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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

William Davis, A Day in Old Athens


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Page 9

Debating a Proposition


    "Resolved by the Boule, the tribe Leontis holding the prytany, and Heraclides being clerk, upon the motion of Timon the son of Timon the Eleusinian,[8] that"—and then in formal language it is proposed to increase the garrison of the allied city of Byzantium [a megarian colony where Constantinople was later built, opening the Byzantine period of Greek history] by 500 hired Arcadian mercenaries, since the king of Thrace is threatening that city, and its continued possession is absolutely essential to the free import of grain into Attica.

    There is a hush of expectancy; a craning of necks.

    "Who wishes to speak?" calls the herald.

    After a decent pause Timon, the mover of the measure, comes forward. He is a fairly well-known character and commands a respectable faction among the Demos. There is some little clapping, mixed with jeering, as he mounts the Bema. The president of the prytanes—as evidence that he has now the right to harangue—hands him a myrtle wreath which he promptly claps on his head, and launches into his argument. Full speedily he has convinced at least a large share of the audience that it was sheer destruction to leave Byzantium without an efficient garrison. Grain would soon be at famine prices if the town were taken, etc., etc. The only marvel is that the merciful gods have averted the disaster so long in the face of such neglect.

    Why had the board of strategi, responsible in such matters, neglected this obvious duty? [Cheers intermixed with catcalls.] This was not the way the men who won Marathon had dealt with dangers, nor later worthies like Nicias or Thrasybulus. [More cheers and catcalls.] He winds up with a splendid invocation to Earth, Sky, and Justice to bear witness that all this advice is given solely with a view to the weal of Athens.

    "He had Isocrates teach him how to launch that peroration," mutters a crabbed old citizen behind his peak-trimmed beard, as Timon descends amid mingled applause and derision.

    "Very likely; Iphicrates is ready to answer him," replies a fellow.

    "Who wishes to speak?" the herald demands again. From a place directly before the Bema a well-known figure, the elderly general, Iphicrates, is rising. At a nod from the president, he mounts the Bema and assumes the myrtle. He has not Timon's smooth tones nor oratorical manner. He is a man of action and war, and no tool of the Agora coteries. A salvo of applause greets him. Very pithily he observes that Byzantium will be safe enough if the city will only be loyal to the Athenian alliance. Athens needs all her garrisons nearer home. Timon surely knows the state of the treasury. Is he going to propose a special tax upon his fellow countrymen to pay for those 500 mercenaries? [Loud laughter and derisive howls directed at Timon.] Athens needs to keep her strength for real dangers; and those are serious enough, but not at Byzantium. At the next meeting he and the other strategi will recommend—etc., etc. When Iphicrates quits the Bema there is little left of Timon's fine "Earth, Sky and Justice."


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