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Reapportioning Honors: Intertextuality in Against Leptines

Mitchell H. Parks

Knox College

Little scholarly attention has been paid to intertextuality in the Attic orators, but in the case of Against Leptines an intertextual approach can reveal how Demosthenes constructed himself as a speaker and political theorist at the very outset of his public career. The recent appearance of two commentaries (Kremmydas, Canevaro) has made this speech in particular ripe for analysis of Demosthenes’ literary methods. To support his contention that, contrary to Leptines’ law and Athens’ current economic constraints (see, e.g., Engen, Domingo Gygax), those honored by Athens must retain their honors, Demosthenes praises a series of public benefactors (20.29–87). I argue that, in crafting this praise, Demosthenes borrows elements of two recent prose encomia, Isocrates’ Evagoras and Xenophon’s Agesilaus, and adapts these texts agonistically: he uses their modes of praise in order to honor those he deems more worthy honorands and to define himself as a more democratic writer.

Two examples serve to demonstrate Demosthenes’ technique: his praise of the pro-Athenian faction at Corinth (20.51–4) and of the Athenian general Conon (20.67–74). In the case of the former, Demosthenes adapts Xenophon’s encomium in honor of the Spartan king Agesilaus, which was probably disseminated shortly after the king’s death (359 BCE) and not long before the action against Leptines (355/4). In explaining Agesilaus’ motivations before the Battle of Coroneia, Xenophon had used a massive periodic sentence (Ag. 1.36) to describe how Agesilaus gave up his glorious Asian campaign in order to defend Spartan interests back on the mainland. Demosthenes, in turn, writes a similarly structured period (20.52–3) to describe these Corinthians’ choices at the Battle of Nemea, which was fought right before Coroneia. He uses much of the same vocabulary as Xenophon, the most significant of which is a shared emphasis, at the climax of each sentence, on how the honorands could have chosen “riskless” (ἀκίνδυνα/ἀκινδύνως) actions instead of virtuous ones. While the adaptation of Xenophon’s language is straightforward, the cleverness of the allusion lies in the historical context: Demosthenes is praising a collective, rather than an individual, on the opposite, and losing, side of the conflict. Instead of fighting victoriously on behalf of their own city, as Agesilaus had, the Corinthians chose to support the Athenians and suffered for it: they therefore deserve greater honors. Moreover, Demosthenes’ decision to paint Nemea as the great battle in the Corinthian War (20.52) flies in the face of Xenophon’s magnification of Coroneia (Ag. 2.9). In sum, Demosthenes takes his predecessor’s narrative and reverses it, casting his chosen honorands as superior to Xenophon’s, while using the same technique of praise.

As for the second example, both Kremmydas and Canevaro note that scholars over the last century have tried, unsuccessfully, to prove that the section of the Evagoras about Conon (9.52–7) was Demosthenes’ source for his version of events. I argue that Demosthenes’ use of the Evagoras has been both over- and underrated. Demosthenes does use the Evagoras as a source, but not for the historical events: rather, he takes from it the characterization of Evagoras as honorand and applies the same terms of praise to Conon. The description of Evagoras’ kingship (Isoc. 9.47–69) can be mapped point by point onto Demosthenes’ list and evaluation of Conon’s accomplishments. Finally, the Evagoras is capped with a discussion of the inability of statues to communicate virtue (9.73–5, cf. Xen. Ag. 11.7). Demosthenes, for his part, is at pains to establish both the importance and uniqueness of the statue of Conon in the Agora (20.70: see further Gauthier, Shear, Azoulay). Demosthenes takes Isocrates’ praise and refashions it to honor a native Athenian, in terms congenial to the Athenian judges, whose daily business would have frequently taken them past this statue. Through intertextual engagement with his predecessors’ encomia, Demosthenes can deploy tried-and-true modes of praise, while casting himself as someone whose praise aligns more closely with the values of the Athenian people.

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