Athenian orator whose exchanges with Demosthenes 2 in the courts in 343 and 330 provide much of the evidence for the relations of Athens and Macedon in the 340s and the 330s. His origins were obscure enough to allow Demosthenes' invention full play. After hoplite service of some distinction in the 360s and early 350s, and a period as an actor, he embarked on a public career as a supporter of Eubulus. In 347/6 both Aeschines and Demosthenes were members of the council (boule), and their disagreements led to sixteen years of enmity.
Aeschines was a member of the embassy sent to negotiate with Philip after the battle of Chaeronea (338), but from then on he withdrew from politics only to re‐emerge on two occasions when circumstances seemed favourable for an attack on Demosthenes. The first was in early 336 when Ctesiphon proposed that Demosthenes should be crowned in the theatre at the Dionysia for the excellence of his services to the city: earlier Demosthenes had been similarly honoured without protest, but, at a time when Demosthenes' gloomy predictions after Chaeronea seemed mocked by the opening of the Macedonian invasion of Persia, Aeschines indicted the decree under the graphe paranomon. However, the murder of Philip made the future too uncertain for Aeschines to be confident of success, and he abandoned the indictment for the moment. In 330 after the defeat of Persia at Gaugamela, Athens was in almost complete isolation with no prospect of liberation from Macedon, and Aeschines thought the moment suitable for him to proceed with his prosecution of Ctesiphon. In his Against Ctesiphon, he reviewed the career of Demosthenes, somewhat selectively, and sought to show that Demosthenes was unworthy of the crown. In On the Crown Demosthenes replied with all the devastating effect that his great rhetorical gifts could command, and Aeschines failed to secure the necessary fifth of the jury's votes to save him from a fine and the limitation of the right to prosecute. He chose to retire from Athens to Rhodes, where he taught rhetoric.
The supremacy of Demosthenes as an orator has to a large extent beguiled posterity into the opinion that he alone fully appreciated the menace of Macedon and correctly diagnosed the causes of Philip's success, and Aeschines has been represented as an opportunist with little judgement and less principle. In fact, there was no obvious way of saving Athens and Greece, and it is probable that Aeschines no less than Demosthenes sought to maintain his city's power and independence.
The only genuine speeches of Aeschines known to the critics of the Roman period were the three that we have. Aeschines was a man of dignified presence and fine voice, who deprecated the use of extravagant gestures by an orator. Proud of his education, he displays it by frequent quotation of poetry. In the use of historical argument he cannot compare with Demosthenes, but in a battle of wits he more than holds his own. Ancient critics ranked him lower than he deserves; the fact is that he was not aiming at literary perfection; his object was to produce a powerful effect on his audiences, and he was justified by the result.
Subjects: Classical Studies.