Aeschines Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Originally a civil official and then an actor, Aeschines (EHS-kih-neez) seems to have entered political life at a relatively advanced age. In 348 b.c.e., when Philip II was threatening the Chalcidice, Aeschines was sent as an ambassador to rouse the Greek states against him. He was a member of the boulī, or council, in 347/346 b.c.e. and served on embassies to Philip in connection with the Peace of Philocrates, as did Demosthenes, in 346 b.c.e. Aeschines believed that the only peace attainable was a Common Peace, and this, together with his more conservative policy and conciliatory attitude to Philip, clashed with Demosthenes. This was the start of a long personal enmity between Aeschines and Demosthenes, seen in the famous court battles in 343 b.c.e., when Demosthenes prosecuted Aeschines for misconduct on the embassies and narrowly lost, and in 330 b.c.e., when Aeschines prosecuted Ctesiphon, who had proposed a crown in 336 b.c.e. for Demosthenes’ great services to the state, and overwhelmingly lost.

Between 343 and 330 b.c.e., Demosthenes’ political influence rose; however, Aeschines seems to have played a passive role in politics. He was prominent at a meeting of the Amphictyonic Council in 339 b.c.e., but in persuading that council to vote for a Sacred War on Amphissa, he opened the door for Philip’s further involvement in Greece. After the Greeks’ defeat at Chaeronea in 338 b.c.e., Aeschines served as ambassador to Philip to discuss peace terms. In 336 b.c.e., he impeached Ctesiphon for making an illegal motion to crown Demosthenes, but the case did not come to court until 330. The impeachment was an attack on Demosthenes; hence, it was Demosthenes who delivered the official defense speech. Misjudging the political situation, not to mention Demosthenes’ influence, Aeschines failed to win one-fifth of the votes and went into self-imposed exile. According to tradition, he opened a school of rhetoric on Rhodes and later moved to Samos, where he died.

Only three speeches by Aeschines have survived. They are marred by personal attacks, emotional arguments, and too great a tendency to quote from poetry; he is at his best in the narrativesections of his speeches, where his vocabulary is simple and effective. However, his oratorical ability was enough for him to be included in the canon of the ten Attic orators.

Aeschines Influence

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Aeschines’ speeches from the false embassy and Ctesiphon/Demosthenes trials survive, as do those of Demosthenes; although the speeches of both orators are riddled with bias and embellishment, they are vital source material for the history of this period.

Aeschines Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Harris, E. Aeschines and Athenian Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Kennedy, G. The Art of Persuasion in Greece. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963.