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The First Olynthiac of Demosthenes

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.







Olynthus was a powerful free city of Thrace, on the confines of Macedonia. By certain alluring offers, Philip had tempted them into an alliance with him, the terms of which were a joint war against the Athenians, and if a peace, a joint peace. The Olynthians, some time after, becoming jealous of his growing power, detach themselves from his alliance, and make a separate peace with the Athenians. Philip, exclaiming against this as a breach of their former treaty, and glad of an opportunity, which he had long been seeking, immediately declares war against them, and besieges their city. Upon this they despatch an embassy to Athens for succour. The subject of this embassy coming to be debated among the Athenians, Demosthenes gives his sentiments in the following oration.

No treasures, O Athenians! can, I am confident, be so desirable in your eyes, as to discover what is most advantageous to be done for this city, in the affair now before you. And since it is of so important a nature, the strictest attention should be given to all those who are willing to deliver their opinions; for not only the salutary counsels which any one may have premeditated, are to be heard and received, but I confider it as peculiar to your fortune and good genius, that many things, highly expedient, may suggest themselves to the speakers, even extemporarily, and without premeditation; and then you may easily, from the whole, collect the most useful resolutions. The present occasion wants only a tongue to declare, that the posture of these affairs requires your immediate application, if you have any regard for your preservation. I know not what disposition we all entertain; but my own opinion is, that we vote a supply of men to the Olynthians, and that we send them immediately; and thus by lending them our assistance now, we shall prevent the accidents which we have formerly felt, from falling again on us. Let an embassy be dispatched, not only to declare these our intentions, but to see them executed. For my greatest apprehension is, that the artful Philip, who well knows to improve every opportunity, by concessions, where they are most convenient, and by threats, which we may believe him capable of fulfilling, at the same time objecting our absence to our allies, may draw from the whole some considerable advantage to himself. This however, O Athenians! will give some comfort, that the very particular circumstance which adds the greatest strength to Philip, is likewise favourable to us. In his own person he unites the several powers of general, of king, and of treasurer; he presides absolutely in all councils, and is constantly at the head of his army. This indeed will contribute greatly to his successes in the field, but will have a contrary effect, with regard to that truce which he is so desirous to make with the Olynthians; who will find their contention not to be for glory, nor for the enlargement of dominion; the subversion or slavery of their country is what they fight against. They have seen in what manner he hath treated those Amphipolitans, who surrendered their city to him ; and those Pydnaeans, who received him into theirs: and indeed, universally, a kingly state is, in my opinion, a thing in which republics will never trust; and above all, if their territories border on each other. These things therefore, O Athenians! being well known to you, when you enter on this debate, your resolutions must be for war, and to prosecute it with as much vigour as you have formerly shewn on any occasion. You must resolve to raise supplies with the utmost alacrity; to muster yourselves; to omit nothing; for no longer can a reason be assigned, or excuse alleged, why you should decline what the present exigency requires. For the Olynthians, whom with such universal clamours you have formerly insisted on our fomenting against Philip, are now embroiled with him by mere accident; and this most advantageously for you; since, had they undertaken the war at your request, their alliance might have been less stable, and only to serve a present turn: but since their animosity arises from injuries offered to themselves, their hostility will be firm; as well on account of their fears, as of their resentment. The opportunity which now offers is not, O Athenians! to be lost, nor should you suffer what you have already often suffered. For had we, when we returned from succouring the Eubaeans, when Hierax and Stratrocles from the Amphipolitans, in this very place, besought you to sail to their assistance, and to receive their city into your protection; had we then consulted our own interest with the same zeal with which we provided for the safety of the Eubaeans, we had then possessed ourselves of Amphipolis, and escaped the troubles which have since perplexed us. Again, when we were first acquainted with the sieges of Pydna, Potidaea, Methone, Pagasae, and others (for I will not waste time in enumerating all), had we then assisted only one of these with proper vigour, we should have found Philip much humbler, and easier to be dealt with: whereas now, by constantly pretermitting the opportunities when they presented themselves, and trusting in fortune for the good success of future events, we have encreased the power, O Athenians! of Philip ourselves, and have raised him higher than any king of Macedonia ever was. Now then an opportunity is come. What is it? why this which the Olynthians have of their own accord offered to this city; nor is it inferior to any of those we have formerly lost. To me, O Athenians! it appears, that if we settle a just account with the gods, notwithstanding all things are not as they ought to be, they are entitled to our liberal thanksgivings. For as to our losses in war, they are justly to be set down to our own neglect: but that we formerly suffered not these misfortunes, and that an alliance now appears to balance these evils, if we will but accept it: this, in my opinion, must be referred to the benevolence of the gods. But it happens as in the affair of riches, of which, I think, it is proverbially said, that if a man preserves the wealth he attains, he is greatly thankful to fortune; but if he insensibly consumes it, his gratitude to fortune is consumed at the same time. So in public affairs, if we make not a right improvement of opportunities, we forget the good offered us by the gods; for from the final event, we generally form our judgments of all that preceded, it is therefore highly necessary, O Athenians! to take effectual care, that by making a right use of the occasion now offered us, we wipe off the stains contracted by our former conduct: for should we, O Athenians! desert these people likewise, and Philip be enabled to destroy Olynthus, will any man tell me what afterwards shall stop his future progress, wherever he desires to extend it? But consider, O Athenians! and see, by what means this Philip, once so inconsiderable, is now become so great. He first became master of Amphipolis, secondly of Pydna, next of Potidaea, and then of Methone. After these conquests, he turned his arms towards Thessaly, where having reduced Phera, Pagasae, Magnesia, he marched on to Thrace. Here, after he had dethroned some kings, and given crowns to others, he fell sick. On a small amendment of health, instead of refreshing himself with repose, he fell presently on the Olynthians. His expeditions against the Illyrians, the Paeonians, against Arymba, and who can recount all the other nations, I omit. But should any man say, why therefore do you commemorate these things to us now? my answer is, that you may know, O Athenians! and sensibly perceive these two things: First, how pernicious it is to neglect the least article of what ought to be done; and, secondly, that you may discern the restless disposition of Philip to undertake, and his alacrity to execute: whence we may conclude, he will never think he hath done enough, nor indulge himself in ease. If then his disposition be to aim still at greater and greater conquests, and ours to neglect every brave measure for our defence; consider, in what event we can hope these things should terminate! Good gods! is there any of you so infatuated, that he can be ignorant that the war will come home to us, if we neglect it? and if this should happen, I fear, O Athenians! that we shall imitate those who borrow money at great usury, who, for a short affluence of present wealth, art afterwards turned out of their original patrimony. So we shall be found to pay dearly for our sloth; and by giving our minds entirely up to pleasure, shall bring on ourselves many and grievous calamities, against our will shall be at last reduced to a necessity of action, and to contend even for our own country. Perhaps some one may object, that to find fault is easy, and within any man's capacity; but to advise proper measures to be taken in the present exigency, is the part of a counsellor. I am not ignorant, O Athenians! that not those who have been the first causes of the misfortune, but those who have afterwards delivered their opinions concerning it, fall often under your severe displeasure, when the success doth not answer their expectations. Be that as it will, I do not so tender my own safety, that from any regard to that, I should conceal what I imagine may conduce to your welfare.

The measures you are to take are, in my opinion, two: First, to preserve the Olynthian cities, by sending a supply of men to their assistance; secondly, to savage the country of the enemy; and this by attacking it both by sea and land. If either of these be neglected, I much fear the success of your expedition: for should he, while you are wasting his territories, by submitting to suffer this, take Olynthus: he will be easily able to return home, and defend his own. On the other hand, if you only send succours to the Olynthians; when Philip perceives himself safe at home, he will set down before Olynthus, and employing every artifice against the town, will at length master it. We must therefore assist the Olynthians with numerous forces, and in two several places. This is my advice concerning the manner of our assisting them. As for the supply of money to be raised; you have a treasure, O Athenians! you have a treasury fuller of money, set apart for military uses, than any other city of Greece: this fund you may apply according to your pleasure, on this occasion: if the army be supplied this way, you will want no tax: if not, you will hardly find any tax sufficient. What? says some one, do you move to have this fund applied to the army? not I, truly; I only suggest that an army should be levied; that this fund should be applied to it; that those who do their duty to the public, should receive their reward from it; whereas, in celebrating the public festivals, much is received by those who do nothing for it.

As to the rest, I think, all should contribute largely, if much wanted, less, if little. Money is wanted, and without it, nothing which is necessary to be done can be performed. Others propose other means of raising it; of which do you fix on that which seems most advantageous, and apply yourselves to your preservation, while you have an opportunity: for you ought to consider and weigh well the posture in which Philip's affairs now stand: for it appears to me, that no man, even though he hath not examined them with much accuracy, can imagine them to be in the fairest situation. He would never have entered into this war, had he thought it would have been protracted. He hoped, at his very entrance to have carried all things before him, which expectation hath deceived him. This, therefore, by falling out contrary to his opinion, hath given him the first shock, and much dejected him. Then the commotions in Thessaly: for these are by nature the most perfidious of mortals, and have always proved so; as such he hath now sufficiently experienced them. They have decreed to demand Pegasae of him, and to forbid the fortifying Magnesia. I have moreover heard it said, that the Thessalians would no longer open their ports to him, nor suffer his fleets to be victualled in their markets; for that these should go to the support of the republics of Thessaly, and not to the use of Philip. But should he be deprived of these, he will find himself reduced to great straits to provide for his auxiliaries. And further; can we suppose that Paeonia and Illyria, and all the other cities, will chuse rather to be slaves than free, and their own masters? They are not inured to bondage, and the man is, as they say, prone to insolence; which is indeed very credible; for unmerited success entirely perverts the understanding in weaker minds; whence it is often more difficult to retain advantages, than it was to gain them. It is our parts then, O Athenians! to take advantage of this distress of Philip, to undertake the business with the utmost expedition; not only to dispatch the necessary embassies; but to follow them with an army, and to stir up all his other enemies against him: for we may be assured of this, that had Philip the same opportunity, and the war was near our borders, he would be abundantly ready to invade us. Are you not then ashamed through fear to omit bringing that on him, when you have an opportunity; which he, had he that opportunity, would surely bring on you? Besides, let none of you be ignorant, that you have now your option, whether you shall attack him abroad, or be attacked by him at home; for if the Olynthians, by your assistance, are preserved, the kingdom of Philip will be by your forces invaded; and you may then retain your own dominions, your own city in safety; but should Philip once master the Olynthians, who would oppose his march hither? The Thebans? let me not be thought too bitter, if I say, they would be ready to assist him against us. The Phocians? they are not able to save themselves, unless you, or some one else, will assist them. But, my friend, says one, Philip will have no desire to invade us. — I answer, it would surely be most absurd, if what he imprudently now threatens us with, he would not, when he conveniently could, perform. As to the difference, whether the war be here or there, there is, I think, no need of argument; for if it was necessary for you to be thirty days in the field within your own territories, and to sustain your army with your own product, supposing no enemy there at the same time; I say, the losses of your husbandmen, who supply those provisions, would be greater than the whole expense of the preceding war. But if an actual war should come to our doors, what losses must we then expect? Add to this, the insults of the enemy, and that which to generous minds is not inferior to any loss, the disgrace of such an incident. It becomes us all, therefore, when we consider all these things, to apply our utmost endeavours to expel this war from our borders; the rich, that for the many things they possess, parting with a little, they may secure the quiet possession of the rest; the young men, that having learnt experience in the art of war, at Philip's expense, in his country, they may become formidable defenders of their own; the orators, that they may be judicially vindicated in the advice they have given to the republic: since according to the success of the measures taken in consequence of their opinions, so you will judge of the advisers themselves. May this success be happy, for the sake of every one!