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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Æschines (389–314 B.C.)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE LIFE and oratory of Æschines fall fittingly into that period of Greek history when the free spirit of the people which had created the arts of Pindar and Sophocles, Pericles, Phidias, and Plato, was becoming the spirit of slaves and of savants, who sought to forget the freedom of their fathers in learning, luxury, and the formalism of deducers of rules. To this slavery Æschines himself contributed, both in action with Philip of Macedon and in speech. Philip had entered upon a career of conquest; a policy legitimate in itself and beneficial as judged by its larger fruits, but ruinous to the advanced civilization existing in the Greek City-States below, whose high culture was practically confiscated to spread out over a waste of semi-barbarism and mix with alien cultures. Among his Greek sympathizers, Æschines was perhaps his chief support in the conquest of the Greek world that lay to the south within his reach.  1
  Æschines was born in 389 B.C., six years before his lifelong rival Demosthenes. If we may trust that rival’s elaborate details of his early life, his father taught a primary school and his mother was overseer of certain initiatory rites, to both of which occupations Æschines gave his youthful hand and assistance. He became in time a third-rate actor, and the duties of clerk or scribe presently made him familiar with the executive and legislative affairs of Athens. Both vocations served as an apprenticeship to the public speaking toward which his ambition was turning. We hear of his serving as a heavy-armed soldier in various Athenian expeditions, and of his being privileged to carry to Athens, in 349 B.C., the first news of the victory of Tamynæ, in Eubœa, in reward for the bravery he had shown in the battle.  2
  Two years afterward he was sent as an envoy into the Peloponnesus, with the object of forming a union of the Greeks against Philip for the defense of their liberties. But his mission was unsuccessful. Toward the end of the same year he served as one of the ten ambassadors sent to Philip to discuss terms of peace. The harangues of the Athenians at this meeting were followed in turn by a speech of Philip, whose openness of manner, pertinent arguments, and pretended desire for a settlement led to a second embassy, empowered to receive from him the oath of allegiance and peace. It was during this second embassy that Demosthenes says he discovered the philippizing spirit and foul play of Æschines. Upon their return to Athens, Æschines rose before the assembly to assure the people that Philip had come to Thermopylæ as the friend and ally of Athens. “We, your envoys, have satisfied him,” said Æschines. “You will hear of benefits still more direct which we have determined Philip to confer upon you, but which it would not be prudent as yet to specify.”  3
  But the alarm of the Athenians at the presence of Philip within the gates was not allayed. The king, however, anxious to temporize with them until he could receive his army supplies by sea, suborned Æschines, who assured his countrymen of Philip’s peaceful intentions. On another occasion, by an inflammatory speech at Delphi, he so played upon the susceptibilities of the rude Amphictyones that they rushed forth, uprooted their neighbors’ harvest fields, and began a devastating war of Greek against Greek. Internal dissensions promised the shrewd Macedonian the conquest he sought. At length, in August, 338, came Philip’s victory at Chæronea, and the complete prostration of Greek power. Æschines, who had hitherto disclaimed all connection with Philip, now boasted of his intimacy with the king. As Philip’s friend, while yet an Athenian, he offered himself as ambassador to entreat leniency from the victor toward the unhappy citizens.  4
  The memorable defense of Demosthenes against the attack of Æschines was delivered in 330 B.C. Seven years before this, Ctesiphon had proposed to the Senate that the patriotic devotion and labors of Demosthenes should be acknowledged by the gift of a golden crown—a recognition willingly accorded. But as this decision, to be legal, must be confirmed by the Assembly, Æschines gave notice that he would proceed against Ctesiphon for proposing an unconstitutional measure. He managed to postpone action on the notice for six years. At last he seized a moment when the victories of Philip’s son and successor, Alexander, were swaying popular feeling, to deliver a bitter harangue against the whole life and policy of his political opponent. Demosthenes answered in that magnificent oration called by the Latin writers ‘De Corona.’ Æschines was not upheld by the people’s vote. He retired to Asia, and, it is said, opened a school of rhetoric at Rhodes. There is a legend that after he had one day delivered in his school the masterpiece of his enemy, his students broke into applause: “What,” he exclaimed, “if you had heard the wild beast thunder it out himself!”  5
  Æschines was what we call nowadays a self-made man. The great faults of his life, his philippizing policy and his confessed corruption, arose, doubtless, from the results of youthful poverty: a covetousness growing out of want, and a lack of principles of conduct which a broader education would have instilled. As an orator he was second only to Demosthenes; and while he may at times be compared to his rival in intellectual force and persuasiveness, his moral defects—which it must be remembered that he himself acknowledged—make a comparison of character impossible.  6
  His chief works remaining to us are the speeches ‘Against Timarchus,’ ‘On the Embassy,’ ‘Against Ctesiphon,’ and letters, which are included in the edition of G. E. Benseler (1855–60). In his ‘History of Greece,’ Grote discusses at length—of course adversely—the influence of Æschines; especially controverting Mitford’s favorable view and his denunciation of Demosthenes and the patriotic party. The trend of recent writing is toward Mitford’s estimate of Philip’s policy, and therefore less blame for the Greek statesmen who supported it, though without Mitford’s virulence toward its opponents. Mahaffy (‘Greek Life and Thought’) holds the whole contest over the crown to be mere academic threshing of old straw, the fundamental issues being obsolete by the rise of a new world under Alexander.  7
 
 
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