Although the following Erotic Essay is included in the corpus of Demosthenes’ orations, it is considered spurious. It pretends to be a love speech for a young man named Epicrates, but turns out to be about how to be (and how to make) a good person. That part comes later; the awkward praise part comes first.
This speech is likely epideictic, which means it was written as a sort of rhetorical practice on praise, still performed in certain contexts. Perseus has the full speech: The topic and treatment is similar to epideictic speeches like Isocrates’ Euagoras or the speech presented by Lysias in Plato’s Phaedrus (or the practice of presenting speeches on love depicted in Plato’s Symposium). Most scholars accept that this was not written by Demosthenes for reasons of style (it is not like his other speeches) and content (Demosthenes was really, really busy writing political speeches).
Demosthenes, Erotic Essay 10-16
“I will begin to praise first what people see first—the way everyone recognizes you, your beauty, the complexion by which your limbs and your whole body shines. When I search for something to compare it to, I see nothing. But it remains my right to ask those who read this speech to look at you and witness this so that I may be forgiven for providing no comparison.
What similarity could someone offer when something mortal fills its witnesses with immortal desire, whose seeing never tires, and when absent stays remembered? How, when this has a nature in human form yet worthy of the gods, so like a flower in its good form, beyond even a whiff of fault? Truly, it is not possible to seek out even those things in your appearance which have marred many others who had their share of beauty. For either they have disturbed their natural form through some tremor of character or because of some bad luck they have undermined their natural beauty to the same end.
No, we couldn’t find your beauty touched by anything like this. Whoever of the gods planned out your appearance guarded so earnestly against every type of chance that you have no feature worthy of critique—he made you entirely exceptional. Moreover, since the face is the most conspicuous of all the parts that are seen, and on that face, the eyes stand out in turn, here the divine showed it had even more good will toward you.
For not only did he provide you with eyes sufficient for seeing—and even though it is not possible to recognize virtue when some men act–he showed the noblest character by signaling through your eyes, making your glance soft and kind to those who see it, dignified and solemn to those you spend time which, and brave and wise to all.
Someone might wonder at this next thing especially. Although other men are taken as harsh because of their docility, or brash because of their solemnity, or arrogant because of their bravery, or they seem rather dull because they are quiet, chance has gathered these opposite qualities together and granted them all in agreement in you, just as if answering a prayer or deciding to make an example for others, but not crafting just a mortal, as she usually does.
If, then, it were possible to approach your beauty in speech or if these were the only of your traits worthy of praise, we would think it right to pass over no part of your advantages. But I fear that we might not trust our audience to hear the rest and that we may wear ourselves out about this in vain. How could one exaggerate your appearance when not even works made by the best artists could match them? And it is not wondrous—for artworks have an immovable appearance, so that it is unclear how would they appear if they had a soul. But your character increases the great beauty of your body with everything you do. I can praise your beauty this much, passing over many things.”
῎Αρξομαι δὲ πρῶτον ἐπαινεῖν, ὅπερ πρῶτον ἰδοῦσιν ἅπασιν ἔστιν γνῶναί σου, τὸ κάλλος, καὶ τούτου τὸ χρῶμα, δι’ οὗ καὶ τὰ μέλη καὶ ὅλον τὸ σῶμα φαίνεται. ᾧ τίν’ ἁρμόττουσαν εἰκόν’ ἐνέγκω σκοπῶν οὐχ ὁρῶ, ἀλλὰ παρίσταταί μοι δεῖσθαι τῶν ἀναγνόντων τόνδε τὸν λόγον σὲ θεωρῆσαι καὶ ἰδεῖν, ἵνα συγγνώμης τύχω μηδὲν ὅμοιον ἔχων εἰπεῖν.
τῷ γὰρ <ἂν> εἰκάσειέ τις, ὃ θνητὸν ὂν ἀθάνατον τοῖς ἰδοῦσιν ἐνεργάζεται πόθον, καὶ ὁρώμενον οὐκ ἀποπληροῖ, καὶ μεταστὰν μνημονεύεται, καὶ τὴν τῶν θεῶν ἀξίαν ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπου φύσιν ἔχει, πρὸς μὲν τὴν εὐπρέπειαν ἀνθηρόν, πρὸς δὲ τὰς αἰτίας ἀνυπονόητον; ἀλλὰ μὴν οὐδὲ ταῦτ’ ἔστιν αἰτιάσασθαι [πρὸς] τὴν σὴν ὄψιν, ἃ πολλοῖς ἄλλοις ἤδη συνέπεσεν τῶν κάλλους μετασχόντων. ἢ γὰρ δι’ἀρρυθμίαν τοῦ σχήματος ἅπασαν συνετάραξαν τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν εὐπρέπειαν, ἢ δι’ ἀτύχημά τι καὶ τὰ καλῶς πεφυκότα συνδιέβαλον αὐτῷ.
ὧν οὐδενὶ τὴν σὴν ὄψιν εὕροιμεν ἂν ἔνοχον γεγενημένην· οὕτω γὰρ σφόδρ’ ἐφυλάξατο πάσας τὰς τοιαύτας κῆρας ὅστις ποτ’ ἦν θεῶν ὁ τῆς σῆς ὄψεως προνοηθείς, ὥστε μηδὲν μέμψεως ἄξιον, τὰ δὲ πλεῖστα περίβλεπτά σου καταστῆσαι. καὶ μὲν δὴ καὶ τῶν ὁρωμένων ἐπιφανεστάτου μὲν ὄντος τοῦ προσώπου, τούτου δ’ αὐτοῦ τῶν ὀμμάτων, ἔτι μᾶλλον ἐν τούτοις ἐπεδείξατο τὴν εὔνοιαν ἣν εἶχεν εἰς σὲ τὸ δαιμόνιον. οὐ γὰρ μόνον πρὸς τὸ τὰ κατεπείγονθ’ ὁρᾶν αὐτάρκη παρέσχηται, ἀλλ’ ἐνίων οὐδ’ ἐκ τῶν πραττομένων γιγνωσκομένης τῆς ἀρετῆς, σοῦ διὰ τῶν τῆς ὄψεως σημείων τὰ κάλλιστα τῶν ἠθῶν ἐνεφάνισεν, πρᾶον μὲν καὶ φιλάνθρωπον τοῖς ὁρῶσιν, μεγαλοπρεπῆ δὲ καὶ σεμνὸν τοῖς ὁμιλοῦσιν, ἀνδρεῖον δὲ καὶ σώφρονα πᾶσιν ἐπιδείξας.
ὃ καὶ μάλιστ’ ἄν τις θαυμάσειεν· τῶν γὰρ ἄλλων ἐπὶ μὲν τῆς πραότητος ταπεινῶν, ἐπὶ δὲ τῆς σεμνότητος αὐθαδῶν ὑπολαμβανομένων, καὶ διὰ μὲν τὴν ἀνδρείαν θρασυτέρων, διὰ δὲ τὴν ἡσυχίαν ἀβελτέρων εἶναι δοκούντων, τοσαύτας ὑπεναντιώσεις πρὸς ἄλληλα λαβοῦσ’ ἡ τύχη πρὸς τὸ δέον ἅπανθ’ ὁμολογούμεν’ ἀπέδωκεν, ὥσπερ εὐχὴν ἐπιτελοῦσ’ ἢ παράδειγμα τοῖς ἄλλοις ὑποδεῖξαι βουληθεῖσα, ἀλλ’ οὐ θνητήν, ὡς εἴθιστο, φύσιν συνιστᾶσα.
εἰ μὲν οὖν οἷόν τ’ ἦν ἐφικέσθαι τῷ λόγῳ τοῦ κάλλους τοῦ σοῦ, ἢ τοῦτ’ ἦν μόνον τῶν σῶν ἀξιέπαινον, οὐδὲν ἂν παραλιπεῖν ᾠόμεθα δεῖν ἐπαινοῦντες τῶν προσόντων· νῦν δὲ δέδοικα μὴ πρός <τε> τὰ λοίπ’ ἀπειρηκόσι χρησώμεθα τοῖς ἀκροαταῖς, καὶ περὶ τούτου μάτην τερθρευώμεθα. πῶς γὰρ ἄν τις ὑπερβάλοι τῷ λόγῳ τὴν σὴν ὄψιν, ἧς μηδ’ ἃ τέχνῃ πεποίηται τῶν ἔργων τοῖς ἀρίστοις δημιουργοῖς δύναται ὑπερτεῖναι; καὶ θαυμαστὸν οὐδέν· τὰ μὲν γὰρ ἀκίνητον ἔχει τὴν θεωρίαν, ὥστ’ ἄδηλ’ εἶναι τί ποτ’ ἂν ψυχῆς μετασχόντα φανείη, σοῦ δὲ τὸ τῆς γνώμης ἦθος ἐν πᾶσιν οἷς ποιεῖς μεγάλην εὐπρέπειαν ἐπαυξάνει τῷ σώματι. περὶ μὲν οὖν τοῦ κάλλους πολλὰ παραλιπών, τοσαῦτ’ ἐπαινέσαι ἔχω.