Demosthenes, Orations 60. The Funeral Speech

LCL 374: 4-5

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Demosthenes

given to the specimen preserved in the Menexenus of Plato, delivered by Socrates though ascribed to Aspasia. From Cicero’s Orator 151 we learn that this speech was read in public annually in Athens. It seems to have enjoyed a popularity comparable to that of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Speech in the United States.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who lived under Augustus Caesar, treats briefly of funeral speeches in his Art of Rhetoric vi. 1–4. Besides that of Pericles he knew specimens by Lysias, Hypereides, Demosthenes and Naucrates respectively. The last is known only by this reference. Under the name of Lysias there is one still extant. Of the speech by Hypereides a fortunate chance brought to light in an Egyptian papyrus in 1856 sufficient to fill nine pages of a Teubner text. From Stobaeus a substantial paragraph was already known. The last edition of these fragments by Blass appeared in 1894; they were more attractively edited by F. G. Kenyon in 1906.

As for the example ascribed by our manuscripts to Demosthenes, both ancient and modern critics deny its authenticity. Blass quotes Dionysius as judging it “commonplace, thin and amateurish.” He cites similarities to the Menexenus, to the Panegyricus of Isocrates and to the speech of Hypereides. Upon close examination, however, these parallels are quite unimpressive, even in the aggregate. All occasional speeches develop numerous commonplaces.

From the oration On the Crown 285 (320) we learn that Demosthenes was chosen to pronounce the eulogy over those who fell at Chaeronea in 338 b.c. The extant speech fits this occasion. It was not an enviable task to be asked to praise the fallen after

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Demosthenes

such a disastrous defeat nor one to inspire a masterpiece. Moreover, the epideictic style, which the ceremony required, was alien to the combative nature of Demosthenes. The modern reader, therefore, will do well to suspend judgement, at least until after a careful and sympathetic reading.

Short shrift is accorded the oration by Blass, iii. pp. 404–406. There is a commentary in Dindorf’s Demosthenes vii. pp. 1393–1412. Mention is lacking in Jebb’s Attic Orators.

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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.demosthenes-orations_lx_funeral_speech.1949