Introduction[ edit ] Philip became King of Macedonia in B. Being in great difficulties both from external enemies and from internal division, he made peace with the Athenians, who were supporting the pretensions of Argaeus to the throne, in the hope of recovering by agreement with Argaeus the colony of Amphipolis on the Strymon, which they had lost in Philip acknowledged the title of Athens to Amphipolis, and sent home the Athenian prisoners, whom he had captured among the supporters of Argaeus, without ransom. The Athenians, however, neglected to garrison Amphipolis. In the year in which Athens temporarily recovered her hold over Euboea, by compelling the Thebans to evacuate the island , Philip carried on a successful campaign against the Paeonian and Illyrian tribes, who were standing enemies of Macedonia.
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His strong desire to sue his guardian, Aphobus, in the courts, coupled with a delicate physique that prevented him from receiving the customary Greek gymnastic education, led him to train himself as an orator. He also studied legal rhetoric. In his Parallel Lives Plutarch , the Greek historian and biographer, relates that Demosthenes built an underground study where he exercised his voice, shaving one half of his head so that he could not go out in public.
He also practiced speaking before a large mirror. Despite this self-improvement program, his first youthful speaking efforts in the public Assembly met with disaster; he was laughed at by his audiences.
His lawsuits against Aphobus and two other guardians in were more successful; they produced little money, but he learned much about speaking strategy and methods of argument. Three of his speeches against Aphobus and two against the sculptor Antenor have survived. Demosthenes as speech writer At the age of 20 the young Demosthenes found himself without his fortune, without a trade or profession, and with seemingly little prospect for success in any field.
But his rhetorical skill had been noticed. In 4th-century democratic Athens every citizen who wished to prosecute a lawsuit or to defend himself against accusation had to do the speaking himself.
Not every citizen, of course, possessed sufficient skill to write his own speeches—a fact that gave rise to the practice of employing a speech writer logographer to prepare a speech for such occasions. Thus began a lifelong career that he continued even during his most intense involvement in the political struggle against Philip of Macedon, much as a modern lawyer might retain a private practice while engaged in public affairs.
Get exclusive access to content from our First Edition with your subscription. Subscribe today Demosthenes was already 30 when, in , he made his first major speech before the Assembly. He pointed out that, while Athens would have no allies if it attacked first, every other Greek city-state would join Athens if the Persians were the first to attack. Here, for the first time, Demosthenes sounded a theme that was to run through his whole public career—the policy that Athens could best keep its democratic freedom by remaining independent of all other cities while, on the other hand, being ready to make temporary alliances whenever danger threatened.
In the same speech, revealing his penchant for careful fiscal planning, he proposed an elaborate revision of the method used to tax the wealthy to raise money for ships. It was not very long before his oratorical skill made him, in effect, the leader of what today might be called the democratic party. Some interests, especially the wealthy, would have preferred an oligarchy instead of a democracy; many merchants would have preferred peace at almost any price.
While they agreed that the Macedonians were barbarians, most Athenian citizens distrusted other Greek city-states such as Thebes and Sparta. The Athenian Assembly was a loosely organized, often tumultuous body of up to 6, male citizens; it was capable of shouting down a speaker it did not like or of routing him with laughter.
Any citizen could speak, but the criteria were so high that only the best orators survived for long. In this turbulent arena Demosthenes stood out. He constantly asked the Athenians to recall their own history, to remember their past belief in democracy , and to remind themselves how much they hated tyrants.
His love of democracy gives his speeches a humanistic breadth that makes them interesting even today. Demosthenes was also extremely industrious. Plutarch says that it was his habit to sit down at night and go over the conversations and speeches he had heard during the day, experimenting with various replies or speeches that could have been made. He excelled whenever he could prepare his speeches carefully in advance, but the nature of Athenian political life must often have forced him to reply to an opponent on the spur of the moment.
Unfortunately, because all of the surviving speeches are carefully edited texts, it cannot be established how often Demosthenes spoke extemporaneously. Meanwhile, in Macedonia , to the north, the young king Philip , almost the same age as Demosthenes, was gradually annexing Greek cities south of his borders.
In Philip had captured an Athenian possession in Thrace , after hoodwinking the Athenians with promises to protect the city, and in he took another Athenian possession. By both Sparta and Arcadia were asking Athens for military assistance against Philip. When he continued to move south, employing bribery and threat as well as military force, the Athenians sent a small force to close off the pass at Thermopylae.
Although Philip turned aside to the coast of Thrace, avoiding a direct confrontation with Athens, his intentions were clear. The Philippics. He concluded by challenging his countrymen to take their affairs in their own hands rather than let Philip win by default. This goading speech nonetheless failed to rouse the Athenians. Philip advanced into Chalcidice , threatening the city of Olynthus , which appealed to Athens.
Finally, Philip and the Athenians agreed in April to the Peace of Philocrates ; Demosthenes, partly to gain time to prepare for the long struggle he saw ahead, agreed to the peace and went as one of the ambassadors to negotiate the treaty with Philip.
Meanwhile, Philip continued his tactic of setting the Greek city-states, such as Thebes and Sparta, against each other. Demosthenes was one of several ambassadors sent out on a futile tour of the Peloponnesus to enlist support against Philip. In retaliation Philip protested to Athens about certain statements made by these ambassadors.
The court, however, acquitted Aeschines. As a result, Demosthenes became controller of the navy and could thus carry out the naval reforms he had proposed in In addition, a grand alliance was formed against Philip, including Byzantium and former enemies of Athens, such as Thebes.
Indecisive warfare followed, with Athens strong at sea but Philip nearly irresistible on land. Disaster came in , when Philip defeated the allies in a climactic battle at Chaeronea in north-central Greece.
According to Plutarch, Demosthenes was in the battle but fled after dropping his arms. Whether or not he disgraced himself in this way, it was Demosthenes whom the people chose to deliver the funeral oration over the bodies of those slain in the battle.
After the peace concluded by the Athenian orator and diplomat Demades , Philip acted with restraint; and, though the pro-Macedonian faction was naturally greatly strengthened by his victory, he refrained from occupying Athens. Demosthenes came under several forms of subtle legislative attack by Aeschines and others.
In Greece was stunned by the news that Philip had been assassinated. When his son Alexander succeeded him, many Greeks believed that freedom was about to be restored. But within a year Alexander proved that he was an even more implacable foe than his father—for, when the city of Thebes rebelled against him in , he destroyed it. A string of victories emboldened Alexander to demand that Athens surrender Demosthenes and seven other orators who had opposed his father and himself; only a special embassy to Alexander succeeded in having that order rescinded.
Shortly thereafter, Alexander began his invasion of Asia that took him as far as India and left Athens free of direct military threat from him. In , nevertheless, judging that the pro-Alexandrian faction was still strong in Athens, Aeschines pressed his charges of impropriety against Ctesiphon—first made six years earlier—for proposing that Demosthenes be awarded a gold crown for his services to the state.
The resulting oratorical confrontation between Aeschines and Demosthenes aroused interest throughout Greece, because not only Demosthenes but also Athenian policy of the past 20 years was on trial. A jury of citizens was the minimum required in such cases, but a large crowd of other Athenians and even foreigners flocked to the debate. As always, his command of historical detail is impressive.
Over and over again he asks his audience what needed to be done in a crisis and who did it. Demosthenes and his policies had received a massive vote of popular approval.
Imprisonment and exile Six years later, however, he was convicted of a grave crime and forced to flee from prison and himself go into exile. He was accused of taking 20 talents deposited in Athens by Harpalus , a refugee from Alexander. Demosthenes was found guilty, fined 50 talents, and imprisoned.
The circumstances of the case are still unclear. Demosthenes may well have intended to use the money for civic purposes, and it is perhaps significant that the court fined him only two and one-half times the amount involved instead of the 10 times usually levied in such cases.
His escape from prison made it impossible for him to return to Athens to raise money for the fine. The onetime leader of the Athenians was now a refugee from his own people. Another dramatic reversal occurred the very next year, however, when Alexander died.
The power of the Macedonians seemed finally broken; a new alliance was concluded against them. The Athenians recalled Demosthenes from exile and provided money to pay his fine. His former friend Demades then persuaded the Athenians to sentence Demosthenes to death.
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance , his name was a synonym for eloquence. Modern scholars such as Werner Jaeger present a more dispassionate view by pointing to the highly complex political issues that Demosthenes handled with his oratorical skill.
His strong desire to sue his guardian, Aphobus, in the courts, coupled with a delicate physique that prevented him from receiving the customary Greek gymnastic education, led him to train himself as an orator. He also studied legal rhetoric. In his Parallel Lives Plutarch , the Greek historian and biographer, relates that Demosthenes built an underground study where he exercised his voice, shaving one half of his head so that he could not go out in public. He also practiced speaking before a large mirror. Despite this self-improvement program, his first youthful speaking efforts in the public Assembly met with disaster; he was laughed at by his audiences.
Works of Demosthenes
Fourth Philippic Current location in this text. Enter a Perseus citation to go to another section or work. Full search options are on the right side and top of the page. If the question before us were a new one, men of Athens , I should have waited until most of the regular speakers had delivered their opinions, and if satisfied with any of their proposals, I should have remained silent, but if not satisfied, I should then have tried to express my own views. Since, however, it is our fortune to be still debating a point on which they have often spoken before, I can safely claim your indulgence if I am the first to rise and address you.
The Public Orations of Demosthenes/Philippic I
Early years and personal life[ edit ] Family and personal life[ edit ] Bust of Demosthenes British Museum , London , Roman copy of a Greek original sculpted by Polyeuktos. Although his father provided for him well, his legal guardians, Aphobus, Demophon and Therippides, mishandled his inheritance. In Parallel Lives, Plutarch states that Demosthenes built an underground study where he practised speaking and shaving one half of his head so that he could not go out in public. Plutarch also states that he had "an inarticulate and stammering pronunciation " that he got rid of by speaking with pebbles in his mouth and by repeating verses when running or out of breath. He also practised speaking in front of a large mirror.