Demetrius Phalereus Analysis

Life

Demetrius Phalereus (duh-MEE-tree-us fuh-LEE-rews) was born to the Athenian deme Phaleron and reportedly educated under Aristotle and Theophrastus. In 317 b.c.e., a few years after Athens fell to Macedonia, Cassander took over Athens and put Demetrius in charge of the city. Demetrius governed Athens and largely stayed out of the wars that raged among the successors to Alexander the Great. He became best known for his legislative and social reforms, which seem broadly guided by his philosophical education. These reforms included curbing extravagances, canceling subsidies for the poor for public functions, and instituting a census. All these reforms responded to the desires of the wealthy Athenian aristocracy. In 307 b.c.e., Demetrius Poliorcetes (“the Besieger”) took Athens, and Demetrius Phalereus fled. He subsequently served Cassander and Ptolemy I Soter. Under Ptolemy II Philadelphus, he fell into disfavor and died in 283 b.c.e.

Influence

Demetrius remains an example of a successful combination of ruler and philosopher. He governed Athens during a crucial period after the loss of the democracy and as it became a cultural center for Greece. He is also credited with persuading Ptolemy I Soter to build the Alexandrian library. Although almost all of his writing is now lost, he was a widely read and respected Peripatetic philosopher in antiquity.

Additional Resources

Green, Peter. Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age. Reprint. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Habicht, Christian. Athens from Alexander to Antony. Translated by Deborah Lucas Schneider. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999.