The Worlds Famous Orations. Greece (432 B.C.324 B.C.). 1906.
I. The Second Oration Against Philip
Demosthenes (384?322 B.C.)
Born in 384 B.C., died in 322; entered public life when about twenty-five years old, and from that time till his death his history is the history of Athens; sixty of his speeches preserved, tho some probably are spurious; his masterpiece, indeed the masterpiece of oratory, is The Oration on the Crown.
ATHENIANS!1 when the hostile attempts of Philip, and those outrageous violations of the peace which he is perpetually committing, are at any time the subject of our debates, the speeches on your side I find humane and just, and that the sentiments of those who inveigh against Philip never fail of approbation; but as to the necessary measures, to speak out plainly, not one has been pursued, nor anything effected even to reward the attention to these harangues. Nay, to such circumstances is our state reduced, that the more fully and evidently a man proves that Philip is acting contrary to his treaty, and harboring designs against Greece, the greater is his difficulty in pointing out your duty.
The reason is this. They who aspire to an extravagant degree of power are to be opposed by force and action, not by speeches; and yet in the first place, we public speakers are unwilling to recommend or to propose anything to this purpose, from the fear of your displeasure; but confine ourselves to general representations of the grievous, of the outrageous nature of his conduct, and the like. Then you who attend are better qualified than Philip, either to plead the justice of your cause or to apprehend it when enforced by others; but as to any effectual opposition to his present designs, in this you are entirely inactive. You see, then, the consequence, the necessary, the natural consequence, each of you excels in that which has engaged your time and application, he in acting, you in speaking. And if, on this occasion, it be sufficient that we speak with a superior force of truth and justice, this may be done with the utmost ease; but if we are to consider how to rectify our present disorders, how to guard against the danger of plunging inadvertently into still greater, against the progress of a power which may at last bear down all oppositionthen must our debates proceed in a different manner; and all they who speak, and all you who attend, must prefer the best and most salutary measures to the easiest and most agreeable.
First, then, Athenians, if there be a man who feels no apprehensions at the view of Philips power, and the extent of his conquests, who imagines that these portend no danger to the state, or that his designs are not all aimed against you, I am amazed! and must entreat the attention of you all while I explain those reasons briefly which induce me to entertain different expectations, and to regard Philip as our real enemy; that if I appear to have looked forward with the more penetrating eye, you may join with me; if they who are thus secure and confident in this man, you may yield to their direction.
In the first place, therefore, I consider the acquisitions made by Philip, when the peace was just concluded, Thermopylæ, and the command of Phocis. What use did he make of these? He chose to serve the interest of Thebes, not that of Athens. And why? As ambition is his great passion, universal empire the sole object of his views; not peace, not tranquillity, not any just purpose: he knew this well, that neither our constitution nor our principles would admit him to prevail on you by anything he could promise, by anything he could do, to sacrifice one state of Greece to your private interest; but that, as you have the due regard to justice, as you have an abhorrence of the least stain on your honor, and as you have that quick discernment which nothing can escape, the moment his attempt was made, you would oppose him with the same vigor as if you yourselves had been immediately attacked. The Thebans, he supposed (and the event confirmed his opinion), would, for the sake of any private advantage, suffer him to act toward others as he pleased; and far from opposing or impeding his designs, would be ready at his command to fight on his side. From the same persuasion he now heaps his favors on the Messenians and Argians. And this reflects the greatest luster on you, my countrymen; for by these proceedings you are declared the only invariable assert ors of the rights of Greecethe only person whom no private attachment, no views of interest, can seduce from their affection to the Greeks.
And that it is with reason he entertains these sentiments of you, and sentiments so different of the Thebans and the Argians, he may be convinced, not from the present only, but from a review of former times; for he must have been informed, I presume he cannot but have heard, that your ancestors, when, by submitting to the king, they might have purchased the sovereignty of Greece, not only scorned to listen when Alexander, this mans ancestor, was made the messenger of such terms, but chose to abandon their city, encountered every possible difficulty, and after all this performed such exploits as men are ever eager to recite, yet with the just force and dignity no man could ever express; and therefore it becomes me to be silent on this subject; for in reality their actions are superior to the power of words. As to the ancestors of the Thebans and the Argians, the one, he knows, fought for the barbarian; the others did not oppose him. He knew, then, that both these people would attend but their private interest, without the least regard to the common cause of Greece. Should he choose you for allies, you would serve him so far only as justice would permit; but if he attached himself to them, he gained assistants in all the schemes of his ambition. This it is that then determined him, this it is that now determines him to their side rather than to yours: not that he sees they have a greater naval force than we; or that, having gained the sovereignty in the inland countries, he declines the command of the seas and the advantages of commerce; or that he has forgotten those pretenses, those promises which obtained him the peace.
But I may be told: It is true, he did act thus; but not from ambition, or from any of those motives of which I accuse him; but as he thought the cause of Thebes more just than ours. This of all pretenses he cannot now allege. Can he, who command the Lacedæmonians to quit their claim to Messene, pretend that, in giving up Orchomenus and Coronea to the Thebans, he acted from regard to justice? But now comes his last subterfuge. He was compelled, and yielded these places quite against his inclinations, being encompassed by the Thessalian horse and Theban infantry. Fine pretense! Just so, they cry, he is to entertain suspicions of the Thebans; and some spread rumors of their own framing, that he is to fortify Elatea. Yes! these things are yet to be, and so will they remain, in my opinion; but his attack on Lacedæmon, in conjunction with the Thebans and Argians, is not yet to be made. No: he is actually detaching forces, supplying money, and is himself expected at the head of a formidable army. The Lacedæmonians, therefore, the enemies of Thebes, he now infests. And will he then restore the Phocians, whom he has but just now ruined? Who can believe this? I, for my part, can never think, if Philip had been forced into those former measures, or if he had now abandoned the Thebans, that he would make this continued opposition to their enemies. No, his present measures prove that all his past conduct was the effect of choice; and from all his actions, it appears that all his actions are directly leveled against this state; and there is in some sort a necessity for this. Consider, he aims at empire, and from you alone he expects opposition. He has long loaded us with injuries; and of this he himself is most intimately conscious; for those of our possessions which he has reduced to his service he uses as a barrier to his other territories: so that, if he should give up Amphipolis and Potidæa, he would not think himself secure even in Macedon. He is therefore sensible that he entertains designs against you, and that you perceive them. Then, as he thinks highly of your wisdom, he concludes that you must hold him in that abhorrence which he merits; hence is he alarmed, expecting to feel some effects of your resentment (if you have any favorable opportunity) unless he prevent you by his attack. Hence is his vigilance awakened; his arm raised against the state; he courts some of the Thebans, and such of the Peloponnesians as have the same views with him; whom he deems too mercenary to regard anything but present interest, and too perversely stupid to foresee any consequences. And yet persons of but moderate discernment may have some manifest examples to alarm them, which I had occasion to mention to the Messenians and to the Argians. Perhaps it may be proper to repeat them here.
Messenians! said I, how highly, think ye, would the Olynthians have been offended if any man had spoken against Philip at that time when he gave them up Anthemus, a city which the former kings of Macedon had ever claimed? when he drove out the Athenian colony, and gave them Potidæa? when he took all our resentment on himself, and left them to enjoy our dominions? Did they expect to have suffered thus? Had it been foretold, would they have believed it? You cannot think it! Yet, after a short enjoyment of the territories of others, they have been forever despoiled of their own by this man. Inglorious has been their fall, not conquered only, but betrayed and sold by one another; for those intimate correspondences with tyrants ever portend mischief to free states.Turn your eyes, said I, to the Thessalians! think ye, that when he first expelled their tyrants, when he then gave them up Nicæa and Magnesia, that they expected ever to have been subjected to those governors now imposed on them? or that the man who restored them to their seat in the amphictyonic council would have deprived them of their own proper revenues? yet, that such was the event, the world can testify. In like manner, you now behold Philip lavishing his gifts and promises on you. If you are wise, you will pray that he may never appear to have deceived and abused you. Various are the contrivances for the defense and security of cities; as battlements, and walls, and trenches, and every other kind of fortification; all which are the effects of labor, and attended with continual expense. But there is one common bulwark with which men of prudence are naturally provided, the guard and security of all people, particularly of free states, against the assaults of tyrants. What is this? Distrust. Of this be mindful: to this adhere: preserve this carefully, and no calamity can affect you.What is it you seek? said I. Liberty? And do ye not perceive that nothing can be more adverse to this than the very titles of Philip? Every monarch, every tyrant is an enemy to liberty, and the opposer of laws. Will ye not then be careful lest, while ye seek to be freed from war, you find yourselves his slaves?
It would be just, Athenians, to call the men before you who gave those promises which induced you to conclude the peace; for neither would I have undertaken the embassy, nor would you, I am convinced, have laid down your arms, had it been suspected that Philip would have acted thus when he had obtained peace. No: the assurances he then gave were quite different from the present actions. There are others also to be summoned. Who are these? The men who, at my return from the second embassy (sent for the ratification of the treaty2), when I saw the state abused, and warned you of your danger, and testified the truth, and opposed with all my power the giving up Thermopylæ and Phocisthe men, I say, who then cried out that I, the water-drinker, was morose and peevish; but that Philip, if permitted to pass, would act agreeably to your desires; would fortify Thespia and Platæa; restrain the insolence of Thebes; cut through the Chersonesus at his own expense, and give you up Euba and Oropus, as an equivalent for Amphipolis. That all this was positively affirmed you cannot, I am sure, forget, tho not remarkable for remembering injuries. And, to complete the disgrace, you have engaged your posterity to the same treaty, in full dependence on those promises; so entirely have you been seduced.
And now, to what purpose do I mention this? and why do I desire that these men should appear? I call the gods to witness, that without the least evasion I shall boldly declare the truth! Not that, by breaking out into invectives, I may expose myself to the like treatment, and once more give my old enemies an opportunity of receiving Philips gold; nor yet that I may indulge an impertinent vanity of haranguing; but I apprehend the time must come when Philips actions will give you more concern than at present. His designs, I see, are ripening. I wish my apprehensions may not prove just; but I fear that time is not far off. And when it will no longer be in your power to disregard events; when neither mine nor any other persons information, but your own knowledge, your own senses will assure you of the impending danger, then will your severest resentment break forth. And as your ambassadors have concealed certain things, influenced (as they themselves are conscious) by corruption, I fear that they who endeavor to restore what these men have ruined may feel the weight of your displeasure; for there are some, I find, who generally point their anger, not at the deserving objects, but those most immediately at their mercy.
While our affairs, therefore, remain not absolutely desperatewhile it is yet in our power to debategive me leave to remind you all of one thing, tho none can be ignorant of it. Who was the man that persuaded you to give up Phocis and Thermopylæ? which once gained, he also gained free access for his troops to Attica and to Peloponnesus, and obliged us to turn our thoughts from the rights of Greece, from all foreign interests, to a defensive war, in these very territories; whose approach must be severely felt by every one of us; and that very day gave birth to it; for had we not been then deceived, the state could have nothing to apprehend. His naval power could not have been great enough to attempt Attica by sea; nor could he have passed by land through Thermopylæ and Phocis. But he must have either confined himself within the bounds of justice and lived in a due observance of his treaty, or have instantly been involved in a war equal to that which obliged him to sue for peace.
Thus much may be sufficient to recall past actions to your view. May all the gods forbid that the event should confirm my suspicions! for I by no means desire that any man should meet even the deserved punishment of his crimes, when the whole community is in danger of being involved in his destruction.
Note 1. Delivered in Athens about 344 B.C. Translated by Thomas Leland. Abridged. [back]
Note 2. The Peace of 343 B.C. is here referred to. It lasted for six years. During this period Philip was constantly engaged in those intrigues against Athens which became the subjects of the Second and Third Philippics and other orations by Demosthenes. [back]