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THE speech against Leptines was delivered in B.C. Some time before, perhaps in the previous year, Leptines had proposed and carried a law which repealed all grants of exemption from the ordinary AETOUрyía of the State, except those made to the descendants of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, and declared it unlawful to propose any similar grants in the future. The law was based on the difficulty which had been recently experienced in finding a sufficient number of qualified persons to undertake the Aerovpyia, and justified by the fact that some who had enjoyed the exemption were unworthy of the privilege. It was, however, not likely that a measure prejudicially affecting so many private rights should remain unchallenged, and we learn that before the present action Leptines had been threatened with three prosecutions (§ 145). One of these had fallen through from the death of its promoter, Bathippus, and the other two had in some way or other been compromised by Leptines. Meanwhile the time had expired during which he could be personally held liable for proposing an illegal measure, and all that it was now competent for an objector to do was to move the rejection of the law before the νομοθέται. This was done conjointly by two of the aggrieved persons, Apsephion, son of Bathippus, and Ctesippus,
son of the famous general Chabrias. Apsephion was supported by Phormion, Ctesippus by Demosthenes. The case was opened by Apsephion and Phormion, so that the speech of Demosthenes, though probably the most important in the case, was the last of the series delivered on his side of the question. It is entitled πρὸς Λεπτίνην, not κατὰ Λεπτίνου, because Leptines was not in the position of defendant in an action, but of an opponent on a matter of State policy, so that the speech was not directed personally against him, but rather in answer to his arguments.
The speech against Leptines has always held a high place in the estimation both of ancient and of modern critics. It is described by Dionysius of Halicarnassus1 as χαριέστατος ἁπάντων τῶν λόγων καὶ yрapiкúтαTоs; Cicero 2 praises it as characterised throughout by subtlety. F. A. Wolf, while emphasising this judgment of Cicero's, adds that it is no less distinguished for its truthfulness, and the beauty and nobility of its sentiments, as well as for the force and cogency of its arguments. Among the semipublic orations, delivered before the law-courts but involving points of public policy, he places it next to the speech upon the Crown. Dr. Donaldson praises it for the great knowledge which it displays of the laws and history of Athens, for its acute reasoning, and its powerful declamation.
Demosthenes begins his speech by urging the general injustice and impolicy of the measure introduced by Leptines. It was unjust, first towards the
1 Ad. Ammaeum, p. 724.
2 Orator, c. 31, 111: 'Multae sunt eius orationes totae subtiles, ut contra Leptinem.'
3 Proleg. in Orat. Lept., §§ 42-44.
4 Hist. of Greek Literature, ii. 330.
people, whom it deprived of their power to bestow honours, because they had sometimes been bestowed upon unworthy objects; and secondly towards the worthy holders of the privilege, who would be punished for the misdeeds of other men. It was
impolitic, both as removing a powerful stimulus to patriotic action, and as destroying men's faith in the honour of democratic governments, whose gifts had hitherto been looked upon as more secure than those of oligarchies or tyrants (§§ 1-17).
The counterbalancing advantages would be infinitesimal. The number of persons enjoying the immunity was very small, and all the richer men among them were liable to the trierarchy, which would itself exempt them from the other 'liturgies,' whilst admitting in turn of no exemptions whatsoever. The treasury would rather lose than gain, for the privilege had enabled some to contribute to the extraordinary expenses of the State, whose means would otherwise have been exhausted by the ordinary 'liturgies' (§§ 18-27).
The action of the law would be especially prejudicial where it operated against foreigners who had done distinguished service to the State; as in the case of Leucon, who had shown singular generosity in befriending the Athenian corn trade; and Epicerdes, who had so signally relieved the Athenian distress at the close of the Sicilian expedition. If they proved faithless and ungrateful to such benefactors, how could they look for similar services in the future? Nor was it only individuals, but whole States whom they would wrong; as notably the Corinthians, whose friendliness to Athens forty years before had caused the exile of all the democratical leaders in that city (§§ 28-66).
Looking at home, he might instance Conon and. Chabrias as men who had well deserved the honours which they had received. Was it well for Athens to withdraw these honours from their sons, when foreign nations, and in the case of Chabrias, even the Chians, against whom he had himself conducted a victorious campaign, regarded as inviolable the honours. which they had granted? (§§ 67-87).
All that Leptines could fairly ask was conceded by the bill which his antagonists had introduced, and which they pledged themselves to persevere with, securing all deserving persons in their privileges, but enabling the State to deprive others of the exemption on proof of their unworthiness. This was the fair and constitutional mode of proceeding, whereas the law of Leptines was inconsistent with another law, ' that what the people gave should be secure ;' besides being irregular in other points (§§ 88-101).
The example of other States, even. if correctly quoted, was of no force in Athens, where customs and temper were so very different; nor was there much more point in bringing forward the practice of their own ancestors, who, if they did not grant exemptions, yet rewarded merit in other ways, and at any rate never revoked what they had once granted (§§ 102-119).
It did not mend matters to say that Leptines left other rewards untouched; for even those who were thereby left in possession of some portion of their privileges would feel that they had been robbed of others which should have been no less secure (§§ 120124).
The most unscrupulous of his arguments was that the 'liturgies' came under the head of religious duties, from which no one ought to have exemption.