The Orator of Athens Aeschines

Aeschines, an Athenian orator and statesman, is a prominent figure in classical Greek history. Born in 389 BCE, Aeschines was a contemporary and rival of the famous orator Demosthenes. His life and works provide invaluable insights into the political and social dynamics of Athens during a period of significant change and conflict.

aesAeschines was born into a modest family. His father, Atrometus, was a schoolteacher, while his mother, Glaucothea, was involved in religious ceremonies, possibly as a priestess. Despite his humble beginnings, Aeschines showed early promise in rhetoric and politics. His early career included various roles, such as an actor and a clerk, which provided him with a broad perspective on Athenian society and governance.

Aeschines’ political career began in earnest when he served as a secretary to the Athenian Assembly. This role allowed him to observe and participate in the legislative process, honing his skills in oratory and debate. His eloquence and persuasive abilities soon earned him a reputation as a formidable speaker.

Aeschines’ most significant political involvement occurred during the period of the Third Sacred War (356-346 BCE). As a supporter of the peace party, he advocated for negotiations with Philip II of Macedon, in contrast to Demosthenes’ more aggressive stance. Aeschines’ role in the peace negotiations culminated in the Peace of Philocrates in 346 BCE, a treaty that temporarily halted hostilities between Athens and Macedon.

Rivalry with Demosthenes

After the defeat in Chaeronea (338 BC), the Athenians wanted to repair the walls of the city and elected ten “wall builders”, including Demosthenes. The orator showed particular zeal in his mission, and, as the public money was not sufficient to complete the work, he also contributed three talents from his own pocket.

His fellow citizens learned of this and the Parliament, at the suggestion of a friend of his, Ctesiphon, decided to crown him with a golden wreath in the theater. Aeschines, who narrowly escaped condemnation by Demosthenes’ complaint that he had been bribed by Philip of Macedonia, was lurking.

He believed that he found the great opportunity to hurt Demosthenes. He accused Ctesiphon of illegal suggestion. First of all, Demosthenes’ term as mason had not yet ended, so it was not possible to evaluate his offer. And then, if the Parliament or the Municipality make a decision on a coronation, it must be done respectively in the parliament building or in the Church of the Municipality, not in the theater.

It was 336 BC and the people supported Demosthenes. With legal tricks, even though he was an accuser, Aeschines postponed the trial, looking for better conditions. He thought he found them in 330 BC, when news of Alexander’s great victories in Asia reached Greece. Except that Demosthenes himself undertook the defense of Ctesiphon.

The trial took place in the Iliaia of 500 judges and caused tremendous interest with the Athenian people but also many foreigners flocking to enjoy the most skilled orators of the time in a judicial duel between them. Villages that, essentially, were a duel between the pro-Macedonian and the anti-Macedonian faction.

As an accuser, Aeschines held his “Against Ctesiphon” monumental oration. He called on the Athenians (and not the judges) to understand the criticality of any decision as well as the need to uphold the laws, canceling the resolution that Ctesifontas had suggested. He denounced it as injurious to the city and illegal, since the proposal to crown Demosthenes was made before his term had expired and its reckoning had been made.

He accused Demosthenes himself of being a vicious and vile citizen who was bribed by the Phocians and, by his actions, harmed the interests of the city, which nullified any beneficial actions he had done. Because, according to him, the bad position that Athens was in was entirely due to the hypocritical and suspicious state of Demosthenes. He denounced that Demosthenes limited himself to boasting and appropriating successes that others did, pretending to be a democrat, an image that his followers tried to create with false evidence.

In fact, as he pointed out, Demosthenes was rife with faults, chief among them his cowardice (he had been accused, at Chaeronea, of having put it to his feet). And also, he was the son of a woman from Scythia, so, according to the law, he could not be crowned. At this point, he listed many cases of citizens who, despite their undeniable services to Athens, were not even mentioned in honorary resolutions. In conclusion, he proposed a law, according to which the introducers of illegal resolutions and their opponents would be forbidden to buy, so that the judges would not be misled.

Demosthenes responded with his “Upon Ctesiphon on the Crown” speech, which was described as “the greatest speech of the greatest orator in the world.” He too addressed the Athenians and not the judges. He not only defended the accused but also launched a terrible political attack against the supporters of peace with Macedonia.

He brought back to the memory of the Athenians the gloomy impression caused by the news of the sacking of Elateia by Philip (an event that led to the battle in Chaeronea) and described the situation prevailing in Greece at that time. He then went on to negotiate “temporary peace” with the Macedonians (of 346 BC), recording as suspicious the behavior of Aeschines, whom he accused of treason and corruption, attributing to him the responsibility for the destruction in Chaeronea.

According to him, it happened because of the manipulations of Aeschines in the Amphictyonic council. He concluded by saying that it was better for Athens to be defeated in a glorious battle for independence than to discard the legacy of freedom.

The decision was overwhelming, as Aeschines’ complaint could not garner even a fifth of the judges’ votes in its favor. Ctesifontas was acquitted, while Aeschines was sentenced to a fine of one thousand drachmas and deprivation of his political rights. Essentially, it was a triumph of the anti-Macedonian faction.

Aeschynes Speεches

Against Timarchus (345 BCE)

The speech “Against Timarchus” is one of the three surviving speeches of Aeschines, delivered in 345 BCE. This case was brought against Timarchus, a prominent Athenian politician and ally of Demosthenes. Aeschines accused Timarchus of engaging in immoral behavior that disqualified him from participating in public office. This speech provides a vivid illustration of Aeschines’ rhetorical prowess and the political tensions of the time.

In Athens, the conduct of public officials was subject to strict moral scrutiny. The laws governing the behavior of citizens, particularly those involved in politics, were designed to maintain public trust and integrity. Aeschines leveraged these laws to accuse Timarchus of gross immorality, specifically focusing on accusations of prostitution and licentiousness.

Aeschines’ prosecution of Timarchus was not merely a personal attack but a strategic political move. By discrediting Timarchus, Aeschines aimed to undermine the influence of Demosthenes and his political faction. This speech, therefore, must be understood within the broader context of the intense political rivalries that characterized Athenian politics during this period.
Structure and Argumentation

The speech “Against Timarchus” is meticulously structured, demonstrating Aeschines’ deep understanding of Athenian law and rhetorical techniques. The speech can be broadly divided into several key sections:

Aeschines begins by outlining the legal framework for his accusation. He cites specific laws that prohibit individuals of immoral character from holding public office. This establishes the legitimacy of his case and frames his argument within the context of Athenian legal traditions.

Aeschines proceeds to provide detailed accounts of Timarchus’ alleged immoral behavior. He accuses Timarchus of prostituting himself to wealthy men, engaging in excessive drinking, and squandering his inheritance. Aeschines uses witness testimonies and specific examples to substantiate his claims, painting a vivid picture of Timarchus’ purportedly degenerate lifestyle.

Aeschines argues that Timarchus’ behavior is not just a personal failing but a threat to the moral fabric of Athenian society. He suggests that allowing someone of such character to hold public office would set a dangerous precedent, eroding public trust and encouraging further moral decay.

In his conclusion, Aeschines appeals directly to the jury’s sense of duty and patriotism. He urges them to uphold the laws and protect the integrity of the state by convicting Timarchus. This emotional appeal is designed to reinforce the logical and legal arguments presented earlier in the speech.

The trial ended in Aeschines’ favor, with Timarchus being convicted and stripped of his political rights. This victory bolstered Aeschines’ reputation as a skilled orator and a staunch defender of public morality. It also dealt a significant blow to Demosthenes and his political allies, showcasing the effectiveness of Aeschines’ strategic use of rhetoric and the legal system.

The speech “Against Timarchus” is not only a fascinating historical document but also an enduring example of the power of rhetoric in shaping political outcomes. Aeschines’ ability to blend legal argumentation with moral and emotional appeals highlights the complexity and sophistication of classical Athenian oratory.

On the False Embassy (343 BCE)

“On the False Embassy” is one of the most significant speeches delivered by Aeschines, defending himself against accusations of treason and corruption in relation to his role in an embassy to Philip II of Macedon. The speech, delivered in 343 BCE, offers a comprehensive look at the complex diplomatic relationships between Athens and Macedon during a period of intense geopolitical tension. Aeschines’ defense not only sheds light on his own political career but also provides a detailed narrative of the intricate and often perilous nature of ancient diplomacy.

The period leading up to the delivery of “On the False Embassy” was marked by the Third Sacred War (356-346 BCE), a conflict involving several Greek states and Macedon. Athens, seeking to curb Philip II’s expanding influence, sent multiple embassies to negotiate and gather intelligence. Aeschines was a member of one such embassy, tasked with securing peace and favorable terms for Athens.

The Peace of Philocrates, negotiated in 346 BCE, was a controversial treaty that many in Athens viewed as overly favorable to Philip. Aeschines’ involvement in this treaty made him a target for political opponents, especially Demosthenes, who accused him of accepting bribes and acting against Athens’ interests. The trial against Aeschines, therefore, was as much about personal vendetta and political maneuvering as it was about legal and diplomatic accountability.

Aeschines begins by addressing the charges against him, which included allegations of accepting bribes from Philip and misleading the Athenian Assembly. He frames the trial as a politically motivated attack orchestrated by his rivals, particularly Demosthenes.

A significant portion of the speech is dedicated to recounting the events of the embassy. Aeschines provides a detailed account of his interactions with Philip and the negotiations that took place. He emphasizes his loyalty to Athens and his efforts to secure the best possible terms under difficult circumstances.

Aeschines systematically refutes the specific allegations of corruption and treason. He challenges the credibility of his accusers, presents evidence and witness testimonies to support his version of events, and highlights inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case.

Aeschines argues that the charges against him are rooted in political rivalry rather than genuine concern for justice. He accuses Demosthenes of using the trial to undermine his political influence and discredit the peace party in Athens.

In his conclusion, Aeschines appeals to the jury’s sense of justice and patriotism. He urges them to see through the political machinations of his opponents and to recognize his genuine efforts to serve Athens.

Despite the strength of Aeschines’ defense, the trial ended with a narrow verdict in his favor. This outcome was a testament to the deeply divided nature of Athenian politics at the time. The trial and its aftermath further intensified the rivalry between Aeschines and Demosthenes.

Against Ctesiphon (330 BCE)

“Against Ctesiphon” is the most renowned of Aeschines’ speeches, delivered in 330 BCE. The speech was part of a high-profile legal battle against Ctesiphon, who had proposed that Demosthenes be awarded a crown for his services to Athens. Aeschines’ prosecution of Ctesiphon was not only a legal maneuver but also a political strategy aimed at discrediting his formidable rival, Demosthenes.

This case, formally known as the “Crown Case,” was emblematic of the intense political rivalries and factionalism that characterized Athenian democracy in the late 4th century BCE. The outcome of the trial had significant implications for the careers of both Aeschines and Demosthenes, as well as for the political landscape of Athens.
Background of the Case

The immediate cause of the trial was the proposal by Ctesiphon to crown Demosthenes with a gold crown for his services to the city, particularly his efforts to resist the expansion of Macedonian influence under Philip II and later, Alexander the Great. Aeschines challenged this proposal on legal grounds, arguing that it violated Athenian laws concerning the awarding of public honors.

Aeschines’ legal objections were based on two main points: The proposal was illegal because the crowning ceremony was to take place in the theater of Dionysus, which was not a lawful venue for such awards.

Demosthenes was not eligible for the honor due to his conduct in office, which Aeschines claimed included mismanagement of public funds and treasonous dealings with the Macedonians.

Structure and Main Arguments

Aeschines opens by explaining the legal basis for his challenge. He cites specific Athenian laws regarding the awarding of public honors and the venues for such ceremonies, establishing a legal foundation for his case.

Aeschines then launches into a detailed critique of Demosthenes’ political career. He accuses Demosthenes of a range of misdeeds, including corruption, cowardice, and betrayal of Athenian interests. Aeschines presents evidence and examples to support his claims, aiming to undermine Demosthenes’ reputation and credibility.

Aeschines argues that Ctesiphon’s proposal to crown Demosthenes is not only illegal but also unjustified. He contends that Demosthenes’ actions have harmed rather than benefited Athens, and that awarding him a crown would be a gross miscarriage of justice.

Throughout the speech, Aeschines employs various rhetorical techniques to persuade the jury. He uses vivid imagery, irony, and sarcasm to ridicule Demosthenes and portray him as a self-serving and untrustworthy politician.

In his conclusion, Aeschines appeals to the jury’s sense of civic duty and justice. He urges them to uphold the laws and protect the integrity of the state by rejecting Ctesiphon’s proposal and condemning Demosthenes’ conduct.

The trial ended in a decisive victory for Demosthenes. Despite Aeschines’ compelling arguments, the jury overwhelmingly rejected the charges against Ctesiphon. Aeschines failed to secure the one-fifth of the votes necessary to avoid a fine, leading to his voluntary exile from Athens.

This outcome had significant implications for both Aeschines and Demosthenes. For Aeschines, it marked the end of his political career in Athens. He retired to Rhodes, where he established a school of rhetoric and continued to influence future generations of orators.

For Demosthenes, the victory solidified his position as one of Athens’ leading statesmen. The acquittal reinforced his reputation as a patriotic defender of the city and a skilled orator, allowing him to continue his efforts against Macedonian domination.