Study Guide for Plutarch's Life of Phocion
Text taken from Thomas North and/or John Dryden
Study Guide by Anne White
Phocion (c. 402-318 B.C.)
These notes, and the accompanying text, are prepared for the use of individual students and small groups following a twelve-week term.
The text is a free mixture of Thomas North's 1579 translation of Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans and John Dryden's 1683 translation. (Dryden for clarity, North for character.) Omissions have been made for length and suitability for the intended age group.
Those using audio versions or other translations may want to preview those editions for similar "necessary omissions."
- "For he that correcteth them that offend, seemeth to cast their adversitie in their teeth: and he that telleth them plainly of their faultes, seemeth also to despise them. For like as honnie sweete by nature, applied unto woundes, doth bring both smart and paine: even so, sharpe words, though profitable, doe bite the unfortunate man, if they be not tempered with discretion and curtesie." (Life of Phocion, North's translation)
" . . . Demosthenes indeed was a great orator, but Phocion's tongue had a sharper understanding, because in few words, he comprehended much matter. And to this purpose, they say that Demosthenes himself said also, that as oft as he saw Phocion get up into the pulpit for orations to speak against him, he was wont to say to his friends: 'See, the axe of my words riseth.' And yet it is hard to judge, whether he spake that in respect of his tongue, or rather for the estimation he had gotten, because of his great wisdom . . . " (Plutarch, Life of Demosthenes)
Who was Phocion?
Phocion borrowed a life motto from the goddess Athena: "Skillful to rule in war and peace." As a young man, he became respected both for his skill in speaking and his bravery in battle. Although he was not a promoter of war, he never backed down from what had to be done.
However, he was also known for a number of personal quirks, some of them relating to his schooling in Stoic philosophy. Stoicism taught that it was better to ignore unimportant matters such as pleasure or pain, so that one could face any situation honestly and calmly. Those who have read Plutarch's Life of Cato the Younger will recognize similarities, as Cato followed the Roman revival of Stoicism.
The World of Phocion
The Athens in which Phocion grew up was a very different place than it had been during the "golden" years of Pericles. After being defeated by Sparta in the Peloponnesian Wars, the state was in political and economic trouble. In Phocion's adult years, an even greater threat was the increasing power of Macedon.
Is it Macedon or Macedonia? Were the Macedonians Greeks?
The names are used interchangeably. Macedonia, or Macedon, was a kingdom in the northeastern part of mainland Greece. The Macedonians were Greek in many respects, such as religious beliefs; but they valued their distinct heritage and identity.
For many years, the dominant political power in Europe and the Middle East had been the Persian empire; but Persia's strength had weakened, and its subjects were becoming rebellious. Philip II of Macedon planned to combine Macedon's military power with that of the Greek states, and thus to attack Persia; but his death in 336 B.C. left that ambition unfulfilled. However, his son Alexander spent the next thirteen years conquering not only Persia, but a previously undreamed-of share of the world.
Who was Antipater?
(Pronounced An-TIP-a-ter) Antipater was a Macedonian general under Philip II and then under Alexander the Great. He was an advisor and friend to Alexander during the early years of his reign, and he acted as regent (substitute ruler) when Alexander was in Persia and India. After Alexander's death, he became the self-declared (though short-lived) regent over the empire.
Who was Demosthenes?
Demosthenes was an orator, a philosopher, a public prosecutor and defender, and a political analyst. He was known for his strong anti-Macedonian views. (See Plutarch's Life of Demosthenes.)
Who was Demades?
Demades, another Athenian orator, supported Demosthenes' views at first, but later they became enemies because of their differing ideas. Demades was taken prisoner at the Battle of Chaeronea (Lesson Five), but made such a good impression on King Philip that he was released. He also helped create a peace treaty between Macedon and Athens, but he was disgraced over the Harpalus scandal (Lesson Seven). In the post-Philip-and-Alexander era, Demades enjoyed a period of successful leadership; but his tendency to act in his own best interests eventually led to his death.
Top Vocabulary Terms
If you know these words, you're well on your way to mastering the vocabulary for the Life of Phocion. These terms will not be repeated in the lessons.
1. austere: stern; cold-looking; without any decoration
2. commonwealth: a country or city/state (like Athens), and its colonies or associated territories or countries.
3. galley: a ship which was powered mainly by banks of oars
4. imperious: arrogant, domineering
5. importune: pester; bother someone. To be importunate is to be annoyingly persistent.
6. oligarchy: government or leadership made up of a small, elite group, as opposed to democracy (a form of government in which many people have a vote). The actual word does not appear in the story, but it is worth knowing, as Phocion's eventual downfall was caused by his support of oligarchy.
7. orator: a public speaker. The orators of Athens made speeches and also debated legal and political issues, so their ideas carried weight in the commonwealth.
8. tractable: easy to deal with or to control. Intractable, on the other hand, means hard to control.
9. tyrant: The idea of a "tyrant" in the ancient world was somewhat different from the way we use the word "tyrant" today. It meant an absolute ruler, but it wasn't a judgment about whether he was good or evil.
10. victuals: (pronounced "vittles") food supplies
In this introductory lesson, we are given glimpses of Phocion as a young student of philosophy, and as an older man who was mocked for his lack of sociability and for his extreme simplicity in dress. Those who saw behind those eccentricities described a "powerful speaker" and someone "full of wisdom," with a talent for getting to the point.
in the interest of Antipater . . . : this will be explained later
dissolutely: with no moral restraint
school of Academia: the school (or Academy) founded by Plato
in the camp: when on a military campaign
bending of his brows: Dryden: "his frowning looks"
maxims: proverbs, wise sayings
intrinsic: natural, essential
cutter: or "axe"
Demades, Antipater, Demosthenes: see introductory notes
Plato: a famous philosopher of ancient Athens
Xenocrates: a philosopher who believed that virtue produces happiness
Duris: a historian who lived at that time
Chares: Athenian politician and military commander
Zeno: Zeno of Elea, the philosopher who founded Stoicism
Polyeuctes the Sphettian: another orator
402 B.C.: Birth of Phocion
400 B.C.: Birth of Antipater
387 B.C.: Founding of the Academy in Athens
384 B.C.: Birth of Demosthenes
382 B.C.: Birth of Philip (who became Philip II of Macedon)
380 B.C.: Birth of Demades
On the Map
As an introduction to this Life, it would be useful to look at maps of ancient Greece. Look for Athens, in the region of Attica; Sparta, in the Peloponnesus (the southern part of Greece); and the Isthmus of Corinth, which divides the country almost in two. It would be good to point out the island of Euboea, and the region of Boeotia.
Students should also have the opportunity to locate Macedon on a map, and to view a map of the empire of Alexander the Great.
Hellespont: the boundary between Europe and Asia, also called the Bosphorus or Bosporus
Demades the orator, when in the height of the power which he obtained at Athens (by advising the state in the interest of Antipater and the Macedonians), being necessitated to write and speak many things below the dignity and contrary to the character of the city, was wont to excuse himself by saying he steered only the shipwrecks of the commonwealth. This hardy saying of his might have some appearance of truth if applied to Phocion's government. For Demades, indeed, was himself the mere wreck of his country, living and ruling so dissolutely that Antipater took occasion to say of him, when he was now grown old, that he was like a sacrificed beast, all consumed except the tongue and the belly.
But the virtues of Phocion, which had to fight against the cruel and bitter enemy of the time, were so obscured by the calamities of Greece that his fame was nothing so great as he deserved.
[omission for length]
When Phocion was but a young man, he was Plato's scholar, and afterwards Xenocrates' scholar, in the school of Academia; and so, even from his first beginning, he gave himself to follow them that were learned. For as Duris writeth, never an Athenian saw him weep nor laugh, nor never wash himself in any public bath; nor was he observed with his hand exposed outside of his cloak—when he wore one. Abroad, and in the camp, he was so hardy in going always thin-clad and barefoot, except in a time of excessive and intolerable cold, that the soldiers used to say in merriment that it was like to be a hard winter when Phocion wore his coat.
Now, though indeed he was very courteous and gentle of nature, yet he had such a grim look withal, that no man had any desire to talk with him, but such as were of his familiar acquaintance. And therefore when Chares one day mocked him for the bending of his brows, and that the Athenians fell in a laughter withal: "My masters," quoth Phocion, "the bending of my brows have done you no hurt, but the foolery and laughing of these flatterers have made ye oftentimes to weep."
In like manner Phocion's language, also, was full of instruction, abounding in happy maxims and wise thoughts; but it was mixed with an imperious, austere, and bitter shortness. Zeno said a philosopher should never speak till his words had been steeped in meaning; and such, it may be said, were Phocion's, crowding the greatest amount of significance into the smallest allowance of space. And to this, probably, Polyeuctes the Sphettian referred when he said that Demosthenes was, indeed, the best orator of his time, but Phocion the most powerful speaker. His oratory, like small coin of great value, was to be estimated not by its bulk, but its intrinsic worth.
He was once observed, it is said, when the theater was filling with the audience, to walk musing alone behind the scenes, which one of his friends, taking notice of, said, "Phocion, you seem to be thoughtful." "Yes," replied he, "I am considering how I may shorten what I am going to say to the Athenians."
For Demosthenes himself, little esteeming all other orators, when Phocion rose up to speak, he would say quietly to those about him, "See, the cutter of my words riseth."
[omission for length]
Narration and Discussion
The Stoic philosophers encouraged their followers to overcome personal desires such as physical comfort. How would knowing this help to explain some of Phocion's eccentricities?
Phocion's colleagues suggested that he needed to "lighten up." What was his response?
Creative narration #1: When Phocion was about fifteen, the philosopher Plato founded the famous Academy. We know that Phocion studied there at some point, and that he developed long-lasting friendships (Lesson Four), in spite of his serious demeanour. Imagine a conversation between young Phocion and his parents or friends, describing his interest in attending this new school.
Creative narration #2: Phocion's speeches "crowded the greatest amount of significance into the smallest allowance of space." Choose a topic to write or speak on. Then cut the word allowance or the time limit in half (or quarters), and see if you can say more with less.
In this lesson we see Phocion moving into his adult responsibilities as a military leader and a civil administrator. Since he himself seemed able to handle both roles, he saw no reason why those parts of Athenian life should have to function separately, and he campaigned for a more streamlined relationship (or more overlap) between the two.
the wars: the Theban-Spartan War (see Historic Occasions)
Feast Day of the Great Mysteries: the Eleusinian Mysteries were religious initiation ceremonies held twice yearly
Boedromion: the Greek month equal to September/October
tribute: a tax, or something owed (often to a ruler)
like so much land by allotment: as if the government were divided up like garden plots
Pallas: another name for Athena, the patron goddess of Athens
shunning or declining: refusing to take on responsibility
Captain Chabrias: described by Demosthenes as one of the most successful naval commanders in Athenian history
Ctesippus: pronounced something like "Te-SIB-is"
Eubulus: Athenian politician, noted for his skill in finance
Aristophon (of Azenia); Lycurgus (of Athens); Hypereides: Athenian orators
Diopeithes: an Athenian general
Leosthenes (#1): either the Athenian admiral who was exiled after a failed battle in 361 B.C.; or the same person as Leosthenes (#2), a commander in the Lamian Wars who first appears in Lesson Seven.
Chares: the naval commander who replaced Leosthenes (#1)
Pericles, Aristides, and Solon: great Athenian leaders of the past
395-387 B.C.: Corinthian War
378-362 B.C.: Theban-Spartan War, also called the Boeotian War
376 B.C.: Athens defeated Sparta at the Battle of Naxos
357-355 B.C.: The Social War (Four of Athens' allies wanted to break away from the league, but Athens was not willing to let them go.)
357 B.C.: Death of Chabrias at Chios
On the Map
Chios: an island in the northern Aegean Sea
Naxos: a Greek island, and the city there of the same name
When Phocion he was a young man, he went to the wars under Captain Chabrias, and followed him: of whom he learned to be a perfect soldier, and in return, he reformed many of his captain's imperfections, and made him wiser than he was. For Chabrias at other times being very dull and slothful of himself, when he came to fight he was so hot and courageous that he would thrust himself into danger with the most desperate persons: which indeed, in the end, cost him his life in the island of Chios, he having pressed his own ship foremost to force a landing. But Phocion being wise to look to himself, and very quick to execute, on the one side quickened Chabrias' slowness, and on the other side also, by wisdom cooled his heat and fury. Chabrias therefore, being a good-natured, kindly-tempered man, loved him much, and procured him commands and opportunities for action, giving himself means to make himself known in Greece, and using his assistance in his hardiest enterprises.
For by his means he achieved great fame and honour in a battle by sea, which he won by the Isle of Naxos, giving him the left wing of his army: on which side the fight was sharpest of all the battle, and there he soonest put the enemies to flight. This battle, being the first which the city of Athens won with their own men only, after it had been taken, gave the people cause to love Chabrias; and made them also to make account of Phocion, as of a noble soldier, and worthy to have charge. This victory was gotten on the Feast Day of the Great Mysteries, and Chabrias used to keep the commemoration of it by distributing wine amongst the Athenians yearly, on the sixteenth day of Boedromion.
After that time, Chabrias sending Phocion to receive the tribute of the islanders, their confederates, and the ships which they should send him: he gave him twenty galleys to bring him thither. But Phocion then (as it is reported) said unto him: if he sent him to fight with his enemies, he needed more ships: but if he sent him as an ambassador unto his friends, then that one ship would serve his turn. So he went with one galley only: and after he had spoken with the cities, and courteously dealt with the governors of every one of them, he returned back, furnished by their confederates with a great fleet of ships and money to carry unto Athens.
So Phocion did not only reverence Chabrias while he lived, but after his death also he took great care of his friends and kinsmen, and sought to make his son Ctesippus an honest man, although he was a stupid and intractable young fellow. Phocion always endeavoured, as far as in him lay, to correct and cover his faults and follies. Once, however, when the youngster was very impertinent and troublesome to him in the camp, interrupting him with idle questions, and putting forward his opinions and suggestions of how the war should be conducted, he could not forbear exclaiming, "O Chabrias, Chabrias, now do I pay for the love thou didst bear me when thou wert alive, in bearing with the folly of thy son."
Upon looking into public matters, and the way in which they were now conducted, he observed that the administration of affairs was cut and parcelled out, like so much land by allotment, between the military men and the public speakers, so that neither these nor those should interfere with the claims of the others. As the one were to address the assemblies, to draw up votes and prepare motions, men, for example, like Eubulus, Aristophon, Demosthenes, Lycurgus, and Hypereides, and were to push their interests here; so, in the meantime, Diopeithes, Menestheus, Leosthenes (#1), and Chares were to make their profit by war and in military commands.
Phocion, on the other hand, was desirous to restore and carry out the old system, more complete in itself, and more harmonious and uniform, which prevailed in the times of Pericles, Aristides, and Solon [omission for length]. He knew also that Pallas, the goddess and protector of Athens, was called both "Polemica" and "Politica": skillful to rule both in war and peace. With these views, while his advice at home was always for peace and quietness, he nevertheless held the office of general more frequently than any of the statesmen; not only of his own times, but of those preceding him; never, indeed, promoting or encouraging military expeditions, yet never on the other hand, shunning or declining when he was called upon by the public voice.
Narration and Discussion
How was the friendship between Phocion and Chabrias beneficial for both of them?
For older students and further thought: Athens is often praised as the birthplace of democracy. However, Phocion, as a student of Plato, saw weaknesses in a system where just "anyone" could run for office or have an equal vote; he believed that government should be left to the aristocracy. What are the advantages and disadvantages of democracy and oligarchy? Are there alternatives?
Creative narration: Dramatize the scene between Phocion and Ctesippus.
Rather than continuing with historical events, Plutarch spends extra time here building our understanding of Phocion's character.
general: An Athenian public office much like the Roman consul; those elected were responsible for both military and civic affairs.
courting their favour: trying to please them
upon slight occasions: at times of little importance
spruce: pleasing in appearance; tidy, clean
oracle from Delphi: The temple at Delphi was believed to be a place where divine messages were received.
"Alas, hath not some evil thing . . . ": "What did I say wrong?"
peremptorily: in a way that leaves no room for argument
churlishly: rudely; in this context, in an unfriendly manner
timorous: fearful, timid
bounds and frontiers: the boundaries between their territories
surname of "Good": A surname, in the ancient world, was an extra name given to show someone's character, or to honour a particular event such as a battle victory. Phocion's surname, Chrēstos, meant "Benefactor," or "Do-good."
hostility: opposition, unfriendliness
contend: argue, fight
adversary: opponent; one taking the opposite side of an issue
espouse: support; adopt, take on something (like a cause)
indifferent: questionable; not very good
sent to prison: Aristogeiton's father died in prison because of a debt he owed the state, and his son inherited the debt.
dissuaded: tried to persuade someone not to do something
On the Map
Boeotia (Boeotians): a region which included the city of Thebes
Phocion was no less than forty-five times chosen general; he being never on any one of those occasions present at the election, but having the command, in his absence, conferred on him. Insomuch that it amazed those who did not well consider to see the people always prefer Phocion, who was so far from honouring them or courting their favour, that he always thwarted and opposed them. But so it was: as great men and princes are said to call in their flatterers when dinner has been served, so the Athenians, upon slight occasions, entertained and diverted themselves with their "spruce" speakers and trim orators; but when it came to action, they were sober and considerate enough to single out the most austere and wisest for public employment, however he might be opposed to their wishes and sentiments.
For once an oracle from Delphi was openly read before them, which said that, all the other Athenians being agreed, yet there was one among them that was contrary to all the rest of the city. Phocion, stepping forth before them all, bade them never seek further for the man, for it was he that liked none of all their doings. Another time he chanced to say his opinion before all the people, the which they all praised and approved: but he saw they were so suddenly become of his mind, he turned back to his friends, and asked them, "Alas, hath not some evil thing slipped my mouth unawares?"
Upon occasion of a public festivity, being solicited for his financial contribution by the example of others, and the people pressing him much, he bade them apply themselves to the wealthy; for his part, he said, he should blush to make a present here, rather than a repayment there, turning and pointing to Callicles, the money-lender. Being still clamoured upon and importuned, he told them this tale:
- "A certain cowardly fellow setting out for the wars, hearing the ravens croak in his passage, threw down his arms, resolving to wait. Presently he took them and ventured out again, but hearing the same music, once more made a stop. 'For,' said he, 'you may croak till you are tired, but you shall make no dinner upon me.'"
The Athenians urging him at an unseasonable time to lead them out against the enemy, he peremptorily refused: thereupon they called him a coward. "Well," said he again, "it is not you can make me valiant, no more than myself can make you cowards; and yet we know one another."
Another time in a marvellous dangerous time, the people handled him very churlishly, demanding a strict account of how the public money had been employed, and the like: but he answered them, "First, good friends, make sure you are safe." After a war, during which they had been very tractable and timorous, when, upon peace being made, they began again to be confident and overbearing, and to cry out upon Phocion as having lost them the honour of victory. To all their clamour he made only this answer: "You are happy that have a captain that knows you, else you would sing a new song."
Another time there was a quarrel betwixt the Boeotians and the Athenians, about their bounds and frontiers: the which they would not try by law, but by battle. But Phocion counselled them rather to fight it out in words, in which they were the stronger, and not with weapons, where they were the weaker.
Another time they so much misliked his opinion in the assembly, that they would not abide to hear him, nor suffer him to speak. "Well, my masters," quoth he then, "you may make me do that which is not to be done: but you shall never compel me, against my mind, to say that which is not to be spoken." Among the many public speakers who opposed him, Demosthenes, for example, once told him, "The Athenians, Phocion, will kill you some day when they are in a rage." "And you," said he, "if they once are in their senses."
[omission for length and content]
So that oftentimes it makes me muse, how, or wherefore so sharp and severe a man (as by these examples it appeareth he was) could come to the surname of "Good." Notwithstanding, in the end I find it a hard thing, but not impossible, that a man should be like wine, both sweet and sharp together: as there are others to the contrary, that at the first sight, seem very courteous and gentle of conversation, and upon better acquaintance, prove churlish and dogged.
[omission for length]
Phocion never allowed himself from any feeling of personal hostility to do hurt to any fellow-citizen; nor, indeed, reputed any man his enemy, except so far as he could not but contend sharply with such as opposed the measures he urged for the public good; in which argument he was, indeed, a rude, obstinate, and uncompromising adversary. For his general conversation, it was easy, courteous, and obliging to all, to the point that he would befriend his very opponents in their distress, and espouse the cause of those who differed most from him, when they needed his patronage. His friends, reproaching him for pleading on behalf of a man of indifferent character, he told them the innocent had no need of an advocate. A troublesome orator, Aristogeiton (one whom Phocion had previously called "worthless") was sent to prison, and sent earnestly to Phocion to speak with him there; but his friends dissuaded him from going. "Nay, by your favour," said he, "where should I rather choose to pay Aristogeiton a visit?"
Narration and Discussion
What things about Phocion's character were the most puzzling to the people around him?
For older students: "You may make me do that which is not to be done: but you shall never compel me, against my mind, to say that which is not to be spoken." Dryden translates this as "You may compel me to act against my wishes, but you shall never force me to speak against my judgment." Is that a good personal rule?
Creative narration: If you are working with a group, have one person play the part of an Athenian reporter assigned to do a story about Phocion, and ask others to tell the things they heard him say or the stories they have heard about him (these can be drawn from any of the first three lessons). You might try to explain why Phocion always gets elected, even though he doesn't show up for the elections; and/or why he earned the nickname "Phocion the Good."
Increased aggression from Macedon now began to divide the Greek city-states against each other. Some cities, like Chalcis, saw no point in holding out, and agreed to support King Philip's invading forces. Others, like Eretrea, called on allies such as Athens for assistance. Athens, having lost its earlier glory as head of the Greek empire (and having been trampled by Sparta), was limited in its ability to help. Phocion, however, did his best to lead the Athenians in supporting their friends and discouraging Philip, at least for the time being.
imminent: about to happen
deferred: put off, postponed
footmen: foot soldiers; infantry
signal: great, significant
straight: immediately, straight away
the means placed in his hands: what he was given to work with
requite: repay, return
to boot: as well
Plutarch of Eretria: or Plutarchus; a tyrant ruler who asked Athens for help when a neighbouring ruler, Callias of Chalcis, formed an alliance with Macedon and threatened to attack Eretria
Chares: See Lesson One.
359 B.C.: Philip became king of Macedon
356 B.C.: Birth of Alexander the Great (son of Philip)
c. 355 B.C.: Birth of Antipater's son Cassander
354 B.C.: Plutarch of Eretrea requested aid from Athens
349 B.C.: Macedonians began their invasion of Euboea
348 B.C.: The battle for Eretrea
348 B.C.: Molossus and his troops were captured by the Euboeans, and Athens was forced to pay fifty talents in ransom
340 B.C.: Philip besieged Perinthus and Byzantium
339 B.C.: Phocion sent into the Hellespont (in his early sixties)
On the Map
Euboea: a long, narrow island across from Boeotia; its principal cities were Chalcis and Eretria.
Tamynae: a town of ancient Euboea
Zaretra: a fortress near the village of Zarakes, on Euboea, has been identified as the probable site of the fort mentioned here
Chersonesus: or Chersonese. A Greek colony on the shores of the Black Sea.
Perinthus: or Perinthos. A city in Thrace which was strategically important (it had a harbour and it was also a place where several main roads met). Thrace was a region of southeastern Europe which includes parts of present-day Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria.
Byzantium: a city which became Constantinople and, later, Istanbul
As for the allies of the Athenians, and the islanders, whenever any admiral besides Phocion was sent, they treated him as an enemy suspect, barricaded their gates, blocked up their havens, and brought their wives, slaves, cattle, and all their goods into their towns and cities; but upon Phocion's arrival, they went out to welcome him in their private boats and barges, with streamers and garlands, and received him at landing with every demonstration of joy and pleasure.
King Philip, secretly seeking to win the isle of Euboea, was bringing over troops from Macedon, and making himself master of the cities, by means of the tyrants who ruled in them. Plutarch of Eretria sent to request aid of the Athenians for the relief of the island, which was in imminent danger of falling wholly into the hands of the Macedonians. So Phocion was sent there as general, but with a few men only, in expectation that the men of that country would straight join with him, for the goodwill they bore him. But when he came, he found all things in confusion, the country all betrayed, the whole ground, as it were, undermined under his feet by those who had been bribed with King Philip's money, so that he was brought into great danger. To secure himself as far as he could, he seized a small rising ground, which was divided from the level plans about Tamynae by a deep watercourse; and here he enclosed and fortified the choicest of his army (what little he had). As for the idle talkers and disorderly bad citizens who ran off from his camp and made their way back, he bade his officers not to regard them. "For," said he, "such disobedient soldiers here will do us no service, and moreover will hinder them that have goodwill to serve well: and at home also, knowing themselves in fault for that they forsook the camp, they dare not complain upon us."
Afterwards when the enemies came to set upon him, he commanded his men to arm and put themselves in readiness, and not to stir until he had done sacrifice; but he stayed long before he came, either because he could have no lucky signs of the sacrifices, or else for that he would draw his enemies nearer. Thereupon Plutarch, supposing he deferred to march for fear, went himself first into the field, with certain light horsemen he had in pay. Then the men-at- arms, seeing them give charge, could hold no longer, but followed him also, straggling out of the camp one after another in a disorderly fashion, and so they did set upon their enemies. The first being overthrown, all the others dispersed themselves, and Plutarch himself fled. Then a body of the enemy advanced in the hope of carrying the camp, supposing themselves to have secured the victory.
In the meantime, Phocion having ended his sacrifice, the Athenians came out of their camp, and set upon them, and made part of them flee immediately; and part of them also they slew near the trenches of their camp. Then Phocion ordered his footmen to keep on the watch, and rally those who came in from the previous flight. He himself, with a body of his best men, gave charge upon the enemies.
The fight was cruel between them. For the Athenians fought very valiantly, with signal courage and gallantry. Thallus, the son of Cineas, and Glaucus of Polymedes, who fought near the general, gained the honours of the day. And so did Cleophanes that day also shew himself very valiant. For he, crying out still upon the horsemen that fled, and persuading them to come and help their general that was in danger, brought them back again, and thereby got the footmen the victory.
Phocion now expelled Plutarch from Eretria, and possessed himself of the very important fort of Zaretra, situated where the island is pinched in, as it were, by the seas on each side, and its breadth most reduced to a narrow girth. He released all the Greeks whom he took, out of fear of the orators at Athens, thinking they might very likely persuade the people in their anger into committing some act of cruelty.
After all these things were done, Phocion returned back to Athens. But then did the confederates of the Athenians straight wish for his justice and courtesy, as the Athenians that of his experience and courage. For his successor Molossus, that was general for the rest of the war, had no better success than to fall alive into the enemy's hands.
Then King Philip, being put in marvellous great hope, went with all his army into the Hellespont, persuading himself that he should straight take all the Chersonesus, the cities of Perinthus and Byzantium. The Athenians raised a force to relieve them, but the popular leaders proposed Chares to be general; who, sailing thither, effected nothing worthy of the means placed in his hands. The cities were afraid, and would not receive his ships into their harbours, so that he did nothing but wander about, raising money from their friends, and despised by their enemies. When the Athenians, chafed by the orators, were extremely indignant, and repented having ever sent any help to the Byzantines, Phocion rose and told them they ought not to be angry with the allies for distrusting, but with their generals that deserved to be mistrusted. "For they," said he, "do make your confederates afraid of you, who without you notwithstanding cannot save themselves."
The people, changing their minds by his oration, made Phocion again their captain, and sent him with an army into the Hellespont to help their confederates there: an appointment which, in effect, contributed more than anything to the relief of Byzantium. For Phocion's name was already honourably known; and an old acquaintance of his, who had been his fellow-student in the Academy, Leon, a man of high renown for virtue among the Byzantines, having vouched for Phocion to the city, they opened their gates to receive him; not permitting him, though he desired it, to encamp outside the walls, but entertained him and all the Athenians with perfect reliance; while they, to requite their confidence, behaved among their new hosts soberly and inoffensively, and exerted themselves on all occasions with the greatest zeal and resolution for their defense.
Thus King Philip, whom, till now, it had been thought impossible to match, or even to oppose, was driven out of the Hellespont, and was despised to boot. Phocion also took some of his ships, and recaptured some of the places he had garrisoned, making besides several inroads into the country, which he plundered and overran, until he received a wound from some of the enemy who came to the defense, and, thereupon, sailed away home.
Narration and Discussion
Explain how Phocion helped the Athenians win against Philip at Eretrea, and then found a way to end the siege of Byzantium. What in Phocion's character made him successful in these battles, especially when others had failed?
Creative narration: Write or act out a conversation between Phocion and his old friend Leon.
Athens now found its own existence threatened by the growing Macedonian power. Phocion, recognizing the strength of the enemy, recommended that Athens accept Philip's terms of surrender; but he was outvoted, and the Athenians were massacred at the ensuing battle.
Then, in a strange turn of events, the Athenians received the news that Philip had been killed by one of his own bodyguards. In the months that followed, Greek cities such as Thebes and Athens struggled against Macedonian control. The new king Alexander retaliated by destroying Thebes, and he demanded that the Athenians surrender their rebellious orators, especially Demosthenes (who had made himself extremely unpopular with both Philip and Alexander). However, Alexander agreed to reconsider his decree; and he also seemed interested in Phocion's helpful suggestion that he should go and attack the Persians instead.
deliver their city into his hands: they were not surrendering to Athens, but rather asking for its help against Macedon
arsenal: place where weapons and ammunition are stored
clamourers and incendiaries: those who liked to stir things up
council of the Areopagus: the high council of the city
the common treaty of peace: a general Greek peace treaty
barbarians: refers specifically to the Persians
Charidemus: Although Charidemus was from Euboea, he had often led the Athenian troops against Philip.
Alexander: Alexander the Great (see introductory notes)
338 B.C.: Athens defeated at Chaeronea
336 B.C.: Death of Philip II of Macedon; accession of Alexander III
335 B.C.: After a Theban-Athenian rebellion against Macedon, Alexander destroyed Thebes.
334 B.C.: Alexander began his invasion of the Persian empire
On the Map
Megara (Megarians): a city in the western part of Attica
Nisaea: the Megarian harbour town
Shortly after, the Megarians secretly sent unto him to deliver their city into his hands. Phocion, fearing lest the Boeotians should hear of it and that they would prevent him: he called a common assembly early in the morning, and told the people what message the Megarians had sent unto him. The people upon his motion were determined to aid them; and Phocion, straight sounding the trumpet at the breaking up of the assembly, gave them no further leisure, but to take their weapons, and so led them immediately to Megara. The Megarians received them joyfully, and he proceeded to fortify Nisaea, and built two new long walls from the city to the arsenal, and so joined it to the sea: so that having now little reason to regard the enemies on the land side, it placed its dependence entirely on the Athenians.
Now when the Athenians had proclaimed open war against King Philip, and had chosen other captains in Phocion's absence: he, on his arrival from the islands, tried to persuade the Athenians, that [omission] they should consent to a treaty. He was contradicted in this by one of the regular frequenters of the courts of justice, a common accuser, who said unto him: "Why, Phocion, how darest thou attempt to turn the Athenians from war, having now their swords in their hands?" "Yes, truly," said Phocion, "though in war I know I shall command thee, and in peace thou wilt command me."
But the people would not hearken to him, and Demosthenes carried them away with his persuasions, who counselled them to fight with King Philip, as far from Attica as they could. "Good friends," then said Phocion, "let us not dispute where we shall fight, but consider how we shall overcome. That will be the way to keep it at a distance. If we are beaten, it will be quickly at our doors."
[At the Battle of Chaeronea, the armies of Athens and Thebes were destroyed, and the Greeks were now under the rule of Macedon.]
After the defeat, the clamourers and incendiaries in the town proposed Charidemus to be chosen general of the Athenians. The best of the citizens were in a panic, and supporting themselves with the aid of the council of the Areopagus, with entreaties and tears, they prevailed upon the people to have Phocion entrusted instead with the care of the city. He thought good to accept the articles and gentle conditions of peace which Philip offered them. But after that the orator Demades moved that the city of Athens would enter into the common treaty of peace, in concurrence with the rest of the states of Greece, Phocion would not agree to it, until they might understand what the particulars were which Philip demanded. He was overruled in this, under the pressure of the time; but almost immediately after, the Athenians repented it, when they understood that by these articles they were obliged to furnish Philip with both ships and horsemen.
"It was the fear of this," said Phocion, "that occasioned my opposition. But since the thing is done, let us make the best of it, and not be discouraged. Our forefathers were sometimes in command, and sometimes under it; and yet have so wisely and discreetly governed themselves in both fortunes, that they have not only saved their city, but all Greece besides."
When news came of King Philip's death, the people for joy would straight have made bonfires and sacrifices to the gods for the good news; but Phocion would not suffer them, and said that "it was a token of a base mind to rejoice at any man's death; and besides that, the army which overthrew you at Chaeronea hath not yet lost but one man."
[omission for length]
After Thebes was lost, and Alexander had demanded Demosthenes, Lycurgus, Hypereides, and Caridemus to be delivered up: the whole assembly turning their eyes to him, and calling on Phocion by name to deliver his opinion, at last he rose up, and taking one of his friends unto him called Nicocles, whom he loved and trusted above all men else, he said thus openly unto them:
- "These men whom Alexander requireth have brought this city to this extremity, that if he required Nicocles here, I would give my consent to deliver him: for I would think myself happy to lose my life for all your safety. Furthermore, though I am right heartily sorry (said he) for the poor afflicted Thebans, that are come into the city for succour: yet I assure ye, it is better that one city mourn, than two. And therefore I think it best to entreat the Conqueror for both, rather than to our certain destruction to fight with him that is the stronger."
When this was decreed by the people, Alexander is said to have rejected their first address when it was presented, throwing it from him scornfully, and turning his back upon the ambassadors, who left him in affright. But the second, which Phocion himself brought, he took: being told by the older Macedonians that King Philip made great account of him. Whereupon, Alexander did not only give him audience, and grant his request, but further followed his counsel. For Phocion persuaded him that, if his designs were for quietness, he should make peace at once; if glory were his aim, he should make war not upon Greece, but on the barbarians.
So Phocion feeding Alexander's humour with such talk and discourse as he thought would like best, he so altered and softened Alexander's disposition that when he went from him, he (Alexander) willed him that the Athenians should look to their affairs: for if he should die, he knew no people fitter to command than they.
Narration and Discussion
In Part Three, how did Phocion's response to the Athenians reflect his Stoic beliefs? Would he have been justified by reacting with anger, since the problem had been caused by their refusal to listen to him?
Was it surprising that Phocion, who was not noted for putting effort into "such talk and discourse" as he thought anyone "would like best," was able to speak so persuasively to Alexander? If one of his friends had asked him about it afterwards, how might he have responded?
What do you think Alexander meant by his parting words to Phocion?
Plutarch slows the action down again to explore the friendship between Phocion and Alexander, which hit a roadblock when Phocion refused to accept gifts from the king-of-the-whole-world. And then, most unexpectedly, Alexander died. Plutarch does not make much of that in this passage, continuing to discuss Phocion's frugality and simplicity. However, the aftershocks of Alexander's death were felt for years across Asia and Europe, and they would soon affect Phocion's own life as well.
distinctions: honours, privileges
condescended: stooped, lowered himself
talent: A silver talent weighed 57 lb. (25.8 kg), and was the equivalent of several years' wages for a skilled worker.
obliged by him: indebted to him
prevailed with: persuaded
setter-forth: the producer of the play
the great feast called the Panathenaea: similar to the Olympic Games
chariot-leaping: One of the events in the games was to leap off a moving chariot, run alongside it, and leap back on again.
ill-regulated in his habits: badly behaved
after the Laconian discipline: in the strict Spartan manner. In modern-day terms, he sent him to military school.
Spartan table: the Spartans were known for their very plain diet
King Darius: Darius III of Persia
Antipater: see Lesson One
Lycurgus: the founder of the Spartan way of life (not the same Lycurgus mentioned in Lesson Two)
323 B.C.: Death of Alexander
On the Map
After this, Alexander adopted Phocion as his friend and guest; and showed him a respect, and admitted him to distinctions which few of those who were continually near his person ever received. The historian Duris, at any rate, tells us that, when Alexander became great and had conquered King Darius, in the heading of all his letters he left off the word Greeting, except in those he wrote to Phocion. To him, and to Antipater alone, he condescended to use it. Chares also writeth the same.
And they all do confess that Alexander sent Phocion a great gift out of Asia, of a hundred silver talents. This money being brought to Athens, Phocion asked them that brought it why Alexander gave him such a great reward, above all the other citizens of Athens. "Because," said they, "he only esteemeth thee to be a good and honest man." Phocion replied again, "Then let him give me leave to be what I seem, and am, whilst I live." Following him to his house, and observing his simple and plain way of living, his wife employed in kneading bread with her own hands, himself drawing water to wash his feet, they pressed him to accept it, with some indignation, being ashamed, as they said, that Alexander's friend should live so miserably and beggarly as he did. Then Phocion, seeing a poor old man go by in a threadbare gown, asked them, whether they thought him worse than he? "No, God forbid," answered they again. Then replied he again, "He lives with less than I do, and yet is contented, and hath enough. To be short," said he, "if I should take this sum of money and use it not, it is as much as I had it not: on the other side, if I use it, I shall make all the city speak ill of the king and me both."
So this great present was sent back from Athens, whereby he showed the Grecians that he who needed not such gold and silver was richer than he that gave it to him. And when Alexander was displeased, and wrote back to him to say that he could not esteem those his friends who would not be obliged by him, not even would this induce Phocion to accept the money, but only requested him for his sake, that he would set four men at liberty which were kept prisoners in the city of Sardis, for certain accusations laid against them [omission for length]. This was instantly granted by Alexander, and they were set at liberty.
Afterwards, when sending Craterus into Macedon, Alexander commanded him to make Phocion an offer of four cities in Asia [omission], any one of which, at his choice, should be delivered to him; insisting yet more positively with him, and declaring he (Alexander) should resent it, should he (Phocion) continue obstinate in his refusal. But Phocion was not to be prevailed with at all; and, shortly after, Alexander died.
Phocion's house is seen yet at this day in the village of Melita, set forth with plates of copper, but otherwise plain and homely. For his wives, there is no mention made of the first, saving that Cephisodotus the image engraver was her brother. But for his second wife, she was no less famous at Athens for her honesty, and good housewifery, than Phocion for his justice and equity. And for proof thereof, it is reported, that the Athenians being one day assembled in the theater, to see new tragedies played, one of the players, when he should have come upon the scaffold to have played his part, asked Melanthius, the setter-forth of the plays, for the apparel of a queen, and certain ladies to wait upon "her," because he was to play the part of the queen. Melanthius denying him this, the player went away in a rage, leaving the people staring one at another, and he would not come out upon the stage. But Melanthius, compelling him, brought him by force on the stage, and cried out unto him: "Dost thou not see Phocion's wife, that goeth up and down the city with one maid only waiting on her? and wilt thou play the fool, and mar the modesty of the women of Athens?" The people hearing his words, filled all the theater with joy and clapping of hands.
She herself, when a certain gentlewoman of Ionia came to Athens to see her, and showed her all her rich jewels and precious stones she had: she answered her again, "All my riches and jewels, is my husband Phocion, who these twenty years together, hath continually been chosen general for the Athenians."
Phocion had a son named Phocus, who wished to take part in the games at the great feast called the Panathenaea. He permitted him so to do, in the contest of chariot-leaping, not with any view to the victory, but in the hope that the training and discipline for it would make him a better man, the youth being in a general way a lover of drinking, and ill-regulated in his habits. On his having succeeded in the sports, many were eager for the honour of his company at banquets, in celebration of the victory.
Phocion declined them all but one, and when he came to this entertainment and saw the costly preparations, even the water brought to wash the guests' feet being mingled with wine and spices, he reprimanded his son, asking him "How canst thou abide, Phocus, that our friend should thus disgrace thy victory with excess?" But because he would withdraw his son from such habits and company, he sent him to Sparta, and placed him there among young boys brought up after the Laconian discipline.
The Athenians were much offended at it, to see that Phocion did so much despise his own country's manner and fashions; and Demades twitted him with it publicly: "Suppose, Phocion, you and I advise the Athenians to adopt the Spartan constitution. If you like, I am ready to introduce a bill to that effect, and to speak in its favour." "Indeed," said Phocion, "you, with that strong scent of perfumes about you, and with that mantle on your shoulders, are just the very man to speak in honour of Lycurgus, and recommend the Spartan table."
Narration and Discussion
"He who needed not such gold and silver was richer than he that gave it to him." Explain.
"If I accept the gift," Phocion said, "I shall make all the city speak ill of the king and me both." Did Phocion follow his simple lifestyle because of what people thought, or in spite of it? Why might he have made this remark?
Describe Phocion's relationship with his son, perhaps using some form of creative narration.
In the year before Alexander died, his longtime but troublesome friend Harpalus finally went too far: he stole money from the king, ran away with it to Athens, and then used it to try to buy the Athenians' friendship (also described in the Life of Demosthenes). Those accused of accepting bribes from Harpalus included Demosthenes (who had to leave Athens for several months because he was unable to pay his fine), and Phocion's son-in-law Charicles; but Phocion himself remained uninterested in other people's money.
After the Harpalus scandal, the story moves quickly into the post-Alexander period, and the Lamian (or Hellenic) War, in which Athens and its allies fought Macedon and Boeotia for control of Greece.
checked his proceedings: stopped what he was doing
constant: steady, unmovable
hustings: place from which speeches were made
think of it at better leisure . . . : Dryden, "There is no need to take counsel hastily or before it is safe."
insolently: arrogantly, rudely
for a furlong: The Athenians had sufficient resources for a short race, but not for a marathon.
when shall we leave to overcome?: "When can we stop having to have all these victories?"
Harpalus: an aristocrat of Macedon, and friend of Alexander
Leosthenes (#2): commander of the combined Greek forces in the Lamian War
324 B.C.: Harpalus' arrival in Athens
323 B.C.: Death of Harpalus (After being imprisoned in Athens and then escaping to Crete, he was murdered there.)
323 B.C.: Death of Alexander (as noted in the previous lesson)
323-322 B.C.: The Lamian War
323 B.C.: Death of Leosthenes
On the Map
province of Babylon: The kingdom of Babylon, which had ruled its own large empire but was now under Persian rule
Lamia: a city of central Greece
When Alexander wrote to demand a supply of galleys, and the orators objected to sending them, the people called upon Phocion chiefly to say his opinion. Phocion told them plainly, "Methinks ye must either make yourselves the strongest in wars, or, being the weaker, procure to be friends unto the stronger."
[omission for length and content]
And when Harpalus, King Alexander's lieutenant of the province of Babylon, fled out of Asia, and came to Attica with a great sum of gold and silver: straight away these men that sold their tongues to the people for money flocked about him like a flight of swallows. He gave every one of them a piece of money to bait them with: for it was a trifle to him, considering the great sums of money he brought. But to Phocion himself, he sent unto him seven hundred talents, and offered himself, and all that he had, into his hands of trust. But Phocion gave him a sharp answer, and told him that he would make him repent it if he corrupted the city of Athens in that manner. This, for the time, silenced Harpalus, and checked his proceedings.
But afterwards, when the Athenians were deliberating in council about him, he found those that had received money from him to be his greatest enemies, urging and aggravating matters against him to prevent themselves being discovered; whereas Phocion, who had never touched his pay, now, so far as the public interest would admit it, showed some regard to his particular security. This encouraged him once more to try his inclinations (to bribe Phocion); but he found him so constant that no money could carry the man.
Then Harpalus professed a particular friendship with Charicles (Phocion's son-in-law). And admitting him into his confidence in all his affairs, and continually requesting his assistance, he brought him under some suspicion [omission for length and content]. But when Charicles was called to account for his financial dealings with Harpalus, and entreated his father-in-law's protection, begging that he would appear for him in the court, Phocion refused, telling him, "I did not choose you for my son-in-law for any but honourable purposes."
Asclepiades, the son of Hipparchus, brought the first news of the death of King Alexander; but Demades the orator would not believe him. "For," said he, "if it were true, all the earth would smell of the savour of his corpse." Phocion, seeing the people eager for an instant revolution, did his best to quiet and repress them; but numbers of them rushed up to the hustings to speak, and cried out that the news was true, and Alexander was dead. "Well then," quoth Phocion, "if it be true today, it shall be true also tomorrow, and the next day after. And therefore my masters, be not too hasty, but think of it at better leisure, and set your affairs at a sure stay."
When Leosthenes (#2) now had embarked the city in the Lamian War, greatly against Phocion's wishes, he asked him scoffingly what the state had been benefited by his having now so many years been general. Phocion answered him, "No small good," said he, "for all my countrymen have been buried at home in their own graves." Another time, Leosthenes speaking proudly and insolently to the people, Phocion one day said unto him, "Young man, my friend, thy words are like to a cypress tree, which is high and great, but beareth no fruit." Then Hypereides rising up, asked Phocion, "When wilt thou then counsel the Athenians to make war?" "When I shall see young men," said he, "not forsake their ranks, rich men contribute their money, and the orators leave off robbing the treasury."
When the Athenians wondered to see such a goodly great army as Leosthenes had levied: and that they asked Phocion how he liked it: "A goodly army," quoth he, "for a furlong; but what I fear is the long race, for I do not see the city able to make any more money, nor more ships, neither yet any more soldiers than these." The which proved true, as it fell out afterwards. For at the first, Leosthenes did notable exploits. He overcame the Boeotians in battle, and drove Antipater into the city of Lamia: the which did put the Athenians in such a hope and jollity, that they made continual feasts and sacrifices through the city, to thank the gods for these good news. And there were some among them, that to convince Phocion of his error, asked him if he did not wish that he had done all those things? "Yes indeed," answered he, "I would I had done them; but yet I would not have given the counsel to have done them."
Another time also when letters came, daily, one after another, bringing "good news": "Good gods," said he, "when shall we leave to overcome?"
Leosthenes, soon after, was killed; and now those who feared that if Phocion obtained the command he would put an end to the war, arranged with an obscure person in the assembly, who should stand up and profess himself to be a friend and old schoolfellow of Phocion's, and persuade the people to spare him at this time, and reserve him (with whom none could compare) for a more pressing occasion; and now to give Antiphilus the command of the army. The people were contented withal. But then Phocion stood up, and said that this man was never scholar with him, neither did he ever know him before that time. "But now," said he, "from henceforth I will take thee for my friend, for thou hast given the people the best counsel for me."
Narration and Discussion
Why did Phocion not see the "good news" as something to rejoice at?
Plutarch says that there were Athenians "who feared that if Phocion obtained the command he would put an end to the war." Why might they want the war to continue?
Creative narration: Choose one of the stories told here about Phocion, and act it out, or retell it in some other way.
Creative narration For older students: Against each of the historical events described here, Plutarch has placed an anecdote about Phocion, or a quote from his reaction to those events. Try using a similar technique in something you are writing yourself (anything from a history essay to a piece of creative non-fiction, fiction, or poetry).
Phocion, at the age of eighty, led the Athenians in a victory against Macedonian troops. The cities of Greece, however, were so disunified that, within a short time, they all fell under Macedonian rule. When the Athenians called on Phocion as the natural choice to lead peace talks with Antipater, he could not resist the chance to say "I told you so." However, he agreed, and the negotiations seemed to go well: perhaps too well. Some people worried that (just perhaps) Phocion's friendship with the commander of the occupying troops might not be the best thing for Athens.
threescore: sixty (so fourscore is eighty)
over-strait: too strict
who was no longer competent to vote in the assembly: Demades had temporarily lost his privileges in the government.
impunity: freedom from punishment or consequences
capitulations: terms, treaty
surrender at discretion: surrender unconditionally
Demosthenes and Hypereides should be delivered up to him: Phocion had managed to get the agitators out of similar trouble with Alexander; but this time their death warrants were non-negotiable.
that they should retain their ancient laws and government: Other sources say that the second term of the treaty was that only landowners would retain rights such as voting in the assembly.
receive a garrison into Munychia: Munychia was the neighbourhood next to Piraeus, which functioned as the Athenian harbour. One reason Antipater insisted on this representation was that he expected to be occupied and out of touch in Asia for some time.
Micion: a Macedonian general
Leonnatus, Craterus: former officers of Alexander
322 B.C.: Battle of Crannon
322 B.C.: Death of Leonnatus
On the Map
Rhamnus: or Rhamnous; a city overlooking the Euboean Strait
The people, notwithstanding, determining to make war with the Boeotians, Phocion spoke against it all he could. Thereupon, his friends bade him beware of such speeches: how he did offend the people, lest they kill him. He answered them, "They shall wrongfully put me to death, speaking for the benefit of my country; but otherwise they shall have reason to do it, if I speak to the contrary."
But when he saw nothing would pacify them, and that they went on still with their intent: then he commanded the herald to proclaim by sound of trumpet that all citizens from fourteen years to threescore, able to carry weapons, should presently, upon breaking up of the assembly, arm themselves, and follow him with five days' provision for victuals. Then was there great stir among them in the city, and the old men came and complained unto him for his over-strait commandment. He told them again, "I do you no wrong: for I am fourscore myself, and yet will go with you." This succeeded in pacifying them for the present.
But when Micion, with a large force of Macedonians and mercenaries, began to pillage the seacoast, having made a descent upon Rhamnus, and overrun the neighbouring country, Phocion led out the Athenians to attack him. But when he was there, some of his men taking upon them the office of a lieutenant, and going about to counsel him, some advising him to lodge his camp upon such a hill, and others to send his horsemen to such a place, and others to camp here: "O Hercules," quoth he, "how many captains do I see, and how few soldiers!"
Afterwards when he had set his footmen in battle array, there was one among them that left his rank, and stepped out before them all. Thereupon one of his enemies also made towards him, to fight with him: but the Athenian's heart failed him, and he went back again to his place. Then said Phocion unto him, "Art thou not ashamed, young lout, to have forsaken thy rank twice? the one where thy captain had placed thee, and the other in the which thou hadst placed thyself?"
However, he entirely routed the enemy, killing Micion and many more on the spot.
The Grecian army also, in Thessaly, after Leonnatus and the Macedonians who came with him out of Asia had arrived and joined Antipater, fought and beat them in a battle. Leonnatus was killed in the fight, Antiphilus commanding the foot soldiers, and Menon the Thessalian, the horsemen.
Shortly after, Craterus crossed out of Asia into Europe with a great army. A pitched battle was fought at Crannon; the Greeks were beaten; though not, indeed, in a signal defeat, nor with any great loss of men. But what with their want of obedience to their commanders, who were young and over-indulgent with them; and what with Antipater's tampering and treating with their separate cities: one by one, the end of it was that the army was dissolved, and the Greeks shamefully surrendered the liberty of their country.
Upon the news of Antipater's now advancing at once against Athens with all his force, Demosthenes and Hypereides deserted the city. Demades, who was in disgrace and defamed for lack of payment of such fines as were set upon his head (being seven different times condemned, because he had so many times moved matters contrary to the law) and who was no longer competent to vote in the assembly, laid hold of this season of impunity to bring in a bill for sending ambassadors unto Antipater, with full commission and authority to treat with him of peace. The people called for Phocion, calling him the person they only and entirely confided in. Then Phocion answered them: "If you had believed my former counsels I always gave you, such weighty matters should not now have troubled you at all." However, the vote passed; and a decree was made, and he with others were deputed to go to Antipater, who lay now encamped in the Theban territories, but intended to dislodge immediately, and pass into Attica.
Phocion's first request to Antipater was that he would make the treaty without moving his camp. And when Craterus declared that it was not fair to ask them to be burdensome to the country of their friends and allies by their stay, when they might rather use that of their enemies for provisions and the support of their army, Antipater, taking him by the hand, said, "We must grant this favour to Phocion." And for the rest, touching the capitulations of peace, Antipater willed that the Athenians should return, and inform their people that he could only offer them the same terms (namely, to surrender at discretion) which Leosthenes had offered to him when he was besieged in the city of Lamia.
So when Phocion was come back to Athens, the Athenians, seeing there was no remedy, were compelled to be contented with such offers of peace as the enemy made them.
[Omission for length: the Athenians, including Phocion and Xenocrates the philosopher (see Lesson One), were sent on a second embassy to Antipater. Antipater sneered at Xenocrates, but was more willing to talk with Phocion.]
When Phocion had declared the purpose of their embassy, Antipater replied shortly that he would make peace with the Athenians on these conditions, and no others: first, that Demosthenes and Hypereides should be delivered up to him; second, that the Athenians should retain their ancient laws and government; third, that they should receive a garrison into Munychia; and fourth, that they should pay a certain sum for the cost of the war. As things stood, these terms were judged tolerable by the rest of the ambassadors. Xenocrates the philosopher only said that "if Antipater considered the Athenians slaves, he was treating them fairly; but if free, severely." Phocion pressed Antipater only to spare them the garrison, and used many arguments and entreaties. Antipater replied, "Phocion, we are ready to do you any favour, saving that which should undo thee and us both."
[Omission for length: Plutarch explains that there are different versions of the meeting with Antipater, but that, in the end, the Athenians were forced to accept all the terms, including the garrison; and Menyllus, an honest man and friend of Phocion, was to be sent as its captain.]
Narration and Discussion
From an earlier lesson: "He knew also that Pallas, the goddess and protector of Athens, was . . . skillful to rule both in war and peace." How did Phocion show that he was still a master of both?
Xenocrates, quoted later on, refused to take a position of privilege in the new regime, saying that he would not profit from something he had participated in destroying. Many Athenians blamed the ambassadors for giving in too easily; they felt they had been "sold out." Should they have tried harder to get a better outcome for their people?
For older students: Can you find at least one example of foreshadowing in this passage?
Creative narration: You and a friend arrive back in Athens before the official party returns, and people ask about the meeting with Antipater. However, the two of you can't agree on exactly what was decided. Write or act out the scene.
The Macedonian garrison arrived in Athens during a religious festival, which was considered not only in poor taste, but an unlucky omen as well. Life for many people became difficult: those forced to sell their land (because of the fines due to Antipater) also lost their right to hold public office and vote in the assembly, and many of them left the city. Those citizens who stayed and kept their privileges ruled Athens as an oligarchy (see introductory notes).
Phocion, stoic as always, took advantage of the opportunity to "clean house," shuffling people he respected into government positions, and suggesting that the others find productive hobbies. Though he attempted to do what was best for Athens, he seemed oblivious to the anger that was brewing among those who had lost money and status.
arbitrary: based on personal whim rather than reason
great festival: see Lesson Two
Iacchus: a minor deity worshipped as part of the Eleusinian Mysteries
profaned: defiled; treated as unholy
oppressed and shamefully used: Although these citizens managed to remain in the city, they had lost valued privileges such as voting in the assembly, holding public office, and serving on juries.
deaths of Demosthenes at Calauria, and of Hypereides at Cleonae: After receiving a death sentence, Demosthenes escaped to the island of Calauria; but when his hideout was discovered, he took poison and died. Hypereides was also put to death.
placable: forgiving, merciful
homely fare: simple diet
intercession: intervention, pleading on their behalf
preferring . . . to the magistracies: proposing men for public offices
busy and turbulent talkers: "Busy" can mean ready to serve, but also too much so ("pushy"); "turbulent talkers" are agitators.
strangers: foreigners, non-Athenians
deprecate: to criticize, disapprove of something; in this context, to diminish, lessen its value
he could never satisfy him: Demades found life under Antipater quite enjoyable and financially rewarding; and he spent much of his time seeking out expensive pleasures, partly as revenge on those who had previously looked down on him. In an omitted passage, Plutarch says that, in spite of a law forbidding foreign dancers, Demades hired a whole troupe of non-Athenians to perform, and cheerfully paid their fines. He also splurged on a lavish wedding banquet for his son.
Agnonides the sycophant: (or Hagnonides) An orator who was exiled to the Peloponnesus (but nowhere worse, thanks to Phocion's intervention). A sycophant originally meant a false accuser, but its English meaning shifted to describe someone who uses insincere flattery to get what he wants. In Ancient Greece, sycophants like Agnonides were often "charge-bringers," paid to initiate court cases by wealthy citizens who, for one reason or another, did not want to be publicly involved. Agnonides would not be as important to this story if it were not for his later role as an accuser of Phocion (which seems more understandable in light of his reputation as a sycophant).
Xenocrates: a philosopher (see Lesson One)
322 B.C.: Deaths of Demosthenes and Hypereides
320 B.C.: Antipater made himself regent of Alexander's empire
On the Map
Thrace: see Lesson Four
mountains of Ceraunia: now part of Albania
This commandment to receive the garrison within Munychia seemed sufficiently imperious and arbitrary, indeed rather a spiteful and insulting way for Antipater to boast of his power, than for any profit could otherwise come of it. The resentment felt upon it was heightened by the time it happened in; for the garrison was brought in on the twentieth of the month of Boedromion, just at the time of the great festival, when they carry forth Iacchus with solemn pomp from the city to Eleusis; so that the solemnity being disturbed, many began to consider that, in old time when their realm did flourish, there were heard and seen voices and images of the gods on that day, which made the enemies both afraid, and amazed: and now in contrary manner, in the very selfsame solemnity of the gods, they saw the greatest calamity that could have happened unto Greece, the most holy time being profaned; and their greatest jubilee made the unlucky date of their most extreme calamity.
[omission for length and content]
The garrison did not greatly offend nor trouble the Athenians, because of the honesty of their captain Menyllus. But those who had lost the benefit of their freedom by poverty amounted to more than twelve thousand; so that both those that remained in the city thought themselves oppressed and shamefully used; and those who on this account left their homes and went away into Thrace, where Antipater offered them a town and some territory to inhabit, regarded themselves only as a colony of slaves and exiles. And when to this was added the deaths of Demosthenes at Calauria, and of Hypereides at Cleonae, the citizens began to think with regret of Philip and Alexander, and almost to wish the return of those times [omission for length]. They remembered the contests they had with those kings, whose anger, however great, was yet generous and placable; whereas Antipater, with the counterfeit humility of appearing like a private man in the meanness of his dress and his homely fare, showed himself notwithstanding a more cruel lord and tyrant unto them whom he had overcome.
Yet Phocion had influence with him to recall many from banishment by his intercession, and those whom he could not get to be restored, yet he procured that they should not be banished into such far countries as others which had been sent beyond Taenarus, and the mountains of Ceraunia; but that they could remain in Greece, and plant themselves within the country of Peloponnesus: among the which was Agnonides the sycophant.
He was no less studious to manage the affairs within the city with equity and moderation, preferring constantly those that were men of worth and good education to the magistracies, and recommending that the busy and turbulent talkers, to whom it was a mortal blow to be excluded from office and public debating, should learn to stay at home, and be content to till their land.
When he saw Xenocrates also pay a certain tax to the commonwealth, which all strangers dwelling in Athens did use yearly to pay: he would have made him a free man, and offered to put his name amongst the number of free citizens. But Xenocrates refused it, saying he would have no part of that freedom which he had been sent as an ambassador to deprecate. And when Menyllus wished to give Phocion money, he replied that Menyllus was no greater lord than Alexander had been, neither had he at that time any greater occasion to receive his present than when he had refused King Alexander's gift. Menyllus replying again, said that if he had no need of it for himself, yet he might let his son Phocus have it. But Phocion answered: "If my son returns to a right mind, that which I will leave him shall serve his turn very well: but if it be so that he will still hold on the course he hath taken, there is no riches then that can suffice him."
But to Antipater he answered more sharply, who would have him engaged in something dishonourable. "Antipater," said he, "cannot have me both as his friend and his flatterer." And, indeed, Antipater was wont to say he had two friends at Athens, Phocion and Demades; of the which, he could never make the one to take anything of him, and the other, he could never satisfy him.
And truly Phocion's poverty was a great glory of his virtue, since he was grown old, continuing in the same, after he had been so many times general of the Athenians, and had received such friendship and courtesy, of so many kings and princes.
[omission for length]
Narration and Discussion
The Athenians remembered Philip and Alexander as "generous and placable," at least in comparison to Antipater. Would you agree?
Antipater said that he considered Phocion a friend, although he was frustrated by his inability to be bribed. Did this put Phocion in a safe place, or a dangerous one?
For older students: Considering Phocion's philosophy on politics and other matters, why is it unsurprising that he was a bit callous about those who had lost their right to participate in government?
Creative narration #1: You are a) an Athenian political cartoonist, or b) a street poet and/or musician. Express your views about the current situation.
Another change in power took place with the death of Antipater. Things got a bit confusing, as Demades, expecting an interview with Antipater, met his death at his son Cassander's hands instead.
The conflict over Antipater's successor divided even the Athenians. The wealthier "oligarchic" party (including Phocion) supported Cassander, who had never risen above second place in anything, but who nevertheless expected to take over his father's position as "Keeper of the Kings." Antipater, however, had named his general Polyperchon to succeed him. In an attempt to win over the disadvantaged citizens, and rid himself of troublemakers like Phocion, Polyperchon promised to end the unpopular oligarchy, bring home the exiles, and restore democracy in Athens: but only as long as they promised never to rebel against Macedon.
One point that may help clarify this story is that Athens, though it considered itself all-important, was only one element in the huge competition for the pieces of Alexander's empire. In the "Macedonian News," struggles in Greece probably earned only minor headlines in comparison with international battles. However, as this is a Life and not a volume of world history, we will continue to focus on Athens, and particularly on Phocion.
great grievance: It was particularly worrisome because the Macedonians, controlling the harbour, could cut off food supplies.
when Antipater was already seized with a sickness: Antipater was still alive, but Cassander was managing his affairs.
entrusted . . . : see "The Kings of Macedon," below
countermine Cassander: To countermine is to defeat someone by making secret plans against them. Cassander, unwilling to act as second-in-command to Polyperchon, was busy making alliances and raising military support of his own.
wile and crafty fetch: scheme, trick
fill the city with a crowd . . . : bring in many people who had some grievance against the government, and Phocion in particular
hoped by professions of confidence . . . : Phocion hoped that by demonstrating trustworthiness, he would receive the same in return.
credulity and confidence in him: Plutarch says that it was a fatal mistake to trust in Nicanor's good intentions toward Athens.
overweening: overly confident
sundry intimations: various hints
attack Piraeus: If Nicanor could gain control of the harbour, he would be able to keep Polyperchon's ships out, and at the same time he would be able to threaten rebellious Athenians with a food blockade.
be ready to follow Phocion their general: that is, Phocion was ordered to lead an attack on Nicanor
drew trenches about Piraeus: seized the harbour
pretending to aid them . . . : Alexander took control of Athens.
disfranchised persons: deprived of the rights belonging to citizens
a motley and irregular public assembly: a disorderly group; a mob
divested Phocion: It seems that Phocion was not only stripped of his position and property, but forced to flee the city.
alone in close conference with Nicanor: It appears that Phocion was in charge of arranging public peace negotiations between Nicanor and Alexander; but when the two were found to be already conferring privately, the Athenians blamed Phocion for deceiving them and collaborating with the enemy.
Special Vocabulary Note: The Diadochi
The Greek word Diadochi (pronounced dye-AD-a-kee) means "successors." It refers to the family, friends, and military colleagues of Alexander who battled for control of his empire after his sudden death: the list included Antipater, Craterus, Perdiccas, Leonnatus, Antigonus, Polyperchon, and Cassander. The Wars of the Diadochi lasted from 322 until 281 B.C.
Special Historical Note: The Kings of Macedon
King Philip II of Macedon was succeeded by his son Alexander III (The Great). But what happened after that?
Alexander died without a clear heir to his throne, although his wife was expecting a child. His older half-brother Arrhidaeus became king (he was officially called Philip III), but due to a disability he was unable to rule completely, so most of the decisions were made by regents (Perdiccas, Antipater, and finally Polyperchon).
The son born after Alexander's death also had people who supported his right to the throne over that of his uncle; and after Philip III was put to death in 317 B.C., he became King Alexander IV, and "ruled" until he was murdered in 310 or 309 B.C.
And what about Cassander? He essentially ruled Macedon from 317 B.C. until he was formally made king in 305. (He died in 297 B.C.)
Cassander: son of Antipater; he later became king of Macedon (see above). As a boy, he had been a student of Aristotle along with Alexander.
Antigonus: Antigonus I Monopthalmus, a former general of Alexander.
Polyperchon: sometimes spelled Polysperchon; a Macedonian general
Nicanor: There were various people by this name, but this Nicanor is the one known as an Antipatrid General (i.e. supporting Antipater and then Cassander). He was put to death by Cassander in 317 B.C.
319 B.C.: Death of Antipater
319 or 318 B.C.: Murder of Demades by Cassander
318 B.C.: Polyperchon restored Athenian liberties
On the Map
Pella: the Macedonian capital
Salamis: a large island in the Aegean Sea
The garrison in Munychia continued to be felt as a great grievance, and the Athenians were importunate with Phocion to go to Antipater, to entreat him to take his garrison out of their city. Phocion declined the office, either because he had no hope to obtain it, or for that he saw the people more obedient unto reason for fear of the garrison. Howbeit he contented himself with obtaining of Antipater the postponement, for the present, of the payment of the sum of money in which the city was fined.
So the Athenians perceiving they could do no good with Phocion, they entreated Demades, who willingly took the matter upon him, and went with his son into Macedon; and some superior power, as it seems, so ordering it, he came to Pella just at the time when Antipater was already seized with a sickness whereof he died. The affairs of the realm, therefore, went through the hands of Cassander his son, who had found a letter from Demades, formerly written by him to Antigonus in Asia, willing him to come in all possible speed to win Greece and Macedon, which hung but of an old rotten thread, mocking Antipater in this manner.
[Omission for content: the deaths of Demades and his son at the hands of Cassander.]
Now Antipater, before his death, had established Polyperchon as general of the army of the Macedonians, and Cassander, his son, only as colonel of a thousand footmen. He, notwithstanding, after his father's decease taking upon him the government of the realm, sent Nicanor with speed to succeed Menyllus in the captainship of the garrison of Athens, before Antipater's death should be revealed; commanding him first, in any case, to take the fort of Munychia, which he did. Shortly after, the Athenians understanding of the death of Antipater, they accused Phocion, for that he had known of his death long before, and yet kept it secret to please Nicanor. But he slighted their talk, and making it his duty to visit and confer continually with Nicanor, he succeeded in procuring his goodwill and kindness for the Athenians, and induced him even to put himself to trouble and expense to seek popularity with them, by presiding at the games.
In the meantime Polyperchon, who was entrusted with the charge of the king, to countermine Cassander, sent a letter to the city, declaring, in the name of the king, that he restored them their democracy, and that the whole Athenian people were at liberty to conduct their commonwealth according to their ancient customs and constitutions. But this was a wile and crafty fetch against Phocion. For Polyperchon, devising this practice to get the city of Athens into his hands (as it fell out afterwards by proof), had no hope to obtain his purpose, unless he found means first to banish Phocion; and the most certain way to ruin him would be again to fill the city with a crowd of disfranchised citizens, and let loose the tongues of the demagogues and common accusers.
With this prospect the Athenians were all in excitement, and Nicanor, wishing to confer with them on the subject, at a meeting of the council in Piraeus, came himself, trusting for the safety of his person to Phocion. And when Dercyllus, who commanded the guard there, made an attempt to seize him, upon notice of it beforehand, he made his escape; and there was little doubt he would now lose no time in righting himself upon the city for the affront; and when Phocion was found fault with for letting him get away and not securing him, he defended himself by saying that he had no mistrust of Nicanor, nor the least reason to expect any mischief from him, but should it prove otherwise, for his part he would have them all know he would rather receive than do the wrong.
And so far as he spoke for himself alone, the answer was honourable and high-minded enough; but he who hazards his country's safety, and that, too, when he is her magistrate and chief commander, can scarcely be acquitted, I fear, of transgressing a higher and more sacred obligation of justice, which he owed to his fellow-citizens. For it will not even do to say that he dreaded involving the city in war, by seizing Nicanor, and hoped by professions of confidence and just-dealing to retain him in the observance of the like; but it was, indeed, his credulity and confidence in him, and an overweening opinion of his sincerity, that imposed upon him.
Thus, notwithstanding the sundry intimations Phocion had of Nicanor's preparations to attack Piraeus, sending soldiers over into Salamis, and tampering with and endeavouring to corrupt various residents in Piraeus, he would, notwithstanding all this evidence, never be persuaded to believe it. And even when Philomedes of Lampra had got a decree passed that all the Athenians should stand to their arms, and be ready to follow Phocion their general, he yet sat still and did nothing, until Nicanor actually led his troops out from Munychia, and drew trenches about Piraeus. But then, when Phocion thought to lead out the people to prevent him, he found they mutinied against him, and no man would obey his commandment.
[Plutarch neglects to mention that Nicanor received a royal order to surrender the harbour and dissolve the garrison. Nicanor said he would obey the order, but seemed to be stalling on doing anything about it. It seemed likely that he was waiting for Polyperchon to send troops to keep the peace as democracy was restored.]
In the meantime, Alexander the son of Polyperchon came with an army, pretending to aid them of the city against Nicanor; where indeed he meant (if he could) to get the rest of the city into his hands, whilst they were in tumult and divided among themselves. For all those that had previously been expelled from the city now coming back with him, made their way into it, and they were joined by a mixed multitude of foreigners and disfranchised persons, and of these a motley and irregular public assembly came together, in which they divested Phocion of all power, and chose other generals. And if by chance Alexander had not been spied from the walls, alone in close conference with Nicanor; and had not this, which was often repeated, given the Athenians cause of suspicion; the city would not have escaped the snare.
Narration and Discussion
The political and military maneuvers described here may seem too complicated to follow easily, and many Athenians must have thought so as well. Which Macedonian rulers had their best interests at heart? What local leaders were to be trusted? Would they ever be independent again? Phocion, as "magistrate and chief commander" of Athens, had an additional "high and sacred obligation" to pursue justice for his people, rather than worrying about his own safety. How would you rate his actions during this time? Did he deserve to lose his position?
Why might the oligarchs have felt extremely concerned about the return to public life of the "disfranchised persons?"
For further thought: Christian students might want to examine what the Bible says about trusting in people's good intentions vs. gullibility (1 Corinthians 13:7, Matthew 10:16).
Phocion, suddenly jobless and homeless, decided to plead his case, or at least beg for shelter, at the court of the Macedonian king.
impeached him of treason: accused him of treason for his initial refusal and then his delay to attack Nicanor
consulted their own security: tried to save themselves
went over to Polyperchon: Phocion, rejected by the Athenians, decided to seek refuge with Polyperchon at Phocis.
put to death: Other sources say that Dinarchus, if it was the same person, died much later in Athens.
shut up together in one cage: North's translation says "Put us all in prison, and then send us bound hands and feet to Athens."
Phocion struck his staff on the ground . . . : Others say that it was Polyperchon who struck his scepter on the ground.
bondmen: slaves or indentured servants
Agnonides: see Lesson Nine. Agnonides had just returned from exile, but he had already gained a high position in the assembly.
Callimedon: Callimedon, nicknamed "the Crab" or "Spiny Lobster" because of his fondness for eating seafood, was a member of the pro-Macedonian party (he had been charged previously with conspiracy against the Athenian government).
Charicles: probably Phocion's son-in-law Charicles
Dinarchus: or Deinarchus; a speech-writer for other orators (since he was not Athenian, he was not allowed to participate in the debates)
Archestratus: a member of the ruling council in Athens.
Hegemon: one of Phocion's group
Cleitus ("the White"): a Macedonian general who was responsible for bringing the prisoners back to Athens and reading the charges against them; however, their ultimate fate was left to the "democracy" of the Athenians.
317 B.C.-c. 311 B.C.: Polyperchon's fleet was destroyed by Antigonus; Cassander took control of Athens; Polyperchon fled first to Epirus, then to the Peloponnesus where he allied himself with Antigonus and took control of that region. The rest of the story is even more complicated (and more murderous) than we have space for here.
On the Map
Phocis (Phocians): a region of central Greece
Pharygae: The exact location is uncertain.
The orator Agnonides at once fell foul upon Phocion, and impeached him of treason. Callimedon and Charicles, fearing the worst, consulted their own security by fleeing from the city. Phocion, with a few of his friends that stayed with him, went over to Polyperchon; and, out of respect for him, Solon of Plataea and Dinarchus of Corinth, who were reputed friends and confidants of Polyperchon, accompanied him. But because Dinarchus fell sick by the way, in the city of Elatea, they stayed there many days, hoping of his recovery.
But in the meantime, the people, at the persuasion of the orator Agnonides and at the request of Archestratus, established a decree to send delegates unto Polyperchon, to accuse Phocion. So both parties reached Polyperchon at the same time, who was going through the country with the king, and was then at a small village of Phocis, called Pharygae, under the mountain now called Galate, but then called Acrurium. There Polyperchon commanded a golden canopy to be set up, and caused the king to be set under the same, and all his chiefest friends about him. He ordered Dinarchus at once to be taken, tortured, and put to death; and that done, he gave audience to the Athenians, who filled the place with noise and tumult, accusing and recriminating on one another; till at last Agnonides came forward, and requested they might all be shut up together in one cage, and conveyed to Athens, there to decide the controversy. The king laughed to hear him say so.
But the noblemen of Macedon that were present then, and divers strangers besides to hear their complaints, made sign to the ambassadors to go on with their case at once. But it was no sort of fair hearing. Polyperchon frequently interrupted Phocion, till at last Phocion struck his staff on the ground, and declined to speak further. And when Hegemon also told Polyperchon that he himself could best witness how Phocion had always faithfully served and loved the people: he angrily answered him, "Come not hither to lie falsely to me, in the presence of the king." Therewith the king rose out of his seat, and took a spear in his hand, thinking to have killed Hegemon, had not Polyperchon suddenly interposed and hindered him; so that the assembly dissolved.
Phocion, then, and those about him, were seized; those of his friends that were not immediately by him, on seeing this, hid their faces, and saved themselves by flight. Those remaining were brought to Athens, to be submitted to trial; but, in truth, as men already sentenced to die.
[omission for length]
The king's letters were read openly to the Athenians, by the which he did advertise the people that he had found these offenders convicted of treason: notwithstanding, that he referred the sentence of their condemnation unto them, for that they were free men. Then Cleitus brought the prisoners before the people.
Every respectable citizen, at the sight of Phocion, covered up his face, and stooped down to conceal his tears. One of them had the courage to say, "My lords, since the king referreth the judgement of so great persons unto the people, it were great reason all the bondmen and strangers, which are no free citizens of Athens, should be taken out of this assembly." The people would not agree to it, but cried out that such traitors should be stoned to death that favour the authority of a few, and are enemies of the people; whereupon silence was made, and no man dared speak any more in support of Phocion.
Phocion was with difficulty heard at all, when he asked them: "My lords, will ye put us to death lawfully or unlawfully?" Some answered him: "According to law." "How then can ye do it," quoth he, "that will not hear our justifications?" But when they were deaf to all he said, approaching nearer, "As to myself," said he, "I admit my guilt, and have in government committed faults deserving death: but for these prisoners with me, what have they done, why you should put them to death?" The common people answered him, "Because they are thy friends." With this answer Phocion drew back, and spoke never a word more.
Then Agnonides, holding a decree in his hand, read it openly to the people, declaring how they should be judged by show of hands, whether the offenders had deserved death or not: and if it were found they had, then that they should all be put to death. When this had been read out, some desired it might be added to the sentence, that before Phocion should be put to death, they should first torture him [omission for content]. But Agnonides perceiving that even Cleitus was offended with it, and thinking besides it were too beastly and barbarous a part to use him in that sort, he said openly: "My lords, when you shall have such a varlet in your hands as Callimedon, then you may cast him on the wheel: but against Phocion, I would not act with such cruelty." Then rose up a nobleman among them, and added to his words: "Thou hast reason to say so, Agnonides: for if Phocion should be laid on the wheel, what should we then do with thee?"
[Omission for length: the decree was passed, and all the men were condemned to death.]
Narration and Discussion
Plutarch framed this story in ways that elicit sympathy for Phocion: for example, in an omitted passage, he describes how the prisoners were bumped through the marketplace in wagons, past a jeering crowd; however, he neglects to point out that a "wagon" may have been necessary due to Phocion's advanced age. The theatricality of Phocion's trial makes it sound almost as much of a farce as that of "Faithful" in The Pilgrim's Progress; nevertheless, it was not one of a completely innocent man, as Phocion himself confessed.
Was the anger of the Athenians justified? Should Phocion's actions in his final years have been balanced against his lifetime of effort on behalf of Athens? Older students may examine these questions in essay format or as a debate.
Lesson Twelve and Examination Questions
This final lesson describes the death of Phocion (which was not without its moments of humour), and its aftermath.
magnanimity: "spirit of greatness," in this context meaning nobility, the ability to rise above the situation
reviling and abusing: insulting, mocking
hemlock: a highly poisonous plant
mortar: a bowl used for crushing herbs or preparing medicine
drachma: a unit of money
debauched: corrupted; made immoral
impiously: against religious beliefs
hearth: a fireplace in the home
a gentlewoman of Megara: Dryden says that it was Phocion's wife
Epicurus and Demophilus: two others who had prosecuted Phocion
Socrates: a famous philosopher who was executed by the same method in 399 B.C.
318 B.C.: Death of Phocion
After the assembly was dismissed, they were carried to the prison; the rest with cries and lamentations, their friends and relatives following and clinging about them; but Phocion, looking (as men observed with astonishment at his calmness and magnanimity), just the same as when he had been used to return to his home attended, as general, from the assembly. His enemies ran along by his side, reviling and abusing him; amongst whom there was one that stepped before him, and did spit in his face, at which Phocion, turning to the officers, only said, "You should stop this indecency."
When they were in prison, Thudippus seeing the hemlock which they brewed in a mortar to give them to drink, gave way to his passion, and began to bemoan his condition and the hard measure he received, saying that they wrongfully put him to death with Phocion. "You cannot be contented," said he (Phocion), "to die with Phocion?"
When one that stood by asked Phocion if he would say anything to his son Phocus: "Yes," quoth he, "that I will: bid him never revenge the wrong the Athenians do me."
Then Nicocles, one of Phocion's dearest friends, prayed him to let him drink the poison before him. Phocion answered him, "Thy request is grievous to me, Nicocles; but because I never denied thee anything in my life, I will also grant thee this at my death."
When all the rest had drunk, there was no more poison left, and the executioner said he would make no more unless they gave him twelve drachmas to defray the cost of the quantity required. Some delay was made, and time spent, until Phocion called one of his friends, and, observing that a man could not even die at Athens without paying for it, requested him to give the sum.
It was the nineteenth day of the month of Munychion (to wit, March), on which day it was the custom to have a solemn procession in the city, in honour of Jupiter. The horsemen, as they passed by, some of them threw away their garlands. Others stopped, weeping, and casting sorrowful looks towards the prison doors; and all the citizens whose minds were not absolutely debauched by spite and passion, or who had any humanity left, acknowledged it to have been most impiously done, not, at least, to let that day pass, and the city so be kept pure from death and a public execution at the solemn festival.
His enemies notwithstanding, continuing still their anger against him, made the people pass a decree that his body should be banished, and carried out of the bounds of the country of Attica, forbidding the Athenians that no fire should be made for the solemnizing of his funerals. For this respect no friend of his dared touch his body. Howbeit a poor man called Conopion, that was wont to get his living that way, being hired for money to burn men's bodies: he carried the body beyond Eleusis, and getting fire out of a woman's house of Megara, he solemnized his funerals.
Furthermore, there was a gentlewoman of Megara, who coming by chance that way, with her gentlewomen, where his body was but newly burnt: she caused the earth to be cast up a little where the body was burnt, and made it like to a hollow tomb, whereupon she did use such sprinklings and effusions as are commonly done at the funerals of the dead: and then taking up his bones in her lap in the night, she brought them home, and buried them in her hearth, saying: "O dear hearth, to thee I bequeath the relics of this noble and good man, and pray thee to keep them faithfully, to bring them one day to the grave of his ancestors, when the Athenians shall come to confess the fault and wrong they have done unto him."
And, indeed, a very little time and their own sad experience soon informed them that they had put him to death who only maintained justice and honesty at Athens. Whereupon they made his image to be set up in brass, and gave honourable burial to his bones, at the charges of the city. And for his accusers, they condemned Agnonides of treason, and put him to death themselves. The other two, Epicurus and Demophilus, being fled out of the city, were afterwards met with by his son Phocus, who was revenged of them.
[omission for length and content]
Furthermore, this death of Phocion did also revive the memory of the lamentable death of Socrates unto the Grecians, the two cases being so similar; and both equally the sad fault and misfortune of Athens.
Narration and Discussion
How did Phocion apply his Stoic beliefs even at this time?
At the time of Phocion's execution, the Athenians were quite certain that they were in the right. What made them later change their minds?
For older students: Plutarch began this Life by saying that it is better to struggle against disaster (even if you lose) than to be a walking disaster (like Demades). He suggests that Phocion, under different circumstances, might have been more successful, and that his gifts might have been more recognized. Do you agree?
1. The orator Demosthenes was known to say about Phocion, "See, the axe of my words riseth." What did he mean?
2. Tell about the friendship between Phocion and Alexander the Great.
1. How did Phocion apply his Stoic beliefs even when being put to death?; OR answer Question 2.
2. (High school) Phocion borrowed a life motto from the goddess Athena: "Skillful to rule in war and peace." Was he successful?
AmblesideOnline Plutarch Readings:
Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey, Pt 1 Pompey, Pt 2 Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus
Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey, Pt 1 Pompey, Pt 2 Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus