The funeral of Phocion.
In the late 4th Century BC, Athens executed its statesman and de
facto ruler, Phocion. Phocion served Athens with distinction
his political career. His leadership was one of extreme care and
justice. His was a frugal life, lived in a simple
home, and he refused bribes of all sorts, no matter how grand –
from small fortunes to his own city-state to rule as he liked he
The Athenians chose him to lead them into battle 47 times as
general, the most-selected general in Athenian history.
Yet he was not a militaristic man – he argued vehemently against wars
he thought were bad for his city-state. And he saved Athens from unwise
action repeatedly, as when the Athenians wanted to war with Alexander
the Great after Alexander had crushed an uprising in Thebes. “Foolhardy
man,” Phocion said to Demosthenes, leader of the provocateurs, “why
provoke one whose temper is already savage? Why provoke this
Macedonian who is full of limitless ambition? When there is a holocaust
on our borders, do you wish to spread the flames to our city as well,
by provoking him further? My whole object in taking up the burdens of
this office is to prevent this, and I shall not allow my fellow
citizens to destroy themselves, even if they wish it.”
The Athenians eventually sent Phocion to intercede with Alexander on
after he had rebuffed all the other emissaries they sent, and he
quickly became one of the men Alexander trusted and respected
most, even over most Macedonians. Phocion inspired Alexander to look
beyond Greece, challenging him
that if his goal was to show the greatness of his armies, why not show
it by the conquest of the barbarians? Phocion made necessary
compromises to the
Athenians’ Macedonian ruler, but he negotiated hard to keep the
Athenians mostly free.
Yet, after Alexander died, against Phocion’s warnings, the Athenians
rebelled against Macedon,
and forced Phocion to lead their armies, contrary to his personal
desires. He agreed
to serve his people as they wished of him, and crafted a resounding
the armies of Macedon. Yet Macedonian reinforcements arrived from Asia,
and the Greek army was crushed.
Phocion negotiated a lighter reprimand against the Athenians than
there otherwise would have been without his intercession. However, many
Athenians were still
exiled, and Antipater, the new leader of Macedon, still punished the
city-state. Many non-citizen Athenians
blamed Phocion for their plight. And this set in motion the political
intrigue the next
leader of Macedon after Antipater would eventually use to have the
exiles of Athens overwhelm the citizens and condemn Phocion to death,
while the citizens looked mournfully but helplessly on.
In prison, an executioner administered poison to the accused, but
ran short when it came to the last man, Phocion. The executioner
then refused to prepare more poison until he was paid 12 drachmas.
summoned one of his friends and asked him to settle the amount,
observing that, “A man cannot even die in Athens without paying for
it.” After a life spent serving Athens, those in charge of the city now
ordered Phocion’s remains buried outside its limits.
I tell you this story (and will tell a few more) in the interest of
a simple question I’d like to pose: is it worth it to be the good king?