Monday, April 1, 2013


Christos Kremmydas, Commentary on Demosthenes Against Leptines. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. xi, 489. ISBN 9780199578139. $170.00.

Reviewed by Jeremy Trevett, York University (

Version at BMCR home site


Demosthenes' earliest surviving public speech, the long oration Against Leptines (Dem. 20), is an extremely important source of information about, among other things, the process of legislation and the repeal of laws at Athens, and the ways in which the Athenians used public honours and exemptions to encourage pro-Athenian policies on the part of foreign rulers, and public-spiritedness (philotimia) in their own citizens. In it Demosthenes argues that a law introduced by Leptines in the previous year abolishing almost all honorary exemptions from festival liturgies is inexpedient (the procedure was a graphē nomon mē epitēdeion einai) and should be overturned. At issue was the question whether such honorific grants of exemptions were undermining the effectiveness of the liturgical system by restricting the number of those liable to serve, as Leptines had argued, or whether, as Demosthenes maintains, they served as a useful mechanism for rewarding, and encouraging, acts of civic benefaction. Perhaps surprisingly, the volume under review is the first commentary in any language since that of J. E. Sandys in 1890. A revised and expanded version of the author's 2005 University of London Ph.D. thesis, it consists of a lengthy introduction, text, translation and commentary.

The Introduction is divided into four main sections. A short account of the case (2-3) is followed by a longer section on 'The Context' (3-33), in which Kremmydas deals with the political background to the trial, the operation of the liturgical system, and the process of passing and overturning laws in fourth-century Athens. The third section, on the trial itself (33-60), covers a range of topics: the date of the speech (Dionysius of Halicarnassus' dating to 355/4 is regarded as probably correct), the prosopography of those involved in the trial, the use of synegoroi, the privilege of ateleia (immunity from the liability to perform a liturgy), the legal action against and legality of Leptines' law, and the structure and rhetorical strategy of Demosthenes' speech. A final section (61-69) summarizes ancient and modern scholarship on the speech, and discusses the constitution of the text. The Introduction is thorough, helpful, and generally sound, though G. L. Cawkwell (JHS 1963, p. 67) does not, as Kremmydas claims, argue 'that Athens was faced with a moral crisis' (p. 60); on the contrary, what he wrote is that 'The key to the understanding of the relations of Greece and Macedon is to be found not in the realm of morals and moral decline but in strategy and military power.' And on p. 17 the reference to 'all 1,200 propertied Athenians' is a misleading piece of shorthand: what is meant is members of the liturgical class (i.e., propertied families in the sense of J. K. Davies' Athenian Propertied Families).

The text is based on Mervin Dilts' 2005 Oxford Classical Text, whose apparatus criticus and testimoniorum are reproduced. Kremmydas is not afraid to exercise independent judgement: his text differs from Dilts' in 35 places (listed on pp. 68-69), including three places where he introduces into the text conjectures of his own, each of which merits brief discussion.

The first emendation is at §94, where Dilts prints οὑτοσὶ μὲν οὐδ' ὁτιοῦν ἐποίησε {Λεπτίνης}, following Cobet in deleting Leptines' name as a scribal insertion. Kremmydas prints instead {Λεπτίνης} οὑτοσὶ μὲν οὐδ' ὁτιοῦν ἐποίησε (sic: the retention of the braces is an error, since the intention is to transpose the name rather than delete it). He argues that Leptines' name should be retained on the ground that it is 'rhetorically effective', but is rightly troubled by the distance in the transmitted text between proper name and deictic pronoun. I am not, however, convinced that his emendation is correct or even particularly plausible; at any rate it strikes me as unidiomatic to have μέν following Λεπτίνης οὑτοσὶ rather than between the two words (i.e. either οὑτοσὶ μὲν Λεπτίνης or Λεπτίνης μὲν οὑτοσὶ). Nor does Kremmydas explain why the inclusion of Leptines' name makes the sentence more effective.

The second passage is §104. Here, after commending Solon's law on speaking ill of the dead, μὴ λέγειν κακῶς τὸν τεθνεῶτα, Demosthenes reproaches Leptines with doing ill to, rather than speaking ill of, deceased benefactors of the city: σὺ δὲ ποιεῖς, οὐ λέγεις κακῶς τοὺς τετελευτηκότας τῶν εὐεργετῶν. Here Kremmydas inserts μόνον before λέγεις 'for greater emphasis', though in fact this also changes the sense of what Demosthenes is saying. The desire for emphasis does not seem a sound basis for emendation, even if one is persuaded (as I am not) that this addition represents an improvement. At any rate it should have been argued why the transmitted text needs emendation. It is also worth noting, as Kremmydas does not, that Sandys ad loc. refers to a close parallel at Dem. 21.183 (ἐὰν δὲ ποιῇ, μὴ λέγῃ).

The final emendation is at §111, a passage referring to the Spartans and Thebans, where Dilts prints δι' ὧν μὲν ἐκεῖνοι μέγαλοι {τῆς ὀλιγαρχίας καὶ δεσποτείας εἰσί}, following Westermann in deleting the words within braces as ungrammatical. Kremmydas emends to δι' ὧν μὲν ἐκεῖνοι μέγαλοι ἐν ταῖς ὀλιγαρχίαις καὶ δεσποτείαις εἰσί 'in order to highlight better the political circumstances under which the greatness of certain states is achieved'. This is an interesting attempt to make sense of the text, but it would strengthen Kremmydas' case if he could offer a parallel for δεσποτεία being used by an Athenian orator to refer to the domination of a Greek city (as far as I can see it is used only by Isocrates, of Persian rule). Again, I am not persuaded that this emendation belongs in the text.

Turning to the translation, Kremmydas' aim seems to have been to produce a plain and literal version, which is reasonable enough, but the result is pedestrian, and reads less fluently than, for example, Edward M. Harris' recent version in his Demosthenes, Speeches 20-22 (2008), or even J. H. Vince's much older (1930) Loeb translation. More seriously, the translation is not always accurate. For example, the triakostē of one- thirtieth levied by the Bosporan ruler Leukon is mistranslated at §32 as 'three per cent' (it should be three and a third per cent, but why not just translate as 'one-thirtieth'? In the note ad loc. it is described as a 3.3 per cent tax, which is closer but still not entirely accurate). In §1 καἰ τούτῳ πλείστῳ χρήσεται τῷ λόγῳ is translated 'he … will use many arguments such as this' rather than 'this argument most of all'. In §11 τοὺς ἐν Πειραιεῖ is glossed rather than translated as 'the democrats in the Peiraieus', whilst in §12 τοὺς ἐξ ἄστεως is inconsistently rendered as 'the oligarchs (from the city)'. In §18 ἔστι δε τοῦτο οὑτωσι μὲν ἀκοῦσαι λόγον τιν' ἔχον means something like 'this sounds plausible', not (as here) 'Listen to what is the exact nature of the case.' In §115 the words ἐν Εὐβοίᾳ are not translated (this is not an isolated example of such omissions). And in §127 τί τοῦτο μαθὼν προσέγραψεν is rendered 'why did he not [sic] add that?'

The commentary, on the other hand, is full and thorough. Kremmydas shows particular interest in elucidating Demosthenes' argumentation and rhetorical strategy. There are many useful notes on matters of linguistic usage, with frequent notice of parallels. Ample space is devoted to legal issues and to the historical content of the speech, such as the important passage (§§31-2) where Demosthenes gives a figure (about four hundred thousand medimnoi) for the quantity of grain exported annually from Bosporos to Athens—'the starting point for modern discussions on Athenian grain supply in the classical period', as Kremmydas notes (246). There are also full discussions of the various honorands, foreign and Athenian, whom Demosthenes introduces in order to demonstrate the value to Athens of such grants of exemption, and the offence that would be caused by abolishing them. Some disagreement on points of detail is only to be expected in a work on this scale. To give a couple of examples: if Dem. 13 is regarded as spurious (as Kremmydas' use of square brackets implies) it should not be used as evidence for Demosthenes' career (p. 199). And on p. 222 the suggestion that the decline in metic numbers is connected specifically to the economic impact of Athens' defeat in the Social War of 357-355, rather than being the result of the Peloponnesian War and its aftermath, including the anti-metic policies of the Thirty, is not impossible, but seems debatable.

Slips of various kinds are rather too numerous. In the bibliography, for example, P. J. Rhodes has become P. J. Lewis; Stephen Todd's name has disappeared and his publications are subsumed under those of E. N. Tigerstedt; A. G. Woodhead is deprived of his first initial. The titles of some books are inaccurately reported, and subtitles are included or not apparently at random; the city of a book's publication is occasionally replaced by the name of the US state of publication or of the publisher. There are errors too in the citation of standard non-English works: vol. 3.1 of F. Blass's Die Attische Beredsamkeit should be subtitled Demosthenes, not Demosthenes' Genossen und Gegner, which is vol. 3.2; and H. Bengtson's three-volume collection of ancient treaties is entitled Die Staatsverträge des Altertums, not, as here, Die Verträge der griechisch-römischen Welt von 700 bis 338 v. Chr., which is the title of vol. 2 only. Individually these are minor matters, but cumulatively they grate.

In short, this substantial volume is a welcome addition to the small but growing number of commentaries on the public speeches of Demosthenes. It deserves to be widely consulted, both by scholars of Attic oratory and by historians of fourth-century Athens.

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