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Aeschines (1), c. 397–c. 322 BCE

Aeschines (1) (c. 397–c. 322 BCE), Athenian orator whose exchanges with Demosthenes (2) in the courts in 343 and 330 provide a large part of the evidence for the relations of Athens and Macedon in the 340s and the 330s. His origins were sufficiently obscure to allow Demosthenes' invention full play. He probably did not receive the usual formal training in rhetoric, but after hoplite service of some distinction in the 360s and early 350s, and a period as an actor, he embarked on a public career as a supporter first briefly of Aristophon and then of Eubulus (1), during whose supervision of the city's finances Aeschines' brother, Aphobetus, was a theoric commissioner (see theōrika). In 347/6 both Aeschines and Demosthenes were members of the boulē and their disagreements led to sixteen years of enmity. Early in 346 (though many have dated the affair to 348/7) when alarming news reached Athens of the extension of Macedonian influence to Arcadia, Eubulus supported by Aeschines took the lead in urging Athens to protest to Arcadia and to seek to organize a Common Peace, which would provide for common action against aggressors and so make it unnecessary for any state to seek Macedonian help. Aeschines was sent on an embassy to Megalopolis where he sought to dissuade the assembly of the Arcadians from dealings with Philip (1) II. Whether through the indifference of the Greek states or through the new threat to Greece caused by the refusal of the Phocian tyrant, Phalaecus, to permit access to Thermopylae, the key-point for the defence of Greece, the initiative of Eubulus and Aeschines proved abortive. An embassy of ten, including Aeschines and Demosthenes, was hastily sent to negotiate peace terms with Philip. Their return to the city was closely followed by a Macedonian embassy, and on the 18th and 19th Elaphebolion, when the peace was debated and voted, Aeschines played a notable if ineffectual part. Demosthenes, realizing that peace was essential and that the only form of peace which Philip would accept was a plain alliance with Athens and her allies of the Second Athenian Confederacy, made himself responsible for getting the decree of Philocrates passed: Aeschines strove without success for a Common Peace open to all the Greeks. The ten ambassadors then set off again to secure Philip's oath to the treaty which he did not render until his forces were in position to attack Phocis. When the ambassadors returned with this alarming news, it was decided in the boulē to recommend an expedition to save Phocis, but by 16th Skirophorion, when the people met, it was known that Philip had occupied Thermopylae; Demosthenes' proposal was not even read out and he was himself shouted down. Aeschines then made a speech, which Demosthenes chose to regard as proof that Aeschines had been won over by Macedonian bribery. The truth was probably far different; since Phocis could not be saved, Aeschines sought to reconcile the Athenians to the fact by reporting vague suggestions of Macedonian proposals for central Greece which were very much what Athens was seeking.

From that day Demosthenes was implacably opposed to Aeschines as well as determined to destroy the Peace, while Aeschines was gradually won over to support it and seek its extension into a Common Peace. In 346/5 Demosthenes with the support of Timarchus began a prosecution of Aeschines for his part in the peace negotiations; Aeschines replied by charging Timarchus with breach of the law forbidding those whose misconduct was notorious from addressing the assembly; the Against Timarchus was successful and Demosthenes was forced to recognize that the time was not ripe to attack Aeschines. By mid 343 the mood of Athens had clearly begun to change; early in the year Philocrates had been successfully prosecuted by Hyperides and in the De falsa legatione Demosthenes attacked Aeschines, the advocate of merely amending a discredited peace, as if he had been the orator really responsible in 346 for Athens' accepting the Peace. Aeschines replied in a speech of the same title and, supported by Eubulus and Phocion, was narrowly acquitted. Aeschines continued to have some influence in the assembly, and in 340/39 was sent as one of Athens' representatives to the Amphictionic Council (see amphictiony), on which occasion he appears to have displayed a serious lack of judgement in relation to the affairs of central Greece: at a time when the war against Philip had recommenced and there was a clear need to avoid exacerbating the divisions of Greece, Aeschines replied to Locrian charges against Athens with such a vigorous attack on the conduct of the Amphissans that hostilities began and Philip was the more easily able to intervene.

Aeschines was a member of the embassy sent to negotiate with Philip after the battle of Chaeronea, but from then on he withdrew from politics only to re-emerge on two occasions when circumstances seemed favourable for an attack on Demosthenes. The first was in early 336 when Ctesiphon proposed that Demosthenes should be crowned in the theatre at the Dionysia for the excellence of his services to the city: earlier Demosthenes had been similarly honoured without protest but, at a time when Demosthenes' gloomy predictions after Chaeronea seemed mocked by the opening of the Macedonian invasion of Persia, Aeschines indicted the decree under the graphē paranomōn. However, the murder of Philip made the future too uncertain for Aeschines to be confident of success, and he decided not to proceed with the indictment for the moment. In 330 after the defeat of Persia at Gaugamela and the failure of Agis III's revolt, which Demosthenes had chosen not to support, Athens was in almost complete isolation with no prospect of liberation from Macedon, and Aeschines thought the moment suitable for him to proceed with his prosecution of Ctesiphon. In the Against Ctesiphon, after adducing minor, if perhaps valid, legalistic considerations concerning the details of the original decree, he reviewed the career of Demosthenes, somewhat selectively, and sought to show that Demosthenes was unworthy of the crown. In the De corona Demosthenes replied with all the devastating effect that his great rhetorical gifts could command, and Aeschines failed to secure the necessary fifth of the jury's votes to save him from a fine and the limitation of the right to prosecute. He chose to retire from Athens to Rhodes, where he taught rhetoric.

The supremacy of Demosthenes as an orator has to a large extent beguiled posterity into the opinion that he alone fully appreciated the menace of Macedon and correctly diagnosed the causes of Philip's success, and Aeschines has been represented as an opportunist with little judgement and less principle. In fact, there was no obvious way of saving Athens and Greece, and it is probable that Aeschines no less than Demosthenes sought to maintain his city's power and independence.


The only genuine speeches of Aeschines known to the critics of the Roman period were the three that we have: a fourth, concerning Delos, was rejected by Caecilius (1). Aeschines was a man of dignified presence and fine voice, who deprecated the use of extravagant gestures by an orator, preferring a statuesque pose. Proud of his education, he displays it by frequent quotation of poetry. In the use of historical argument he cannot compare with Demosthenes, but in a battle of wits he more than holds his own. His vocabulary is simple but effective, though occasional obscurities may be found in his sentences. Ancient critics ranked him lower than he deserves; the fact is that he was not aiming at literary perfection; his object was to produce a powerful effect on his audiences, and he was justified by the result.



Aeschines. Orationes. Edited by F. Blass, corr. Schindel. Stuttgart: Teubner, 1978. Aeschines. Speeches. Edited by C. D. Adams. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1919. Aeschines. Discours. Translated into French by V. Martin and G. de Budé. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1927–28. Aeschines. Translated by C. Carey. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000. Aeschines. Against Timarchus. Translated with commentary by N. Fisher. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.


S. Preuss, Index Aeschineus (1896).Find this resource:

    G. Ramming, Die politischen Ziele und Wege des Aischines (1965). N. G. L. Hammond and G. T. Griffith, (eds.), History of Macedonia 2nd edn (1979), see index under “Aeschines.” R. Lane Fox, in R. Osborne and S. Hornblower (eds.), Ritual Finance Politics (1994), ch. 8. E. M. Harris, Aeschines and Athenian Politics (1995).

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