What Is An Author? | Main | The Muse Learns to Write

November 11, 2005

Did Demosthenes Publish His Deliberative Speeches?

Trevett, Jeremy. “Did Demosthenes Publish His Deliberative Speeches?” Hermes 124 (1996): 425-441.

Trevett refutes previous scholarship on the matter, building a point-by-point case that Demosthenes’ deliberative speeches were never published by Demosthenes during the era they were performed. He notes that the only direct evidence that they were circulated comes from Plutarch’s report of a statement made by Hermippos, who said that Aision had said that they were circulated. (426). Since this is no more than hearsay, it does not constitute proof. Trevett follows this opening salvo with the following points:

  • Deliberative speeches were not generally circulated. Athenian politicians did not generally circulate this type of speech, so if Demosthenes did it would have been a departure from the mores of the day. Additionally, “the nature of democratic politics did not encourage a politician to communicate his views by means of pamphlets” (434). The potential audience for a speech in the Assembly was much greater than any audience that could be reached through pamphlets. Finally, publishing one’s views made it more difficult for a politician to change his mind later.
  • He was known for writing his speeches out, as evidenced by his exchange with Pytheas. Pytheas’ suggestion that Demosthenes’ talks “reeked of the lamp” suggests that his extensive use of writing was unusual (436). However, the nature of political debate makes it very difficult to stick to a written speech. Trevett argues that we must assume the final, spoken product was much more extemporaneous. If we had access to these preperatory notes, we would have a much better idea about what sort of revision took place and how fully elaborated the work was.
  • Writing a speech out and circulating it are two different things. One is not necessarily linked to the other. These drafts were left to dust after their delivery, as in the case of the 65 Prooemia, which are planned introductions for an extemporaneous body. If these were not prepared as word-for-word documents, then they were not intended for publication. Some of them also re-use earlier material. If the speeches were commonly circulated, then this auto-plagiarism would have been much more difficult to countenance (429).

Of course, we can never really know how much revision took place or what the actual, live content of a speech was. In spite of these limitations, Trevett makes some interesting points about the distinct publishing practices concerning different speech genres (forensic and epideictic: yes. deliberative: no). This gives us a slightly different look into the scriptural economy of the time. Further, it suggests that a proprietary construction of authorship might have existed since there was a market for something like a pamphlet entitled On The False Embassy by Aeschines.

Posted by at November 11, 2005 6:57 PM | Articles | Plagiarism | Publishing

Comments