Demosthenes and the Price of Repentance

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 1.8

“Sotion the Peripatetic, certainly a man of decent reputation, wrote a book full of many varied investigations, which he called the ‘Horn of Amalthea,’ which has roughly the same sense as ‘Cornucopia.’ In that book we find this story written about the orator Demosthenes and the courtesan Lais. He writes: ‘Lais the Corinthian earned a great deal of money on account of the elegance and loveliness of her form, and a throng of rich and well-known men rushed to her from all of Greece, but were not admitted unless they gave her what she demanded. She was in the habit, however, of asking too much.’ Here he says that this is the origin of the old Greek adage, not every man’s vessel makes it into Corinth, because he who was unable to give to Lais what she demanded had come to her in vain.

‘Demosthenes came to her in secret and asked that she give him something of her bounty. But Lais demanded 10,000 drachmas,’ (which amounts to ten thousand denarii.) ‘Demosthenes was struck by the woman’s impudence and the greatness of the sum demanded. He was struck pale, turned away, and said as he was leaving, I would not pay so much for regret.’”


Sotion ex peripatetica disciplina haut sane ignobilis vir fuit. Is librum multae variaeque historiae refertum composuit eumque inscripsit keras Amaltheias. 2 Ea vox hoc ferme valet, tamquam si dicas “cornum Copiae”. In eo libro super Demosthene rhetore et Laide meretrice historia haec scripta est: “Lais” inquit “Corinthia ob elegantiam venustatemque formae grandem pecuniam demerebat, conventusque ad eam ditiorum hominum ex omni Graecia celebres erant, neque admittebatur, nisi qui dabat, quod poposcerat; poscebat autem illa nimium quantum.” Hinc ait natum esse illud frequens apud Graecos adagium: ou pantos andros es Korinthon esth’ho plous quod frustra iret Corinthum ad Laidem, qui non quiret dare, quod posceretur.  “Ad hanc ille Demosthenes clanculum adit et, ut sibi copiam sui faceret, petit. At Lais myrias drachmas poposcit”, hoc facit nummi nostratis denarium decem milia. “Tali petulantia mulieris atque pecuniae magnitudine ictus expavidusque Demosthenes avertitur et discedens “ego” inquit “paenitere tanti non emo”.

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