The Ancestry And Education Of The Orator Aeschines -- By: James R. Boise
BSac 23:92 (Oct 1866) p. 565
The Ancestry And Education Of The Orator Aeschines
The opinions of modern times respecting Aeschines have been formed chiefly on the representations of his great rival and political enemy, Demosthenes. The biting sarcasm and contemptuous raillery in the Oration on the Crown has been accepted very generally, with slight abatement, as trustworthy history. Thus, the father of Aeschines appears as a slave of the lowest character, and his mother, for the basest and most disgusting conduct, as destitute of all claim to respect; while their son, in poverty the most abject and vices the most degrading, grew up without any of the refining influences of education and good society. Perhaps no orator, of ancient or of modern times, ever had at his command a more inexhaustible fund of the most terrible invective than Demosthenes; and on no other occasion in his life did he draw so largely on this fund as in the last great contest with his mortal enemy. For all this we may not condemn the orator; but are we to accept the delineations of hatred, roused to its fullest intensity, for calm and faithful historic portraiture? Must we not carefully distinguish in all cases between the language of passion and that of reason? No man who reads Burke’s celebrated “Speech on the Nabob of Arcot’s Debt,” how much soever he may admire the wonderful power of the orator, would for a moment think of finding there a true portrait of the younger Pitt. The premier who so long stood at the helm, and so faithfully as well as skilfully guided the ship of state through the most perilous seas, there appears as a monster of iniquity, without parallel in history. We by no means condemn the orator. We may even accord the highest praise to his delineations, viewed as oratory; but we can never
BSac 23:92 (Oct 1866) p. 566
accept them as history. Now the principles of historic evidence do not change. If we are to distrust the representations of a violent political adversary in one age, shall we not also in another? Does it not become us, then, to review some of the current opinions in regard to the great rival of Demosthenes; to challenge them anew; and to endeavor, if possible, to gain fuller and more truthful views?
Not only does historic justice demand this, in an age when nearly all the great questions relating to antiquity are subjected to a more careful scrutiny than ever before; but aside from this consideration, we think a true understanding and just appreciation of Demosthenes himself depends to a large extent on a correct idea of the character and standing of his great rival.
Have Ave then any trustworthy means of ascertaining in how far the hideous picture of Aeschines and his ancestors in the Oration on the Crown is true or ...
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