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Athenian Political Art from the fifth and fourth centuries BCE: Images of Historical Individuals 

Amy C. Smith, edition of January 18 2003

page 6 of 14

· Demosthenes ·

(orator/speechwriter, ca. 384-322)

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Plutarch (Plut. Vit. X Or.).
Pausanias (Paus.).
Plutarch (Plut. Dem.).
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Evidence: Several written sources attest portraits of Demosthenes, of which only one was certainly Greek. Ps.-Plut. Vit. X orat., Demosth. 874a mentions a statue of Demosthenes sculpted by Polyeuktos and commissioned by the Athenians 42 years ago his death (i.e., in 280), in the Agora of Athens, near the Altar of the Twelve Gods. Even the accompanying inscription, an elegaic couplet, is transcribed in this source: “If thy strength had only been equal to thy purposes, Demosthenes, never would the Greeks have been ruled by a Macedonian Ares” (trans. R.E. Wycherley, Agora 3, no. 698). Plut. Dem. 30.5-31.1 adds that this statue was bronze, that it showed Demosthenes with interlaced hands, and tells a story about a soldier who placed gold inside the hands of the statue, and returned later to find the gold intact, hidden by the leaves of a neighboring tree; the people responded that this illustrated the incorruptibility of Demosthenes (a comparable story is reported in Suda s.v. “Demosthenes” [delta, 455]). Pausanias also saw this statue, which he noted after those of the Eponymous Heroes (Paus. 1.8.2-4). The original portrait sculpted by Polyeuktos is thought to be that copied in at least 50 known examples (most found in Rome), three of which include the body. The identification of these monuments as copies of Demosthenes’ portrait hinges on a small bronze bust, inscribed ΔΗΜΟΣΘΕΝΗΣ (“Demosthenes”) on the chest, found in 1753 in the Villa of the Papyri, Herculaneum [1], together with similar busts of Zeno, Epicurus, and Hermarchus. (This and other important copies are listed below.) The copies consistently depict a man in his fifties, with a wrinkled, oval face, a furrowed forehead, bushy eyebrows, thin cheeks, a long, pointed, slightly aquiline nose, deep set eyes, short, curly hair, and a tidy beard, a closed mouth with thin lips crowned by a thick mustache. The worried, tight-lipped visage reflects the severe expression and harsh character that were said to have been part of Demosthenes’ appearance (Plut. Dem. 1.3.6.)

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Cicero (Cic. Orat.).
Phrynichus (Phryn. Epit.).
Christodoros (Christod. Ecphr. in Grk. Anth.).
Pausanias (Paus.).
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Roman copies of a portrait of Demosthenes are attested by Cicero (Cic. Orat. 110), who saw a bronze portrait in the Villa of M. Brutus at Tusculum. Polemon of Smyrna dedicated a bronze statue of Demosthenes in the Asklepieion at Pergamum (in the time of Hadrian), according to Phrynichos, Epit. p. 421 ed. Lobeck). Christodoros in Ecphr. in Grk. Anth. 2.23 ff., cites a bronze statue in the Zeuxippos at Constantinople. He provides no factual description, so it is unclear whether this statue was Polyeuktos’ original, a copy thereof, or another statue. Pausanias records a monument of Demosthenes—he does not specify whether it was a statue, a grave stele, or other—in the enclosure of the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Kalauria, where Demosthenes took poison to avoid capture by the Macedonians, and consequently met his end (Paus. 2.3.2-3).

Extant portraits:

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  1. Naples 5467: a small bronze bust, labelled ΔΗΜΟΣΘΕΝΗΣ.
  2. Oxford Demosthenes: a marble head purchased in Constantinople, said to have come from Eski-Shehr (Dorylaion).
  3. Cyrene Demosthenes: a marble head.
  4. Copenhagen NCG 436A: a marble statue, said to have been found in Campana, in the 18th century (shown here)
  5. Vatican 2255: a marble statue from the Villa Aldobrandini (image).
  6. Yale Demosthenes: a marble head.

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