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The Biographic Tradition

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 23 examines the biographic tradition on Demosthenes, focusing on the content of the surviving Lives of Demosthenes. It also cites examples to characterize the perspectives and distinctive features of these biographic texts from the fragments of Demosthenes’ day to the time of Photius and the Suda. The writing of Demosthenes’ Life begins with Demosthenes and his contemporaries. To find the earliest surviving biography of Demosthenes, allowing for a flexible definition of biography, a good start is to consider the summary justification of Ctesiphon’s proposed decree to crown Demosthenes in 336. The article discusses a number of works dealing with Demosthenes’ Life, including Plutarch’s Demosthenes, Lucian’s Encomium of Demosthenes, the pseudo-Plutarchan Demosthenes, Libanius’ Life of Demosthenes, Zosimus’ Life of Demosthenes, and the anonymous Life of Demosthenes.

Keywords: Demosthenes, Lives of Demosthenes, Suda, Plutarch, pseudo-Plutarch, Lucian, Libanius, Zosimus, Photius, biography

Pick up the Collected Works of any writer and invariably a brief biography prefaces the book. So Libanius, writing a set of introductions to the Demosthenic corpus for a proconsular friend, prefaces them ‘with the life of the orator, not going through its entirety, for that would be too large, but calling to mind as many things as seems to contribute to a more precise understanding of the speeches’ (Arg.D. pr.). Since the nineteenth century, scholars have doubted the historicity of much if not all the content of ancient biographies of writers. Dindorf’s complaint that ‘ancient Greek biographers were the most mendacious class of people in the world’ first appeared in an edition of Demosthenes (1855: lxvii), but it was repeated in his oft-printed edition of the Athenian playwrights. Until quite recently that perspective has remained dominant, as exemplified in Lefkowitz’ The Lives of the Greek Poets (1981), with the result that authors’ Lives have been mostly deleted from scholarly editions and discussion (but see Lefkowitz 2012).

While the Lives of poets could be said to suffer from the biographical fallacy (Lefkowitz 1981), Demosthenes’ self-references, however biased, have a historical basis and are surrounded by abundant historical comparanda. From such material Dindorf himself compiled his ‘Chronologia Demosthenica’ (Dindorf 1855: lxvii–cix), the principles of which stand behind the four-volume account of Demosthenes’ life and times by Arnold Schaefer (2nd ed. 1885–7), and more recent biographical works by Carlier, Sealey, Lehmann, Samotta, Worthington, Will (2013), and Brun (2015; see bibliographies of the last two for full references). The complete avoidance or occasional use of the ancient Lives in these recent texts varies, but little is said about the nature of the ancient Lives on their own terms.

Some strands of the biographic tradition on Demosthenes have been studied in their own right (Pernot 2006), but the Lives of Demosthenes stand yet under the castigating shadow of perspectives as expressed above by Dindorf and, most notoriously, by the erudite study of Drerup (1923; cf. Pernot 2006: 115–22). With such biographical texts, if the primary goal is to find what is historically valid about Demosthenes’ life and era, (p. 298) then, yes, Dindorf is right to complain about the mixing in over the centuries of much invalid material. Did Demosthenes study with Plato? If he had, we might then read his Assembly speeches differently; but his tutelage under Plato seems wholly implausible. If, however, our second goal is to read and study Demosthenes’ reputation and influence, then, yes, the very claim that he studied under Plato, attributed by Plutarch to Hermippus, should be examined both for the reason of its invention and for its long influence (Pernot 2006: 21–60). My goal here is to provide an overview of the content of the surviving Lives of Demosthenes and to cite sufficient examples to characterize the perspectives and distinctive features of these biographic texts from the fragments of Demosthenes’ day to the time of Photius and the Suda.

From Demosthenes to Plutarch

The writing of Demosthenes’ Life begins with Demosthenes and his contemporaries (MacDowell 2009: 9–13; Blass 2nd ed. 1887–98: 3.1.4–48). To find the earliest surviving biography of Demosthenes, allowing for a flexible definition of biography (Hägg 2012: ix), we could begin with the summary justification of Ctesiphon’s proposed decree to crown Demosthenes in 336: that he be crowned for his virtue and loyalty in continually saying and doing the best things for the people (as in the inserted document in 18.54). Another candidate would be the text of the request made in 280/79 by Demosthenes’ nephew Demochares to honour Demosthenes with a statue and public privileges for his descendants. The text survives appended to the end of the pseudo-Plutarchan Lives of the Ten Orators; its abundant listing of Demosthenes’ services covers his public life from 360 down to his death in 322.

Between Demochares’ request and Plutarch’s Demosthenes of around 100 ce no Life of the orator is extant. Demosthenes was talked about in a variety of works, in the historical works of Anaximenes, Theopompus, Demochares, Aristobulus, Philochorus, Hegesias, and the treatises of Theophrastus, Demetrius of Phaleron, Idomeneus, and Ariston. With the founding of the library of Alexandria in the early third century what may have been the first biographical sketch of Demosthenes, however succinct, appeared in Callimachus’ Pinax, his catalogue of authors and their works, which was probably used by Satyrus and Hermippus (Hägg 2012: 81–9). The surviving details attributed to them, one to Satyrus and five to Hermippus, reveal knowledge of fairly fine details, for example, that it was in his pen, not in a ring or armband, that Demosthenes kept the poison with which he committed suicide and that, as he died, Demosthenes left the start of a letter: ‘Demosthenes, to Antipater’. Such fragments of the earliest biographical texts show an attention to certain details.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus offers a different, first-century bce glimpse of the sort of data that was in the library catalogue. In a study on the relationship between Demosthenes and Aristotle he cites ‘those who assembled the lives of the men’ (Amm. 1.3) and then lists an abundance of dates, the Olympiads in which they were born and (p. 299) twenty different archonships, to determine the relative priority of Demosthenes’ public speeches and Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Though such data is not as exciting as the fine points of Demosthenes’ death, Dionysius, and others, employed biographical details not to enhance interpretation of a given speech but to determine authorship. With a similar though expanded goal Didymus Chalcenterus, also in the first century bce, worked at ‘reacquiring the factual knowledge that Demosthenes had apparently taken for granted in his audience’ (Gibson 2002: 3). Based on the surviving papyrus Didymus did not assemble information about Demosthenes per se but data to clarify historical details in Demosthenes’ speeches, though Didymus does provide biographical details about others, such as Hermias, Aristomedes the Brazen, and Philip.

Plutarch’s Demosthenes

With Plutarch we have the earliest surviving Life of Demosthenes, but his many citations of earlier authors have stirred much interest in his now-lost sources. He cites 19 authors by name for 43 details and ‘they’ or ‘it is said’ provide another 31 details. In the nineteenth century much effort was spent on reconstructing these earlier works and Plutarch’s Lives became mere assemblages of the texts and opinions of these earlier authors (see Drerup 1923 for competing theories on Plutarch’s ‘main’ source). Misuse of source criticism has been rightly decried (Gibson 2002: 6, and n. 9), yet even today, when there is a productive focus on studying the perspective of the surviving author, older tendencies of Quellenforschung can still linger (as noted by Bollansée 1999: xi–xii, 245–9).

Plutarch deploys all these sources in his Demosthenes not to write literary nor even political but moral biography (Beck 2014: 5–6). His choice and disposition of historical material will be governed by this moral agenda, his search for what Gomme called character truth (Gomme 1945–81: 1.58). So, in the introduction to the Demosthenes–Cicero pair, he says that from their actions and public careers we will examine their natures and dispositions (Dem. 3.1). Plutarch will also pause to focus on a topic that arises in the narrative, but overall his Demosthenes falls into two parts after the introduction to the pair (1–3): Demosthenes’ education, from birth to his entrance into the public arena (4–12.6), and his fight for freedom against Philip and Macedon to his death (12.7–31; see Lintott 2013).

If we view the Life as a whole, we should be able to come away with a moral outline of the orator’s life. Demosthenes began life under unfortunate circumstances. Physical and financial constraints challenged him to overcome the greatest of difficulties. As an adult he also struggled against challenges, both internal and external, namely, fear and cowardice, greed, and Macedonian imperialism. His youthful successes and continued efforts sustained him against the last of these three opponents until his bold suicide. His failure against the first two of the three opponents, cowardice and greed, however, left a public and personal blemish on his memory, as recorded in the famous (p. 300) epigram on his statue: ‘If, Demosthenes, you had possessed strength (rhômê) equal to your intelligence (gnômê), the Macedonian Ares would never have ruled the Greeks’ (Dem. 30.5).

Plutarch had been preparing his reader for this final word since early in the Life. Back in Dem. 13 he set the stage for the start of Demosthenes’ public career with the observation by Panaetius, the second-century bce Stoic philosopher, that when you read Demosthenes’ speeches it looks ‘as if what is good, in and of itself, is alone to be chosen’ (13.5). Plutarch certainly hears what he calls the ‘principled love of honour and the nobility of his speeches’ (13.6), but this same Plutarch is about to describe in memorably graphic detail both Demosthenes’ flight from the battlefield at Chaeronea (20.2) and his purported venality before the riches of Harpalus (25.3–6). But for his cowardice and venality, Plutarch concludes so early in the Life, ‘he would have been worthy of being ranked not with his contemporaries—Moerocles, Polyeuctus, and Hyperides—but in the past with Cimon, Thucydides, and Pericles’ (13.6). In the end, Plutarch presents Demosthenes as a complex individual, with both noble and disgraceful characteristics, but, between Panaetius and the epigram on Demosthenes’ statue, Plutarch makes clear the moral of this Life. By portraying as he does these supposed conflicts of the orator’s personality, Plutarch provided a case study for students of human nature and influenced readings of Demosthenes’ life for ages to come (see still Blass 1887–98: 3.1.40–7; Hägg 2012: 244–52; Pecorella Longo et al. 1995: 87–150).

Lucian’s Encomium of Demosthenes

Lucian’s portrait of Demosthenes is called an encomium, but the text is a dialogue, not one but two, the first reported by one of the speakers as a recent occurrence, the second, read by that narrator from a transcript of a dialogue found in the supposititious Records of the Macedonian Royal House. It opens with the narrator, an unnamed rhetorician, struggling to prepare an encomium to celebrate Demosthenes’ birthday, who goes for a stroll and happens upon a certain Thersagoras, a poet working on an encomium to celebrate Homer’s birthday. Instead of a contest developing over their relative greatness, Thersagoras extemporizes on the excellence of Demosthenes’ style, which even surpasses Homer in some regards, the abundance of meaningful information about Demosthenes, the wealth of his father and early death, an event that ‘revealed the nobility of Demosthenes’ nature’, the ‘chaste madness’ with which he devoted himself to his oratory, the ‘whole gloriousness of his public career’, and ‘his decrees, embassies, speeches in the Assembly, laws, expeditions sent out to Euboea, Megara, Boeotia, Chios, Rhodes, the Hellespont, Byzantium’ (§11, 13, 16, 18).

The two talk generally about encomia, Thersagoras reads his encomium of Homer, then he recalls that he has a transcript from the Macedonian Records that would be of use to the narrator. Delighted by what he has read, the narrator in turn reads to us this (p. 301) newly-recovered text in lieu of an encomium (§29–50). The transcript contains the dialogue that occurred after the death of Demosthenes between ‘king’ Antipater and Archias, the actor-henchman sent to apprehend Demosthenes. Archias reports that he has managed to bring not Demosthenes but only his ashes, at which Antipater explains how much he had looked forward not simply to enjoying Demosthenes’ brilliance of speech but also his brilliant intelligence. Antipater then presents the opinions of others about Demosthenes through four different pronouncements by Philip and even one by Aristotle, all five in direct speech. Archias assures Antipater that Demosthenes was too devoted to Athens to aid him ever, then reads a transcript that he had made for Antipater of Demosthenes’ last words and of his suicide. With that, Antipater sends his ashes to Athens, ‘a finer offering to the land than those who fell at Marathon’. Between these two halves of the work, then, we have two innovative encomiastic epitomes of Demosthenes’ life (Pernot 2006: 88, and n. 72).

The Pseudo-Plutarchan Demosthenes

One of the most intriguing biographies of Demosthenes appears in The Lives of the Ten Orators, a text attributed to Plutarch and written down at least by the fourth century ce. The ten Lives greatly vary in length—Demosthenes is fifteen times as long as Isaeus— and their content and arrangement is such that Hieronymus Wolf once spoke of them as congestae potius quam digestae (Wolf 1572: 5.316). These external features led scholars to dispute the attribution to Plutarch; differing theories were then put forth as to the main source followed by pseudo-Plutarch; the latest question is whether we should speak of an author at all or treat the Lives as ‘open’ texts, a question intertwined with the similar but not identical Lives of the Ten Orators in Photius’ Bibliotheca considered below (Martin 2014; cf. Roisman and Worthington 2015: 11–12; for nineteenth-century scholarship see Cuvigny 1981: 25–34 and Drerup 1923: 166–204).

However we reimagine the creation of the pseudo-Plutarchan Demosthenes, its content is extraordinary in comparison to the surviving Lives of Demosthenes as well as to the many fragments of the biographic tradition. Details appear in this Life that are not found in the other Lives. For example, when Demosthenes’ father died, in the pseudo-Plutarchan Demosthenes we find that the seven-year old Demosthenes had a five-year-old sister, a detail preserved in Demosthenes’ own corpus (27.4), but mentioned in no other Life or text to survive from antiquity. A multitude of intriguing, unheard of, and occasionally erroneous details follow. Callistratus, traditionally reported as the one who first oratorically inspired the youthful Demosthenes, is noted as the son of Empedus, a hipparch, and the dedicator of the altar to Hermes Agoraeus; Isaeus is not his teacher but his live-in tutor, and for four years at that; his guardian Aphobus is said to be his mother’s brother; the mirror in front of which he trained was Demosthenes-sized; his seaside declaiming is ‘at Phaleron’; he aligned himself politically with Hyperides and three quite rarely mentioned figures, Nausicles, Polyeuctus, and Diotimus. The accumulation of (p. 302) these and many other rare details is fascinating; their significance in Demosthenes’ life is left unexplained.

Seven archonships are cited to date various events in his life, but no immediate conclusion is drawn as in Dionysius’ analysis of the authenticity of speeches. Along with an interest in fixed dating is the inclusion of relative dates and the co-ordination with cultural figures such as Plato and Xenophon. The piling up of proper names is ongoing: five of the ten prosecutors in the Harpalus affair are named, and it was sculptor Polyeuctus who made his statue, a detail otherwise unrecorded. Two of the especially striking, unique details are Demosthenes’ shout ‘Spare me!’ at the bramble that slowed his flight from Chaeronea, and only here, alongside the various ways in which he poisoned himself, is it recorded that he died by holding his breath.

High drama can also be found in the jumble of fourteen anecdotes attached to the end of the Life. The oddest of these tells how Diogenes the Cynic caught sight of Demosthenes in a tavern; Demosthenes then tried to escape notice by withdrawing farther into the establishment, and Diogenes said: ‘The more you try to hide, the more you will be in the tavern.’ This anecdote epitomizes the character of this Life. It is a hodgepodge of odds and ends added on at different times and very likely by different people who never attempted to rearrange or rewrite the text. Efforts to discern any design in the pseudo-Plutarchan Demosthenes, or all the ten Lives in the set, will end up concluding that what survives in this text is only bits and pieces, curious and often unique, of a far larger biographic tradition of which we can now only catch glimpses among the shadows.

Libanius’ Life of Demosthenes

Libanius thought most highly of Demosthenes’ rhetoric and displays a thorough knowledge of his speeches in his own many writings (Foerster 1903–27). It is thus a great loss that the Life, with which he prefaced his set of hypotheses to Demosthenes’ speeches (Gibson 2008 xix, and n. 8), breaks off after only seven pages, mid-sentence during Libanius’ account of Philip’s rise to power. In the opening of the Life Libanius displays direct use of ancient sources, paraphrasing and then also quoting Aeschines on Demosthenes’ father and then too on his mother’s background. In the hypotheses Libanius will do the same, quoting Demosthenes frequently from the very text that the student is about to read. But he also trots out the same sort of details and anecdotes that appear in the biographic tradition: Demosthenes’ frail health as a youth, the nickname ‘Batalus’, Callistratus’ life-changing speech, his study under Isaeus. With the mention of Isaeus, however, Libanius pauses to examine a topic of relevance to the study of Demosthenes’ speeches: Did Isaeus write orations 27–31 for Demosthenes or did Demosthenes write them and Isaeus correct them? Libanius insists that the later speeches, indisputably by Demosthenes, reveal real talent, and so ‘it is not at all marvellous’ if Demosthenes could already produce such speeches, (p. 303) and any good student, as Libanius knows from his own experience, would learn by imitating his master’s style (cf. Arg.D. 32.2). Libanius’ focus here reflects his own professional interest.

Quite unexpectedly, though, Libanius covers the next decade of Demosthenes’ life without reference to any actual speeches, a period for which there are a dozen Demosthenic texts, all of them with hypotheses written by Libanius. ‘He attempted’, he says, ‘to be a sophist. Then, having quit this, he aided others in court cases [i.e. as a synêgoros]. And having used these experiences as exercises he ended up advising the people and conducting the affairs of the city’ (Arg.D. pr. 9). There is not another word about Demosthenes’ career as a logographer; instead Libanius takes up the next four sections with the standard regimen of corrective training and work habits that Demosthenes developed to prepare for his public career. Libanius then begins an historical overview starting from the battle of Leuctra in 371 and tells us the state of affairs in Greece and Athens ‘when Demosthenes entered into public affairs’ (§14), but, then, while in 359 Philip is establishing himself on the throne, the text breaks off. The final sentence, though unfinished, at least reveals that Libanius insisted on marking Philip’s motivations as ignoble: ‘he released them [the Athenians supporting a challenger to the throne] without ransom, not out of goodwill to the city or propriety of character …’ (§19) and we are left hanging.

With the rest of the Life now lost, we might wonder whether every action of Philip’s was similarly explained and, conversely, whether every action of Demosthenes was praised immoderately. Among his Progymnasmata, Libanius shows that he certainly had the ability to condemn every deed of Philip as foul and underhanded (Prog. 8.5; 9.3, 4; 10.3) and to praise Demosthenes highly (Prog. 8.5; 10.3), but these are school exercises (Gibson 2008). If we try to reconstruct the lost part of the Life from the relevant hypotheses we find that most of the information that Libanius presents there is drawn directly from the given oration. Only in the very opening of the hypothesis for On the Crown does Libanius allow himself a rare, very witty comment in praise of Demosthenes: ‘The orator erected for the Athenians a wall more impregnable and better than the standard ones built with hands, goodwill toward the city and brilliance in speaking, just as he himself said: “Not with stones and bricks …” ’ (Arg.D. 17.1, quoting §299).

Zosimus’ Life of Demosthenes

One of our oldest manuscripts of Demosthenes’ speeches is prefaced with a Life attributed to Zosimus of Ascalon, a teacher and scholar of the late fifth century ce (usually cited from Westermann 1845 or Dindorf 1846–51, 8.18–22). Writing this 1300-word biography to prepare his students to study Demosthenes’ speeches, Zosimus is also like Libanius in speaking most highly of Demosthenes as ‘the most accomplished of the (p. 304) Hellenic orators’. In key sections of the Life, however, Zosimus adds details, passed over by Libanius, that mark his view of Demosthenes’ career as complicated.

The opening of the text illustrates Zosimus’ educational approach to the orator. ‘Secondly, then’, Zosimus begins, ‘it is time to proceed to the Paeanian.’ The first author studied, Zosimus reveals in a few lines, was ‘the son of Theodorus’, that is, Isocrates (in Mandilaras 2003: 1.211–16). Zosimus’ allusive labels here are not merely for academic display; they are part of the mystical manner in which he teaches rhetoric. He imagines himself invoking Demosthenes: ‘Do not be angry with me, O Divine One, in being placed second … for if one must speak the truth, you put yourself in this position by making yourself nowhere accessible to the young with the grandeur of your diction and by not allowing the uninitiate in rhetoric to approach your speeches.’ This ceremonial language can be found as early as Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Wiater 2011: 263–79) and appears also in the preface to the Life of Thucydides, attributed to a certain Marcellinus but possibly influenced or even written by Zosimus (Maitland 1996).

Zosimus covers Demosthenes’ parentage, his struggle as an orphan, education, suing of guardians, his weaknesses and exercises, and efforts as logographer and sophist. In the litigation against his guardians there appears the earliest mention that Demosthenes pardoned his guardians ‘out of generosity’ and ended up asking only for one talent. If anyone suspects an encomiastic bent on Zosimus’ part, consider that he next reports that when Demosthenes took up logography he grew to hate it when ‘he was caught giving speeches to both Apollodorus and Phormion’ for the same case. We are then told how Demosthenes took up teaching to great success but suddenly abandoned that profession also under a cloud when one of his students murdered ‘Nicodemus of Aphidna and Eubulus the politician’. The murder of Nicodemus had been mentioned by Demosthenes, Aeschines, and Dinarchus (Fisher 2001: 316–17), but this is its earliest appearance in the biographic tradition. Zosimus included these damning deeds to explain the career changes that Demosthenes supposedly made before settling into public life.

In the remaining text only a few lines are given to the conflict with Philip. The rest of Demosthenes’ public life is then summarized by listing some of his liturgies and benefactions with the closing remark that ‘for loyal devotion to the city he was often honoured with gold wreaths’. This is as close as Zosimus gets to mentioning the crown case of 330. Suddenly Harpalus arrives, Demosthenes is fined, flees, returns, and, out of chronological order, is demanded by Alexander but is saved by the Athenian embassy, which successfully appeals to Alexander’s ‘philanthropy’. But with Antipater’s ‘receipt of the kingdom’, Zosimus presents Demosthenes as rising up against Antipater by rousing the Athenians ‘to march out and expel’ the Macedonian garrison at Thebes. Though Zosimus is wrong in the details, he correctly explains Demosthenes’ decision to flee as he knew that no mercy would be coming from the new ‘savage and violent’ ruler. The Life then ends with another unique sentence that especially marks the text as a manuscript Life: ‘He left behind many speeches, such as the Philippics, his public speeches, those against his guardians, those in private cases, his proems, the speech on love, his funeral speech, his letters.’ Though none of the six Demosthenes manuscripts containing (p. 305) Zosimus’ Life follow this order, the modern editio princeps happens to have been based on manuscripts that do follow this topical arrangement, which order accords with Zosimus’ didactic goals.

The Anonymous Life of Demosthenes

The anonymous Life of Demosthenes appears as an introduction to some of Demosthenes’ manuscripts, fifteen total, following Zosimus’ Life in three of those fifteen (usually cited from Westermann 1845 or Dindorf 1846–51: 8.23–8). Longer and more thorough than Zosimus’ text, it serves the same purposes as the preface makes clear: ‘The life of Demosthenes the orator is indispensable for those training themselves in rhetoric, for his life provides much help to students.’ The text closes with a similar claim: ‘These are nearly all the things that are said of Demosthenes, from which it is possible for intelligent people to figure out to what extent oratory is a source of advancement for people.’ The author wants his students to know that he will teach them a skill that will bring benefit and honour to them and their communities.

How, then, did Demosthenes set aright his city? This Life does a far better job of recounting Demosthenes’ actual career. After he abandons teaching and logography, he imposes on himself further training so that he can undertake ‘the governing of the city, the care of public matters’, and restoring ‘respectability in meetings of the Assembly’. No earlier Life organizes and explains Demosthenes’ actions in this way. At the same time our author deploys curious (and historically questionable) events in Demosthenes’ private life, such as his marriage to the widow of the general Chabrias, as illustrative of the character that led him to choose ‘for himself a post on the city’s behalf’ and preserve for Athens ‘the virtue of her forefathers and ancestral high-mindedness’.

A short epitome of Philip’s career is then given so that ‘we may receive stronger proofs of Demosthenes’ excellence’. The events leading to Chaeronea and to Philip’s assassination are similarly covered, with the result that nearly a quarter of the Life describes Demosthenes’ efforts against Philip. Some details sound very Demosthenic, that Philip was born in Pella, ‘an unseemly and poor place’ (18.68), that he conquered the ‘tetrarchy’ of Thessaly (9.26), committed butchery in Elis (10.10; 19.260), and arranged the Olympic games (a mistaken transference of the Pythian Games of 346, or 342: 9.32). This piling up of data is impressive among the Lives and it serves a point: the more Philip accomplished, the more Demosthenes endeavoured to rouse the Athenians in opposition. Yet victory, as Demosthenes said, comes from on high, and this is precisely the thought that our author attributes to the Athenians in electing Demosthenes to give the funeral oration after Chaeronea: ‘they knew that Demosthenes’ task was to give the best advice but that the outcome was fortune’s throw’ (cf. 18.252–75).

When our author takes up Demosthenes’ opposition to Alexander, he focuses, like Zosimus, on the Harpalus affair. Then, when Antipater took charge at Alexander’s death, our author credits Demosthenes with uniting Hellas against him. The siege of (p. 306) ‘Salamis’—a scribal mutation of ‘Lamia’—though, fails because the Aetolians gave up, ‘then the rest’, and Demosthenes eventually fled to Calauria and death. This level of detail is again unusual, but more importantly the inclusion of other players in the narrative supports the author’s emphasis on historical context, the roles others play, along with fate. Demosthenes’ oratory accomplished much, but only so much. So the author concludes that Demosthenes started out as ‘the son of a cutler’ who went on to put Athens in order, withstood the kings of Macedon, was honoured greatly among the Greek states since he ‘made them all by his oratory feel as if they were each his homeland’. Yet the Life ends with the previously unmentioned report that ‘he was slanderously accused of attending to the affair of the Persian king, of Medizing, and of accepting his money’. We have, then, Demosthenes the self-made man who tried as the ‘great uniter’ to save not simply Athens but all Greeks, at least those who would listen, and, yes, he was slandered.

Photius and the Suda

When we step down into the ninth and tenth centuries to the rather long text on Demosthenes in Photius’ Bibliotheca (see Chapter 33 this volume) and the three short entries on Demosthenes in the Suda, we find tangled strands of the biographic tradition that stretch back at least to the fourth century ce. In his Bibliotheca appear ten entries on the ten Attic orators that overlap to a very great extent with the pseudo-Plutarchan Lives of the Ten Orators, but each Life is prefaced by a wholly new section on questions of authenticity of the speeches, somewhat in the manner of Dionysius of Halicarnassus. There are also a great many small additions, deletions, and variants.

It is possible that the differences between this text and the Lives of the Ten Orators are due to Photius himself but that would be contrary to his practice in the Bibliotheca. More importantly, the characteristics of the Bibliotheca entries, as is true of the Lives of the Ten Orators, argue for them to be agglutinative assemblages of bits and pieces from the written and oral traditions about the orators, what has been called an ‘open’ text with reference, for example, to the biographic tradition of Homer, Aesop, and the Alexander Romance (Hägg 2012: 99–147), and even to pseudo-Plutarch and Photian versions of Lives of the Ten Orators (Martin 2014). The many peculiarities of content and arrangement in these ten Bibliotheca entries are best explained as products of an ongoing accumulation and alteration of data and anecdotes of which the pseudo-Plutarchan Lives happen to be an earlier instantiation (Schamp 2000; Cook 2001).

The three Suda entries are much shorter manifestations of the same process. The first entry likely derives from Hesychius’ sixth- or seventh-century biographic collection, and the second may derive from Arrian. The third, the longest, shows some parallels with the anonymous Life and some similarity to Zosimus’, suggesting that it is a shorter embodiment of a millennia-old desire to say something, whether new, derivative, or enhanced, about the Orator of ancient Greece.

Suggested Reading

On biography, start with Hägg (2012). See Lintott (2013) briefly on Plutarch’s Life and Roisman and Worthington (2015) on some of the later texts, with emphasis on historical issues; Düren (2014) surveys all the texts. Drerup’s study (1923) of the ancient tradition remains valuable for his thoroughness, however, his underlying hostility towards Demosthenes taints his otherwise detailed scholarship.


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