Demosthenes crucial role in rousing the Greeks

The Greek figure Demosthenes is often regarded as the individual who, as described by his initial contemporary editor, played a crucial role in rousing the Greeks to fight for their freedom and served as an articulate advocate against tyranny. During Napoleon’s dominance over Europe, Friedrich Jacobs, a German philologist and humanist, translated Demosthenes’ writings with the intention of bolstering the sense of national autonomy. Shortly after the conclusion of the First World War, the French statesman Clemenceau hastily authored a book that contained passionate French rhetoric denouncing the Macedonians. In this book, he cautioned the Athenians of Paris against succumbing to their refined culture and becoming a weak-willed society of artists and rentiers, lacking the necessary determination and vital energy to resist their barbaric adversary.

In a Latin society, characterized by the skillful use of rhetorical techniques reminiscent of Demosthenes, the book established a novel following for the deceased patriot, reigniting the fading flame of classicism for one final occasion. However, shortly before this, a German scholar had authored another book with the disdainful title “Aus einer alten Advokatenrepublik” which translates to “An Ancient Lawyers’ Republic”.

Following a hundred years of strong opposition to the classicist veneration of the influential speaker and charismatic instigator, who had been mistakenly glorified by academic rhetoric, this piece finally encapsulated the entire argument and aimed to permanently dismantle Demosthenes’ reputation. Undoubtedly, the book in question was centered around war, exhibiting a very provocative nature that deliberately exaggerated every detail in order to provide a distorted and exaggerated version of the truth. However, this was merely the nadir of the trajectory down which historians’ assessment of Demosthenes had descended since the emergence of the new approach to history, a century prior.

Niebuhr, an eminent figure in the field of classics, was a staunch admirer of Demosthenes, serving as a prominent proponent of the new historical approach. However, Droysen initiated a vehement critique of Demosthenes’ career and policy. The Hellenistic world’s groundbreaking discovery launched it.

Previously, Greek history consistently reached a dramatic climax with the city-states’ political freedom being forfeited at Chaeronea. Demosthenes was portrayed as the final Greek statesman, positioned atop the burial site of Hellas and delivering a eulogy for her. However, at this moment, the curtain abruptly parted, unveiling a remarkable new theatrical production set in the era when Greece held significant political and spiritual influence, specifically during the period that commenced with Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Persian empire.

The perspective changed to reveal an ongoing evolution of Greek civilization, both externally and internally, into a cosmopolitan and global entity. Demosthenes’ greatness appeared significantly diminished and constrained due to the alteration in proportion. He seemed to be part of a society that was naively deluded about its own significance, and that was existing based on an outdated notion of its illustrious predecessors.

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It appeared that he and his peers were attempting to resurrect the accomplishments of their ancestors in their present time, despite the fact that they themselves were part of history. The animosity of his critics become ever more intense. They began by rejecting his political principles, which historians had previously accepted without question, due to the absence of a comprehensive historical account of his era written by one of his peers. Subsequently, having questioned his ability as a politician, they proceeded to scrutinize and censure his personal qualities.

Simultaneously, Isocrates and Aeschines, his adversaries, gained increasing recognition as they wisely relinquished their optimism for the future of Athens and counseled their fellow citizens to forsake the struggle. Historical achievement sometimes equated success, and scholars were comforted to see that Demosthenes had contemporaries who possessed the same level of foresight as present-day professors.