- Introduction -
Demosthenes is recognised as the greatest of the Ancient Greek orators and yet initially he struggled with public speaking! His intriguing story is set in 4 BC, a time when the power of Athens was fading. He entreated his countrymen to stand up against Macedon, reminding them of their glory days. Demosthenes fought for not only the freedom of Athens, but for that of Greece. His battle to overcome early obstacles and his successful career have inspired many people throughout the ages, even though his cause was defeated.
- Early Life -
When he was young, Demosthenes had many challenges and setbacks. He was born in the year 384 BC to a wealthy Athenian family. At the age of seven however, both his parents died and his legal guardians mishandled his inheritance. Demosthenes decided to learn rhetoric which he did by studying the speeches of previous great orators. As Demosthenes had a speech impediment, this was an unexpected choice for him to make. It is said that during his first speech, people laughed at him but he persisted. Through disciplined training, which included reciting while running and clearly speaking with pebbles in his mouth, Demosthenes eventually improved. He went on to deliver a speech, prosecuting his legal guardians and successfully sued them, although he didn't get paid the full damages. Demosthenes seemed to have many reasons not to succeed but he persevered and overcame the obstacles.
- Conclusion -
Although Demosthenes was orphaned, “robbed” of most his inheritance and unable to speak publicly in his defence he went on to become a successful logographer, politician and eventually, the most renowned orator in Ancient Greece. He foresaw the danger to his country’s freedom, spoke out and eventually, paid the price with his life. Undoubtedly he was extremely gifted, but he had to work hard for this talent to be fully realised. It was his perseverance and struggle that made him really great.
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- Career -
Most of Demosthenes’ political energy was directed at Philip, king of Macedon who was rapidly expanding his territories. Demosthenes rightly feared Philip would try to conquer Greece and attempted to rouse the Athenians against him. He warned that Philip was as dangerous as the king of Persia. Demosthenes gave his first Philippic in 351-350 BC and his second and third Philippics in 344-341 BC. Demosthenes’ third Philippic is considered the best of his political orations and demanded that Athens take action against Philip.
In 338 BC the Athenians acted and with the Thebans, fought the Macedonians in the battle of Chaeronea. The Macedonians were victorious and Philip established himself over most of Greece. Though Demosthenes had proved himself an excellent orator, he was a poor soldier and it is said he fled from the battlefield. However, Demosthenes continued to urge the people to rebel against the following Macedonian kings until the Macedonian king Antiper ordered the Athenians to hand Demosthenes over to him. In 322 BC he was captured and knowing his end had come, he committed suicide. The inscription his countrymen engraved on his statue shows the high respect they held him in. It reads: “Had you for Greece been strong, as wise you were, the Macedonian would not have conquered her.”