Greeks were an independent nation in the beginning of their history. Unacquainted with coercion, they lived under a democratic system till the reign of King Philip, the father of Alexander the Great. Philip established his personal rule. He had to face the pro-democratic powers which offered him very fierce opposition. Many bloody battles between both the parties ensued. The greatest Greek orator Demosthenes headed the opposition. When the democratic powers were defeated by King Philip, Demosthenes made a historical speech to the Athenians in order to dress their feelings and to praise their bravery and love for freedom. In this speech, he defended his views and negated those of his opponent Æschines, who sided with the king. We reproduce relevant parts of his speech in the following:
No, my countrymen, it cannot be that you have acted wrong in encountering danger bravely for the liberty and the safety of all Greece. Your forefathers had already left a model for you to emulate. They were certainly not on the wrong; those of your forefathers who fought at Marathon, those who offered their lives at Salamis, those who bravely fought at Plaataea. Never indeed. By the generous souls of ancient times who endangered their lives in the field of Marathon! By those who encountered the fleets at Salamis! By those who fought at Artemisium! By those courageous warriors who stood arrayed at Plataea! O Æschines, the sons of Athens did not pay homage only to those who prevailed, not only those who were victorious. They showed respect to all of them by paying honor to their dead bodies democratically.
The public did not welcome their victory and did not show respect to it. Rather they honored their bravery, courage and love for liberty. Same is your case. If you have not carried the day this time do not fret over it. It is glorious enough that you risked your lives for the sake of liberty and freedom of the country.
Let us ponder over the oaths of Demosthenes. He depicts their forefathers and their courage and valiance for his audience in order to fill their hearts with pride and passion. He has successfully invoked their valiant and brave deeds as evidence of the failed yet rightful and brave cause of his audience. Such true depiction has only been made possible by couching the words in the form of oaths that serve the purpose of emphasizing the statement.
This form of oaths is known for its cogence. It has been considered an excellent literary device by the literary experts of ancient times as well as those of later periods. However, I believe that the later Greek scholars could not appreciate the essence of these oaths. So did our scholars. We see that hardly six hundred years after Demosthenes, Longinus, the famous Athenian literary critic and teacher of rhetoric, discusses this type of oaths in his book on rhetoric. Regarding the oaths taken by Demosthenes, he holds that the beauty of these oaths is the abounding glorification of muqsam bihī in them. The oath-taker has indeed put the ancients at the stead of deities. He rejects the view that this type of the oaths is of the genre applied by the poet Eupolis, who swore an oath by his crown.
Now, I present the oath taken by Eupolis, which is yet another example from the Greek literature. You will learn that the view rejected by Longinus is the only plausible one.