The most recent episode of in our time that I listened to was about Demosthenes' Philippics - https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001f4ws. This is what I learnt.
I’d hear about these works before but hadn’t realised that they are named after a person - Philipp of Macedon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_II_of_Macedon. His innovations in political organisation, logistics of supporting a standing army, and innovations in the practice of warfare, led to the creation of the Macedonian empire. In the 300s bc his armies hoovered up city states throughout Greece and Demosthenes is attempting to get Athens to go to war against the creeping threat. 200 years previously Athens held dominance on the pelopnesian peninsula, with the building of the acropolis being one of the many highlights of that time.
The grain supply from the region of Ukraine was already an issue in 300bc!
Cicero derived much inspiration from Demosthenes’ essays, and you can read many of them yourself. I read through https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Public_Orations_of_Demosthenes/Philippic_III, and it struck me as an OK essay, but what is fascinating is that many of our rhetorical techniques are developed for the very first time in these essays. They have survived through thousands of ears and to my ear sound astonishingly modern.
We have many debates today about the intersection and conflict between private and public good. Take this quote from Demosthenes, and you could repackage it for today!
Where are such sentiments now? They have been sold in the market and are gone; and those have been imported in their stead, through which the nation lies ruined and plague-stricken--the envy of the man who has received his hire; the amusement which accompanies his avowal; [the pardon granted to those whose guilt is proved;] the hatred of one who censures the crime; and all the appurtenances of corruption.
These speeches are often considered the greatest in history. I asked Chat GPT to help me here:
What are considered to be the 100 greatest speeches in history?
The 100 greatest speeches in history is a subjective and ever-evolving list, as different people have different opinions on what makes a speech great. However, here are some speeches that are commonly considered to be among the most powerful and influential:
1 Martin Luther King Jr. - "I Have a Dream"
2 Winston Churchill - "We Shall Fight on the Beaches"
3 Abraham Lincoln - "Gettysburg Address"
4 John F. Kennedy - "Inaugural Address"
5 Franklin D. Roosevelt - "First Inaugural Address"
6 Nelson Mandela - "An Ideal for which I am Prepared to Die"
7 Mahatma Gandhi - "Quit India"
8 Susan B. Anthony - "Women's Right to Vote"
9 Sojourner Truth - "Ain't I a Woman?"
10 Ronald Reagan - "Tear Down This Wall"
Other speeches that are often included in such lists include:
11 Barack Obama - "Yes We Can"
12 Malala Yousafzai - "Address to the United Nations"
13 Theodore Roosevelt - "The Man in the Arena"
14 Patrick Henry - "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death"
15 Elizabeth Cady Stanton - "Declaration of Sentiments"
16 William Wilberforce - "Abolition Speech"
17 Emma Watson - "HeForShe"
18 John F. Kennedy - "Ich bin ein Berliner"
19 Richard Nixon - "Resignation Address"
20 Winston Churchill - "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat"
It's important to note that this is not an exhaustive list and that many other speeches have also had a profound impact on history. Additionally, the ranking and selection of speeches can vary depending on different criteria and perspectives.
Where would Ancient Greek speeches reside in this list?
Ancient Greek speeches are often considered to be some of the greatest speeches in history, and they have had a lasting influence on the art of rhetoric and public speaking. In fact, many modern speeches and rhetorical techniques can be traced back to the speeches of Ancient Greece.
There are many famous Ancient Greek speeches that could be included in a list of the greatest speeches in history, such as:
1 Pericles' Funeral Oration (delivered in 431 BC)
2 Demosthenes' Philippics (a series of speeches delivered in the 4th century BC)
3 Socrates' Apology (delivered in 399 BC)
4 Isocrates' Panegyricus (delivered in 380 BC)
5 Lysias' On the Murder of Eratosthenes (delivered in 403 BC)
These speeches cover a wide range of topics, from politics and war to philosophy and law. They are also notable for their use of persuasive language and rhetorical techniques, such as repetition, analogy, and emotional appeal.
While it's difficult to compare speeches across different time periods and cultures, Ancient Greek speeches are certainly worthy of consideration as some of the greatest speeches in history.
If you want to dig into in our time episodes more there is a fantastic site that allows you to explore the archive in all sorts of ways: https://genmon.github.io/braggoscope/