on Demosthenes, with a proclamation attesting his lifelong devotion to the state. When the proposal came to the assembly of the people for ratification, Aeschines attacked the motion as illegal.1 The effect of this was to defer action on the motion and to send the case thus instituted by Aeschines to the law courts.2 For reasons which we do not know, the trial of the case was delayed for six years, but in 330 it came into court.
Aeschines based his indictment of Ctesiphon on three charges: first, he cited a provision of the constitution which forbade crowning a public officer until after the expiration of his term of office, and the approval of his record by the official Board of Auditors. But at the time when Ctesiphon moved the crown, Demosthenes was a commissioner of his tribe for the repair of walls, and at the same time Superintendent of the Festival Fund, one of the most important financial offices of the city. Secondly, the constitution prescribed that crowns bestowed by the city be proclaimed and received at a meeting of the popular assembly held on the Pnyx. But Ctesiphon’s motion was that Demosthenes be crowned in the theatre, on the occasion of the presentation of the new tragedies. On both of these points Aeschines had a strong case, probably a safe one, though it may well be that the laws cited had fallen into neglect. But to have won his case on these technical points
- 1The Athenian constitution consisted of the original code of Solon, together with the whole body of laws (νόμοι) which in course of time had modified or enlarged it. It was illegal to propose any resolution (ψήφισμα) which contravened this constitution.
- 2For a full account of the Athenian procedure in such cases, see Goodwin, Demosthenes de Corona, pp. 316–327.
only would not have satisfied Aeschines; it would have been a victory over Ctesiphon only; merely to have prevented the proposed crowning of Demosthenes would not have been enough to gratify Aeschines’ hatred of the man who had put him on trial thirteen years before for treason. He therefore frankly declared that his main contention was that Ctesiphon was guilty of proposing to insert a false statement in a decree of the people, for his motion asserted that Demosthenes had always been a patriotic and useful citizen. This was the real issue, and it made the contest one of political life and death to the two men.
The time when the case came to trial was favourable to Aeschines. The Theban uprising against Alexander had been put down and the city destroyed, Alexander’s expedition into Asia was at the height of its success, and finally the Spartan revolt against Macedon had just been ended by the prompt action of the Macedonian regent. A refusal of the Athenian people to honour Demosthenes at this time would be viewed at court as a declaration of Athenian submission to the new order in Greece. But Aeschines had failed to appreciate the hold of Demosthenes on the mass of the people, the undiminished power of his oratory, and the popular grief for the loss of the imperial position which the men of an earlier day had won and handed down to their descendants. The jury were unmoved by Aeschines’ shrewd and bitter attacks upon Demosthenes as a man who had led Athens to defeat, and regardless of the strength of his technical case against Ctesiphon’s motion, they gave an overwhelming verdict for the lost cause of Greek liberty and its foremost champion.