Things ain’t wot they used to be

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

7 January 2013

……ἐν δὲ τοῖς κατὰ τὴν πόλιν αὐτὴν θεάσασθ᾽ ὁποῖοι, ἔν τε τοῖς κοινοῖς κἀν τοῖς ἰδίοις. δημοσίᾳ μὲν τοίνυν οἰκοδομήματα καὶ κάλλη τοιαῦτα καὶ τοσαῦτα κατεσκεύασαν ἡμῖν ἱερῶν καὶ τῶν ἐν τούτοις ἀναθημάτων, ὥστε μηδενὶ τῶν ἐπιγιγνομένων ὑπερβολὴν λελεῖφθαι: ἰδίᾳ δ᾽ οὕτω σώφρονες ἦσαν καὶ σφόδρ᾽ ἐν τῷ τῆς πολιτείας ἤθει μένοντες, ὥστε τὴν Ἀριστείδου καὶ τὴν Μιλτιάδου καὶ τῶν τότε λαμπρῶν οἰκίαν εἴ τις ἄρ᾽ οἶδεν ὑμῶν ὁποία ποτ᾽ ἐστίν, ὁρᾷ τῆς τοῦ γείτονος οὐδὲν σεμνοτέραν οὖσαν: οὐ γὰρ εἰς περιουσίαν ἐπράττετ᾽ αὐτοῖς τὰ τῆς πόλεως, ἀλλὰ τὸ κοινὸν αὔξειν ἕκαστος ᾤετο δεῖν. ἐκ δὲ τοῦ τὰ μὲν Ἑλληνικὰ πιστῶς, τὰ δὲ πρὸς τοὺς θεοὺς εὐσεβῶς, τὰ δ᾽ ἐν αὑτοῖς ἴσως διοικεῖν μεγάλην εἰκότως ἐκτήσαντ᾽ εὐδαιμονίαν.

….Now consider what they [your predecessors] were like in the affairs of Athens, both public and private. In their public capacity they raised for us buildings and works of beauty both in temples and in the offerings they contained, of such quality and grandeur that no chance has been left to anyone in succeeding generations to surpass them; in their private life they were so moderate and so loyal to the spirit of the constitution that even if any of you happens to know what the house of Aristides or Miltiades or any famous men of those days is like, he sees that it is in no way more grand than his neighbour’s; for they did not conduct the city’s affairs with an eye to advantage, but each thought it his duty to increase the common good. Because they dealt faithfully with Greek affairs, piously with religion, and fairly in what concerned themselves, they naturally obtained great prosperity.


Extract from a speech in 349 BC (Olynthiac III, sections 25 and 26) to the citizens (demos) of Athens by the Athenian orator Demosthenes (384-322 BC) . Demosthenes was citing precedent to encourage the Athenians to defend their ally, the city of Olynthus in northern Greece, against aggression by “the barbarian” Philip of Macedon. Translation from a series by L.A. and R.W.L. Wilding.


In 2006 the current British Prime Minister David Cameron, then in opposition, submitted a bill to Parliament, for payment out of the public purse, to compensate him for repairs to his second home in Oxfordshire – he also has a home in London, where Parliament is situated – including the removal of a wisteria plant from the chimney. Following a public outcry over the expenses’ claims of Members of Parliament, he subsequently repaid the money.

Exercise for students of politics: write an essay comparing the public morality of Cameron and Miltiades.

Demosthenes almost certainly made his oration from the bema (rostrum) on the Pnyx hill overlooking the city of Athens. The bema is still there today, albeit not on the mass tourist trail. No politician or student of politics should visit the city without visiting this launch-pad of democracy. See the paean to ancient Athens that we wrote on leaving the city for Paris in June 2012:    Gray Paree


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Capitalism in practice  (4 July 2012) 

5.Ladder  (21 June 2012)

 6. A tale of two cities (1)  (6 June 2012)

 7. A tale of two cities (2)  (7 June 2012)

 8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


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