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Athens’ Dilemma

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 15, 16 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Demands Athenian Opponents Be Handed Over To Him
Assembly Meets to Consider Response
The Ten Must be Helped – Demades
Alexander Climbs Down From Demand
Fabulous Feast in Macedon

The Story
After razing Thebes, Alexander sent ambassadors to Athens ‘to demand the surrender of ten political leaders who had opposed his interest’. Diodorus names two of them as being Demosthenes and Lycurgus (who, you may recall, condemned Lysicles after he lead the joint Athenian-Boeotian force to defeat at the Battle of Chaeronea).

Once the Athenian assembly had heard Alexander’s demand it was ‘plunged into deep distress and perplexity’. The assembly members wanted ‘to uphold the honour of their city’ but feared that Thebes’ fate might become their own.

The assembly debated how it should respond to Alexander. One of the men to speak was Phocion. Diodorus mentions him in Chapter 74 of Book XVI when he states that Phocion ‘defeated and expelled Cleitarchus, the tyrant of Eretria who had been installed by Philip’. We may say, then, that he had form for being anti-Macedonian.

On this occasion, however, Phocion argued that Alexander’s demand should be met. To those who believed otherwise – on the grounds that to hand over the ten men would mean death for them – Phocion said that ‘the men demanded should remember the daughters of Leos and Hyacinthus and gladly endure death so that their country would suffer no irremediable disaster’. This was not what the assembly wished to hear, though, and Phocion was driven from the stand with great force.

Demosthenes now stood up to speak. Using his most honeyed words, he won the assembly to his side. From what Diodorus says next it appears that Demosthenes did not rely on his oratory to win the day. ‘[I]t is reported’, he begins, that Demosthenes’ supporters bribed Demades with five silver talents to adopt a ‘subtly worded’ decree in defence of the ten. It worked. The decree was passed and a delegation – including Demades – sent to Alexander.

The mission was a total success. Indeed, the delegates even managed to persuade Alexander to let Athens take in Theban fugitives. Diodorus says that Demades ‘achieved all his objectives by the eloquence of his words’. I have no doubt, though, that Alexander really didn’t care that much about Athens. He just wanted to get things wrapped up so that he could return to Macedon and start planning his war against the Persian empire.

Which brings us neatly to Chapter 16. After making his return to Macedon, Alexander discussed with his ‘military commanders and… noblest Friends’ when the expedition should start and how should it be conducted.

Antipater and Parmenion – Alexander’s two most senior officers – told the king that he should delay crossing the Hellespont until he had produced an heir. ‘[B]ut Alexander was eager for action… It would be a disgrace, he pointed out, for one who had been appointed by Greece to command the war, and who had inherited his father’s invincible forces, to sit at home celebrating a marriage and awaiting the birth of children’.

Following the debate, Alexander ‘made lavish sacrifices to the gods at Dium’ and ‘held… dramatic contests in honour of Zeus and the Muses’. They took place over nine days. During that time, Alexander feasted in a tent that could hold a hundred couches. Sacrificial animals ‘and all else suitable for the festive occasion’ were distributed among the Macedonian army putting it ‘in a fine humour’ and ready, no doubt, to go fighting.

Let’s get to the important business first – Alexander’s party. Nine days and of ‘great magnificence’. No wonder he was nearly broke when he arrived in Asia Minor! Still, what a party it must have been. How much did Alexander eat and drink, I wonder? Not enough that he forgot how to prepare his army for what lay ahead. Smart man.

Back in Athens – the idea that Demosthenes might have bribed Demades is very interesting as it shows (I think) how much pressure he felt under. He must really have felt that his life was on the line.

Was his five silver talents money well spent? I’m not so sure – Alexander gave way to the Athenian requests ever so easily. Like I said above, I don’t think he particularly cared about Athens. He had bigger fish to fry (which he probably did at his party).

I don’t know what Parliaments around the world are like, but our one (that is to say, the House of Commons in Britain) can be a very childish place at times – especially at Prime Minister’s Questions, when the MPs seem more interested in scoring points off one another than asking serious questions. Even when the Commons is at its worst, however, I don’t recall any minister or MP being forcibly removed from the Despatch Box like Phocion was. We give Athens a great deal of credit for introducing democracy but the assembly’s treatment of him shows that the behaviour of those lucky enough to be its members left a lot to be desired.

Macedonian Humour
Did you hear the one about the amphora of wine that didn’t get drunk at Alexander’s party? No, I didn’t either.
Knock, Knock. Who’s there? Alexander. Not Alexander of Lyncestis by any chance? No, Alexander III now make an alliance with me or I’ll kill all of you.
Talk is cheap. Unless you’re Demosthenes, in which case it costs a small fortune.


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