The Orator Demades. Classical Greece Reimagined through Rhetoric

Dmitriev, Sviatoslav
Anzahl Seiten
X, 354 S.
£ 29.00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Katarzyna Jażdżewska, Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Aarhus University

As Sviatoslav Dmitriev writes in the book’s preface, its origins lay in his work on Demades undertaken for Brill’s New Jacoby. Dmitriev’s research on evidence concerning the orator’s life and activity not only resulted in an extensive, over 400-page long entry on Demades (published in BNJ in 2016), but also made him acutely aware of a serious gap between the orator’s image in (admittedly scanty) epigraphical evidence and the picture found in ample literary sources, almost all of which postdate him by several hundred years. The former, consisting of some 30 inscriptions from the second half of the 4th and the early 3rd c. BCE, does not confirm the negative representation of Demades known to us from literary texts, which repeatedly paint him as a corrupt politician and traitor to his city. At the same time, as Dmitriev shows in the introduction, a careful examination of literary sources demonstrates that, although they consistently represent Demades as a quintessential negative figure, they frequently disagree and contradict one another when it comes to details. These two observations lead Dmitriev to distinguish between the “historical Demades” and the “fictional Demades”, a figure who – Dmitriev argues – was fabricated and shaped with significant licentia rhetorica in later times, largely under the influence of the rhetorical tradition.

Although Dmitriev is a historian, his book is not focused on the historical Demades. He carefully analyzes inscriptional and literary evidence coming from around the time of the orator’s life (in particular in pages 16–35), discusses its reliability and authenticity, and makes an effort to squeeze out any factual information possible, and concludes that “the task to reconstruct the historical Demades is unattainable” (p. 8) due to scarcity of contemporary sources as well as the contradictory and problematic nature of later evidence, which cannot provide solid grounds for such a reconstruction. His skepticism runs deep, and there certainly will be historians who will disagree with his rejection of the historical value of practically the entire literary tradition about the orator, which, he argues, “concealed, obscured, and effectively replaced” the real Demades (p. 8). As I am not a historian, I leave these discussions to experts in Classical history; for me, as a scholar of imperial period literature and its reception of the Classical era, what is interesting is Dmitriev’s shift of focus onto the figure of the “fictional Demades” as it was constructed by the ancients – not in order to expose it and rebut it as a fabrication, but to gain an understanding of the cultural contexts which shaped it. Dmitriev argues that although in his view imperial period anecdotes and stories about Demades tell us little to nothing about the real historical character, they nevertheless have the potential to tell us a lot about the people who reproduced, repurposed, and adapted them. This is a remarkable move, one that reminds us that while ancient texts are always evidence, they are not necessarily evidence of the things we hoped them to be of.

What is also remarkable is Dmitriev’s unwavering commitment to identifying and truly understanding the cultural and social values, norms, and expectations which molded the figure of the “fictional Demades”. In order to do this, he discusses in detail various types of rhetorical exercises, progymnasmata, and their uses, and examines in detail the “rhetorical persona” of Demades as it was constructed in the ancient tradition, in particular, in the imperial period. He analyzes certain recurring elements – Demades’ obscure origins, initial poverty, subsequent wealth, and lack of education, his fame as a naturally gifted extempore speaker and a flatterer of the crowds, his orator’s arrogance, corruption, and betrayal of his city – and explains their significance in the context of contemporary values and ideologies. As Dmitriev emphasizes, ancient paideia was “education with edification” or “rhetorical training combined with moral refinement”, and the writers and speakers who circulated and adapted stories about historical figures were less interested in historical accuracy than in the moral message they conveyed. There was a need for both positive models and negative examples, and Demades became the latter – frequently as a foil for noble figures, such as Phocion or Demosthenes.

Dmitriev’s book is filled with insightful discussions about individual stories and comparisons of different or contradictory versions of anecdotes, all of which are examined in the context of ancient rhetorical practices and their ideological underpinnings. The figure of Demades allows the author to explore various rhetorical themes and topoi, including flattery (kolakeia), free speech (parrhesia), education (paideia) and the lack thereof, skill versus natural talent (techne, physis), and extempore speech versus careful preparation – but also recurrent in progymnasmata motifs related to corruption, treason, tyranny, disrespect for laws, etc. The book, then, is about paideia and rhetoric as we know it, above all, from the early imperial period – it is about “Classical Greece reimagined through Rhetoric”, as the subtitle says, about the cultural and educational functions and uses of such reimaginations. Therefore, it will be of great interest to scholars of ancient rhetoric, imperial period literature, and the Second Sophistic. It is exemplary in the way it models how we can think about and work with testimonia of problematic historical validity, rhetorical “fabrications”, and ancient “alternative histories” – and how they may become evidence about their own times.

The book is clearly written and amply documented. If I were to raise a complaint, it would be that I found its structure and organization somewhat confusing. The book is divided into three parts, titled “Demades in the world of people”, “Demades in the world of images”, and “Demades’ rhetorical history”, but I found the principle used to assign material to each of them unclear; for instance, the importance of rhetoric and the process of rhetorical training is extensively discussed in the first part, while paideia is covered in the second. There is also some repetitiveness, which perhaps could have been curbed with a different means of organizing the material. On the other hand, the thematical index and index locorum at the end of the volume will help readers interested in specific themes and passages find their way to them. The book also includes an appendix, in which the reader will find a short discussion of Ps.-Demades’ On the Twelve Years.

It should be noted that times seem good for Demades. Not long after Dmitriev’s book was released, Davide Amendola published a monograph titled The Demades Papyrus (P. Berol. inv. 13045) (2022, De Gruyter), in which he offers a new edition and translation of the papyrus, with ample discussion and commentary in which he examines it in its Hellenistic educational, cultural, and ideological context. This will add yet another perspective – in addition to Dmitriev’s – on the Demades-legend and its development.

Veröffentlicht am
Redaktionell betreut durch
Mehr zum Buch
Inhalte und Rezensionen
Weitere Informationen
Sprache der Publikation
Sprache der Rezension