Dēmos · Classical Athenian Democracy · a Stoa Publication

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A Summary of: Libanius, Hypotheses to the Orations of Demosthenes

Craig Gibson, trans., edition of April 30, 2003

· Translator’s Introduction ·

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Demosthenes (Dem. 1).
Demosthenes (Dem. 11).
Demosthenes (Dem. 13).
Demosthenes (Dem. 21).
Demosthenes (Dem. 23).
Demosthenes (Dem. 22).
Demosthenes (Dem. 24).
Demosthenes (Dem. 25).
Demosthenes (Dem. 26).
Demosthenes (Dem. 59).
Demosthenes (Dem. 58).
Demosthenes (Dem. 57).
Demosthenes (Dem. 27).
Demosthenes (Dem. 31).
Demosthenes (Dem. 54).
Demosthenes (Dem. 39).
Demosthenes (Dem. 40).
Demosthenes (Dem. 36).
Demosthenes (Dem. 45).
Demosthenes (Dem. 46).
Demosthenes (Dem. 32).
Demosthenes (Dem. 37).
Demosthenes (Dem. 38).
Demosthenes (Dem. 35).
Demosthenes (Dem. 34).
Demosthenes (Dem. 33).
Demosthenes (Dem. 55).
Demosthenes (Dem. 52).
Demosthenes (Dem. 51).
Demosthenes (Dem. 50).
Demosthenes (Dem. 49).
Demosthenes (Dem. 53).
Demosthenes (Dem. 42).
Demosthenes (Dem. 41).
Demosthenes (Dem. 48).
Demosthenes (Dem. 56).
Demosthenes (Dem. 47).
Demosthenes (Dem. 43).
Demosthenes (Dem. 44).
Demosthenes (Dem. 12).
Demosthenes (Dem. 60).
Demosthenes (Dem. 61).
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1 Libanius (A.D. 314-c. 393) was a well known public speaker, teacher, and writer who studied at Athens, taught rhetoric at Constantinople and Nicomedia and Antioch, and produced an enormous corpus of extant writings including a very colorful autobiography, 63 other speeches, about 1600 letters, 51 declamations (many on historical and mythological themes), and a large collection of model rhetorical exercises, presumably for use in his own teaching. Among his earliest known writings is a collection of introductions (hypotheseis) to the orations of the Classical Athenian orator Demosthenes (384-322 B.C.). The hypotheses treat a corpus of 58 speeches in 57 hypotheses, the two speeches “Against Aristogeiton” (our items 25 and 26) being treated together under one hypothesis. With this exception, Libanius’ Demosthenic corpus includes the same speeches as ours, but in a different order: 1-11, 13-21, 23, 22, 24, 25+26, 59, 58, 57, 27-31, 54, 39-40, 36, 45-46, 32, 37-38, 35, 34, 33, 55, 52, 51, 50, 49, 53, 42, 41, 48, 56, 47, 43-44. He does not give hypotheses for the “Letter of Philip” (our item 12), the “Funeral Oration” (60), the “Essay on Love” (61), the letters, or the demegoric prooemia.

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Aristotle (Aristot. Rh.).
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Caronia (in text as “Caleacte”).

Several features of the hypotheses are worth noting here. Libanius’ hypotheses are not simply summaries of Demosthenes’ speeches. Summary does play a major role in the hypotheses to the longer speeches, but Libanius’ main task was to read each speech and reconstruct the history of events leading up to it. The hypotheses do not pretend to replace the experience of reading the speeches; they are intended simply to serve as introductions for the novice reader. The length of individual hypotheses varies, dictated mostly by the complexity of the case at hand and the amount of background material that Libanius believes needs to be provided in order for someone to read the speech with understanding. The hypotheses contain no point-by-point commentaries on the speeches, no discussions of historical problems or dates, and only a few overt glosses of unfamiliar words and items of Classical Athenian culture (e.g. the Theoric Fund, cleruchies, the Dionysia, the Areopagus). Public and private orations are given equal time, a rarity in the ancient scholarship on Demosthenes. Rhetorical and stylistic criticism occur in discussions of authenticity; Libanius, not surprisingly, shows familiarity with Hermogenic stasis theory and stylistic classifications by “type” (idea) and “character” (character). Sources used in the hypotheses include the orations of Demosthenes’ political enemy Aeschines, Lycurgus’ (now lost) “Against Aristogeiton,” Aristotle’s Rhetoric, a work called the Philippic Histories (by Theopompus?), Atticist lexica, earlier commentaries on Demosthenes (including perhaps those by Didymus Chalcenterus), and possibly AnaximenesRhetoric to Alexander and the rhetorical works of Caecilius of Caleacte. Polemic is generally absent, but on several occasions Libanius challenges the views of earlier, anonymous scholars on the authenticity of speeches and the proper classification of speeches into groups.

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Plutarch (Plut. Mor.).
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The collection opens with a dedication to Lucius Caelius Montius (proconsul of Constantinople in A.D. 352), a biography similar to the ones found in Plutarch and in the Moralia, an elementary overview of Classical Greek history, and a lacunose discussion of Demosthenes’ achievements in the three branches of oratory (judicial, deliberative, epideictic). The dedication reads as follows:

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Homer (Hom. Il.).
Athenaeus (Athen.).
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Troy (in text as “Trojan”).
Rome (in text as “Roman”).

“Most excellent of proconsuls, Montius: Since, like Homer’s character Asteropaeus,2 you are ‘ambidexterous’ in your literary studies, hold first place in the Latin language, and by common consent have obtained the privileges of a Roman education, while you have not been neglectful of the Greek language, since you are also able to excel in it due to the greatness of your character, but rather are devoting your time both to other authors and the most accomplished of the Greek orators Demosthenes, and furthermore wanted me to write up hypotheses of his speeches for you, we gladly accept the task, for we know it brings more honor than labor, but we will begin the book with a biography of the orator, not narrating the whole thing, for that would be excessive, but rather mentioning only those things that also seem to contribute to a more exact knowledge of the speeches.”


This is a summary of, or introduction to, a longer article that is part of Dēmos: Classical Athenian Democracy. You can also read the whole article.