the Thirty Tyrants, that Phillips translates in this section: 12 (Against Eratosthenes), 13 (Against Agoratus), and 16 (Before the Council: In Defence of Mantitheus at his Scrutiny).

“Philip and Athens” (the second section) covers the period 359-336. Phillips gives a preliminary outline of Greek affairs from 404 to the accession of Philip II before describing the more important features of his reign. The speeches translated in this section are Demosthenes 1-6 (the three Olynthiacs, the first two Philippics, and On The Peace), 8-9 (On The Chersonese and the third Philippic), [Demosthenes] 12 (Philip’s Letter) and [Demosthenes] 7 On Halonnesus (attributed to Hegessipus).

The third and final section (“Athens under Alexander”) covers the accession of Alexander in 336 to his death in 323. Included in the chronological introduction is a brief account of Lycurgan Athens (with a quick paragraph on the legal procedure of eisangelia), the famous Crown case between Demosthenes and Aeschines, the Exiles Decree, and the Harpalus Affair of 324/3. The speeches translated in this section are Hyperides 1 (For Lycophron), 4 (For Euxenippus), and 5 (Against Demosthenes).

The book has strengths and weaknesses. The strength lies in the translation of a collection of oratorical sources that is translated. In keeping with the intended audience, the translation is not literal, but it is accurate and faithful to the Greek. For example, on p. 24, the opening of Lysias 12.1 is translated as “It is not commencing my prosecution that I find difficult, men of the jury, but bringing an end to my speech” ( οὐκ ἄρξασθαί μοι δοκεῖ ἄπορον εἶναι ὦ ἄνδρες δικασταί, τῆς κατηγορίας, ἀλλὰ παύσασθαι λέγοντι). This is comparable to the Loeb translation: “The difficulty that faces me, gentlemen of the jury, is not in beginning my accusation, but in bringing my speech to an end …” Although the Greek does not end at this point, Phillips has chosen to end the sentence there and begin a new one. This makes for a clearer and more concise sentence which is easier to read. Another example is on p. 124, where Phillips translates the last line of Demosthenes 4.1 as “For if they had offered the necessary counsel either, there would be no need for us to deliberate further” [ εἰ γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ παρεληθότος χρόνου τά δέονθ’ οὗτοι συνεβούλευσαν, οὐδὲν ἂν ὑμας νῦν ἔδει βουλεύεσθαι ]. This again is similar to the Loeb translation: “For if in the past their advice had been sound, there would be no need for deliberation to-day.” These are only two examples, but in general all of Phillips’ translations are faithful to the original but allow for a smoother reading for today’s audience. Undergraduates will have no problems following the arguments presented and thus gain some understanding of events and of the speeches’ importance as evidence for their respective periods.

The downside to this book is some surprising omissions. No collection can include everything of course, and what is selected is based on the editor’s own tastes and judgment. However, in a collection that is meant to be a representative sample of speeches covering most of the fourth century, the omission of Demosthenes 19 (On the False Embassy) and 18 (On the Crown) and of Aeschines 2 (On the False Embassy) and 3 (Against Ctesiphon) is glaring. Phillips’ reason is that “their length might deter instructors from assigning them and students from reading them” (p. viii). This is certainly true, not to mention that they would make the book substantially longer. However, they are vital to our understanding of the period, and moreover they would allow us to appreciate the rhetorical brilliance of Demosthenes and Aeschines. Even excerpts from them are better than nothing.

The same is true for Isocrates, where at least some of 5 (To Philip) could have been included. Since we have so little oratorical material from Athens in the age of Alexander [Demosthenes] 17 (Treaty with Alexander) and Lycurgus 1 (Against Leocrates) warrant inclusion in section three. Another omission in this section is Dinarchus 1 (Against Demosthenes). Although Hyperides is stylistically a better orator than Dinarchus, his speech against Demosthenes is badly fragmented and the ending is lost. Dinarchus’ speech is extant, and it gives us far more information on the Harpalus affair as well as on the legal procedure of apophasis. Phillips includes two other of Hyperides’ speeches in this section, so having a different orator would have been an advantage. Including those others mentioned above would also allow students access to a wider range of orators.

This book is a concise and clearly organized collection of speeches by leading Attic orators, and undergraduates will especially benefit from it, as is Phillips’ intention. Although there is no real analysis of the speeches and only brief forays into the events of the period, advanced students also can still use it with profit as a quick reference guide. Similarly, instructors will find this book a valuable teaching tool in courses on fourth century Greek history, though the exclusion of the works cited above (certainly of the false embassy and crown speeches) is a disadvantage.