Demosthenes' Funeral Oration

Demosthenes' Funeral Oration

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Demosthenes' Funeral Oration (Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

: ) was delivered between August and September of 338 BC
338 BC
Year 338 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Camillus and Maenius...

, just after the Battle of Chaeronea
Battle of Chaeronea (338 BC)
The Battle of Chaeronea was fought in 338 BC, near the city of Chaeronea in Boeotia, between the forces of Philip II of Macedon and an alliance of Greek city-states...

. It constitutes along with the Erotic Essay
Erotic Essay
The Erotic Essay constitutes along with the Funeral Oration the two epideictic speeches ascribed to the prominent Athenian statesman and orator Demosthenes, which are still extant. According to , the speech was written probably between the late 350s and 335 BC , but its real author is unknown...

 the two epideictic
The Epideictic oratory, also called ceremonial oratory, or praise-and-blame rhetoric, is one of the three branches, or "species" , of rhetoric as outlined in Aristotle's Rhetoric, to be used to praise or blame during ceremonies....

 orations of the prominent Athenian statesman and orator
Demosthenes was a prominent Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens. His orations constitute a significant expression of contemporary Athenian intellectual prowess and provide an insight into the politics and culture of ancient Greece during the 4th century BC. Demosthenes learned rhetoric by...

, which are still existent.

Historical background

In 338 BC Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon "friend" + ἵππος "horse" — transliterated ; 382 – 336 BC), was a king of Macedon from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC. He was the father of Alexander the Great and Philip III.-Biography:...

 defeated the smaller combined forces of Athens and Thebes, securing Macedon
Macedonia or Macedon was an ancient kingdom, centered in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, the region of Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south....

ian hegemony in Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

. Philip was however indulgent towards Athens. He actually proposed a new peace treaty, whose the terms were quite favorable for the defeated party. Demosthenes prompted the fortification of Athens and was appointed by ecclesia to the duty of delivering over them the customary funeral speech, honoring the Athenians who died for their city. Although the Athenian statesman was the leader of the anti-Macedonian faction, his countrymen chose him for this honorable duty and not Demades
-Background and early life:He was born into a poor family of ancient Paeania and was employed at one time as a common sailor, but he rose partly by his eloquence and partly by his unscrupulous character to a prominent position at Athens...

 or Aeschines
Aeschines was a Greek statesman and one of the ten Attic orators.-Life:Although it is known he was born in Athens, the records regarding his parentage and early life are conflicting; but it seems probable that his parents, though poor, were respectable. Aeschines' father was Atrometus, an...

, who were more pleasing to the King of Macedon. Demosthenes' selection to deliver this speech shows his political influence in Athens, despite the fact that his anti-Macedonian policy had resulted in the total defeat of his city.

Demosthenes was proud for this special honor and in On the Crown
On the Crown
On the Crown is the most famous judicial oration of the prominent Athenian statesman and orator Demosthenes, delivered in 330 BC.-Historical background:...

admonished Aeschines with the following words:

Scheme of the oration

  • Preamble
  • Paragraph 1: Difficulties of the assigned duty
  • Paragraph 2: Purpose of the speech
  • Main content
  • Paragraphs 3-35: Praise of the bravery of the Athenians - They were beaten because of their bad luck and because of the mistakes committed by the Thebans - Praise of the Athenian democracy
    Athenian democracy
    Athenian democracy developed in the Greek city-state of Athens, comprising the central city-state of Athens and the surrounding territory of Attica, around 508 BC. Athens is one of the first known democracies. Other Greek cities set up democracies, and even though most followed an Athenian model,...

  • Epilogue
  • Paragraphs 36-37: Those dead are possessors of deathless honors.

Content of the oration

In the preamble the orator declares his intention not only to laud the bravery of those who lost their lives at the field of the battle but to mention as well the achievements of their ancestors (2).

In the beginning of the main part of the speech, he underscores that the Athenians are acknowledged to be true gentlemen (7) and the indigenous children of this land (4). He then exposes the mythological history of his city (8-11) and links his speech with the deeds of those dead at the field of the battle (12). He praises their virtues and bravery (15). He maintained that the Athenians were the first to foresee the growing power of Macedon and demonstrated a sound judgment joined with public spirit (18). According to the orator, his countrymen have to thank the valor of these men, along with the folly of their opponents, that Philip did not set foot upon our land (20). After all, Demosthenes regards as responsible for the defeat those of the Thebans who were appointed to the command (22), while he believes that the freedom of the whole Greek world was being preserved in the souls of these men (23). In the next paragraphs, the orator links the virtue of these men with the form of the Athenian government (25). For shame at the thought of subsequent reproaches, they manfully faced the threat arising from our foes and chose a noble death in preference to life and disgrace (26). According to the orator, it is impossible for those who commit a shameful act to appease all the citizens (26). Demosthenes then mentions in detail the role of the Athenian tribe
A tribe, viewed historically or developmentally, consists of a social group existing before the development of, or outside of, states.Many anthropologists use the term tribal society to refer to societies organized largely on the basis of kinship, especially corporate descent groups .Some theorists...

s, which nursed these brave men (27). He then points out that the living kinsmen of these dead deserve their sympathy and respect (32). Thereby, the children of these men shall be reared in honor and their parents shall enjoy distinction (33). The orator declares those dead be now seated beside the gods below, possessing the same rank as the brave men who have preceded them in the islands of the blest (34).

In the epilogue, Demosthenes asserts that it is a grievous thing for fathers and mothers to be deprived of their children and in their old age to lack the care of those who are nearest and dearest to them, but it is a proud privilege to behold them possessors of deathless honors and a memorial of their valor erected by the State, and deemed deserving of sacrifices and games for all future time (36). The orator closes his speech telling that it is painful for children to be orphaned of a father, but it is a beautiful thing to be the heir of a father's fame (37). As for Demosthenes himself, it has not been my concern how I might make a long speech, but how I might speak the truth (37).

Authorship of the speech

Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus was a Greek historian and teacher of rhetoric, who flourished during the reign of Caesar Augustus. His literary style was Attistic — imitating Classical Attic Greek in its prime.-Life:...

 questioned the authorship of the speech and asserted that the style of the oration is unworthy of Demosthenes. Dionysius' opinion was supported by modern scholars, including Friedrich August Wolf
Friedrich August Wolf
Friedrich August Wolf was a German philologist and critic.He was born at Hainrode, a village not far from Nordhausen, Germany. His father was the village schoolmaster and organist...

. The prominent Greek scholar Ioannis Sykoutris strove to prove that the speech is a genuine work of the Athenian statesman. Another prominent Greek scholar, Ioannis Kalitsounakis, supported Sykoutris' argumentation, insisting on the orator's psychology when delivering the speech.

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