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In the wake of Alexander the Great, the role of the Athenian statesman – what he could do, and what he should do for his beloved Athens – was up in the air. A world carved up by Hellenistic kings left little room for the emergence of another Themistocles or Pericles, and the politically-minded Athenian man after the Lamian War had to be a servant of the Athenian people and the servant of a king. In the first century AD, the challenges faced by Greek statesmen resembled those of Hellenistic Athens more than Classical Athens. The Roman emperor replaced the Hellenistic king as his master, and the question of how to execute his duties while maintaining his virtue was equally fraught in both periods. In this paper, I argue that Plutarch’s digression in Demetrius X-XII on the Athenian demagogue Stratocles and the comic writer Philippides is a meditation on the same dangers and traps of a political life in a monarchical system which resonated with Plutarch’s experience of life under Roman rule.

The first two-thirds of my talk is a close-reading of the oft-overlooked internal pairing of Stratocles and Philippides within the Demetrius. Plutarch places this digression at an important point within the narrative of Demetrius Poliorketes’ life and Athenian history, when in 307 BC Demetrius takes control of the city for the first time and the Athenians began to bestow extravagant honors upon him and his father Antigonus. Though Demetrius was splendid (λαμπρὸν) in his benefactions to the city, the excessive honors with which the Athenians reciprocated rendered him annoying (ἐπαχθῆ) and burdensome (βαρὺν). The most egregious of these flatteries were proposed by Stratocles, a demagogue whose indecorous lifestyle Plutarch briefly sketches, even comparing him to Cleon for the ways in which he made a mockery of the Athenians. In contrast, the comedian Philippides protested this extreme flattery of Demetrius with biting verses in his plays, was exiled for it, and still continued to lobby on behalf of the Athenians in the court of Lysimachus; beyond the account in Plutarch, his interventions with Lysimachus are fully recorded in an honorary decree (IG II 2 657). Plutarch marks the close of this miniature pair by stating that he purposefully (ἐπίτηδες) juxtaposed Philippides with Stratocles, but leaves the reader to draw his own conclusions from this comparison.

In the final third of my talk, I propose that insights into the moral of this passage can be found in Praecepta Gerendae Reipublicae, in which Plutarch advises the young Menemachus on the best ways to begin and maintain a career as a statesman. The young statesman is warned to always be aware of the “boots of Roman soldiers just above his head” (813e10); not to emulate the great Greeks of the Classical past when their deeds are unsuitable to current conditions (814a-c5); to have a friend high up in the administration (814c6-e6); and most importantly, not to humble his state beyond the necessary obedience to Rome, but to prefer above all else a noble concord between his state and its ruler (814e7-816a8). These are the very lessons Plutarch’s reader is invited to learn from the historical examples of the traditional demagogue Stratocles and Philippides, whose service to his state took an unusual form, but was better suited to benefitting Athens in the context of answering to foreign powers. Though Plutarch finds no Hellenistic Athenian statesman worthy of his own biography, he nevertheless draws lessons from this period of Athenian history which are directly relevant to his contemporary Greek political context.

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