BMCR 2007.07.52

L’Ombre du tigre. Recherches sur la réception de Démosthène

, L'ombre du tigre : recherches sur la réception de Démosthène. Napoli: M. D'Auria editore, 2006. 355 pages ; 22 cm. ISBN 887092260X. €80.00.

This well-researched work consists of four discrete studies about the rhetorical, political, and religious influence that Demosthenes and his texts have had over the last two and a half millennia, with particular emphasis on the Second Sophistic, Pernot’s area of great expertise. The four chapters are based, in varying degrees, on articles published over the last decade; all have been updated in response to recent publications: Chapter 1 on Demosthenes’ supposed educational relationship with Plato; Chapter 2 on Demosthenes’ reputation (political and moral) over the ages; Chapter 3 on Aelius Aristides’ epithet “Hermes Logios” for Demosthenes and its influence; and Chapter 4 on the use of Demosthenes’ oath from On the Crown, “By our forefathers who boldly faced danger at Marathon …” (Dem. 18.208).1 Pernot reveals much about Demosthenes but even more about the responses and reactions that Demosthenes, his texts, and the stories about him have stirred up through so many years. A fifth chapter, so-called, contains the 130 testimonia, mostly ancient, all in their original language along with French translation, out of which the four studies arose. The chapters, then, with the testimonia, the abundant bibliographical resources both in the bibliography and throughout the detailed footnotes, and Pernot’s clear, balanced, though not always persuasive, presentation form a valuable resource for specialists interested in the Demosthenes tradition and intellectual culture of the first four centuries of this era (and the first four centuries of the second millennium as well). For the non-specialist: after reading Pernot’s excellent introductory Rhetoric in Antiquity (Engl. trans. by W. E. Higgins, 2005), read this book as a set of in-depth case studies.

The title epitomizes the content and method of the book, so Pernot begins his introduction by explaining the tiger and its shadow. In a popular anecdote about Demosthenes, Aiskhines, sitting in his virtual exile in Rhodes, counters the amazed response to his reading of Demosthenes’ On the Crown, with “What, then, [how much more amazed you would have been] if you had heard the θηρίον himself!” Pernot takes the therion here to be something like a tiger, a wild beast that strikes an awe-filled fear into the human who gets in the animal’s path. The great Georges Clemenceau, nicknamed “The Tiger,” also comes to mind, and such is Pernot’s intent, since Clemenceau will become the most recent of Pernot’s participants in the Demosthenes tradition.2 The “shadow” points to the Nachleben, the réception, the Demosthenes tradition.

Pernot’s set of case-studies is clearly not a new version of Drerup’s detailed step-by-step survey of Demosthenes’ reputation from antiquity to the twelfth century (6). Thankfully, as well, Pernot’s motive is not the same as Drerup’s, who applied high scholarly acumen to plow through every strand of the ancient tradition on Demosthenes that was favorable, i.e., nearly all of it, to prove that every contemporary of Demosthenes regarded him with the same loathing as Drerup felt for all such lawyer-politicians, ancient and contemporary. Pernot’s goal, instead, is to study each and every shadow, reflection, response, and reaction to Demosthenes in the context of each and every author (8). This approach and respect for the utterance of so many voices, however eulogistic, superficial, bizarre, or caustic makes the individual chapters and sections, sophisticated and valuable examples of reception studies.

Chapter 1, “À l’école de Platon” (21-60). Pernot starts by considering the tradition that puts Demosthenes under the tutelage of Plato, through twenty-four sources, from Philodemos (1st cent. B.C.) to an anonymous commentary on Aristotle’s Rhetoric (12th cent. A.D.). He briefly surveys these sources (21-26), then reviews scholarly opinion on this tradition (26-29). The historicity of the tradition is examined (30-43), with the conclusion that nothing proves the account false, though nothing proves it to be anything other than an “authorized” tradition (35). Such a relationship is possible (35-41). The real issue that Pernot wants to address is why “the ancients attached such importance to this theme” of Demosthenes as Plato’s student (41). With a methodological nod to the work of Graziano Arrighetti and the use of ancient biographical traditions to access the literary and cultural views of the authors and users of those traditions, Pernot addresses the “meanings of the theme” (43-53). He succinctly outlines the dominant view that philosophy forms, grounds, and enriches rhetoric (44), and that Demosthenes was used as the “flag-bearer” for philosophically-based rhetoric (45). On the other hand, what to do with texts that report Demosthenes’ abandonment of Plato to pursue public life? Pernot uses this strand of the tradition to illustrate the antagonism between rhetoric and philosophy, between politics and the Academy, though I did not find the argument that such antagonism lies behind the account in Plutarch, Dem. 5.7 and Aulus Gellius 3.13 (49-52) persuasive; other factors and passages need to be examined. Pernot ends by looking for stylistic and ideological parallels between Demosthenes and Plato, but finds only superficial commonalities (53-59). Thus, on the historical question, Pernot concludes: “Nous ne savons qu’une chose avec certitude, c’est que nous ne savons rien” (60). Nevertheless, the ancients continued to believe the story and study the supposed similarities.

Chapter 2, “Une impossible politique” (61-127). Throughout antiquity Demosthenes was studied and imitated as a model of literary, or rhetorical, excellence. He was also studied, though not usually imitated, as a hero of democracy and liberty. Most often, he was praised for both, but occasionally some ambivalence, even questioning, was heard, and it is that questioning on which Pernot wants to focus, as his title reveals. He sketches, in a few sentences, the formation of the “legend” about Demosthenes through the whole Hellenistic period, leaving the curious to go back to Drerup (62-63). An overview of Demosthenes in the Roman period leads Pernot to the question, How could people, mostly Greeks, in the Roman empire praise Demosthenes when they could not imitate him? Because Demosthenes embodied “une sorte de contre-pouvoir culturel et idéologique: le contre-pouvoir d’une république des lettres” (67). Interesting! Speculative, and not explicitly supported in these few pages (64-68). Nevertheless, Pernot uses this seeming paradox of praising someone that cannot in fact be emulated as the backdrop for his examination of five authors: Plutarch (68-81), Lucian (81-89), Pausanias and Aristides (89-92), and Philostratos (92-94).

Demosthenes appears very frequently in Plutarch’s many writings (69-70), and in the Demosthenes proper, it is true that Plutarch reproaches Demosthenes for venality and cowardice, but such reproaches do not define the whole Life. In addition, to be told that Plutarch condemned Demosthenes’ rhetoric, “as a Platonist,” and that is why he refuses to compare Demosthenes and Cicero stylistically ( Dem. 3.1-2) is surprising (75). And his analysis of the role of Demosthenes in Political Advice and how that work corresponds to the Life of Demosthenes, or any of the other Lives does not do justice to the texts under discussion nor to Plutarch (77-80).3 To assess Lucian’s role in the Demosthenes tradition, Pernot offers a close reading of one passage in The Teacher of Rhetoric 10 (81-87), a brief glimpse of two other works (87-88), and a tentative use of The Encomium of Demosthenes (88-89). The first passage echoes Plutarch’s advice in Political Advice : We are at peace, without a Philip or Alexander attacking us, so what use are these old harangues? This is satire, “so every word must be weighed in relation to the language and ideas of the period to assess its significance” (83). The weighing here, not wholly persuasive, reveals an attack on the standard idealization of Demosthenes (88) and a questioning of the relevance of Demosthenes to a Greek world ruled by Rome (89). Similar is the conclusion from Pernot’s reading of Pausanias: “He did not bear the orator a grudge in particular, but he distrusted what he represented” (90). It seems to me rather that Pausanias distrusts the demos and pities Demosthenes. And Philostratos is said to show the irrelevance of Demosthenes by starting the Second Sophistic with Aiskhines and praising excellence at extemporaneous speaking. The conclusion of this section presents these authors as opposed to the standard idealization of Demosthenes since their political world made that idealization incongruous with Roman domination and since their philosophical and even oratorical leanings set them against rhetoric, or at least Demosthenes’ rhetoric (95-96).

Over the ensuing centuries, Demosthenes continued to be the model orator, especially under the influence of Hermogenes, the Hermogenic corpus, and the chief role that Demosthenes plays therein. But, as Pernot sees it, the question about l’utilité of Demosthenes for the then-contemporary world continued. Procopios of Gaza (5th-6th c.) and Ioannes of Sicily (10-11th c.) provide Pernot with brief quotes (99), then Theodoros Metochites (1270-1332) gives him an Essay on Demosthenes and Aristides (100-115). A brief summary of the essay is given, leading up to Metochites’ conclusion that Aristides and epideictic oratory is more useful in the (then) modern world (104). Pernot examines this opinion in context and particularly wants to explain Metochites’ judgment in response to the modern scholarship which seems unfair to Metochites (and to Aristides) (see esp. 110-114).

In the last section of the chapter, Pernot leaps into the modern era to consider two extraordinary figures, Engelbert Drerup and Georges Clemenceau: Drerup, as the author of a book on fourth-century B.C. Athens, Aus einer alten Advokatenrepublik (Demosthenes und seine Zeit) (Paderborn 1916), and the book on the ancient Demosthenes tradition, Demosthenes im Urteile des Altertums (von Theopomp bis Tzetzes: Geschichte, Roman, Legende) (Würzburg 1923), and Clemenceau for his eulogy of Demosthenes, Démosthène (1926). Pernot briefly presents Drerup, the accomplished classical scholar (116-117), then introduces his history of Demosthenes in which venal, deceptive lawyer-politicians, Demosthenes and his ilk, are making things as bad for the state back in the fourth century as the modern lawyer-politicians are today, that is in Germany in the 1910s.4 It is Drerup’s second book, however, which particularly interests Pernot. He says that it is less virulent than the first book though driven by the same “prise de parti fondamentale.” A brief summary of the book follows (119-121), and the heart of the book is wittily summed up: “En somne, ceux qui connaissaient Démosthène l’ont critiqué; ceu qui l’ont loué ne le connaissaient plus” (120).5 To balance Drerup’s bitter hostility to Demosthenes, Pernot finishes the chapter with a collage on Clemenceau, the Tiger, and his Démosthène (1926; Engl. trans. 1926). Pernot briefly sketches the amazing life and career of Clemenceau, the French Demosthenes, and shows the book as really a book about Clemenceau as much as (if not more than) about Demosthenes (122-127).6

Chapter 3, “L’empreinte d’Hermès Logios” (129-175). Hermes, as the god of verbal communication served as the patron god of eloquence and orators, so some comparison of Demosthenes to him was inevitable. Aelius Aristides made such a comment, in passing, of Demosthenes, “whom I would say came among humans as an image (tupos) of some Hermes Logios” ( On Behalf of the Four 3.663). Pernot reviews the great importance of Demosthenes for Aristides, an importance so great that he can be elevated to this quasi-divine status, to champion rhetoric and oppose Plato (133-135). Pernot takes the reader on a tour of this image from Aristides’ day through to the fourteenth century, in order to show how “the image of Hermes Logios” traveled through the centuries. Anyone interested in the influence of Aristides, his devotion to Demosthenes, rhetoric, Neo-Platonism, and scholarly culture from the fourth to the fourteenth century will find these pages fascinating, though a whirlwind of a tour as so many authors, texts, centuries, and issues are covered (150-175).

Chapter 4, “Le serment par les combattants des guerres Médiques” (177-238). Pernot considers the famous oath in On the Crown, “By our forefathers who boldly faced danger at Marathon …” (Dem. 18.208). Forty-four passages from the first century B.C. to the fourteenth A.D. (and another fourteen from the last four centuries) are reviewed. The pervasiveness of this oath allows Pernot to show the fame and influence of Demosthenes but, more importantly, the use, reuse, and response of these many authors to the oath itself, to Demosthenes, rhetoric, etc. The chapter consists of ten discrete sections, 1-4 on introductory topics, 5-9 examining exemplary passages, 10 on the modern era. After the interesting introductory sections, on textual issues and modern scholarship (178-204), Pernot takes up, in Section 5, “Le rôle des déclamateurs,” presenting the use of Demosthenes’ oath by Seneca the Elder and Ptolemy of Naucratis (204-206). Section 6, “Les analyses stylistiques” (206-220) showcases the rhetorical study of the oath by Ps.-Longinus, Tiberius, and others, down to Joseph Rhakendytes (13-14th cent.), while showing that there is no redundant repetition here, no “vulgate monolithique” (214) but independent, individual analysis. Section 7, “Les modèles de Démosthène. Mimésis et biographie” (220-224), shows ancient scholars doing intertextual research on Demosthenes’ oath. Section 8, “Prises de distance. La Grèce et Rome” (224-231), offers four most interesting texts (a six-line epigram in Anth. Pal. (9.288), Plut., On the Glory of Athens 250ξ Lucian’s Encomium of Dem. 49, Athenaios 9.25, 380 C-D). Pernot argues that these texts treat the Demosthenes tradition with “réplique acerbe et subtile, ironie mordante, humour de potache, finesse de deipnosophistes” (229), which attitude arises from the realization that “le temps de Demosthenes est révolu” (230), the Romans are now in charge. This has been an important theme for Pernot, but I still fail to see any political concern or causation in these four passages—Pernot does say “Nous ne croyons pas surinterpréter ces textes …” (230)—nevertheless, his readings of these passages are intriguing. In Section 9, “Recyclages chrétiens. Des Marathonomaques aux martyrs. Démosthène contre Julien” (231-234), three church fathers offer three starkly different uses of Demosthenes’ oath. Clement of Alexandria “proves” that the ancient Greek writers were plagiarists!7 Gregory of Nazianzus implicitly compares Moses to the Marathonomachai, it seems, and Cyril of Alexandria quotes Demosthenes’ oath to defend Christian glorification of martyrs. Section 10, “La critique moderne dans le prolongement de la critique antique” (234-238), a section new to the book version of the essay, illustrates briefly the continued role of Demosthenes’ oath in the modern era, and, most interestingly, in the political arena (and a debate between Paul Louis Courier and General Foy! [= Demosthenes and Phokion?]). Pernot ends with Chateaubriand’s citation of the oath to take Demosthenes up not to Mt. Olympos but to Heaven.

The conclusion (299-306) follows the testimonia. Pernot opens with one last testimonium, this time from the inimitable Giambattista Vico, whose praise of Demosthenes Pernot traces back to Juvenal, Ps.-Longinus, and Aelius Aristides. This passage provides Pernot the opportunity to recapitulate the overarching themes of his four essays, such as: “la réception n’est nullement passive” (302) and that the tradition is “une voie d’approche vers l’histoire de la culture” (303). This culture, or cultures, presents a Demosthenes who is “le plus éloquent porte-parole de la liberté et de la démocratie” but also “un menteur, un oppresseur, un poltron et un prévaricateur” (304). That said, Pernot keeps the door wide open: “l’enquête n’est d’ailleurs pas close. Elle mérite d’être continuée, par la prise en compte d’autres thèmes, d’autres avatars, d’autres chapitres de la réception” (305).

A brief appendix follows on the object of Porphyry’s Against Aristides (307-309), then five excellent indices, prepared by Maria Panico (313-350), of proper names, Greek and Latin terms, of ancient and Byzantine authors and their texts, of modern authors, and of the testimonia. The book is beautifully produced with stitched signatures of high-quality off-white paper covered in brilliantly crisp print; the text has been prepared with exemplary care.8


1. Chapter 1 is based on “Demostene allievo di Platone?,” Seminari Romani di cultura greca 1 (1998) 313-343; Chapter 2 on “La survie de Démosthène et la contestation de la figure de l’orateur dans le monde gréco-romain,” Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres (2001) 615-636 with “Plutarco e Demostene,” in Italo Gallo, ed., La biblioteca di Plutarco. Atti del IX convegno plutarcheo (Naples 2004) 405-416; Chapter 3 “‘L’empreinte d’Hermès Logios’. Une citation d’Aelius Aristide chez Julien et chez Damascius,” Rendiconti della accademia di archeologia, lettere, e belle arti di Napoli 71 (2002) 615-636; Chapter 4 on “Le serment du discours Sur la Couronne (Dém., XVIII, 208) dans la critique littéraire et rhétorique de l’Antiquité,” REG 114 (2001) 81-139.

2. If what is reported in TIME, Jan. 13, 1930, is true, that Clemenceau was first called “tiger” as an insult in 1904 but quickly called “the Tiger” by his friends as a compliment, we have a curious parallel to the Demosthenes tradition: Aiskhines calls him a therion in Aiskh. 3.182 as an insult, but the same term in the anecdote must be a compliment, however forced.

3. On the Political Advice and the Parallel Lives see Timothy Duff’s excellent chapter “The Politics of Parallelism” in his book Plutarch’s Lives: Exploring Virtue and Vice (Oxford 1999) 287-309.

4. See the review by E. von Stern—which could be added to Pernot’s note (121 n. 171)— Literarische Zentralblatt (1917) 121-125; he concludes the review: “seine Schrift ist keine historische Studie, sondern ein politisches Pamphlet durch den Weltkrieg geboren, unter den Aspekt des Weltkrieges gestellt, sie ist, mit einem Worte gesagt: Kreigsware” (215). On the assessment of Demosthenes at the time, see the excellent article by J. R. Knipfing, “German Historians and Macedonian Imperialism,” AHR 26 (1920/21) 657-671, who only knew of Drerup’s first book from a brief summary.

5. Two review articles of both Drerup’s books and the state of Demosthenes studies should be added here: Friedrich Gebhard, “Das Demosthenesproblem,” Blätter für das Bayerische Gymnasialschulwesen 61 (1925) 34-39; Peter Huber, “Zur Würdigung des Demosthenes,” Blätter für das Bayerische Gymnasialschulwesen 61 (1925) 361-375.

6. On the writing of Démosthène, see Jean-Baptiste Duroselle, Clemenceau (Paris 1988) 907-912.

7. Strom.; Pernot includes in his Testimonia just the two lines on Demosthenes, but the whole passage, 6.2.4-27, is quite fascinating, or frightening.

8. A paragraph needs to be indented on p. 161, and a mis-hyphenated word needs to be reunited on p. 200.