Demosthenes & Lysias

I had registered for a course reading Virgil’s Aeneid, and we were given some early homework, hence the previous two posts. I was pretty pleased with how straightforward Virgil’s Latin was, at least the bits I tackled. I found the commentary largely superfluous and occasionally even condescending, plus the subject matter was entertaining. Sadly, a scheduling conflict has barred me from Virgil, and so I’ve replaced it with reading selected speeches of two Greek orators, Demosthenes and Lysias. Oh well, I need more practice in Greek anyway. Both Lysias and Demosthenes were Athenian statesmen. Lysias was a little earlier than Demosthenes; he was active in the 5th century and early 4th, Demosthenes in the 4th. Their lives had an overlap of only 4 years. The speeches of Lysias will almost surely focus on the Peloponnesian War with Sparta, which was the major ongoing issue during his life. He would live to see Athens defeated by the Spartans, who dismantled democracy in Athens and installed an oligarchal tyranny in its place. Lysias lived during the waning years of Athens’ golden age; his father’s generation had united the Greek cities, fought off the Persian Empire, and had made Athens the center of the Greek world. Demosthenes, on the other hand, never saw that. He grew up in an Athens well past the peak of its power, struggling to regain its supremacy and unite the Greek cities against the growing threat of by Philip II of Macedon, who would ultimately conquer the entire peninsula. His adult years were almost three generations removed from the height of Athens’ golden age; for him it would have been a nearly mythical period of a glorious and storied past.





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