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Phocion

Phocion

 

PhocionAthens, during all the period of its democratic government, had an aristocratic party, and a succession of aristocratic leaders. These were usually men of ancient and wealthy families, who took an active part in public affairs, were personally respected for their probity, and often manifested a philosophic contempt for luxury. These estimable aristocrats were at times entrusted by the despised people with the highest offices and commands j yet their efforts were mainly directed towards repressing the natural movement of the people aud their chosen system of government. No better type of this class ean be found than Phaeton, the strenuous opponent of Demosthenes. This sternly upright statesman, whose private virtues, in a time of general eomlption, won for him the surname of "The Good," was yet the ready instrument in subjecting his native city to the power of Philip of Macedon.

 

Phocion was born at Athens about the year 402 B.C. He received an excellent education and attended the lectures of Plato. His military training was commenced under Chabrias, an experienced commander. By him Phocion, while yet a young man, was commisioned with twenty galleys to collect tribute from the allies of Athens. But he sagely objected to the size of the fleet, saying, "To meet enemies the force was insufficient i to visit friends it was needlessly great." Chabrias then allowed him to go with a single galley, which he provided at bis own expense. He made this mission unusually accept-able, and numerous vessels of the allies voluntarily attended him home, bearing the full amount of tribute. 'rhis was the first time within memory that the expense of equipping an expedition had been undertaken by individuals.

 

In the naval battle of Naxos, in September, 376, Phocion commanded the left wing of the fleet, and contributed largely by his skillful tactics to obtain a signal victory over the Spartans. Athens then gave Phocion the command of the forces sent to the aid of Plutarch against Philip of Macedon expecting that the Euboeans would immediately rise and join him. But Phocion found them corrupted by Philip's money and disaffected to their own country. Plutarch himself repaid his benefactors with ingratitude, and endeavored openly to repulse the army he had requested. However, Phocion on the plains of Tamynae won a decided victory, and expelled Plutarch from Eretria. He then took the Fort of Zaretra, advantageously situated on a point at the end of the island. After this success he sailed back to Athens.

 

Philip now determined, if possible, to gain possession of the Chersonesus, Perinthus and Byzantium, but was still very cautions of displeasing the Athenians. At least whilst besieging Byzantines, he wrote to them a letter upbraiding them in the strongest terms for their infraction of treaties. Demosthenes told the Athenians that this letter was a plain declaration of war, and Phocion being general, led bis troops to the succor of the Byzantines. His prudence and the bravery of his army forced Philip to abandon his design. Phocion captured some of his ships, recovered many fortresses, and drove him from the Hellespont. The King of Macedon now made overtures of peace. Phocion, apprehcnsive of the ullcertainty of supplies, urged the Athenians to accept his offers ; but Demostheues, believing that Philip's only view was to gain time, prevented them from listening to pacific proposals. Demosthenes advised that the war should be carried on as far as possible from Attica. This drew from Phocion, the experienced general, the remark: "My good friend, consider not so much where we shall fight, as how we shall conquer; for victory is the only thing that can keep war at a distance: if we are beaten, every danger will soon be at our gates. The Athenians did lose the day at Chreronaea 338 B.C., and then decided, against the advice of Phocion, that Athens should be comprehended in the general peace, made at Corinth, and as .one of the States of Greece, should have the same terms with the other cities. 'When, afterwards, the Athenians repented, because they were obliged to furnish Philip with vessels and cavalry, Phocion observed, "This was the thing I feared; and on it my opposition was founded. But since you have signed the treaty, you must bear its inconveniences withont murmuring or despondence; remembering that your ancestors sometimes gave law to their neighbors, and sometim es were forced to submit, but did both with honor; and by that means saved themselves and all Greece.

 

When the news of Philip's death was brought to Athcns, Phocion would not pennit any public rejoicing. "Nothing," said he, It could show greater meanuess of spirit than expressions of joy on the death of an enemy, Demosthenes, with all the power of his oratory, now urged the Athenians against submitting to Alexander, whose military abilities were soon shown in his capture of "hebes. Phociotl directlr opposed Demosthencs. "when you see," he remarked, "such a dreadful fire near you, could you plunge Athens into it? For my part, I will not suffer you to ruin yourselves, though your inclinations lie that way; and to prevent every step of that kind is lhe end I proposed in taking the command." Phocion, in an embassy to Alexander, advised him, "If tranquillity be your object, put an end to your wars; if glory, leave the Greeks in quiet, and turn your arms against the barbarians." Alexander followed his suggestion, and was pleased to say, "The people of Athens must be very attentive to the affairs of Greece: for if anything happens to me, the supreme direction will devolve upon them." He afterwards sent to Phocion a present of a hundred talents, which the incorruptible patriot unhesitatingly refused. Again was be offercd br the same monarch the choice of one of fom Asiatic cities; but his gift the Athenian likewise declined.

 

After the death of Alexander in 323 B.C., Phocion pursued bis usual line of policy in the Lamian war, by which Athens sought to regain independence. When that conflict had eventuated unfavorably for Athens, he was sent to treat with Alltipater, King of Macedon, for peace. In this be succeeded, and Antipater, recognizing his high personal character, vested in him the chief authority of Athens. But 12,000 citizens were disfranchised, and the anti-Macedon ian leaders put to death. Thus was the voice of the democracy silenced.

 

But the death of Antipater, in 318, renewed the troubles. The Athenians returning held an assembly, and voted the complete re-establishment of democracy, and the death or banishment of all who had held office in the oligarchy, of whom the most conspicuous was Phocion. The exiles fled to the camp of Alexander, son of Polysperchon, and were sent by him to his father's court. They were followed thither by an Athenian embassy, which demanded their surrender. Polysperchon gave up the fugitives. When Phocion and the others were brought before the assembly, their voices were drowned by the clamor of their judges. Everyone who attempted to speak in favor of the accused was hooted down as a traitor to democracy. They were all condemned to die. One wretch is said to have spat on Phocion, as he and the others were led back to prison. With unruffled composure he only looked towards the magistrates and asked, "Will no one stop this man's indecency?" Phocion was the last of the prisoners to die 317 B.C. Before he drank the hemlock, he was asked if he had any message for his son he replied bid him cherish no resentment against the Athenians."The people soon repented of their hasty act; they erected to Phocion a statue of brass, and honored his remains with a public funeral. His principal accuser was put to death, and the others driven into exile.

 

Phocion, though not eloquent, was a singularly ready and acute debater, and his opinion carried weight from his well established character for uprightness. In politics his distrust of the people led him to counsel peace, and to side with the Macedonian party. His motives were pure and unselfish, and his desire for peace sincere. Yet as a warrior he possessed eminent ability, and was elected annually to the office of general no less than forty-five times. He lived in unostentatious frugality. He is most conspicuous as the unrelenting adversary of Demosthenes. The great orator recognized his opponent's influence, and when Phocion rose to speak, whispered to his friends,"Here comes the chopper of my speeches." Phocion was the last of the Athenian statesmen who combined the characters of legislator and general.

 

PHOCION'S SAYlNGS.

 

Phocion was one of the most humane and best-tempered men in the world, and yet he had so in-natured and forbidding a look that strangers were afraid to address him without company. Therefore, when Chares, the orator, observed to the Athenians what terrible brows Phocion had, and they could not help enjoying the remark, be calmly said, "This brow of mille never gave one of you an hour of sorrow; but the laughter of these sneerers has cost their country many a tear. In like manner, though the measures he proposed were happy ones, and his counsels of the most salutary kiud, yet he used no flowers of rhetoric; his speeches were concise, commanding, and severe. For, as Zeno says, that a philosopher should never let a word come out of his mouth that is not strongly tinctured with sense, so Phocion's oratory contained the most sense in the fewest words. And it seems that Polyeuctus, the Sphettian, had this view when he said, Demosthenes was the better orator, and Phocion the more persuasive speaker." His speeches were to be estimated like coins, not for the size, but for the intrinsic value. Agreeably to which we are told that one day, when the theatre was full of people, Phocion was observed behind the scenes wrapt up in thought, when one of his friends took occasion to say, What at your meditations, Phocion?"Yes," said he, " I am considering whether I cannot shorten what I have to say to the Athenians." His influence with the people is chiefly to bc ascribed to the excellence of his character, since a word or a 110d from a person revered for his virtue is of more weight than the most elaborate speeches of other men.

 

Phocion not only honored and paid his court to Chabrias as long as he lived, but, after his death, continued his attentions to all that belonged to him. With his son, Ctesippus, he took peculiar care to form him to virtue; and though he found him very stupid and untractable, yet be still labored to correct his errors, as well as to conceal them. Once, indeed, his patience failed him. In one of his expeditions the young man was so troublesome with unseasonable questions and attempts to give advice, as if he knew how to direct the operations better than the general, that at last he cried out, "0 Chabrias, Chabrias! what a return do I make thee forthy favors, in bearing with the impertinencies of thy son.

 

He observed that those who took upon them the management of public affairs made two departments of them-the civil and the military, which they shared as it were by lot. Pursuant to this division, Demosthenes, Lycurgus and Hyperides addressed the people from the rostrum, and proposed new edicts while Leosthenes and Chares raised themselves by the honors and employments of the camp. But Phocion chose rather to move in the line of Pericles, Aristides and Solon, who excelled not only as orators, but as generals, for he thought their fame more complete; and he knew that the tutelar goddess of Athens was equally the patroness of arts and anus.

 

When an oracle from Delphi was read in the assembly, importing, "That the rest of the Athenians were unanimous in their opinions, and there was only one man who dissented from them," Phocion forthwith arose and said, "They need not give themselves any trouble in inquiring for this refractory citizen, for he was the man who liked not anything they did." And another time in a public debate, when bis opinion happened to be received with universal applause, he turned to his friends and said, "Have I inadvertently let some bad thing slip from me?"

 

The Athenians were one day making a collection to defray the expense of a public sacrifice, and numbers gave liberally. Phoeion was importuned to contribute among the rest, but he bade them apply to the rich. "I should be ashamed," said he, "to give you anything, and not to pay this man what lowe him in pointing to the usurer Callicles. And as they continued very clamorous and teasing, he told them this tale: "A cowardly fellow once resolved to make a campaign; but when he was set out the ravens began to croak,and be laid down his anus and stopped. When the first alarm was a little over, he marched again. The ravens renewed their croaking, and then he made a full stop, and
said, "You may croak your hearts out if you choose, but you shall not taste my carcass.'

 

The Athenians once insisted on his leading them against the enemy, and when he refused, they told him nothing could be more dastardly and spiritless than his behavior. He answered, "You can neither make me valiant, nor can I make you cowards; however, we know one another very well."

 

Public affairs happening to be in a dangerous situation, the people were greatly exasperated against him, and de· manded an immediate account of his conduct. Upon which he only said, My good friends, first get out of your difficulties. "

 

During a war, however, they were generally humble and submissive, and it was not till after peace was made that they began to talk in a vaunting manner, and to find fault with their general. As they were one time telling Phocion he had robbed them of the victory which was in their hands, he said, "It is Imppy for yon that you have a general who knows you; otherwise you would have been ruined long ago."

 

Having a diference with the Bceotians, which they refused to settle by treaty, and proposed to decide by the sword, Phocioll said " Good people, keep to the method in which you have the advantage; and that is talking not fighting." One day, determined not to follow his advice, they refused to g ive him a hearing. But he said, "Though you can make me act against my judgment you shall never make me speak so."

 

Demosthenes, the greatest orator of the adverse party, happening to say, "The Athenians will certainly kill thee, Phocion, if they get mad," he answered, "They may kill me, if they get mad; but it will be you, if they are in their senses. When Polyeuclus, the Sphettian, advised the Athenians to make war upon Philip, the weather being hot, and the orator a corpulent man, he ran himself out of breath, and perspired so violently that he was forced to take several draughts or cold water before he could finish his speech. Phocion, seeing him in stich a condition, thus addressed the assembly- You have great reason to pass an edict for the war upon this man's recommendation. For what are you not to expect from him when, loaded with a suit of armor, he marches against the enemy, if in delivering to yon peaceable folks a speech he had composed at his leisure, he is ready to be suffocated?" Lycurgus, the orator, one day said many disparaging things of him in the general assembly, and, among the rest, observed that when Alexander demanded ten of their orators, Phocion gave it as his opinion that they should be delivered to him.n"It is true," said Phocion, "I have given the people of Athens much good counsel; but they do not follow it."

 

All these sayings have something so severe in them that it seems strange that a man of such austere and unpopular manners should ever get the surname of "The Good." It is indeed difficult, but I believe not impossible, for the same man to be both rough and gentle, as some wines are both sweet and sour and, on the other hand, some men who have a great appearance of gentleness in their temper are very harsh and vexatious to those who have to do with them. In this case, the saying of Hyperides to the people of Athens deserves notice: " Examine not whether I am severe upon yon, but whether I am so for my own sake." As if it were avarice only that makes a minister odious to the people, and the abuse of power to the purposes of pride, envy, anger or revenge, did not make a man equally obnoxious.-PLUTARCH.

 

Phocion

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