Monday, June 11, 2012


Jeremy Trevett (trans.), Demosthenes, Speeches 1-17. The oratory of classical Greece, 14. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011. Pp. xxxii, 318. ISBN 9780292729094. $24.95.

Reviewed by Dina Guth, University of Manitoba/University of Winnipeg (

Version at BMCR home site


Trevett's translation of the first 17 speeches in the Demosthenic corpus is the fourteenth, and second to last, installment in the University of Texas Press series Oratory of Classical Greece published under the editorial guidance of Michael Gagarin. The series means to provide "students and scholars in all fields with accurate, readable translations" (pg. xxix) of the Attic orators. This volume ably succeeds in this goal. As many of the speeches in this volume lack a modern commentary, Trevett's thorough notes will also make it an invaluable resource to those reading the deliberative speeches in the original.

Like the other volumes on Demosthenes in the series, this volume begins with two general introductions by Michael Gagarin. The "Series Introduction" discusses Athenian oratory and the orators while the shorter "Introduction to Demosthenes" summarizes Demosthenes' life and works. Then comes Trevett's "Introduction to This Volume," which contextualizes Demosthenes' policies within the history of the mid-4th century (pp. 6-18) and gives an overview of the central questions concerning the composition, delivery, and publication of the deliberative speeches (pp. 18-22). These points are examined briefly but thoroughly. The introduction misses an opportunity, however, in relegating discussion of deliberative rhetorical strategy to a single paragraph which argues that Demosthenes' exaggeration in the speeches "was a rhetorical strategy in the service of his overriding goal, which was to persuade the Athenians of the reality of the danger that Philip posed" (pg. 18). The short shrift given to the artistry of deliberative rhetoric is symptomatic of the volume's overall focus on historical questions. Since the only examples of deliberative oratory that we have – outside of the historians – are these first 17 speeches of the Demosthenic corpus, some further exposition on the topic might have been apropos. Deliberative rhetoric is quite different from forensic rhetoric in terms of its goals and its arguments, and thus the discussion of the latter in Gagarin's "Series Introduction" does not translate particularly well to the artistic issues raised by the speeches in this volume. To cite an obvious and key distinction, where speakers before the jury often liked to portray themselves as inexperienced in the law and court procedure, orators in the assembly had to portray themselves as knowledgeable in the matter at hand if they were to be successful in persuading the Athenians. Trevett's introduction also briefly touches on the ancient commentaries to the Demosthenic deliberative corpus (pp. 22-24).

Trevett has provided a handy list of the speeches included in the volume as well as a chronology of the period and of the deliberative speeches from the accession of Philip to the delivery of Demosthenes' On the Crown (pp. 24-26). There are two maps of the Greek world at the beginning of the volume which, though small, should prove helpful to students. The bibliography at the back of the volume (pp. 301-307) is by no means exhaustive – nor should it be, given the aims of the series – but it does cite the majority of the important works on Demosthenes, Athenian democracy, and 4th century Greek history. Students will be relieved to discover that most of the works cited are in English.

The individual introductions summarize the content of each speech and touch on important points of scholarly debate concerning the historical context, authenticity, authorship, and date of the speech, with reference to both the ancient and modern arguments. On these points, the introductions are excellent. Trevett stays away from taking sides on any particular issue, a particularly welcome quality when dealing with a body of evidence concerning Philip and Athens, a subject nearly as divisive now as it was in Demosthenes' own time. Again, however, the focus on historical questions means that the rhetorical artistry of the speeches gets very little play. A particularly glaring omission is Demosthenes' use of satiric inversion in the First Philippic.1 The lack of attention given to rhetoric is equally evident elsewhere: Tuplin's discussion of the artistry of the Olynthiacs merits only a footnote in the context of the dating of the three speeches (pg. 30). Trevett also seems to suggest that Demosthenes' turn to Macedon as the focus of this and his later extant speeches was motivated by the growth of Philip's power (pg. 70), though Demosthenes' position on Macedon was also part-and-parcel of his long-standing opposition to Eubulus' defensive policies. Where possible Trevett calls the reader's attention to modern commentaries on the texts.

The text of the translations themselves follows Dilts' new Oxford edition. Especially enjoyable is the way Trevett captures Demosthenes' unusual figures of speech. Thus, to take a well known example, "the present situation… all but takes voice," (pg. 32), but Philip also "surrounds [the Athenians] on all sides as if with nets," (pg. 73), and politicians are eager "to be initiated as general[s]" (pg. 233, where a helpful note explains that Demosthenes is making use of the language of initiatory cult). Trevett stays as close to the Greek as possible, allowing the rhythm of Demosthenes' prose to shine through. This does mean that pronouns often need to be explained in the notes, which I found slightly off-putting (see pgs. 32, 43, 45, to list a few examples). This is, however, a minor quibble that should not detract from the general excellence of the translation.

The notes for each text are copious. They deal for the most part with historical and cultural questions, but in places also address concerns with the Greek text. While they are clearly geared to those who may have had little to no previous exposure to Athenian history and politics, they should also prove to be an invaluable resource for scholars working with the original texts. The notes also frequently refer the reader to other places in the Demosthenic corpus where a similar argument or turn of phrase is used. Both the close rendering of the Greek and the thorough notes make this translation highly useful as a near substitute for a commentary. This is particularly commendable since many of the speeches in this volume not only have no modern commentary but have seldom been studied outside of general works on Demosthenes and 4th century history. Trevett has admirably succeeded at the difficult task of creating a text that will be useful both to the longtime scholar of Demosthenes and to those without previous knowledge of the Greek world.


1.   Galen Rowe's article on the subject, "Demosthenes' First Philippic: The Satiric Mode," TAPA 99 (1968) 361- 374, is tellingly omitted from the bibliography.

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