A Close Translation of Demosthenes’ Letter 1.5-7

Photo: Demosthenes Bust in the Louvre, Polyeuktos.

A Close Translation of Demosthenes’ Letter 1.5-7

By Isaiah Weir


Translator’s Note

Around 324 BC, the city of Athens condemned Demosthenes, one of their greatest orators and statesmen, on charges of embezzlement and bribery. Forced into exile, he wrote several letters pleading his case but to no avail. However, after the death of Alexander the Great, Demosthenes, a lifelong enemy of Macedonian rule, wrote this letter, urging Athens toward political unity and a general uprising for the freedom of the Greeks.1 This resulted in the Lamian War, a battle between a rebelling league of Greek cities and Antipater, one of Alexander’s successors.2 While Demosthenes returned to Athens and assisted in the war, the city did not see success. After a general Macedonian victory, the orator committed suicide around 322 BC to avoid capture.3 As such, this letter is a tragic final enunciation of his political ideology, pragmatism, and Athenian patriotism. Of course, this is all assuming that the letter is an authentic work of Demosthenes, but its authorship is a subject of some scholarly debate. For now, however, I will follow Jonathan Goldstein in judging it authentic.4 

In this passage, Demosthenes encourages the Athenian people to be unified, put aside past disputes, and refrain from retaliation against figures who supported Macedon, all for the sake of the war.


Greek Text: 

δεῖ δ᾽ ὑμᾶς, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, πρῶτον μὲν ἁπάντων πρὸς ὑμᾶς αὐτοὺς ὁμόνοιαν εἰς τὸ κοινῇ συμφέρον τῇ πόλει παρασχέσθαι καὶ τὰς ἐκ τῶν προτέρων ἐκκλησιῶν ἀμφισβητήσεις ἐᾶσαι, δεύτερον δὲ πάντας ἐκ μιᾶς γνώμης τοῖς δόξασι προθύμως συναγωνίζεσθαι: ὡς τὸ μήθ᾽ ἓν μήθ᾽ ἁπλῶς πράττειν οὐ μόνον ἐστὶν ἀνάξιον ὑμῶν καὶ ἀγεννές, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς μεγίστους κινδύνους ἔχει. [6] δεῖ δὲ μηδὲ ταῦτα λαθεῖν ὑμᾶς, καθ᾽ αὑτὰ μὲν οὐκ ἔστιν αὐτάρκη κατασχεῖν πράγματα, προστεθέντα δὲ ταῖς δυνάμεσι πολλῷ πάντ᾽ εὐκατεργαστότερ᾽ ὑμῖν ποιήσει. τίν᾽ οὖν ἐστιν ταῦτα; μήτε πόλει μηδεμιᾷ μήτε τῶν <ἐν> ἑκάστῃ τῶν πόλεων συνηγωνισμένων τοῖς καθεστηκόσι <μηδενὶ> μήτε πικραίνεσθαι μήτε μνησικακεῖν. [7] γὰρ τοιοῦτος φόβος τοὺς συνειδότας αὑτοῖς, ὡς ἀναγκαίοις τοῖς καθεστηκόσι καὶ κίνδυνον ἔχουσι πρόδηλον προθύμους συναγωνιστὰς ποιεῖ: ἀφεθέντες δὲ τοῦ δέους τούτου πάντες ἠπιώτεροι γενήσονται. τοῦτο δ᾽ οὐ μικρὰν ὠφέλειαν ἔχει. κατὰ μὲν δὴ πόλεις τὰ τοιαῦτ᾽ εὔηθες προλέγειν, μᾶλλον δ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ἐν δυνατῷ: ὡς δ᾽ ἂν ὑμῖν αὐτοῖς ὀφθῆτε χρώμενοι, τοιαύτην καὶ κατὰ τῶν ἄλλων προσδοκίαν παραστήσεθ᾽ ἑκάστοις.



Now, men of Athens, you must first display unanimity among yourselves for the good of the city you share and leave behind the controversies of past assemblies. Second, you all must eagerly fight together with a unified opinion for what you decide, since failing to act together or as one is not only unworthy of you and contemptible but also carries the greatest dangers. You must also remember those things which will not by themselves constrain affairs, but added to your power will make everything much easier for you. 

What then are these things? To be neither embittered nor resentful against any city or any allies of the existing powers in each city. For this fear makes those who understand that they are tied to the existing powers and are in clear danger into zealous allies. Those set free from dread will become more friendly. 


Isaiah Weir is a Sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Classical Studies.



1. Goldstein, 1968, p. 63.

2. Walsh, 2010.

3. Mirhady, 2010.

4. Goldstein, 1968, p. 4.



Goldstein, Jonathan A., and Demosthenes. The Letters of Demosthenes. New York: Columbia University Press USA, 1968.

Mirhady, David, “Demosthenes,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. ed. Michael Gagarin and Elaine Fantham. Oxford: Oxford University Press UK, 2010. 

Walsh, John, “Lamian War,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. ed. Michael Gagarin and Elaine Fantham. Oxford: Oxford University Press UK, 2010.