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For The Megapolitans   


[_Introduction_. In 371 B.C. the Thebans under Epaminondas defeated the Spartans
at Leuctra, and, assisted by Thebes, the Arcadians and Messenians threw off the
Spartan yoke. The former founded Megalopolis as their common centre, the latter
Messene. But after the death of Epaminondas in 362, Thebes was left without a
leader; and when, in 355, she became involved in the 'Sacred War' with the
Phocians, the new Peloponnesian states turned towards Athens, and Messene
received a solemn promise of Athenian assistance, if ever she was attacked by
Sparta. In 353 Thebes was suffering considerably from the Sacred War, and the
Spartans made an ingenious attempt to recover their power, in the form of a
proposal for the restoration of territory to its original owners. This meant
that Athens would recover Oropus, which had been in the hands of Thebes since
366, and had previously been the subject of a long-standing dispute; that
Orchomenus, Thespiae, and Plataeae, which had all been overthrown by Thebes,
would be restored; and that Elis and Phlius would also recover certain lost
possessions. All these states would then be morally bound (so the Spartans
thought) to help Sparta to reconquer Arcadia and Messenia.

On the occasion of this speech (delivered in 353) the Megalopolitans had
appealed to Athens, and an Arcadian and a Spartan embassy had each had an
audience of the Assembly, and had each received strong support from Athenian
speakers. The principal motives of the supporters of Sparta were their hostility
to Thebes, and their desire not to break with the Spartans, whom Athens had
assisted at Mantineia in 362 against the Thebans and Megalopolitans. Demosthenes
supports the Arcadians, and lays great stress on the desirability of maintaining
a balance of power between Sparta and Thebes, so that neither might become too
strong. To allow Sparta to reconquer Arcadia, and, as the next step, Messenia,
would be to render her too formidable; and to reject the proposal of Sparta
would not preclude Athens from recovering Oropus and demanding the restoration
of the Boeotian towns. But the promise of assistance to the Arcadians should be
accompanied by a request for the termination of their alliance with Thebes.

Demosthenes' advice was not followed. In fact Athens was hardly in a position to
risk becoming entangled in a war with Sparta, particularly in view of the danger
to her northern possessions from Philip. She therefore remained neutral, while
the Thebans, relieved from the pressure of the Sacred War owing to the defeat of
the Phocian leader Onomarchus by Philip, were able to send aid to Megalopolis. A
truce between Sparta and Megalopolis was made about 350. It was, however, a
result of the neutrality of Athens, that she was unable, a few years later, to
secure the support of the Arcadians against Philip, whose allies they
subsequently became.

Lord Brougham describes the oration as 'one of extraordinary subtlety and
address in handling delicate topics'; and, after quoting the passage in which
Demosthenes urges the necessity of maintaining a balance of power between rival
states, adds that 'this is precisely the language of modern policy'. At the same
time, the speech has in places a somewhat academic and theoretical air: it is
much occupied with the weighing of hypothetical considerations and obligations
against one another: and though it enunciates some plain and reasonable
political principles, and makes an honest attempt to satisfy those who wished to
help the Arcadians, but at the same time desired to regain ground against
Thebes, it is not always convincing, and the tone is more frankly opportunist
than is usually the case with Demosthenes.]

{1} I think, men of Athens, that those who have spoken on the Arcadian side and
those who have spoken on the Spartan, are alike making a mistake. For their
mutual accusations and their attacks upon one another would suggest that they
are not, like yourselves, Athenians, receiving the two embassies, but actually
delegates of the two states. Such attacks it was for the two deputations to
make. The duty of those who claim to advise you here was to discuss the
situation impartially, and to inquire, in an uncontentious spirit, what course
is best in your interests.

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