Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

The Man Who Was Called "The Good"

Phocion, called the Good, was an aristocrat; that is, he believed that the few who were wise and rich, and nobly born should govern the masses of the people.

While he was a lad he attended Plato's lectures. He was quite young when he was ordered to take twenty vessels and go to collect tribute from the states friendly to Athens. He said, "These are too many for friends and not enough for enemies." At last he was allowed to go with one vessel and to pay all the expenses.

He succeeded so well that many ships sailed back with him carrying the tribute money.

At the battle of Naxos he led the left wing of the army and helped to win a great victory over the Spartans. He also commanded the forces sent by Athens to help Plutarch the tyrant against Philip of Macedonia, but was not welcomed by those whom he went to aid. He won a victory however and went back to Athens.

Philip of Macedonia while attacking Byzantium wrote a letter saying that the Athenians had broken their promise that they would help him. Demosthenes told the citizens that this was a declaration of war. Phocion led troops to help the Byzantines, and drove away Philip and his army.

Philip then offered to make peace but Demosthenes would not agree. He said, "If we keep on fighting at a distance we shall keep war away from Attica."

Phocion replied, "The question is not where shall we fight but how shall we conquer. Only victory will keep war at a distance. If we are beaten danger will soon be at our gates."

The Athenians lost the battle of Chaeronea and then agreed to a general peace. They found that they must supply Philip with ships and horse soldiers.

Phocion said, "I was afraid of this, but now you must keep the treaty. The men of other days who knew how to make laws and to obey laws were the men who saved Greece."

When Philip died Phocion told the citizens that they must not rejoice at the death even of an enemy. Demosthenes advised Athens not to submit to Alexander. Phocion said it would be better to do so but he told Alexander, "If you want peace, stop fighting. If you want glory, let the Greeks alone and make war on the barbarians."

Alexander thought that was good advice. He sent a present which Phocion would not accept. Then he offered him the mastery of any one of four cities but Phocion again said, "No!"

When Alexander was dead Phocion sent to Antipater, the new king of Macedonia, and asked him to be at peace with Athens. Antipater was willing and made Phocion chief ruler of Athens. Many citizens were driven out of the city, and the power of the people (democracy) was for a time entirely broken.

Affairs changed when Antipater died. The exiled Athenians went back to their homes and set up again the democracy. Phocion and all who had held office under him were condemned to banishment or to death.

The chieftain fled but was brought back and was tried in the courts. Those who wished to speak in his favor were hooted down. He was condemned to death and, like Socrates, he drank a cup of hemlock and died.

When he was gone the mob were sorry. They remembered his goodness and wisdom, all the kindness he had shown and all the glory he had gained for Athens. They gave him a public funeral, showing to his memory every honor possible; and built for him a monument of brass.

He was certainly a great soldier for he had been elected general forty-five times. No more honest and just man ever lived in Athens. His one desire had been to serve his country no matter what happened to himself.

Although his heart was kind his looks were frowning and alarming. Strangers were afraid to speak to him unless they had a friend to plead for them. He was not an orator like Demosthenes but, in opposition to him, the people were often convinced by Phocion. Once he was seen in the theater paying no attention to what was going on. Some one said, "What, Phocion! Wrapped up in your own thoughts?"

"Yes," he answered. "I am trying to shorten what I have to say to the Athenians."

Demosthenes once warned him, "Take care! If you make the people angry they will kill you!"

Phocion answered, "That may be, but if they keep their sober senses they will kill you!"