On the Crown
Despite the unsuccessful ventures against Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great, the Athenian people still respected and admired Demosthenes, maybe even more than the pro-Macedonian politicians, especially Demades and Phocion, who ruled the city during this period. In 336 BC the orator Ctesiphon proposed that Athens honor Demosthenes for his services to the city by presenting him, according to custom, with a golden crown. This proposal became a political issue in 330 BC, and Aeschines prosecuted Ctesiphon for having violated the law on three points:
- For making false allegations in a state document.
- For unlawfully conferring a crown to a state official (Demosthenes) who had not yet rendered a report of his term of office.
- For unlawfully offering the crown at the Dionysia.
Content of the speech
In his most brilliant speech On the Crown, one of the most splendid political pleas ever written, Demosthenes not only defended Ctesiphon but also attacked vehemently those who would have preferred peace with Macedon. In this trial, Demosthenes' entire political career was at issue, but the orator repudiated nothing of what he had done. He begins with a general view of the condition of Greece when he entered politics and describes the phases of his struggle against Philip. He then deals with the Peace of Philocrates and blames Aeschines for his role during the negotiations and the ratification of the treaty. He also launches a personal attack against Aeschines, whom he holds up to ridicule as born of low and infamous parents. To this he adds charges of corruption and treason, and attributes the disaster of Chaeronea to the conduct of his political opponent, when representing Athens in the council of the Amphictyonic League. He underscores that he alone stood up to promote a coalition with Thebes. The orator asserts that, although Athens was defeated, it was better to be defeated in a glorious struggle for independence, than to surrender the heritage of liberty.
Demosthenes finally defeated Aeschines by an overwhelming majority of votes. However, many scholars have concluded that Aeschines's speech was very plausible, although not incontrovertible, from a legal point of view. As a result, Ctesiphon was acquitted and Aeschines fined and forced into exile.
On the Crown has been termed "the greatest speech of the greatest orator in the world". Jebb analysing the oratorical contest between Demosthenes and Aeschines in 330 BC underscores that this fierce debate illustrates the last great phase of political life at Athens. Noteworthy, the combat of eloquence attracted to Athens an immense concourse of spectators. "The theory of Greek eloquence had its final and its most splendid illustration in that trial which brought forth the two speeches On the Crown: nor could this part of our discussion conclude more fittingly than with an endeavour to call up some faint image of Demosthenes as in that great cause he stood opposed to Aeschines."
- K. Tsatsos, Demosthenes, 301 and The Helios.
- A. Duncan, Performance and Identity in the Classical World, 70.
- Buckler, John. 2000. "Demosthenes and Aeschines." p.147. In Demosthenes: Statesman and Orator, ed. Ian Worthington, 114-58. London: Routledge.
- Encyclopædia Britannica.
- R. C. Jebb, The Attic Orators from Antiphon to Isaeos.
- Murphy, James Jerome (1983). Demosthenes' On the Crown: A Critical Case Study of a Masterpiece of Ancient Oratory. Hermagoras Press. ISBN 0-9611800-1-3.
- Introduction to the oration On the Crown by Thomas Leland
- Thomas Leland's comments and translation of the oration On the Crown
- Introduction to the orations On the Crown and On the Dishonest Embassy by Harvey Yunis
- Text of the speech at the Perseus Digital Library