NOTHING positive is known about the birth of Phocion,
except that it took place in Athens. His parents were
supposed to be of high standing, because he was well
bred and well educated, which would probably not have
been the case had they been ordinary people.
Phocion had a gentle, humane disposition, but the
expression of his face was so severe that only those
who knew him well dared to approach him. His
conversation was full of wisdom and instruction, but
he wasted no words, for he spoke briefly and always to
the point, so that a philosopher of his day said,
"Demosthenes is the best orator, but Phocion is
certainly the most powerful speaker in Athens."
So reserved was Phocion that the Athenians never saw
him either laugh or cry or use a public bath. If he
made an excursion to the country, or marched out to
war, he always went barefooted and without his cloak,
unless it happened to be intensely cold, and then his
soldiers used to laugh and say, "It is a sign of a
sharp winter; Phocion has got his clothes on."
In his youth he served as a soldier under Chabrias, a
general with whom he became such a favorite as to be
selected from among the whole army to conduct
enterprises of importance and trust.
Strange as it may seem, Phocion had great influence
over his commander, who was many years his senior, and
often kept him in check when he was rash, or urged him
on when he was inclined to postpone a battle. In
return, Chabrias gave his young friend opportunities to
distinguish himself, and at the sea-fight of Naxos he
behaved with so much valor that he won a great
reputation in Greece.
After Chabrias was killed, Phocion continued to be
friendly with his family, and tried very hard to
improve his son, who was a stupid, badly-behaved
fellow. Once he lost patience with the boy because he
asked so many silly rude questions, and exclaimed,
 "O Chabrias, Chabrias! what a return do I make thee for
thy favors, by bearing with the impertinence of thy
The Athenians had so much confidence in the military
genius of Phocion that whenever they were about to
engage in a war they turned to him for aid, and he was
elected general of their army forty-five separate
times, though he never asked for the office, and was
seldom present when the elections took place.
Phocion had the moral courage to do what he thought
right, and no amount of ridiculing or fault-finding on
the part of others could change him. On a certain
occasion his countrymen insisted that he should lead
them against an enemy, and, when he refused, called him
a coward, whereupon he answered, "Do what you will, I
shall not be brave; and do what I will, you will not be
cowards; however, we know one another very well."
At a time of danger to the country the people once
became angry with him, and demanded an account of how
he had used the public money. All he said was, "My good
friends, first get out of your difficulties."
While war lasted they were always humble and
submissive, but as soon as it was over they were apt to
find fault with their general. Once they declared that
he had robbed them of victory at the very moment when
it was in their hands. "It is well for you," he said,
"that you have a general who knows you; otherwise you
would have been ruined long ago."
There was a quarrel between the Athenians and Bœotians,
which the latter refused to settle by treaty, and
proposed to decide by the sword. Phocion told them,
"Good people, you had better try the method you
understand best; and that is talking, not fighting."
Demosthenes, the orator, who belonged to the opposite
party, said to him, "Phocion, the Athenians will
certainly kill thee some day." "They may kill me if
they are mad, but it will be you if they are in their
senses," was his ready answer.
A very fat man was one day urging on a war with Philip
of Macedon, and got so hot and excited while speaking
that he stopped several times to swallow a little
water. "Here is a nice fellow to lead us to war,"
exclaimed Phocion, "for what may we expect of him
loaded down with a suit of armor, when he is ready to
choke under a speech that he has composed at his
 When Lycurgus took him to task for opposing the demand
which Alexander made for ten Athenian orators to be
sent to him, he answered, "It is true I have given my
countrymen much good counsel, but they do not follow
There was a citizen named Aristogiton, who always
pretended to be in favor of war; but when the lists
came to be made out, he appeared with his leg bound up
and a crutch under his arm. "Here comes Aristogiton,"
cried Phocion, aloud; "put him down a cripple and a
It seems strange that a man who could say such severe
things should have been surnamed the Good, but such was
the case with Phocion, for he could be both rough and
gentle, sweet-tempered or cross, according as he was
affected by different circumstances. He never did harm
to a fellow-citizen from personal feelings, but he was
severe against those who worked not for the public
good, and he was always ready to assist an unfortunate
person, even though he chanced to be an enemy. His
friends finding fault with him one day for pleading the
cause of a man who was undeserving, he said, "Surely
the good have no need of an advocate."
Although Phocion always desired peace, yet he
distinguished himself frequently in battle, and he was
so popular among the nations allied to Athens, that
they treated every other commander sent to them as an
enemy, though they always welcomed him and received him
He defeated the forces of Philip of Macedon in Eubœa,
and afterwards saved Byzantium from that monarch, and
recovered several cities that had been guarded by his
forces. Thus King Philip was driven quite out of the
Hellespont, where, until then, he had been greatly
Upon the news of Philip's death, which happened not
long after, Phocion would not allow sacrifices or
public rejoicings, for he said, "Nothing shows greater
meanness of spirit than expressions of joy on the death
of an enemy. After all, the army we fought with is
lessened only by one man, so there is no great reason
When Alexander of Macedon marched against Thebes and
took possession of the city, he demanded that
Demosthenes and three others who had opposed a treaty
should be delivered up to him. The people did not know
what to do, but turned to Phocion for
 advice. As usual, he spoke out boldly, and said, "The
persons whom Alexander demands have brought the
commonwealth into such a miserable state, that even if
he had named my most intimate friend as one of them, I
should vote to deliver him up. For my part, I should
think it the greatest happiness to die for you all. At
the same time I am not without pity for the Thebans who
have taken refuge among us; but it is enough for Greece
to weep for Thebes, let her not weep for Athens too.
The best thing we can do is to intercede with the
conqueror for both, but by no means to think of
Acting upon this advice, the Athenians sent Phocion
himself to confer with Alexander, and he was so
successful that not only was peace restored, but he
became the friend and guest of the great monarch, who
showed him more respect than he did any other person at
his court. Later, Alexander sent him a hundred talents
for a present. When the money was brought to him,
Phocion asked the ambassadors, "Why, among all the
citizens of Athens, am I singled out as the object of
"Because," said they, "Alexander looks upon you as the
only honest and good man."
"Then let him permit me always to continue so,"
returned Phocion, as he returned the money.
The men were invited to go home with him, and when they
saw how simply and plainly he lived, his wife baking
bread, himself drawing water to wash his feet, they
urged him again to accept the gift, saying, "It is a
shame for a man whom Alexander calls friend to live so
"There would be no use in my having money which I would
not spend, and if I did make use of it I should get a
bad name both for myself and for Alexander from my
countrymen." So the treasure went back; an evidence
that the man who could afford to refuse it was richer
than he who offered it.
Alexander was displeased because Phocion would not
accept his gift, and wrote him, "I cannot number among
my friends one who refuses my favors." Still Phocion
would not take the money. But he did ask a favor of the
king, which was immediately granted, and that was the
release of six prominent persons whom he held as
prisoners. Afterwards, Alexander wanted to present him
 of four cities of Asia, which he named, but again he
refused, and a few months later Alexander died.
Phocion had a son named Phocus, who gave him a great
deal of trouble, because his habits were disorderly and
he drank to excess. Once he asked permission to take
part in the games at the great feast of Minerva; his
father granted it, not because he valued the victory,
or even supposed that Phocus would gain it, but because
he hoped the training and discipline would make a
better man of him. Phocus won the race, and many of his
friends invited him to banquets in honor of it. One of
these Phocion attended, and when he saw the costly
preparations, for even the water which was brought to
wash the guests' feet contained wine and spices, he was
disgusted, and took his son to task for permitting his
friend to spoil his victory thus. With the hope of
weaning Phocus from such company and such luxurious
habits, he sent him to Lacedæmon, to be placed among
the youths under a course of Spartan discipline. The
Athenians took offence at this, thinking that Phocion
did not appreciate home education. One of them said to
him in public, with a sneer, "Phocion, suppose you and
I advise the Athenians to adopt the Spartan
constitution. If you like, I am ready to introduce a
bill to that effect and to speak in its favor."
"Indeed," returned Phocion, sarcastically, "you, with
that strong scent of perfumes about you, and that
costly mantle on your shoulders, are just the very man
to speak in honor of Lycurgus and Spartan simplicity,
are you not?"
When the news of Alexander's death reached Athens it
caused so much excitement that Phocion said, "Well,
then, if Alexander be dead to-day, he will be so
to-morrow and the day after, so we may make our
arrangements quietly and at leisure."
Immediately after this the Lamian war began. This was a
war between all the Greeks, except the Bœotians and the
Macedonians; it received its name from the fact that
Antipater was besieged in the town of Lamia.
It was Leosthenes who raised the forces for this war;
for Phocion was very much opposed to it, and used every
argument to prevent it. Thereupon one young man asked
him, "Tell us, then, what will be the proper time for
the Athenians to go to war?" He answered, "When the
young men keep within the bounds of order
 and propriety, the rich become liberal in their
contributions, and the orators stop robbing the
Leosthenes was victorious at first, and there was great
rejoicing in Athens, particularly when an embassy came
from Antipater to sue for peace. But the victors would
listen to nothing but an unconditional surrender.
Leosthenes was killed at the siege of Lamia, and from
that moment victory favored Antipater, until he had
defeated all the Greek states except Athens. Then a
treaty was agreed upon, and Phocion, who was highly
esteemed by Antipater, was made ruler of the city.
But there was a Macedonian garrison stationed there and
commanded by Menyllus, a man who was friendly to
Phocion, and did no sort of injury to the citizens.
Once he offered Phocion a sum of money as a token of
friendship. It was refused, with this remark, "Menyllus
is not a greater man than Alexander; nor have I
greater reason to receive a present now than I had when
the latter offered me one." "Take it for your son
Phocus," urged Menyllus. Phocion answered, "If Phocus
becomes sober, his father's estate will be sufficient
for him; and if he continues to drink nothing will be
Although Phocion commanded the Athenian armies so many
times, it is to his credit that he remained poor to the
end of his life. The Athenians were constantly begging
him to ask Antipater to withdraw his garrison, but he
saw no reason for doing so, and refused. All went well
until the death of Antipater, and then new troubles
Polysperchon had been nominated general-in-chief of the
army, and Cassander commander of the cavalry, before
Antipater died. Cassander immediately sent Nicanor to
take the place of Menyllus, because that would give him
more power, the former being his friend. This made the
Athenians very angry, and they accused Phocion of
having kept the death of the king secret until the
change was made. He did not take the trouble to defend
himself against the charge, but made it a point to
visit Nicanor, until he succeeded in gaining his good
will for the Athenians. He also persuaded him to seek
theirs by presiding at their public games.
Meanwhile, Polysperchon, who had the care of the young
king, Alexander's son, was determined that Cassander
should not have
 his way in Athens, so he wrote letters to the citizens
telling them that the king restored them all their
liberties. The result was that at a general assembly
death or banishment was voted for any man who had held
office while the Macedonians were stationed at Athens.
This of course included Phocion, who had been highest
Now Polysperchon was not really acting in the interest
of the Athenians, though he made it appear so. His
object was to get possession of their city, and he knew
that in order to do so it was necessary to put Phocion
out of the way. This could only be brought about by the
offer he made of freedom to the citizens.
Nicanor knew what Polysperchon's intention must be,
and, trusting his person to Phocion, for he did not
feel safe during the excitement that prevailed, he
entered the assembly to explain the case to the
Athenians. Then a commander of the Macedonian king
tried to seize him, but he was warned in time to defend
himself, though he resolved to have his revenge. The
Athenians found great fault with Phocion because he let
Nicanor escape when he had him in his power, but he
said, "I have no reason to believe that Nicanor means
us harm; but even though he should, I had rather suffer
wrong than do anything unjust."
Phocion was very honorable, but he made a mistake in
the confidence he placed in Nicanor; for that general
no sooner found himself safe among his soldiers than he
ordered an attack on Athens. Phocion would have gone to
oppose him, but his countrymen had lost confidence in
him and would not obey his commands. The son of
Polysperchon, whose name was Alexander, arrived just at
that period and pretended that he meant to assist the
city against Nicanor. Instead of that, he wanted to get
hold of it himself; so, collecting about him the exiles
who had returned with him, besides the foreigners and
the citizens who were for one reason or another in
disgrace, he made himself so powerful that he was able
to turn Phocion out of office and appoint his own men
instead. The city would not have escaped this snare had
Alexander been more prudent; but he had several secret
meetings with Nicanor, which were discovered by the
Athenians and aroused their suspicion.
Phocion and several others of the most respectable and
distin-  guished citizens who had been publicly accused of
treason went over to Polysperchon for safety. They
arrived at the same time with an embassy from Athens
that had been sent to accuse them and to insist that
they should be compelled to return.
Polysperchon basely gave them up to stand their trial,
as he said, though he knew perfectly well that they
were as good as sentenced to death already. It was
Clitus who took the prisoners back to Athens and shut
them up until he could call an assembly of the people.
Having read a letter from the Macedonian king, in which
he said, "I find the prisoners guilty of treason, but
leave the Athenians, as freemen, to pass sentence upon
them," Clitus led forth the unfortunate men.
Many covered their faces and shed tears when they
beheld Phocion so humbled. One man tried to say a word
in his behalf, but he was silenced by the excited
crowd. At last Phocion desired to speak; and although
he could scarcely raise his voice enough to make
himself heard in the tumult, he asked, "Do you wish to
put us to death lawfully or unlawfully?"
"According to law," was the answer.
"How can you do that unless we have a fair hearing?"
was the next question. No one replied. Then, advancing
a few steps, Phocion said,—
"Citizens of Athens, I acknowledge I have done you
injustice, and pronounce my public conduct to deserve
sentence of death; but why will you kill these men, who
have never injured you?"
"Because they are your friends," cried out the
Phocion had hoped to save them by declaring himself
deserving of death, but he now drew back and said no
The sentence was then read and put to the vote, and
there was scarcely one negative. Some of the people
even crowned themselves with flowers, as though they
were at a festival.
After the assembly separated, the doomed men were
carried back to prison, all weeping and lamenting
except Phocion, whose expression and bearing were just
the same as when he was in command of the army. Some
of his enemies abused him as he went along, and one man
spat in his face, upon which he turned to an officer
and said, "You should stop this fellow's rudeness."
One of the prisoners bemoaned his hard fate when he saw
 executioner preparing the poison. "Dost thou not think
it an honor to die with me?" asked Phocion.
One of his friends inquired whether he had any commands
for his son. "Yes," said he; "tell him, from me, by all
means to forget the ill treatment I have had from the
The execution took place on the day when there was a
solemn procession in honor of Jupiter, and many of the
horsemen threw away their garlands and wept as they
passed the prison. But Phocion's enemies were so
numerous that they would not allow his body to stay
within the borders of Attica, nor any Athenian to
furnish fire for his funeral pile. A man whose business
it was to bury people for pay carried the body to
Megara, and a woman who, with her maid-servants,
assisted at the ceremony of burning gathered up the
bones carefully in her apron and carried them by night
to her own house. She buried them under her hearth, and
thus addressed the gods as she did so: "Ye guardians
of this place, to you I commit the remains of a good
and brave man, and I implore you to protect and restore
them to the tombs of his fathers when the Athenians
return to their senses."
And indeed it was not long before they began to feel
what an excellent, just governor they had lost. Then a
statue in brass was erected to his memory, and his
bones were interred with honors at the public expense.