Tuesday, January 23, 2018


James J. Murphy (ed.), Demosthenes' 'On the Crown': Rhetorical Perspectives. Landmarks in rhetoric and public address. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2016. Pp. vi, 232. ISBN 9780809335107. $40.00.

Reviewed by Andrew T. Alwine, College of Charleston (alwineat@cofc.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

The justly famous trial between Demosthenes and Aeschines has not failed to elicit the interest of every age. With arguments ranging from theoretical constructions of the duties of a democratic statesman to the moral qualities of the disputants' mothers, the pair of preserved speeches runs the gamut of what classical Greek orators could do, providing both a logical starting point for the study of Greek rhetoric and history and a dramatic crescendo. The historical setting itself is one of great intrinsic interest: the gripping story of the long conflict between Athens and Philip of Macedon that culminated in the battle of Chaeronea and paved the way for the known-world changing conquests of Philip's son. The long-standing dispute between Demosthenes and Aeschines on Athenian attitudes vis-à-vis Philip constitutes the background of and motive for the trial. The mutual recriminations about the public policies of two of the most powerful orators of the two preceding decades offer a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of Athenian democracy and the relationship between political speech and political action.

The volume under review (a revised version of a 1983 volume published by Hermagoras Press, which in turn is a revised version of a 1967 volume published by Random House) presents itself as an attempt to make Demosthenes' speech "come alive by recreating the circumstances of his speech, presenting a translation, and then offering detailed rhetorical evaluations" (3). The first two of this tricolon of intentions is the subject of Part One ("Demosthenes and His Greatest Speech"), the last the subject of Part Two ("Rhetorical Evaluations"). These two sections of the book are of quite different tenor. The three chapters of Part One, comprising half of the volume by page count, provide the context for the study: a life of Demosthenes (Chapter 1), an "abstract" of Aeschines' prosecution speech for the trial (Chapter 2), and a full translation of the text of On the Crown (Chapter 3). Only with Part Two does the rhetorical analysis get going. As Murphy explains in the introduction, the four essays are based on four different approaches drawn from Aristotle's Rhetoric. They analyze the speech from the perspective of ēthos (the use of character-building by the speaker), pathos (the appeal to the emotions of the audience), logoi (reasoned argumentation), and lexis (propriety and deployment of language and syntax). All in all, the volume holds together quite well and is a better-integrated and more thoughtfully composed whole than most collections.

The organization of this slim volume makes clear that it is primarily geared toward non-specialists and especially students, and in this purpose it is successful. Although there are some insights in the four chapters of rhetorical analysis that will be of value to scholars of ancient rhetoric, most of the volume is written from a bird's eye perspective, suitable for those encountering the speech for the first time.

In Chapter 1 ("Demosthenes and His Times"), Lois Agnew provides a lucid and concise biography of Demosthenes for "non-specialist" readers. Despite the caveat, the essay is about as comprehensive as a 27-page essay could be, even incorporating many of the titillating anecdotes of questionable historical veracity into the narrative. Agnew usually cites the primary data in the endnotes so that those interested could follow the trail to discover the stories for themselves. Agnew also does well to give the reader an idea of particular sticking points of scholarly disagreement, for instance the question of when Demosthenes' attitude toward Philip hardened into all-out opposition (16–17). Despite the lack of subheadings in the 13-page section (16–28) that covers everything from the First Philippic (351 B.C.) to Demosthenes' death following the Lamian War (322 B.C.), the narrative is remarkably not convoluted, which is more than we can say for the actual events. This is an achievement of value, especially for presenting these events to a non-specialist audience.

Chapter 2 (which, along with the next two chapters, is a reprint from the 1983 volume) is titled, "Aeschines' Speech Against Ctesiphon: An Abstract," but in fact about half of the short text (four pages out of eight) is dedicated to a brief biography of Aeschines and another (alongside Agnew's) reconstruction of the events from the Peace of Philocrates down to the trial about the crown. The second part condenses Aeschines' speech into its most essential points. It is necessarily clipped, but overall this abstract effectively conveys Aeschines' main arguments (and slanders). This would be especially useful for those who are interested more in Demosthenes' speech than in the trial itself and so consider Aeschines merely the background.

Donovan Och's reprinted translation of the entirety of Demosthenes 18 takes up the next 55 pages. The translation is dated (based on Greek editions from 1901 and 1903) but quite good. It is literal, preserving, e.g., many of Demosthenes' periodic asides, but still readable. The text, however, is bare, with no footnotes or explanatory comments whatsoever. The reader is left to fend for him/herself when encountering references to previous historical events or contemporary clichés such as Eurybatos (section 24). In this regard, the translation of Yunis (2005, University of Texas Press) is more accessible.

The first chapter ("A Structural Analysis of the Speech On the Crown") of Part II (another reprint) really belongs as much with the previous chapter (the translation) as with the following essays, being a detailed outline of the speech, broken down into a hierarchical scheme of rhetorical phrases. It would behoove a new reader of the text to keep a finger in this outline while reading the foregoing translation. The analysis is at times brilliant, but at other times the labeling is so clipped as to be obscure.

The rhetorical analysis commences with David Mirhady's chapter on Demosthenes' use of characterization (ēthos). Drawing attention to Demosthenes' challenge to Aeschines (Dem. 18.10) to submit the entire trial to a comparison between their two characters, Mirhady bases his essay on the contrasting figures that Demosthenes draws of his opponent and himself. Demosthenes constructs his own "persona dialectically, in contrast with and in response to his opponent" (120). Throughout the survey of the various rhetorical techniques deployed in the speech to reach this end, an overriding theme is the mechanics of and rationale behind the mudslinging and negative campaigning into which Demosthenes repeatedly descends (all too familiar to a modern audience). In the conclusion, Mirhady warns of the "tendency of democracies to fall under the sway of negative discourse" (126). The chapter insightfully explores the context for these developments, beginning with a discussion of Aristotle's prescriptions about characterization and showing how they only partially represent what orators were really doing in fourth-century Athens. These rhetorical topics were objects of theoretical discussion, but they developed primarily in the context of the mutual prosecutions of the rhētores through eisangelia, dokimasia rhētorōn, and graphē paranomōn. Aeschines' (3.169–170) and Demosthenes' (18.301) criteria for the requisite characteristics of a good politician reflect but do not repeat Aristotle's triad of moral goodness (aretē), intelligence (phronēsis), and good will (eunoia), and in fact suggest an ongoing discussion about these issues not only in political contexts but in philosophical circles and rhetorical classrooms (121). Overall, this chapter, like the others, is concerned less with a deep and detailed rhetorical analysis than with surveying possible approaches and situating Demosthenes' speech within its proper political, rhetorical, and philosophical context.

Richard Katula, in the chapter dedicated to pathos ("Crafting Nostalgia: Pathosin On the Crown"), focuses on Demosthenes' use of "nostalgia." Katula follows in the tradition of those (a majority of scholars) who see Demosthenes as attempting essentially to sideline the legal arguments in the case and distracting the audience in order to focus on extra-legal arguments about Athens' tradition of courage, honor, etc. Similarly, but less effectively, Aeschines had appealed to Athenians' shame at the present state of affairs, which was to be contrasted with their departed glory. The chapter contains a good discussion of Demosthenes' background and rhetorical training, but the analysis of the speech itself, while sufficient to demonstrate that this nostalgia is an important theme in the speech, does not go much deeper. Katula concludes, "the audience is left to choose between the anger and shame of Aeschines or the pride and courage of Demosthenes" (145). The piece is a useful introduction to perhaps the most-discussed rhetorical element of the speech, but specialists will not find much novelty.

Jeffrey Walker ("On the Deinos Logos of On the Crown") takes as his subject the "forcefulness"/"awesomeness" (deinotatēs) of D.'s argument. Eschewing Aristotle's tripartite division of proofs (pisteis) into ēthos, pathos, and logos (on which the volume's organization is based), Walker purports to follow a "sophistic" method of analysis. In other words, the interplay of all three elements is critical for understanding the argumentative quality of the speech. This involves Walker in exploring non-Aristotelian angles on rhetorical analysis, including notably stasis theory, as developed by Hermogenes (second century A.D.). Much of the heart of the chapter (pp. 158–169) is a blow-by-blow summary of the highlights of the arguments of On the Crown, but it all ends with a brief yet strong conclusion on the importance of narrative detail to overall argumentation. Walker warns against attempting to reduce the deinotēs of a great speech such as this to a "skeletal substructure of propositions" and encourages the reader to consider the overall build-up and final effect of the text of the speech on the audience. Like the other essays, this one seems to be directed primarily at a readership that is unfamiliar with the speeches of Aeschines and Demosthenes, but the analysis offers some important insights into Demosthenes' technique.

In the final chapter, Richard Enos takes on the fourth element outlined by the preface, the lexis (style) of Demosthenes. Perhaps inevitably for a 25-page treatment of the rich and powerful rhetoric of On the Crown, the essay sometimes seems like a grab bag of various verbal features of the speech. Having too much to cover, Enos' treatment of many rhetorical elements is clipped. For example, a single paragraph (on p. 191) is dedicated to the principles of stichometry, without exploring any concrete example of the method applied to Demosthenes. Despite these problems, a clear message is woven through the fabric of the prose: the importance of correspondence between form and function. Enos is interested not so much in an enumeration of the rhetorical figures (though he provides a brief chart on p. 197) as in how Demosthenes' rhetorical choices fit into the context of the trial and reinforce his argumentation. This theme mitigates the essay's eschewing of analysis of the original language. As Enos states, he is only concerned with stylistic features that can be understood through the translation provided in this volume, and so there is no direct interaction with the Greek text of Demosthenes.

If the standards of traditional scholarly volumes were applied to this one, it would be easy to identify shortcomings. That, however, would not be to evaluate this book for what it is. As a broad overview of the key aspects of the trial, the book is successful. It is well written and organized, properly adapted to introducing intelligent but unfamiliar readers to this most famous of speeches.

Table of Contents

Introduction / James J. Murphy (1)
Part One: Demosthenes and His Greatest Speech
Demosthenes and His Times / Lois P. Agnew (9)
Aeschines' Speech Against Ctesiphon (an abstract) / Donovan J. Ochs (36)
Demosthenes' Oration On the Crown (a translation) / John J. Keaney (46)
Part Two: Rhetorical Evaluations
A Structural Analysis of On the Crown / Francis P. Donnelly S.J. (105)
Ēthos in On the Crown / David C. Mirhady (114)
Crafting Nostalgia: Pathos in On the Crown / Richard A. Katula (130)
On the Deinos Logos of On the Crown/ Jeffrey Walker (148)
Demosthenes' Style: Lexis in On the Crown / Richard Leo Enos (174)
Epilogue / James J. Murphy (205)
Select Bibliography (209)
Contributors (223)
Index (225)

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