​DEMOSTHENES: SPEECH AGAINST PHILIP OF MACEDON (351 B.C.)

While this is an ancient setting presented in this article, similar scenes present themselves many times in the modern times, just that democracy has become so specialized that the ordinary citizen no longer understands or if he does he has become so divided that no two citizens in any given country/nation speak the same political language. The scene repeats itself many times over the only difference is that we lack intellectually honest men like Demosthenes any more. His eloquence and articulacy might serve to hint at the spiritual depth of such wise men.
[1] If the question before us were a new one, men of Athens, I should have waited until most of the regular speakers had delivered their opinions, and if satisfied with any of their proposals, I should have remained silent, but if not satisfied, I should then have tried to express my own views. Since, however, it is our fortune to be still debating a point on which they have often spoken before, I can safely claim your indulgence if I am the first to rise and address you. For if in the past their advice had been sound, there would be no need for deliberation today.

[2] Now in the first place, Athenians, there is no need to despair of our present position, however hopeless it may seem. For that which is worst in the days that are past and gone is just what affords the best assurance for the future. And what is that? It is that your affairs are in this evil plight just because you, men of Athens, utterly fail to do your duty; since surely, were you so placed in spite of every effort on your part, it would be hopeless to look for improvement.

[3] In the next place, bear this in mind. Some of you have been told, others know and remember, how formidable the Spartans were, not many years ago, and yet how at the call of honor and duty you played a part not unworthy of your country, and entered the lists against them in defence of your rights. I remind you of this, Athenians, because I want you to know and realize that, as no danger can assail you while you are on your guard, so if you are remiss no success can attend you. Learn a lesson from the former strength of the Lacedaemonians, which you mastered by strict attention to your affairs, and the present arrogance of our enemy, which discomposes us because we ignore every call of duty.

[4] But if anyone here, Athenians, is inclined to think Philip too formidable, having regard to the extent of his existing resources and to our loss of all our strongholds, he is indeed right, yet he must reflect that we too, men of Athens, once held Pydna, Potidaea, and Methone and had in our own hands all the surrounding territory, and that many of the native tribes now in his service were then free and independent and were indeed more inclined to side with us than with Philip.

[5] If, therefore, Philip had then come to the conclusion that it was a difficult task to fight the Athenians while they held such strong outposts in his own territory and he was destitute of allies, in that case he would never have gained his present successes, never acquired his present power. But, men of Athens, Philip saw clearly that all these outposts were but the open prizes of war, that by natural right the property of the absent belongs to those who are on the spot, and the property of the careless to those who can face toil and danger.

[6] It was precisely by acting on this principle that he has mastered and now holds them all. Some he has seized by right of arms, others he has won by alliance and friendship. For indeed alliance and respect are willingly offered by all men to those whom they see ready and prompt to take action.

[7] And you too, men of Athens, if you are willing to adopt this principle, now if never before, if each citizen is ready to throw off his diffidence and serve the state as he ought and as he best may, the rich man paying, the strong man fighting, if, briefly and plainly, you will consent to become your own masters, and if each man will cease to expect that, while he does nothing himself, his neighbor will do everything for him, then, God willing, you will recover your own, you will restore what has been frittered away, and you will turn the tables upon Philip.

[8] Do not believe that his present power is fixed and unchangeable like that of a god. No, men of Athens; he is a mark for the hatred and fear and envy even of those who now seem devoted to him. One must assume that even his adherents are subject to the same passions as any other men. At present, however, all these feelings are repressed and have no outlet, thanks to your indolence and apathy, which I urge you to throw off at once.

[9] For observe, Athenians, the height to which the fellow’s insolence has soared; he leaves you no choice of action or inaction; he blusters and talks big, according to all accounts; he cannot rest content with what he has conquered; he is always taking in more, everywhere casting his net round us, while we sit idle and do nothing.

[10] When, Athenians, will you take the necessary action? What are you waiting for? Until you are compelled, I presume. But what are we to think of what is happening now? For my own part I think that for a free people there can be no greater compulsion than shame for their position. Or tell me, are you content to run round and ask one another, “Is there any news today?” Could there be any news more startling than that a Macedonian is triumphing over Athenians and settling the destiny of Hellas?

[11] “Is Philip dead?” you ask. “No, indeed; but he is ill.” And what is that to you? Even if something happens to him, you will soon raise up a second Philip, if that is the way you attend to your affairs; for even this Philip has not grown great through his own unaided strength so much as through our carelessness.

[12] Nor is this all. If anything happened to him, or if Fortune, which always cares for us better than we care for ourselves, should bring that result about, remember that you must be on the spot if you want to take advantage of the general confusion and to control the situation at your pleasure; but in your present condition you would be unable, even if the opportunity offered, to take over Amphipolis, having neither a force nor a policy ready to hand.

[13] Well, assuming that you are thoroughly convinced that you must all be ready and willing to make this necessary effort, I say no more on that point. But as to the nature and size of the force which I think adequate to relieve the situation, the means of defraying the cost, and the best and speediest method of providing for its equipment, I shall now endeavor to state my views, making just this appeal to you, Athenians. . . .

[42] It seems to me, Athenians, as if some god, out of very shame for the conduct of our city, had inspired Philip with this activity. For if he did nothing more, but were willing to rest satisfied with what he has already captured and subdued, I believe some of you would be quite content with what must bring the deepest disgrace upon us and brand us as a nation of cowards. But by always attempting something new, always grasping at more power, he may possibly rouse even you, if you have not utterly abandoned hope.

[43] Personally I am surprised that none of you, Athenians, is distressed and angry to find that at the beginning of the war our aim was to punish Philip, but at the end it is to escape injury at his hands. But surely it is obvious that he will not stop, unless someone stops him. And is that what we are to wait for? Do you fancy that all is well, if you dispatch an unmanned fleet and the vague hope of some deliverer?

[44] Shall we not man the fleet ourselves? Shall we not take the field with at least a proportion of native troops, even now, if never before? Shall we not sail against his territory? “Where then are we to go and anchor?” someone has asked. The progress of the war, men of Athens, will itself discover the weak places in his front, if we make the effort; but if we sit here at home listening to the abuse and mutual recriminations of the orators, there is not the slightest chance of our getting anything done that ought to be done. . . .

[49] Truly, men of Athens, I do think that Philip is drunk with the magnitude of his achievements and dreams of further triumphs, when, elated by his success, he finds that there is none to bar his way; but I cannot for a moment believe that he is deliberately acting in such a way that all the fools at Athens know what he is going to do next. For of all fools the rumor-mongers are the worst.

[50] But if, putting rumors aside, we recognize that this man is our enemy, who has for years been robbing and insulting us, that wherever we once hoped to find help we have found hindrance, that the future lies in our own hands, and if we refuse to fight now in Thrace, we shall perhaps be forced to fight here at home — if, I say, we recognize these facts, then we shall have done with idle words and shall come to a right decision. Our business is not to speculate on what the future may bring forth, but to be certain that it will bring disaster, unless you face the facts and consent to do your duty.

[51] For my own part, I have never yet chosen to court your favor by saying anything that I was not quite convinced would be to your advantage; and today, keeping nothing back, I have given free utterance to my plain sentiments. Yet, certain as I am that it is to your interest to receive the best advice, I could have wished that I were equally certain that to offer such advice is also to the interest of the speaker; for then I should have felt much happier. But, as it is, in the uncertainty of what the result of my proposal may be for myself, yet in the conviction that it will be to your interest to adopt it, I have ventured to address you. Whatever shall be to the advantage of all, may that prevail!

(Demosthenes, First Philippic 1-13, 42-44, 49-51)


One thought on “​DEMOSTHENES: SPEECH AGAINST PHILIP OF MACEDON (351 B.C.)

  1. Two sections of this speech the people of my country (the U.S.) needed to hear and receive inspiration from. However, most took their inspiration from a place of fear and desire instead of from a place of peace and compassion, resulting in a sociopathic economic and sexual predator becoming the political “leader” – a sure sign of a society lost in fear and hatred:

    “For indeed alliance and respect are willingly offered by all men to those whom they see ready and prompt to take action… but if we sit here at home listening to the abuse and mutual recriminations of the orators, there is not the slightest chance of our getting anything done that ought to be done. . . .”

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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