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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

DEMOSTHENES IN THE TEMPLE OF POSEIDON

[349] WHEN Alexander set out on his great expedition to Asia, Demosthenes was living in Athens, and for five years nothing happened to disturb the quiet habits of his life.

He loved his city well, and with his own money he had rebuilt the walls of Athens. Many other services he had done for his countrymen, and because of these, one of the Athenians proposed to the people that a hero's crown of gold should be bestowed upon Demosthenes.

This they were very willing to do. So at one of the great Athenian festivals, when the people were assembled in the theatre, a herald proclaimed that a golden crown had been awarded to the orator because of all that he had done for his city.

But Æschines, another great orator, was angry that this honour should have been given to Demosthenes, whom he happened to dislike. So he brought a lawsuit against him, and attacked his enemy in a speech that became famous.

But Demosthenes defended himself in a still more brilliant speech, and won his case, which so annoyed Æschines that he left Athens and never again returned to the city.

Six years later, Demosthenes was accused of having taken bribes. It was not proved that he had done so, yet he was found guilty and sentenced to pay a heavy fine.

As he had not money enough to pay the fine, he was thrown into prison. Before long he escaped and fled to the sea-coast town of Ægina, not far from Athens. Often he [350] would sit on the shore or pace up and down the sands, looking wistfully toward the city he loved.

When tidings of the death of Alexander reached Athens, the Greeks resolved once more to try to fling off the yoke of Macedon. Demosthenes was recalled to the city, and his voice encouraged the Athenians in their determination to fight for liberty.

But Antipater hastened to Attica with an army, and soon put down the revolt of the Athenians. He then condemned Demosthenes to death, for it was well-known that his Philippics had often roused the Athenians to show their hatred of Philip, and he had, too, continually spoken against his son Alexander.

When Demosthenes heard that he had been condemned, he fled to the temple of Poseidon, in the island of Calauria. Antipater at once sent soldiers, led by a man named Archians, to capture the fugitive. Archias had once been an actor, and was well known to Demosthenes.

Archias reached Calauria, and going to the temple he begged Demosthenes to come out of the sanctuary, saying that if he did so he would be pardoned.

But Demosthenes knew that this was a false promise and he said, "O Archias, I am as little affected by your promises now as I used formerly to be by your acting."

Now Archias had been proud of his acting, so this made him very angry with Demosthenes, and he began to threaten him with all kinds of evil.

"Now," said the orator, "you speak like an oracle of Macedon; before, you were acting a part. Therefore wait only a little, while I write a word or two to my family."

Then he rose and went into the inner temple, and taking a tablet and his own pen in his hand, he sat down as though to write. He had a habit of putting his pen into his mouth and biting it, and he did so now. It seemed as though he was thinking what he would write. But all the while he was sucking poison which he had concealed in his pen.

[351] Then, knowing that the poison would soon do its work, Demosthenes leaned on the altar, his face hidden in his cloak.

Archias had now grown tired of waiting, and he went into the temple again and bade Demosthenes come, without more delay.

The orator rose, uncovering his head, and looking at Archias, he said, "I will depart while I am alive out of this sacred place." But as he tried to walk toward the door he staggered and fell by the altar. The poison had done its work.

Antipater had no interest in the art or in the culture of Greece, and her glory soon faded under his rule. Athens, Sparta, Corinth, as well as the smaller states, all ceased to be independent.

As the power of Greece grew less, that of Rome was growing greater and greater. In 196 B.C. she conquered Macedon and restored to Greece her liberty.

Fifty years later, Corinth defied the Roman power, and treated her ambassadors with insult. The Roman consuls then sent an army into Greece to conquer the country, and add it to their great dominions.

But although the Romans conquered Greece, and so made her subject to them, they could not escape her influence. The Greek language was spoken by every educated Roman, Greek plays were acted at Rome, Greek literature was read and studied.

Wherever the Romans went they carried with them the habits and the culture of the people whom they had conquered. And the greatest and most precious thing the Greeks had to teach the world was, "the just consideration of the truth of things everywhere."


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