Slandering Demosthenes for his Slick Style: Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 1.5.1


“Tradition has it that Demosthenes was excessively sharp, charming and neat in his apparel and other habits. Because of this he was mocked by his rivals for “expensive dressing gowns” and soft, fine tunics. For this reason too, they didn’t avoid describing him with vulgar and profane words, to the point that he was said to be barely a man and one with a hard-used mouth too.”

Demosthenen traditum est vestitu ceteroque cultu corporis nitido venustoque nimisque accurato fuisse. Et hinc ei τὰ κομψὰ illa χλανίσκα et μαλακοὶ χιτωνίσκοι ab aemulis adversariisque probro data, hinc etiam turpibus indignisque in eum verbis non temperatum, quin parum vir et ore quoque polluto diceretur.

The Loeb by John C. Rolfe (1927) translates ore quoque polluto as “he was even guilty of unnatural vice”. Clearly, this is not a literal translation. For us, “polluted” or “unclean” mouth doesn’t quite do the work. I am not entirely satisfied with “a hard-used mouth”, but I wasn’t sure where to go without stooping to vulgarity. I have no problem with the profane—but I prefer to save the dirty language for when the Latin or Greek is dirty too.

Demosthenes Drank Water; Aeschines Drank Wine (Philostratus, Livesof the Sophists 507-8)

“The conflict between Aeschines and Demosthenes began in part because of the fact that the one acted on behalf of the King and the other acted for another—as it seems to me. But there was also a difference of character: and hatred always seems to develop from characters that are strongly opposed to one another without any other cause. And the two were opposed for these reasons. Aeschines was a man who liked to drink, but he was sweet and had kind manners and he had the general charm of Dionysus; indeed, when he was in his youth he played parts for the tragic actors. But Demosthenes had a downcast face, a heavy brow, and he drank water: and for this reason he was assumed a ill-tempered and bad-mannered man….”

διαφορᾶς δ’ ἦρξεν Αἰσχίνῃ καὶ Δημοσθένει καὶ αὐτὸ μὲν τὸ ἄλλον ἄλλῳ βασιλεῖ πολιτεύειν, ὡς δ’ ἐμοὶ φαίνεται, τὸ ἐναντίως ἔχειν καὶ τῶν ἠθῶν, ἐξ ἠθῶν γὰρ ἀλλήλοις ἀντιξόων φύεται μῖσος αἰτίαν οὐκ ἔχον. ἀντιξόω δ’ ἤστην καὶ διὰ τάδε• ὁ μὲν Αἰσχίνης φιλοπότης τε ἐδόκει καὶ ἡδὺς καὶ ἀνειμένος καὶ πᾶν τὸ ἐπίχαρι ἐκ Διονύσου ᾑρηκώς, καὶ γὰρ δὴ καὶ τοῖς βαρυστόνοις ὑποκριταῖς τὸν ἐν μειρακίῳ χρόνον ὑπετραγῴδησεν, ὁ δ’ αὖ συννενοφώς τε ἐφαίνετο καὶ βαρὺς τὴν ὀφρὺν καὶ ὕδωρ πίνων, ὅθεν [ἐν] δυσκόλοις τε καὶ δυστρόποις ἐνεγράφετο…

Sententiae in Antiquitatem: Johnson on Athenian Barbarism

Sir Adam introduced the ancient Greeks and Romans. JOHNSON: “Sir, the mass of both of them were barbarians. The mass of every people must be barbarous where there is no printing, and consequently knowledge is not generally diffused. Knowledge is diffused among our people by the news-papers.” Sir Adam mentioned the orators, poets and artists of Greece. JOHNSON: “Sir, I am talking of the mass of the people. We see even what the boasted Athenians were. The little effect which Demosthenes’s orations had upon them, shews that they were barbarians.”

-Boswell, Life of Johnson, p. 410 (New York: The Modern Library)

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”.