Republic of Macedonia

Demosthenes by Plutarch

Whoever it was, Sosius, that wrote the poem in honour of Alcibiades,
upon his winning the chariot-race at the Olympian Games, whether it
were Euripides, as is most commonly thought, or some other person,
he tells us that to a man's being happy it is in the first place requisite
he should be born in "some famous city." But for him that would attain
to true happiness, which for the most part is placed in the qualities
and disposition of the mind, it is, in my opinion, of no other disadvantage
to be of a mean, obscure country, than to be born of a small or plain-looking
woman. For it were ridiculous to think that Iulis, a little part of
Ceos, which itself is no great island, and Aegina, which an Athenian
once said ought to be removed, like a small eyesore, from the port
of Piraeus should breed good actors and poets, and yet should never
be able to produce a just, temperate, wise, and high-minded man. Other
arts, whose end it is to acquire riches or honour, are likely enough
to wither and decay in poor and undistinguished towns; but virtue,
like a strong and durable plant, may take root and thrive in any place
where it can lay hold of an ingenuous nature, and a mind that is industrious.
I, for my part, shall desire that for any deficiency of mine in right
judgment or action, I myself may be, as in fairness, held accountable,
and shall not attribute it to the obscurity of my birthplace.
But if any man undertake to write a history that has to be collected
from materials gathered by observation and the reading of works not
easy to be got in all places, nor written always in his own language,
but many of them foreign and dispersed in other hands, for him, undoubtedly,
it is in the first place and above all things most necessary to reside
in some city of good note, addicted to liberal arts, and populous;
where he may have plenty of all sorts of books, and upon inquiry may
hear and inform himself of such particulars as, having escaped the
pens of writers, are more faithfully preserved in the memories of
men, lest his work be deficient in many things, even those which it
can least dispense with.
But for me, I live in a little town, where I am willing to continue,
lest it should grow less; and having had no leisure, while I was in
Rome and other parts of Italy, to exercise myself in the Roman language,
on account of public business and of those who came to be instructed
by me in philosophy, it was very late, and in the decline of my age,
before I applied myself to the reading of Latin authors. Upon which
that which happened to me may seem strange, though it be true; for
it was not so much by the knowledge of words that I came to the understanding
of things, as by my experience of things I was enabled to follow the
meaning of words. But to appreciate the graceful and ready pronunciation
of the Roman tongue, to understand the various figures and connection
of words, and such other ornaments, in which the beauty of speaking
consists, is, I doubt not, an admirable and delightful accomplishment;
but it requires a degree of practice and study which is not easy,
and will better suit those who have more leisure, and time enough
yet before them for the occupation.
And so in this fifth book of my Parallel Lives, in giving an account
of Demosthenes and Cicero, my comparison of their natural dispositions
and their characters will be formed upon their actions and their lives
as statesmen, and I shall not pretend to criticize their orations
one against the other, to show which of the two was the more charming
or the more powerful speaker. For there, as Ion says-
"We are but like a fish upon dry land;" a proverb which Caecilius
perhaps forgot, when he employed his always adventurous talents in
so ambitious an attempt as a comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero;
and, possibly, if it were a thing obvious and easy for every man to
know himself, the precept had not passed for an oracle.
The divine power seems originally to have designed Demosthenes and
Cicero upon the same plan, giving them many similarities in their
natural characters, as their passion for distinction and their love
of liberty in civil life, and their want of courage in dangers and
war, and at the same time also to have added many accidental resemblances. 

I think there can hardly be found two other orators, who, from small
and obscure beginnings, became so great and mighty; who both contested
with kings and tyrants; both lost their daughters, were driven out
of their country, and returned with honour; who, flying from thence
again, were both seized upon by their enemies, and at last ended their
lives with the liberty of their countrymen. So that if we were to
suppose there had been a trial of skill between nature and fortune,
as there is sometimes between artists, it would be hard to judge whether
that succeeded best in making them alike in their dispositions and
manners, or this in the coincidences of their lives. We will speak
of the eldest first.
Demosthenes, the father of Demosthenes, was a citizen of good rank
and quality, as Theopompus informs us, surnamed the Sword-maker, because
he had a large workhouse, and kept servants skilful in that art at
work. But of that which Aeschines the orator said of his mother, that
she was descended of one Gylon, who fled his country upon an accusation
of treason, and of a barbarian woman, I can affirm nothing, whether
he spoke true, or slandered and maligned her. This is certain, that
Demosthenes, being as yet but seven years old was left by his father
in affluent circumstances, the whole value of his estate being little
short of fifteen talents, and that he was wronged by his guardians,
part of his fortune being embezzled by them, and the rest neglected;
insomuch that even his teachers were defrauded of their salaries.
This was the reason that he did not obtain the liberal education that
he should have had; besides that, on account of weakness and delicate
health, his mother would not let him exert himself, and his teachers
forbore to urge him. He was meagre and sickly from the first, and
hence had his nickname of Batalus given him, it is said, by the boys,
in derision of his appearance; Batalus being, as some tell us, a certain
enervated flute-player, in ridicule of whom Antiphanes wrote a play.
Others speak of Batalus as a writer of wanton verses and drinking
songs. And it would seem that some part of the body, not decent to
be named, was at that time called batalus by the Athenians. But the
name of Argas, which also they say was a nickname of Demosthenes,
was given him for his behaviour, as being savage and spiteful, argas
being one of the poetical words for a snake; or for his disagreeable
way of speaking, Argas being the name of a poet who composed very
harshly and disagreeably. So much, as Plato says, for such matters.
The first occasion of his eager inclination to oratory, they say,
was this. Callistratus, the orator, being to plead in open court for
Oropus, the expectation of the issue of that cause was very great,
as well for the ability of the orator, who was then at the height
of his reputation, as also for the fame of the action itself. Therefore,
Demosthenes, having heard the tutors and school-masters agreeing among
themselves to be present at this trial, with much importunity persuades
his tutor to take him along with him to the hearing; who, having some
acquaintance with the doorkeepers, procured a place where the boy
might sit unseen, and hear what was said. Callistratus having got
the day, and being much admired, the boy began to look upon his glory
with a kind of emulation, observing how he was courted on all hands,
and attended on his way by the multitude; but his wonder was more
than all excited by the power of his eloquence, which seemed able
to subdue and win over anything. From this time, therefore, bidding
farewell to other sorts of learning and study, he now began to exercise
himself, and to take pains in declaiming, as one that meant to be
himself also an orator. He made use of Isaeus as his guide to the
art of speaking, though Isocrates at that time was giving lessons;
whether, as some say, because he was an orphan, and was not able to
pay Isocrates his appointed fee of ten minae or because he preferred
Isaeus's speaking, as being more businesslike and effective in actual
use. Hermippus says that he met with certain memoirs without any author's
name, in which it was written that Demosthenes was a scholar to Plato,
and learnt much of his eloquence from him; and he also mentions Ctesibius,
as reporting from Callias of Syracuse and some others, that Demosthenes secretly obtained a knowledge of the systems of Isocrates and Alcidamas,
and mastered them thoroughly.
As soon, therefore, as he was grown up to man's estate, he began to
go to law with his guardians, and to write orations against them;
who, in the meantime, had recourse to various subterfuges and pleas
for new trials, and Demosthenes, though he was thus, as Thucydides
says, taught his business in dangers, and by his own exertions was
successful in his suit, was yet unable for all this to recover so
much as a small fraction of his patrimony. He only attained some degree
of confidence in speaking, and some competent experience in it. And
having got a taste of the honour and power which are acquired by pleadings,
he now ventured to come forth, and to undertake public business. And,
as it is said of Laomedon, the Orchomenian, that, by advice of his
physician, he used to run long distances to keep off some disease
of his spleen, and by that means having, through labour and exercise,
framed the habit of his body, he betook himself to the great garland
games, and became one of the best runners at the long race; so it
happened to Demosthenes, who, first venturing upon oratory for the
recovery of his own private property, by this acquired ability in
speaking, and at length, in public business, as it were in the great
games, came to have the pre-eminence of all competitors in the assembly.
But when he first addressed himself to the people, he met with great
discouragements, and was derided for his strange and uncouth style,
which was cumbered with long sentences and tortured with formal arguments
to a most harsh and disagreeable excess. Besides, he had, it seems,
a weakness in his voice, a perplexed and indistinct utterance and
a shortness of breath, which, by breaking and disjointing his sentences,
much obscured the sense and meaning of what he spoke. So that in the
end being quite disheartened, he forsook the assembly; and as he was
walking carelessly and sauntering about the Piraeus, Eunomus, the
Thriasian, then a very old man, seeing him, upbraided him, saying
that his diction was very much like that of Pericles, and that he
was wanting to himself through cowardice and meanness of spirit, neither
bearing up with courage against popular outcry, nor fitting his body
for action, but suffering it to languish through mere sloth and negligence.
Another time, when the assembly had refused to hear him, and he was
going home with his head muffled up, taking it very heavily, they
relate that Satyrus, the actor, followed him, and being his familiar
acquaintance, entered into conversation with him. To whom, when Demosthenes
bemoaned himself, that having been the most industrious of all the
pleaders, and having almost spent the whole strength and vigour of
his body in that employment, he could not yet find any acceptance
with the people, that drunken sots, mariners, and illiterate fellows
were heard, and had the husting's for their own, while he himself
was despised, "You say true, Demosthenes," replied Satyrus, "but I
will quickly remedy the cause of all this, if you will repeat to me
some passage out of Euripides or Sophocles." Which when Demosthenes
had pronounced, Satyrus presently taking it up after him, gave the
same passage, in his rendering of it, such a new form, by accompanying
it with the proper mien and gesture, that to Demosthenes it seemed
quite another thing. By this, being convinced how much grace and ornament
language acquires from action, he began to esteem it a small matter,
and as good as nothing for a man to exercise himself in declaiming,
if he neglected enunciation and delivery. Hereupon he built himself
a place to study in under ground (which was still remaining in our
time), and hither he would come constantly every day to form his action
and to exercise his voice; and here he would continue, oftentimes
without intermission, two or three months together, shaving one half
of his head, that so for shame he might not go abroad, though he desired
it ever so much.
Nor was this all, but he also made his conversation with people abroad,
his common speech, and his business, subservient to his studies, taking
from hence occasions and arguments as matter to work upon. For as
soon as he was parted from his company, down he would go at once into his study, and run over everything in order that had passed, and the
reasons that might be alleged for and against it. Any speeches, also,
that he was present at, he would go over again with himself, and reduce
into periods; and whatever others spoke to him, or he to them, he
would correct, transform, and vary several ways. Hence it was that
he was looked upon as a person of no great natural genius, but one
who owed all the power and ability he had in speaking to labour and
industry. Of the truth of which it was thought to be no small sign
that he was very rarely heard to speak upon the occasion, but though
he were by name frequently called upon by the people, as he sat in
the assembly, yet he would not rise unless he had previously considered
the subject, and came prepared for it. So that many of the popular
pleaders used to make it a jest against him; and Pytheas once, scoffing
at him, said that his arguments smelt of the lamp. To which Demosthenes
gave the sharp answer, "It is true, indeed, Pytheas, that your lamp
and mine are not conscious of the same things." To others, however,
he would not much deny it, but would admit frankly enough, that he
neither entirely wrote his speeches beforehand, nor yet spoke wholly
extempore. And he would affirm that it was the more truly popular
act to use premeditation, such preparation being a kind of respect
to the people; whereas, to slight and take no care how what is said
is likely to be received by the audience, shows something of an oligarchical
temper, and is the course of one that intends force rather than persuasion.
Of his want of courage and assurance to speak offhand, they make it
also another argument that, when he was at a loss and discomposed,
Demades would often rise up on the sudden to support him, but he was
never observed to do the same for Demades.
Whence then, may some say, was it, that Aeschines speaks of him as
a person so much to be wondered at for his boldness in speaking? Or,
how could it be, when Python, the Byzantine, with so much confidence
and such a torrent of words inveighed against the Athenians, that
Demosthenes alone stood up to oppose him? Or when Lamarchus, the Myrinaean,
had written a panegyric upon King Philip and Alexander, in which he
uttered many things in reproach of the Thebans and Olynthians, and
at the Olympic Games recited it publicly, how was it that he, rising
up, and recounting historically and demonstratively what benefits
and advantages all Greece had received from the Thebans and Chalcidians,
and, on the contrary, what mischiefs the flatterers of the Macedonians
had brought upon it, so turned the minds of all that were present
that the sophist, in alarm at the outcry against him, secretly made
his way out of the assembly? But Demosthenes, it should seem, regarded
other points in the character of Pericles to be unsuited to him; but
his reserve and his sustained manner, and his forbearing to speak
on the sudden, or upon every occasion, as being the things to which
principally he owed his greatness, these he followed, and endeavoured
to imitate, neither wholly neglecting the glory which present occasion
offered, nor yet willing too often to expose his faculty to the mercy
of chance. For, in fact, the orations which were spoken by him had
much more of boldness and confidence in them than those that he wrote,
if we may believe Eratosthenes, Demetrius the Phalerian, and the Comedians.
Eratosthenes says that often in his speaking he would be transported
into a kind of ecstasy, and Demetrius, that he uttered the famous
metrical adjuration to the people-
"By the earth, the springs, the rivers, and the streams," as a man
inspired and beside himself. One of the comedians calls him a rhopoperperethras,
and another scoffs at him for his use of antithesis:-
"And what he took, took back; a phrase to please,
The very fancy of Demosthenes." Unless, indeed, this also is meant
by Antiphanes for a jest upon the speech on Halonesus, which Demosthenes
advised the Athenians not to take at Philip's hands, but to take back.
All, however, used to consider Demades, in the mere use of his natural
gifts, an orator impossible to surpass, and that in what he spoke
on the sudden, he excelled all the study and preparation of Demosthenes.
And Ariston, the Chian, has recorded a judgment which Theophrastus passed upon the orators; for being asked what kind of orator he accounted
Demosthenes, he answered, "Worthy of the city of Athens;" and then
what he thought of Demades, he answered, "Above it." And the same
philosopher reports that Polyeuctus, the Sphettian, one of the Athenian
politicians about that time, was wont to say that Demosthenes was
the greatest orator, but Phocion the ablest; as he expressed the most
sense in the fewest words. And, indeed, it is related that Demosthenes
himself, as often as Phocion stood up to plead against him, would
say to his acquaintance, "Here comes the knife to my speech." Yet
it does not appear whether he had this feeling for his powers of speaking,
or for his life and character, and meant to say that one word or nod
from a man who was really trusted would go further than a thousand
lengthy periods from others.
Demetrius, the Phalerian, tells us that he was informed by Demosthenes
himself, now grown old, that the ways he made use of to remedy his
natural bodily infirmities and defects were such as these; his inarticulate
and stammering pronunciation he overcame and rendered more distinct
by speaking with pebbles in his mouth; his voice he disciplined by
declaiming and reciting speeches or verses when he was out of breath,
while running or going up steep places; and that in his house he had
a large looking-glass, before which he would stand and go through
his exercises. It is told that some one once came to request his assistance
as a pleader, and related how he had been assaulted and beaten. "Certainly,"
said Demosthenes, "nothing of the kind can have happened to you."
Upon which the other, raising his voice, exclaimed loudly, "What,
Demosthenes, nothing has been done to me?" "Ah," replied Demosthenes,
"now I hear the voice of one that has been injured and beaten." Of
so great consequence towards the gaining of belief did he esteem the
tone and action of the speaker. The action which he used himself was
wonderfully pleasing to the common people, but by well-educated people,
as, for example, by Demetrius, the Phalerian, it was looked upon as
mean, humiliating, and unmanly. And Hermippus says of Aesion, that,
being asked his opinion concerning the ancient orators, and those
of his own time, he answered that it was admirable to see with what
composure and in what high style they addressed themselves to the
people; but that the orations of Demosthenes, when they are read,
certainly appear to be superior in point of construction, and more
effective. His written speeches, beyond all question, are characterized
by austere tone and by their severity. In his extempore retorts and
rejoinders, he allowed himself the use of jest and mockery. When Demades
said, "Demosthenes teach me! So might the sow teach Minerva!" he replied,
"Was it this Minerva, that was lately found playing the harlot in
Collytus?" When a thief, who had the nickname of the Brazen, was attempting
to upbraid him for sitting up late, and writing by candle-light, "I
know very well," said he, "that you had rather have all lights out;
and wonder not, O ye men of Athens, at the many robberies which are
committed, since we have thieves of brass and walls of clay." But
on these points, though we have much more to mention, we will add
nothing at present. We will proceed to take an estimate of his character
from his actions and his life as a statesmen.
His first entering into public business was much about the time of
the Phocian war, as himself affirms, and may be collected from his
Philippic orations. For of these, some were made after that action
was over, and the earliest of them refer to its concluding events.
It is certain that he engaged in the accusation of Midias when he
was but two-and-thirty years old, having as yet no interest or reputation
as a politician. And this it was, I consider, that induced him to
withdraw the action, and accept a sum of money as a compromise. For
of himself-
"He was no easy or good-natured man," but of a determined disposition,
and resolute to see himself righted; however, finding it a hard matter
and above his strength to deal with Midias, a man so well secured
on all sides with money, eloquence, and friends, he yielded to the
entreaties of those who interceded for him. But had he seen any hopes or possibility of prevailing, I cannot believe that three thousand
drachmas could have taken off the edge of his revenge. The object
which he chose for himself in the commonwealth was noble and just,
the defence of the Grecians against Philip; and in this he behaved
himself so worthily that he soon grew famous, and excited attention
everywhere for his eloquence and courage in speaking. He was admired
through all Greece, the King of Persia courted him, and by Philip
himself he was more esteemed than all the other orators. His very
enemies were forced to confess that they had to do with a man of mark;
for such a character even Aeschines and Hyperides give him, where
they accuse and speak against him.
So that I cannot imagine what ground Theopompus had to say that Demosthenes
was of a fickle, unsettled disposition, and could not long continue
firm either to the same men or the same affairs; whereas the contrary
is most apparent, for the same party and post in politics which he
held from the beginning, to these he kept constant to the end; and
was so far from leaving them while he lived that he chose rather to
forsake his life than his purpose. He was never heard to apologize
for shifting sides like Demades, who would say he often spoke against
himself, but never against the city; nor as Melanopus, who being generally
against Callistratus, but being often bribed off with money, was wont
to tell the people, "The man indeed is my enemy, but we must submit
for the good of our country;" nor again as Nicodemus, the Messenian,
who having first appeared on Cassander's side, and afterwards taken
part with Demetrius, said the two things were not in themselves contrary,
it being always most advisable to obey the conqueror. We have nothing
of this kind to say against Demosthenes, as one who would turn aside
or prevaricate, either in word or deed. There could not have been
less variation in his public acts if they had all been played, so
to say, from first to last, from the same score. Panaetius, the philosopher,
said that most of his orations are so written as if they were to prove
this one conclusion, that what is honest and virtuous is for itself
only to be chosen; as that of the Crown, that against Aristocrates,
that for the Immunities, and the Philippics; in all which he persuades
his fellow-citizens to pursue not that which seems most pleasant,
easy, or profitable; but declares, over and over again, that they
ought in the first place to prefer that which is just and honourable
before their own safety and preservation. So that if he had kept his
hands clean, if his courage for the wars had been answerable to the
generosity of his principles, and the dignity of his orations, he
might deservedly have his name placed, not in the number of such orators
as Moerocles, Polyeuctus, and Hyperides, but in the highest rank with
Cimon, Thucydides, and Pericles.
Certainly amongst those who were contemporary with him, Phocion, though
he appeared on the less commendable side in the commonwealth, and
was counted as one of the Macedonian party, nevertheless, by his courage
and his honesty, procured himself a name not inferior to these of
Ephialtes, Aristides, and Cimon. But Demosthenes, being neither fit
to be relied on for courage in arms, as Demetrius says, nor on all
sides inaccessible to bribery (for how invincible soever he was against
the gifts of Philip and the Macedonians, yet elsewhere he lay open
to assault, and was overpowered by the gold which came down from Susa
and Ecbatana), was therefore esteemed better able to recommend than
to imitate the virtues of past times. And yet (excepting only Phocion),
even in his life and manners, he far surpassed the other orators of
his time. None of them addressed the people so boldly; he attacked
the faults, and opposed himself to the unreasonable desires of the
multitude, as may be seen in his orations. Theopompus writes, that
the Athenians having by name selected Demosthenes, and called upon
him to accuse a certain person, he refused to do it; upon which the
assembly being all in an uproar, he rose up and said, "Your counsellor,
whether you will or no, O ye men of Athens, you shall always have
me; but a sycophant or false accuser, though you would have me, I
shall never be." And his conduct in the case of Antiphon was perfectly aristocratical; whom, after he had been acquitted in the assembly,
he took and brought before the court of Areopagus, and, setting at
naught the displeasure of the people, convicted him there of having
promised Philip to burn the arsenal; whereupon the man was condemned
by that court, and suffered for it. He accused, also, Theoris, the
priestess, amongst other misdemeanours, of having instructed and taught
the slaves to deceive and cheat their masters, for which the sentence
of death was passed upon her, and she was executed.
The oration which Apollodorus made use of, and by it carried the cause
against Timotheus, the general, in an action of debt, it is said was
written for him by Demosthenes; as also those against Phormion and
Stephanus, in which latter case he was thought to have acted dishonourably,
for the speech which Phormion used against Apollodorus was also of
his making; he, as it were, having simply furnished two adversaries
out of the same shop with weapons to wound one another. Of his orations
addressed to the public assemblies, that against Androtion and those
against Timocrates and Aristocrates, were written for others, before
he had come forward himself as a politician. They were composed, it
seems, when he was but seven or eight and twenty years old. That against
Aristogiton, and that for the Immunities, he spoke himself, at the
request, as he says, of Ctesippus, the son of Chabrias, but, as some
say, out of courtship to the young man's mother. Though, in fact,
he did not marry her, for his wife was a woman of Samos, as Demetrius,
the Magnesian, writes, in his book on Persons of the same Name. It
is not certain whether his oration against Aeschines, for Misconduct
as Ambassador, was ever spoken; although Idomeneus says that Aeschines
wanted only thirty voices to condemn him. But this seems not to be
correct, at least so far as may be conjectured from both their orations
concerning the Crown; for in these, neither of them speaks clearly
or directly of it, as a cause that ever came to trial. But let others
decide this controversy.
It was evident, even in time of peace, what course Demosthenes would
steer in the commonwealth; for whatever was done by the Macedonian,
he criticized and found fault with, and upon all occasions was stirring
up the people of Athens, and inflaming them against him. Therefore,
in the court of Philip, no man was so much talked of, or of so great
account as he; and when he came thither, one of the ten ambassadors
who were sent into Macedonia, though all had audience given them,
yet his speech was answered with most care and exactness. But in other
respects, Philip entertained him not so honourably as the rest, neither
did he show him the same kindness and civility with which he applied
himself to the party of Aeschines and Philocrates. So that, when the
others commended Philip for his able speaking, his beautiful person,
nay, and also for his good companionship in drinking, Demosthenes
could not refrain from cavilling at these praises; the first, he said,
was a quality which might well enough become a rhetorician, the second
a woman, and the last was only the property of a sponge; no one of
them was the proper commendation of a prince.
But when things came at last to war, Philip on the one side being
not able to live in peace, and the Athenians, on the other side, being
stirred up by Demosthenes, the first action he put them upon was the
reducing of Euboea, which, by the treachery of the tyrants, was brought
under subjection to Philip. And on his proposition, the decree was
voted, and they crossed over thither and chased the Macedonians out
of the island. The next was the relief of the Byzantines and Perinthians,
whom the Macedonians at that time were attacking. He persuaded the
people to lay aside their enmity against these cities, to forget the
offences committed by them in the Confederate War, and to send them
such succours as eventually saved and secured them. Not long after,
he undertook an embassy through the states of Greece, which he solicited
and so far incensed against Philip that, a few only excepted, he brought
them all into a general league. So that, besides the forces composed
of the citizens themselves, there was an army consisting of fifteen
thousand foot and two thousand horse, and the money to pay these strangers was levied and brought in with great cheerfulness. On which occasion
it was, says Theophrastus, on the allies requesting that their contributions
for the war might be ascertained and stated, Crobylus, the orator,
made use of the saying, "War can't be fed at so much a day." Now was
all Greece up in arms, and in great expectation what would be the
event. The Euboeans, the Achaeans, the Corinthians, the Megarians,
the Leucadians, and Corcyraeans, their people and their cities, were
all joined together in a league. But the hardest task was yet behind,
left for Demosthenes, to draw the Thebans into this confederacy with
the rest. Their country bordered next upon Attica, they had great
forces for the war, and at that time they were accounted the best
soldiers of all Greece, but it was no easy matter to make them break
with Philip, who, by many good offices, had so lately obliged them
in the Phocian war; especially considering how the subjects of dispute
and variance between the two cities were continually renewed and exasperated
by petty quarrels, arising out of the proximity of their frontiers.
But after Philip, being now grown high and puffed up with his good
success at Amphissa, on a sudden surprised Elatea and possessed himself
of Phocis, and the Athenians were in a great consternation, none durst
venture to rise up to speak, no one knew what to say, all were at
a loss, and the whole assembly in silence and perplexity, in this
extremity of affairs Demosthenes was the only man who appeared, his
counsel to them being alliance with the Thebans. And having in other
ways encouraged the people, and, as his manner was, raised their spirits
up with hopes, he, with some others, was sent ambassador to Thebes.
To oppose him, as Marsyas says, Philip also sent thither his envoys,
Amyntas and Clearchus, two Macedonians, besides Daochus, a Thessalian,
and Thrasydaeus. Now the Thebans, in their consultations, were well
enough aware what suited best with their own interest, but every one
had before his eyes the terrors of war, and their losses in the Phocian
troubles were still recent: but such was the force and power of the
orator, fanning up, as Theopompus says, their courage, and firing
their emulation, that, casting away every thought of prudence, fear,
or obligation, in a sort of divine possession, they chose the path
of honour, to which his words invited them. And this success, thus
accomplished by an orator, was thought to be so glorious and of such
consequence, that Philip immediately sent heralds to treat and petition
for a peace: all Greece was aroused, and up in arms to help. And the
commanders-in-chief, not only of Attica, but of Boeotia, applied themselves
to Demosthenes, and observed his directions. He managed all the assemblies
of the Thebans, no less than those of the Athenians; he was beloved
both by the one and by the other, and exercised the same supreme authority
with both; and that not by unfair means, or without just cause, as
Theopompus professes, but indeed it was no more than was due to his
But there was, it would seem, some divinely ordered fortune, commissioned,
in the revolution of things, to put a period at this time to the liberty
of Greece, which opposed and thwarted all their actions, and by many
signs foretold what should happen. Such were the sad predictions uttered
by the Pythian priestess, and this old oracle cited out of the Sibyl's
"The battle on Thermodon that shall be
Safe at a distance I desire to see,
Far, like an eagle, watching in the air,
Conquered shall weep, and conqueror perish there."
This Thermodon, they say, is a little rivulet here in our country
in Chaeronea, running into the Cephisus. But we know of none that
is so called at the present time, and can only conjecture that the
streamlet which is now called Haemon, and runs by the Temple of Hercules,
where the Grecians were encamped, might perhaps in those days be called
Thermodon, and after the fight, being filled with blood and dead bodies,
upon this occasion, as we guess, might change its old name for that
which it now bears. Yet Duris says that this Thermodon was no river,
but that some of the soldiers, as they were pitching their tents and digging trenches about them, found a small stone statue, which, by
the inscription, appeared to be the figure of Thermodon, carrying
a wounded Amazon in his arms; and that there was another oracle current
about it, as follows:-
"The battle on Thermodon that shall be,
Fail not, black raven, to attend and see;
The flesh of men shall there abound for thee."
In fine, it is not easy to determine what is the truth. But of Demosthenes
it is said that he had such great confidence in the Grecian forces,
and was so excited by the sight of the courage and resolution of so
many brave men ready to engage the enemy, that he would by no means
endure they should give any heed to oracles, or hearken to prophecies,
but gave out that he suspected even the prophetess herself, as if
she had been tampered with to speak in favour of Philip. The Thebans
he put in mind of Epaminondas, the Athenians of Pericles, who always
took their own measures and governed their actions by reason, looking
upon things of this kind as mere pretexts for cowardice. Thus far,
therefore, Demosthenes acquitted himself like a brave man. But in
the fight he did nothing honourable, nor was his performance answerable
to his speeches. For he fled, deserting his place disgracefully, and
throwing away his arms, not ashamed, as Pytheas observed, to belie
the inscription written on his shield, in letters of gold, "With good
In the meantime Philip, in the first moment of victory, was so transported
with joy, that he grew extravagant, and going out after he had drunk
largely to visit the dead bodies, he chanted the first words of the
decree that had been passed on the motion of Demosthenes-
"The motion of Demosthenes, Demosthenes's son," dividing it metrically
into feet, and marking the beats.
But when he came to himself, and had well considered the danger he
was lately under, he could not forbear from shuddering at the wonderful
ability and power of an orator who had made him hazard his life and
empire on the issue of a few brief hours. The fame of it also reached
even to the court of Persia, and the king sent letters to his lieutenants
commanding them to supply Demosthenes with money, and to pay every
attention to him, as the only man of all the Grecians who was able
to give Philip occupation and find employment for his forces near
home, in the troubles of Greece. This, afterwards came to the knowledge
of Alexander, by certain letters of Demosthenes which he found at
Sardis, and by other papers of the Persian officers, stating the large
sums which had been given him.
At this time, however, upon the ill-success which now happened to
the Grecians, those of the contrary faction in the commonwealth fell
foul upon Demosthenes and took the opportunity to frame several informations
and indictments against him. But the people not only acquitted him
of these accusations, but continued towards him their former respect,
and still invited him, as a man that meant well, to take a part in
public affairs. Insomuch that when the bones of those who had been
slain at Chaeronea were brought home to be solemnly interred, Demosthenes
was the man they chose to make the funeral oration. They did not show,
under the misfortunes which befell them, a base or ignoble mind, as
Theopompus writes in his exaggerated style, but on the contrary, by
the honour and respect paid to their counsellor, they made it appear
that they were noway dissatisfied with the counsels he had given them.
The speech, therefore, was spoken by Demosthenes. But the subsequent
decrees he would not allow to be passed in his own name, but made
use of those of his friends, one after another, looking upon his own
as unfortunate and inauspicious; till at length he took courage again
after the death of Philip, who did not long outlive his victory at
Chaeronea. And this, it seems, was that which was foretold in the
last verse of the oracle-
"Conquered shall weep, and conqueror perish there." Demosthenes had
secret intelligence of the death of Philip, and laying hold of this
opportunity to prepossess the people with courage and better hopes for the future, he came into the assembly with a cheerful countenance,
pretending to have had a dream that presaged some great good fortune
for Athens; and, not long after, arrived the messengers who brought
the news of Philip's death. No sooner had the people received it,
but immediately they offered sacrifice to the gods, and decreed that
Pausanias should be presented with a crown. Demosthenes appeared publicly
in a rich dress, with a chaplet on his head, though it were but the
seventh day since the death of his daughter, as is said by Aeschines,
who upbraids him upon this account, and rails at him as one void of
natural affection towards his children. Whereas, indeed, he rather
betrays himself to be of a poor, low spirit, and effeminate mind,
if he really means to make wailings and lamentation the only signs
of a gentle and affectionate nature, and to condemn those who bear
such accidents with more temper and less passion. For my own part,
I cannot say that the behaviour of the Athenians on this occasion
was wise or honourable, to crown themselves with garlands and to sacrifice
to the gods for the death of a prince who, in the midst of his success
and victories, when they were a conquered people, had used them with
so much clemency and humanity. For besides provoking fortune, it was
a base thing, and unworthy in itself, to make him a citizen of Athens,
and pay him honours while he lived, and yet as soon as he fell by
another's hand, to set no bounds to their jollity, to insult over
him dead, and to sing triumphant songs of victory, as if by their
own valour they had vanquished him. I must at the same time commend
the behaviour of Demosthenes, who, leaving tears and lamentations
and domestic sorrows to the women, made it his business to attend
to the interests of the commonwealth. And I think it the duty of him
who would be accounted to have a soul truly valiant, and fit for government,
that, standing always firm to the common good, and letting private
griefs and troubles find their compensation in public blessings, he
should maintain the dignity of his character and station, much more
than actors who represent the persons of kings and tyrants, who, we
see, when they either laugh or weep on the stage, follow, not their
own private inclinations, but the course consistent with the subject
and with their position. And if, moreover, when our neighbour is in
misfortune, it is not our duty to forbear offering any consolation,
but rather to say whatever may tend to cheer him, and to invite his
attention to any agreeable objects, just as we tell people who are
troubled with sore eyes to withdraw their sight from bright and offensive
colours to green, and those of a softer mixture, from whence can a
man seek, in his own case, better arguments of consolation for afflictions
in his family, than from the prosperity of his country, by making
public and domestic chances count, so to say, together, and the better
fortune of the state obscure and conceal the less happy circumstances
of the individual. I have been induced to say so much, because I have
known many readers melted by Aeschines's language into a soft and
unmanly tenderness.
But now to turn to my narrative. The cities of Greece were inspirited
once more by the efforts of Demosthenes to form a league together.
The Thebans, whom he had provided with arms, set upon their garrison,
and slew many of them; the Athenians made preparations to join their
forces with them; Demosthenes ruled supreme in the popular assembly,
and wrote letters to the Persian officers who commanded under the
king in Asia, inciting them to make war upon the Macedonian, calling
him child and simpleton. But as soon as Alexander had settled matters
in his own country, and came in person with his army into Boeotia,
down fell the courage of the Athenians, and Demosthenes was hushed;
the Thebans, deserted by them, fought by themselves, and lost their
city. After which, the people of Athens, all in distress and great
perplexity, resolved to send ambassadors to Alexander, and amongst
others, made choice of Demosthenes for one; but his heart failing
him for fear of the king's anger, he returned back from Cithaeron,
and left the embassy. In the meantime, Alexander sent to Athens, requiring
ten of their orators to be delivered up to him, as Idomeneus and Duris have reported, but as the most and best historians say, he demanded
these eight only,- Demosthenes, Polyeuctus, Ephialtes, Lycurgus, Moerocles,
Demon, Callisthenes, and Charidemus. It was upon this occasion that
Demosthenes related to them the fable in which the sheep are said
to deliver up their dogs to the wolves; himself and those who with
him contended for the people's safety being, in his comparison, the
dogs that defended the flock, and Alexander "the Macedonian arch-wolf."
He further told them, "As we see corn-masters sell their whole stock
by a few grains of wheat which they carry about with them in a dish,
as a sample of the rest, so you by delivering up us, who are but a
few, do at the same time unawares surrender up yourselves all together
with us so we find it related in the history of Aristobulus, the Cassandrian.
The Athenians were deliberating, and at a loss what to do, when Demades,
having agreed with the persons whom Alexander had demanded, for five
talents, undertook to go ambassador, and to intercede with the king
for them; and, whether it was that he relied on his friendship and
kindness, or that he hoped to find him satiated, as a lion glutted
with slaughter, he certainly went, and prevailed with him both to
pardon the men, and to be reconciled to the city.
So he and his friends, when Alexander went away, were great men, and
Demosthenes was quite put aside. Yet when Agis, the Spartan, made
his insurrection, he also for a short time attempted a movement in
his favour; but he soon shrunk back again, as the Athenians would
not take any part in it, and, Agis being slain, the Lacedaemonians
were vanquished. During this time it was that the indictment against
Ctesiphon, concerning the crown, was brought to trial. The action
was commenced a little before the battle in Chaeronea, when Chaerondas
was archon, but it was not proceeded with till about ten years after,
Aristophon being then archon. Never was any public cause more celebrated
than this, alike for the fame of the orators, and for the generous
courage of the judges, who, though at that time the accusers of Demosthenes
were in the height of power, and supported by all the favour of the
Macedonians, yet would not give judgment against him, but acquitted
him so honourably, that Aeschines did not obtain the fifth part of
their suffrages on his side, so that, immediately after, he left the
city, and spent the rest of his life in teaching rhetoric about the
island of Rhodes, and upon the continent in Ionia.
It was not long after that Harpalus fled from Alexander, and came
to Athens out of Asia; knowing himself guilty of many misdeeds into
which his love of luxury had led him, and fearing the king, who was
now grown terrible even to his best friends. Yet this man had no sooner
addressed himself to the people, and delivered up his goods, his ships,
and himself to their disposal, but the other orators of the town had
their eyes quickly fixed upon his money, and came in to his assistance,
persuading the Athenians to receive and protect their suppliant. Demosthenes
at first gave advice to chase him out of the country, and to beware
lest they involved their city in a war upon an unnecessary and unjust
occasion. But some few days after, as they were taking an account
of the treasure, Harpalus, perceiving how much he was pleased with
a cup of Persian manufacture, and how curiously he surveyed the sculpture
and fashion of it, desired him to poise it in his hand, and consider
the weight of the gold. Demosthenes, being amazed to feel how heavy
it was, asked him what weight it came to. "To you," said Harpalus,
smiling, "it shall come with twenty talents." And presently after,
when night drew on, he sent him the cup with so many talents. Harpalus,
it seems, was a person of singular skill to discern a man's covetousness
by the air of his countenance, and the look and movements of his eyes.
For Demosthenes could not resist the temptation, but admitting the
present, like an armed garrison, into the citadel of his house, he
surrendered himself up to the interest of Harpalus. The next day,
he came into the assembly with his neck swathed about with wool and
rollers, and when they called on him to rise up and speak, he made
signs as if he had lost his voice. But the wits, turning the matter
to ridicule, said that certainly the orator had been seized that night with no other than a silver quinsy. And soon after, the people, becoming
aware of the bribery, grew angry, and would not suffer him to speak,
or make any apology for himself, but ran him down with noise; and
one man stood up, and cried out, "What, ye men of Athens, will you
not hear the cup-bearer?" So at length they banished Harpalus out
of the city; and fearing lest they should be called to account for
the treasure which the orators had purloined, they made a strict inquiry,
going from house to house; only Callicles, the son of Arrhenidas,
who was newly married, they would not suffer to be searched, out of
respects, as Theopompus writes, to the bride, who was within.
Demosthenes resisted the inquisition, and proposed a decree to refer
the business to the court of Areopagus, and to punish those whom that
court should find guilty. But being himself one of the first whom
the court condemned, when he came to the bar, he was fined fifty talents,
and committed to prison; where, out of shame of the crime for which
he was condemned, and through the weakness of his body, growing incapable
of supporting the confinement, he made his escape, by the carelessness
of some and by the contrivance of others of the citizens. We are told,
at least, that he had not fled far from the city when, finding that
he was pursued by some of those who had been his adversaries, he endeavoured
to hide himself. But when they called him by his name, and coming
up nearer to him, desired he would accept from them some money which
they had brought from home as a provision for his journey, and to
that purpose only had followed him, when they entreated him to take
courage, and to bear up against his misfortune, he burst out into
much greater lamentation, saying, "But how is it possible to support
myself under so heavy an affliction, since I leave a city in which
I have such enemies, as in any other it is not easy to find friends."
He did not show much fortitude in his banishment, spending his time
for the most part in Aegina and Troezen, and, with tears in his eyes,
looking towards the country of Attica. And there remain upon record
some sayings of his, little resembling those sentiments of generosity
and bravery which he used to express when he had the management of
the commonwealth. For, as he was departing out of the city, it is
reported, he lifted up his hands towards the Acropolis, and said,
"O Lady Minerva, how is it that thou takest delight in three such
fierce untractable beasts, the owl, the snake, and the people?" The
young men that came to visit and converse with him, he deterred from
meddling with state affairs, telling them, that if at first two ways
had been proposed to him, the one leading to the speaker's stand and
the assembly, the other going direct to destruction, and he could
have foreseen the many evils which attend those who deal in public
business, such as fears, envies, calumnies, and contentions, he would
certainly have taken that which led straight on to his death.
But now happened the death of Alexander, while Demosthenes was in
this banishment which we have been speaking of. And the Grecians were
once again up in arms, encouraged by the brave attempts of Leosthenes,
who was then drawing a circumvallation about Antipater, whom he held
close besieged in Lamia. Pytheas, therefore, the orator, and Callimedon,
called the Crab, fled from Athens, and taking sides with Antipater,
went about with his friends and ambassadors to keep the Grecians from
revolting and taking part with the Athenians. But, on the other side,
Demosthenes, associating himself with the ambassadors that came from
Athens, used his utmost endeavours and gave them his best assistance
in persuading the cities to fall unanimously upon the Macedonians,
and to drive them out of Greece. Phylarchus says that in Arcadia there
happened a rencounter between Pytheas and Demosthenes, which came
at last to downright railing, while the one pleaded for the Macedonians,
and the other for the Grecians. Pytheas said, that as we always suppose
there is some disease in the family to which they bring asses' milk,
so wherever there comes an embassy from Athens that city must needs
be indisposed. And Demosthenes answered him, retorting the comparison:
"Asses' milk is brought to restore health and the Athenians come for
the safety and recovery of the sick." With this conduct the people of Athens were so well pleased that they decreed the recall of Demosthenes
from banishment. The decree was brought in by Demon the Paeanian,
cousin to Demosthenes. So they sent him a ship to Aegina, and he landed
at the port of Piraeus, where he was met and joyfully received by
all the citizens, not so much as an archon or a priest staying behind.
And Demetrius, the Magnesian, says that he lifted up his hands towards
heaven, and blessed this day of his happy return, as far more honourable
than that of Alcibiades; since he was recalled by his countrymen,
not through any force or constraint put upon them, but by their own
good-will and free inclinations. There remained only his pecuniary
fine, which, according to law, could not be remitted by the people.
But they found out a way to elude the law. It was a custom with them
to allow a certain quantity of silver to those who were to furnish
and adorn the altar for the sacrifice of Jupiter Soter. This office,
for that turn, they bestowed on Demosthenes, and for the performance
of it ordered him fifty talents, the very sum in which he was condemned.
Yet it was no long time that he enjoyed his country after his return,
the attempts of the Greeks being soon all utterly defeated. For the
battle of Cranon happened in Metagitnion, in Boedromion the garrison
entered into Munychia, and in the Pyanepsion following died Demosthenes
after this manner.
Upon the report that Antipater and Craterus were coming to Athens,
Demosthenes with his party took their opportunity to escape privily
out of the city; but sentence of death was, upon the motion of Demades,
passed upon them by the people. They dispersed themselves, flying
some to one place, some to another; and Antipater sent about his soldiers
into all quarters to apprehend them. Archias was their captain, and
was thence called the exile-hunter. He was a Thurian born, and is
reported to have been an actor of tragedies, and they say that Polus,
of Aegina, the best actor of his time, was his scholar; but Hermippus
reckons Archias among the disciples of Lacritus, the orator, and Demetrius
says he spent some time with Anaximenes. This Archias finding Hyperides
the orator, Aritonicus of Marathon, and Himeraeus, the brother of
Demetrius the Phalerian, in Aegina, took them by force out of the
temple of Aecus, whither they were fled for safety, and sent them
to Antipater, then at Cleonae where they were all put to death; and
Hyperides, they say, had his tongue cut out.
Demosthenes, he heard, had taken sanctuary at the temple of Neptune
in Calauria and, crossing over thither in some light vessels, as soon
as he had landed himself, and the Thracian spearmen that came with
him, he endeavoured to persuade Demosthenes to accompany him to Antipater,
as if he should meet with no hard usage from him. But Demosthenes,
in his sleep the night before, had a strange dream. It seemed to him
that he was acting a tragedy, and contended with Archias for the victory;
and though he acquitted himself well, and gave good satisfaction to
the spectators, yet for want of better furniture and provision for
the stage, he lost the day. And so, while Archias was discoursing
to him with many expressions of kindness, he sate still in the same
posture, and looking up steadfastly upon him, "O Archias," said he,
"I am as little affected by your promises now as I used formerly to
be by your acting." Archias at this beginning to grow angry and to
threaten him, "Now," said Demosthenes, "you speak like the genuine
Macedonian oracle; before you were but acting a part. Therefore forbear
only a little, while I write a word or two home to my family." Having
thus spoken, he withdrew into the temple and taking a scroll as if
he meant to write, he put the reed into his mouth, and biting it as
he was wont to do when he was thoughtful or writing, he held it there
some time. Then he bowed down his head and covered it. The soldiers
that stood at the door, supposing all this to proceed from want of
courage and fear of death, in derision called him effeminate, and
faint-hearted, and coward. And Archias drawing near, desired him to
rise up, and repeating the same kind of thing he had spoken before,
he once more promised to make his peace with Antipater. But Demosthenes,
perceiving that now the poison had pierced, and seized his vitals, uncovered his head, and fixing his eyes upon Archias, "Now," said
he, "as soon as you please, you may commence the part of Creon in
the tragedy, and cast out this body of mine unburied. But, O gracious
Neptune, I, for my part while I am yet alive will rise up and depart
out of this sacred place; though Antipater and the Macedonians have
not left so much as thy temple unpolluted." After he had thus spoken
and desired to be held up, because already he began to tremble and
stagger, as he was going forward, and passing by the altar, he fell
down, and with a groan gave up the ghost.
Ariston says that he took the poison out of a reed, as we have shown
before. But Pappus, a certain historian whose history was recovered
by Hermippus, says, that as he fell near the altar, there was found
in his scroll this beginning only of a letter, and nothing more, "Demosthenes
to Antipater." And that when his sudden death was much wondered at,
the Thracians who guarded the doors reported that he took the poison
into his hand out of a rag, and put it in his mouth, and that they
imagined it had been gold which he swallowed, but the maid that served
him, being examined by the followers of Archias, affirmed that he
had worn it in a bracelet for a long time, as an amulet. And Eratosthenes
also says that he kept the poison in a hollow ring, and that that
ring was the bracelet which he wore about his arm. There are various
other statements made by the many authors who have related the story,
but there is no need to enter into their discrepancies; yet I must
not omit what is said by Demochares the relation of Demosthenes, who
is of opinion it was not by the help of poison that he met with so
sudden and so easy a death, but that by the singular favour and providence
of the gods he was thus rescued from the cruelty of the Macedonians.
He died on the sixteenth of Pyanepsion, the most sad and solemn day
of the Thesmophoria, which the women observe by fasting in the temple
of the goddess.
Soon after his death, the people of Athens bestowed on him such honours
as he had deserved. They erected his statue of brass; they decreed
that the eldest of his family should be maintained in the Prytaneum;
and on the base of his statue was engraven the famous inscription-
"Had you for Greece been strong, as wise you were,
The Macedonian had not conquered her." For it is simply ridiculous
to say, as some have related, that Demosthenes made these verses himself
in Calauria, as he was about to take the poison.
A little before he went to Athens, the following incident was said
to have happened. A soldier, being summoned to appear before his superior
officer, and answer to an accusation brought against him, put that
little gold which he had into the hands of Demosthenes's statue. The
fingers of this statue were folded one within another, and near it
grew a small plane-tree, from which many leaves, either accidently
blown thither by the wind, or placed so on purpose by the man himself,
falling together and lying round about the gold, concealed it for
a long time. In the end, the soldier returned and found his treasure
entire, and the fame of this incident was spread abroad. And many
ingenious persons of the city competed with each other, on this occasion,
to vindicate the integrity of Demosthenes in several epigrams which
they made on the subject.
As for Demades, he did not long enjoy the new honours he now came
in for, divine vengeance for the death of Demosthenes pursuing him
into Macedonia, where he was justly put to death by those whom he
had basely flattered. They were weary of him before, but at this time
the guilt he lay under was manifest and undeniable. For some of his
letters were intercepted, in which he had encouraged Perdiccas to
fall upon Macedonia, and to save the Grecians, who, he said, hung
only by an old rotten thread meaning Antipater. Of this he was accused
by Dinarchus, the Corinthian, and Cassander was so enraged, that he
first slew his son in his bosom, and then gave orders to execute him;
who might now at last, by his own extreme misfortunes, learn the lesson
that traitors who made sale of their country sell themselves first;
a truth which Demosthenes had often foretold him, and he would never believe. Thus, Sosius, you have the life of Demosthenes from such
accounts as we have either read or heard concerning him.


Recent Forum Posts

Recent Videos

Recent Blog Entries