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The Account of Demosthenes’ Death in P.Berol. inv. 13045

Davide Amendola

The present paper intends to shed light on a new source concerning Demosthenes’ suicide. The account of this event is preserved in a rhetorical dialogue on Demades’ trial at the Macedonian court contained in P.Berol. inv. 13045 [MP3 2102 + 2570, LDAB 6760 + 6761], a papyrus of the end of the second century BCE edited in 1923 by Karl Kunst [BKT VII, 13-31]. The reason why this source has so far remained unknown is that the editor, referring to a tradition represented, among the others, by D.S. 17.117.1-2 and Arr. An. 7.25.1, interpreted this passage as a reference to Alexander the Great’s death during the feast organized by Μήδιος and to his apotheosis. Nevertheless, this interpretation cannot be accepted for several reasons.

P.Berol. inv. 13045 was found among many other cartonnage papyri in the necropolis of Abū Ṣīr al-Malaq during one of the four campaigns directed by Otto Rubensohn from April 1902 to February 1905 [Salmenkivi, 15-21]. It consists of seven fragments (A-G) that belonged to two rolls glued together, which preserve the remains of twenty columns carrying two different texts: the first (columns A I-III) is probably the end of an eulogy of Ptolemaic monarchy containing a comparison between various political constitutions; the second (columns B I-G III) is “a ‘rhetorical exercise’ of an unusually dramatic type” [Powell-Barber, 114], consisting of a dialogue between Demades and his prosecutor, the Corinthian Dinarchus, who was appointed by Antipater governor of the Peloponnese and killed by Polyperchon [De Sanctis 1924 and 1933]. The historical events presupposed in this μελέτη relate to the Athenian mission Demades took part in to negotiate with Antipater for the withdrawal of the Macedonian garrison from Munychia [D.S. 18.48.1-4, Plu. Dem. 31, Plu. Phoc. 30, FGrHist 156 F9].

Despite its length and the significance of its contents, P.Berol. inv. 13045 has been totally forgotten after the editio princeps, and none of the critical notes dedicated to it by W. Crönert, A. Körte, H. von Arnim and V. De Falco concern the passage under analysis [also see Brun and Squillace]. Demosthenes’ suicide is referred to in the first two lines of the fifth column (B II), soon after the beginning of the μελέτη: πόσει χρησάμενος ἐν ὥραι | τῶν ἄστρων μεταλαβεῖν ἠξίωσεν. The context of this passage is a discussion between Demades and Dinarchus on the political situation of Athens at the end of the Lamian war (the thematic core of the third and fourth columns is represented by the battle of Crannon and the occupation of Munychia). In addition to the fact that Demosthenes is explicitly mentioned in the sixth line of the same column, some arguments can be presented against the editor’s reconstruction.

First of all, Alexander’s death is not consistent with the historical framework presupposed here, viz. the aftermath of the Lamian war, from a chronological point of view. Secondly, ἐν ὥραι and ἠξίωσεν relate to an intentional action, namely the decision to die by drinking poison (cf. Antipho 6.22: περὶ τῆς πόσεως τοῦ φαρμάκου), rather than a fortuitous event. Lastly, we are allowed to interpret the verbal phrase τῶν ἄστρων μεταλαβεῖν as a synonym for “to die” rather than “to become a god” if we take into account not only the Asiatic style of the work, but especially the conclusion of the dialogue constituting the second half of Lucian’s Demosthenis encomium [Baldwin and Pernot, 88-89], where Antipater hears from Archias about Demosthenes’ suicide and says [Luc. Dem.Enc. 50]: ἀλλ᾽ ὁ μὲν οἴχεται βίον ἕξων τὸν ἐν μακάρων νήσοις ἡρώων λεγόμενον ἢ τὰς εἰς οὐρανὸν ψυχαῖς νομιζομένας ὁδούς, ὀπαδός τις δαίμων ἐσόμενος ἐλευθερίου Διός.

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Culture and Society in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Egypt

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