Demosthenes played a major
role in Greek history, being a highly acclaimed orator whose his talent in the
art of Rhetoric was truly preeminently in ancient Athens and Greece.
Demosthenes’ life constructed the basis of ancient Athenian foreign policy and
the repercussions of his work have been prominent all throughout history. Demosthenes, widely celebrated
as one of the world’s greatest orators and statesmen, was a master of rhetoric in
his early speechwriting career, his later political statesman career and his
famous opposition against Philip II of Macedon when he recognised the rise of autocratic Macedonia and thus the
significance for traditional Greek political freedom.
began his extensive career as an orator and speechwriter, and although incipiently
he was not well-known, his reputation grew throughout Greece as a true ‘master
of Rhetoric’. Demosthenes was a native Athenian orator who lived between 384 and 322 BC. He is often
regarded as the greatest of ancient Greek orators and statesmen (Lesley Adkins
and Roy A. Adkins 36). His
speech writing career was first influenced through the death of his father, a wealthy weapon manufacturer,
when Demosthenes was seven years old. His father named three guardians to care
for his family and estate, however these guardians failed to fulfill their
duties and, at age eighteen, Demosthenes sued them (Carroll Moulton 4-5, “Demosthenes
495-496). He wrote and delivered his own speeches to the court and won the case,
this success then encouraged him to further pursue a career in speech-writing.
Athens, Demosthenes was employed by many wealthy and powerful clients who paid highly
for his services (May https://online.salempress.com). During this
time period, citizens in court cases had to represent themselves, due to the
nonexistence of lawyers. However, the preponderance
of the general public were unable to write their own speeches, thus leading to
the rise of employed speech writers – such as Demosthenes. As a professional speech
writer and orator, Demosthenes acted as
a politician who debated public cases in law courts (Carroll Moulton
was extremely dedicated to his work, and myth claims he “trained himself to
speak loudly and clearly by practicing his speeches with pebbles in his mouth” (Carroll Moulton
4-5). He was also known as a “student of Greek history”, using detailed
historical events in his public speeches; giving his speeches a “humanistic
breadth” in pursuance of interesting his audience (May https://online.salempress.com). Demosthenes was widely
praised for his strong and persuasive speeches, creating a reputation for himself
as a Master of Rhetoric; “the art of using words effectively in speaking or
writing” (Carroll Moulton 4-5).
In 355 BC, during Demosthenes’
early thirties, he concentered his career towards politics, addressing Athenian Assembly
and establishing his views on Macedonian imperial ambition. (Haber ancienthistory.abc-clio.com). During this political career
Demosthenes became the leader of the democratic faction and instituted his discourse
towards the governing body of Athens,
the Assembly, through his speeches (Carroll Moulton 4-5). In 354 BC he first addressed the
Athenian Assembly through his fundamental speech, in which he focused on
Athenian foreign policy and fabricated an ongoing theme for his public career; a
policy that Athens could keep its democratic freedom through remaining
diplomatically independent of other city-states, yet simultaneously preparing
to make temporary alliance when danger was prominent (May https://online.salempress.com).
Over his political career he also led the Ancient Greek equivalent to a modern-day American democratic
party, acting a a leader due to his superb persuasive skill (May https://online.salempress.com).
also gave many notable speeches including his famous “On the Navy Boards Speech”,
which addressed the threat from the East in 354 BC, and the well-know “Philippics”
which roused Athenians to resist the growing threat from Philip II of Macedon (“Demosthenes
495-496) and establish the anti-Macedonian party; a party that was opposed to
Macedonian imperial ambition (May https://online.salempress.com).
this political career Demosthenes invariably addressed the Athenian Assembly. The
Assembly, an unorganized and very large group of 6000 male citizens, was well-known
for it’s ability to shout down a disliked speaker. Name calling or routing a
speaker off with laughter was also very common, creating a fearful atmosphere towards
oration (May https://online.salempress.com).
According to law, or lack thereof, any citizen could speak in the Assembly.
However, the point of comparison was so high that only the most skilled orators
would survive. In this “turbulent arena” Demosthenes stood out, known as “a
water drinker”- a severe and forbidding personality-, because he refused to
back down accept criticism or hate (May https://online.salempress.com).
Name-calling was very common in the Assembly and Demosthenes himself did not
hasten to verbally abuse others; it was often said he fully understood the
advantages of making an audience lose respect for his opponent (May https://online.salempress.com).
Demosthenes spent many years in the Athenian political environment and his
influence is particularly notable with his famous opposition to Philip II of
Macedon and his son Alexander the Great.
Demosthenes played a very major role
in Athenian foreign policy, particularly in recognition towards Philip II of
Macedon as a threat to Athens’ political freedom. In 351 BC Demosthenes
delivered the first of his “Philippic” speeches, which were aimed to
warn Athens of Philip II of Macedon’s increasing power. These speeches also explained
the influence of Macedon’s growing power on the stability of Greece (Haber ancienthistory.abc-clio.com).
His speeches were powerful and motivational, urging Athenian action and
reminding Athenians that “Philip is the enemy, and that he had long been
robbing and insulting them” (Demosthenes school.eb.com). Demosthenes also reassuring
the Athenians that they “need not speculate about the future except to assure
themselves that it will be disastrous unless they face the facts and are
willing to do their duty.” (Demosthenes school.eb.com). Despite is
oratorical skill his speech failed to rouse Athens and Philip continued to
threaten Greece (May https://online.salempress.com).
In 344 the second “Philippic”
was given where Demosthenes claimed Philip did not honor the peace agreement,
and blamed Aeschines for incorrectly assuring Athens of its safety. One year
later, in 343 BC, he took Aeschines to court and accusing him of rendering
false reports, giving bad counsel, disobeying instructions, and being
susceptible to bribery, however the court acquitted Aeschines (May https://online.salempress.com).
The third and final “Philippic” was given in 341 BC, and this led to
his new position as head of the Athenian Navy, serving as the impetus for the
creation of a Greek city-state alliance against Philip and Macedon. However, this
alliance was defeated by Philip and the Macedonians in the First Battle of
Chaeronea, and Macedon claimed control over Greece (Haber
Five years later, in 336 BC, Philip
was assassinated and his son Alexander succeeded him; the Greeks were shocked but
many thought freedom would be restored. However, Alexander quickly proved his
capabilities, particularly when the city of Thebes rebelled against him and he
carelessly and brutally destroyed it. Later, in 330 BC pro-Alexandria Athens, Aeschines
pressed charges of impropriety against Ctesiphon, who in the past had proposed
Demosthenes be awarded a gold crown for services to the state. Aeschines,
aiming to target Demosthenes, accused Ctesiphon of making a false statement
when he praised the orator’s patriotism and public service. This situation caused
great interest through Greece and at the trial crowds were very large and there
was a jury
of 500 citizens (May https://online.salempress.com). Demosthenes’
speech, “On the Crown”, in reply to Aeschines’ charges is “universally
acknowledged as a masterpiece of rhetorical art”. The speech addressed Aeschines directly,
arguing that “Your policies supported our enemy, mine, our country’s.”. Through
his outstanding rhetoric skill, he won the case and Aeschines was sent into
exile (May https://online.salempress.com).
Demosthenes continued his struggle
to persuade the Athenians to oppose the Macedonian threat towards their freedom
(Davidson 267-268). After
many years and the death of Alexander The Great, the Greeks rebelled against
Macedonian rule but were crushed by strong Macedonian forces who declared
Demosthenes an outlaw. To avoid capture, Demosthenes escaped, hiding on a small
island until he finally committed suicided with poison (Carroll Moulton
4-5). Following his death his life’s work
has inspired many later figure, including the great Roman orator Cicero and his
manuscripts were recorded in the Library of Alexandria as the personification
of rhetoric, thus they were studied by many Roman schoolboys (May https://online.salempress.com).
a mater of rhetoric and regarded as Greece’s best orator, was very talented in
the art of persuasive speaking during his speechwriting career, political statesman
career and his famous attempts to urge Athens to oppose Philip II of Macedon
and the rise of Macedonian power which posed a threat against Greek political freedom. In ancient terms, Demosthenes was “the orator,”
in the same way Homer was “the poet”, and was a man of prodigious skill and
intellectual qualities (Davidson 267-268, “Demosthenes 495-496). Demosthenes
was, without a doubt, one of the world’s greatest orator and he plays a crucial
role in the modern understanding of ancient Greece. In modern terms his
speeches provide valuable information about 4th-century Athens; highlighting
the political, social, and economic characteristics of life (May https://online.salempress.com).