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Warning the demos: political communication with a democratic audience in Demosthenes

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This paper examines rhetorical strategies used by the democratic fourth century BCE orator Demosthenes to contain and counteract aristocratic and oligarchic criticisms of democracy. Demosthenes specifically addresses six categories of complaints: procrastination, the reactive character of the democracy, factionalism, the physical threat posed by the democracy to politicians, excessive concern with private interests and finally the inability to opt for difficult but necessary actions. For each of these complaints, Demosthenes deploys a strength that the democracy has that counter-acts--or at least minimizes--the problem. The argument further holds that the rhetorical techniques of Demosthenes opened up a unique theoretical space within which the democracy could consider not only the immediate policy issue, but also more general questions about the nature and efficacy of democratic government.

Keywords: Ancient Greek History; Deoosthenes; Greek democracy; Greek political philosophy; Greek political theory; democratic theory; history of rhetoric; oratory; rhetoric; rhetorical theory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Political Science & International Relations, State University of New York, New Paltz, 75 South Manheim Blvd., Suite 9, New Paltz, New York 12561-2443, USA . Email:

Publication date: 2002-03-01

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