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AO Demosthenes

AmblesideOnline: Plutarch's Life of Demosthenes

This study represents a great deal of research, thought and work. We offer it to be used freely, and hope it will be a blessing to many students and parents. However, out of respect for this work, please honor our long-standing terms of use, and do not repost this or any of the AO curriculum anywhere else, in any form. This copyrighted material is free to use, not free to repost or republish. Please be conscientious in your desire to share AO, and link instead of copying.

Demosthenes (384 B.C.-322 B.C.)

Study Notes prepared for the AmblesideOnline Curriculum by Anne White, 2018 using Thomas North's text. If you wish to use this Study Guide as a teacher's edition, text-only version of this Life (without the Study Guide) is also available to print for your student. Read Intro to these study guides here.


These notes, and the accompanying text, are prepared for the use of students following a twelve-week term, who need passages of a readable length along with a bit of vocabulary and background help. The text is that of Thomas North's 1579 translation of Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, with some substitutions from John Dryden's 1683 translation [in brackets]. I have updated spelling, and occasionally punctuation. There are a number of omissions, either for length or for suitability. I do not intend this to irritate purists and academics, but simply to provide an edited version of the story that will be useful for individual students and small groups, while remaining as respectful as possible to the original text. Likewise, the historical dates are incomplete, and are included only to give an idea of important events and the passage of time.

Some lessons are divided into two or three sections. These can be read all at once, or used throughout the week.

The vocabulary lists are included to save time on having to look things up, or to explain ambiguities in the text.

Using the Introductory Material

Each study contains explanatory material before the first lesson. The parent/teacher should examine this before beginning the study, and choose when or how to present the material. A little at the beginning of the first lesson may be useful to stir interest in the study, but it is not meant to be given all in one dose! The information may help as you introduce later lessons, or to answer questions that the students ask.

I encourage you to make the lessons your own. Use the discussion questions that are the most meaningful to you. Remember that Charlotte Mason was satisfied with "Proper names are written on the blackboard, and then the children narrate what they have listened to."

Special Note

The Life of Demosthenes is, for Plutarch, unusually brief: it takes up 32 pages in North's translation, compared with 53 pages for Cicero and 60 for Demetrius. That makes the lessons short, and there are only ten of them. If you need material to fill the extra weeks in a term, here are two suggestions:

1. Do the study of Cicero first, then Demosthenes, and read Plutarch's comparison at the end. (The text is included at the end of Demosthenes.)

2. Use the extra time for creative narrations, including debate, recitations, or speeches. The following activity is suggested for Lesson Three, but could be done any time: "Demosthenes preferred to have his speeches planned out, but some of his hearers said that his off-the-cuff orations were better. For fun (or as a serious exercise), prepare and deliver a short speech. Then have someone suggest another topic for you to speak on without preparation. Which was easier for you? Which talk did your audience enjoy more?"

Demosthenes (384 B.C.-322 B.C.)

"[Demosthenes] affects no learning; he aims at no elegance; he seeks no glaring ornaments; he rarely touches the heart with a soft or melting appeal, and when he does, it is only with an effect in which a third-rate speaker would have surpassed him...The secret of his power is simple, for it lies essentially in the fact that his political principles were interwoven with his very spirit." (Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1898)

The World of Demosthenes

The Golden Age of Athens lasted from 480 B.C., at the end of the Persian Wars, until 404 B.C. By the time Demosthenes was born in 384 B.C., the city/state was in political and economic trouble. The greatest threat to Athenian liberty was the kingdom of Macedon, ruled by Philip II from 359 to 336, and then by his son Alexander III (the Great) from 336 to 323.

Who was Demosthenes?

Demosthenes was not a military leader (as demonstrated by his behaviour during battle); nor was he an elected official. He was an orator; a philosopher; a public prosecutor and defender, and a political analyst. As a defender of Athenian liberty, he talked his fellow citizens into allying themselves with other cities (such as Thebes) to resist the Macedonians.

Who was Demades?

Demades was another Athenian orator, about the same age as Demosthenes. He supported Demosthenes at first, but later they became enemies because of their different visions for the future of Athens. Demades was taken prisoner by the Macedonians at the Battle of Chaeronea, but made such a good impression on King Philip that he was released, and helped create a peace treaty between Macedon and Athens (Lesson Seven). This was good for his own popularity, but it didn't help the worsening public opinion of Demosthenes.

How was Athens ruled in the fourth century B.C.?

If you have read Plutarch's Life of Nicias, you may remember his involvement in the Sicilian Expedition of 415-413 B.C. Because of that defeat, the government of Athens was taken over by an oligarchy called the Council of Four Hundred; but that was soon replaced by a more democratic form of government. Athenian democracy remained (with occasional interruptions) until the Macedonians took control in 338 B.C.

What is a commonwealth?

A commonwealth can refer either to one state, usually a democratic republic; or to a state plus its associated territories or colonies (its extended family, so to speak).

Why are there only ten lessons in this study?

See the introductory notes.

Lesson One


In the introduction to this study, Plutarch (uncharacteristically) speaks about his own life and situation, as an example of the questions that people ask about his biographical subjects. How much does your birthplace, or the country or city where you live now, influence your character or the opportunities you have? Why might you want to stay in the home town instead of living in a big city? But what are the advantages of the city, especially for a scholar? (And why didn't Plutarch have much chance to learn Latin when he visited Rome?)


commonwealth: see introductory notes

confer their works and writings of eloquence: Dryden says "to criticize their orations one against the other" (the thing he does not intend to do)

unadvisedly: unwisely, and in this case over-ambitiously

hath framed in manner one self mould: made them alike

enervated: nervous, stammering

bore the bell: had the highest reputation


See introductory notes for this study.

Historic Occasions

384 B.C.: the birth of Demosthenes

382 B.C.: the birth of Philip II of Macedon

Lesson One Reading

Part One (Plutarch gives a general introduction to Demosthenes and Cicero)

Surely he that hath taken upon him to put forth any work, or to write any history, into the which he is to thrust many strange things unknown to his country, and which are not ready at his hand to be had, but dispersed abroad in divers places, and are to be gathered out of divers books and authorities: first of all, he must needs remain in some great and famous city thoroughly inhabited, where men do delight in good and virtuous things, because there are commonly plenty of all sorts of books: and that perusing them, and hearing talk also of many things besides, which other historiographers peradventure have not written of, and which will carry so much more credit, because men that are alive may presently speak of them as of their own knowledge, whereby he may make his work perfect in every point, having many and divers necessary things contained in it.

But I myself that dwell in a poor little town, and yet do remain there willingly lest it should become less: whilst I was in Italy, and at Rome, I had no leisure to study and exercise the Latin tongue, as well for the great business I had then to do, as also to satisfy them that came to learn philosophy of me: so that even somewhat too late, and now in my latter time, I began to take my Latin books in my hand. And thereby, a strange thing to tell you, but yet true: I learned not, nor understood matters so much by the words, as I came to understand the words, by common experience and knowledge I had in things. But furthermore, to know how to pronounce the Latin tongue well, or to speak it readily, or to understand the signification, translations, and fine joining of the simple words one with another, which do beautify and set forth the tongue: surely I judge it to be a marvellous pleasant and sweet thing, but withal it requireth a long and laboursome study, meet for those that have better leisure than I have, and that have young years on their backs to follow such pleasure.

Therefore, in this present book, which is the fifth of this work, where I have taken upon me to compare the lives of noble men one with another: undertaking to write the lives of Demosthenes and Cicero, we will consider and examine their nature, manners and conditions, by their acts and deeds in the government of the commonwealth, not meaning otherwise to confer their works and writings of eloquence, neither to define which of them two was sharper or sweeter in his oration. The which Caecilius, little understanding, being a man very rash in all his doings, hath unadvisedly written and set forth in print, a comparison of Demosthenes' eloquence, with Cicero's. But if it were an easy matter for every man to know himself, then the gods needed have given us no commandment, neither could men have said that it came from heaven.

But for my opinion, methinks fortune even from the beginning hath framed in manner one self mould of Demosthenes and Cicero, and hath in their natures fashioned many of their qualities one like to the other: as, both of them to be ambitious, both of them to love the liberty of their country, and both of them very fearful in any danger of wars. And likewise their fortunes seem to me, to be both much alike. For it is hard to find two orators again, that being so meanly born as they, have come to be of so great power and authority as they two, nor that have deserved the ill will of kings and noble men so much as they have done, nor that have lost their daughters, nor that have been banished [from] their countries, and that have been restored again with honour, and that again have fled, and have been taken again, nor that have ended their lives with the liberty of their country.

So that it is hard to be judged, whether nature have made them liker in manners, or fortune in their doings, as if they had both like cunning workmasters strived one with the other, to whom they should make them best resemble. But first of all we must write of the elder of the two.

Part Two (beginning the story of Demosthenes)

Demosthenes, the father of this orator Demosthenes, was, as Theopompus writeth, one of the chief men of the city, and they called him Machaeropoeus, to wit, a maker of sword blades, because he had a great shop where he kept a number of slaves to forge them.

[omitted: brief speculation about Demosthenes' parentage]

His father died, leaving him seven year[s] old, and left him reasonable well: for his goods came to little less than the value of fifteen talents. Howbeit his guardians did him great wrong: for they stole a great part of his goods themselves, and did let the rest run to naught, as having little care of it, for they would not pay his schoolmasters their wages. And this was the cause that he did not learn the liberal sciences which are usually taught unto honest men's sons: and to further that want also, he was but a weakling, and very tender, and therefore his mother would not much let him go to school, neither his masters also durst keep him too hard to it, because he was but a sickly child at the first, and very weak. [Hence he had his nickname of "Battalus" given him, it is said, by the boys, in derision of his appearance; Battalus being, as some tell us, a certain enervated flute-player, in ridicule of whom Antiphanes wrote a play.]

[omission: possible other meanings of Battalus]

Furthermore, the occasion (as it is reported) that moved him to give himself to eloquence, was this. Calistratus the orator was to defend the cause of one Oropus before the judges, and every man longed greatly for this day of pleading, both for the excellency of the orator, that then bore the bell for eloquence: as [much as] for the matter, and his accusation, which was manifestly known to all. Demosthenes hearing his schoolmasters agree together to go to the hearing of this matter, he prayed his schoolmaster to be so good, as to let him go with him. His master granted him, and being acquainted with the keepers of the hall door where this matter was to be pleaded, he so entreated them, that they placed his scholar in a very good place, where being set at his ease, he might both see and hear all that was done, and no man could see him. Thereupon, when Demosthenes had heard the case pleaded, he was greatly in love with the honour which the orator had gotten, when he saw how he was waited upon home with such a train of people after him: but yet he wondered more at the force of his great eloquence, that could so turn and convey all things at his pleasure. Thereupon he left the study of all other sciences, and all other exercises of wit and body, which other children are brought up in: and began to labour continually, and to frame himself to make orations, with intent one day to be an orator among the rest.

His master that taught him rhetoric was [named] Isaeus, notwithstanding that Isocrates also kept a school of rhetoric at that time: either because that being an orphan he was not able to pay the wages that Isocrates demanded of his scholars, which was ten minas; or rather, for that he found Isaeus' manner of speech more proper for the use of the eloquence he desired, because it was more finer, and subtler.

Narration and Discussion

Describe the early childhood of Demosthenes. What were the experiences that most shaped his later life?

Would you prefer your oration to be sharper, or sweeter?

For older students: In a passage omitted from the opening section, Plutarch wrote that "[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]. And therefore if we chance to offend, and live not as we should: we cannot accuse the meanness of our country where we were born, but we must justly accuse ourselves." (Ingenuous is often used now to mean sincere, but in earlier times it meant noble, honourable.) Can good character, or virtue, take root in even a poor environment if it finds an accommodating nature? Could the same be said of evil character?

Lesson Two


This lesson begins one of the most well-known tales of Demosthenes' life: how he trained himself, through extremely hard work and against physical limitations, to become a great orator. (The story about him filling his mouth with pebbles is one that he told about himself, and it does not occur until Lesson Three).


when he came out of his wardship: when he came of age

to put his guardians in suit: to sue his guardians

patrimony: inheritance

pulpit for orations: speaker's platform

periods: sentences

but a trifle, and almost nothing to speak of: of little worth

shave his head of purpose: Dryden translates this as "shaving one half of his head." By giving himself an odd appearance, he was forcing himself to stay inside and apply himself to his task.

to declaim upon: to speak about something

kept his house: stayed at home

peradventure: by chance


Satyrus: an actor; friend of Demosthenes

Historic Occasions

366-364 B.C.: Demosthenes delivered orations against his guardians

Lesson Two Reading

Part One

Wherefore when he came out of his wardship, he began to put his guardians in suit, and to write orations and pleas against them: who in contrary manner did ever use delays and excuses, to save themselves from giving up any account unto him, of his goods and patrimony left him. And thus, following this exercise (as Thucydides writeth) it prospered so well with him, that in the end he obtained it, but not without great pains and danger: and yet with all that he could do, he could not recover all that his father left him, by a good deal. So having now gotten some boldness, and being used also to speak in open presence, and withal, having a feeling and delight of the estimation that is won by eloquence in pleading: afterwards he attempted to put forward himself, and to practise in matters of state.

For, as there goeth a tale of one Laomedon, an Orchomenian, who having a grievous pain in the spleen, by advice of physicians was willed to run long courses to help him: and that following their order, he became in the end so lusty and nimble of body, that afterwards he [betook himself to the great garland games], and indeed grew to be the swiftest runner of all men in his time; even so the like chanced unto Demosthenes. For at the first, beginning to practise oratory for recovery of his goods, and thereby having gotten good skill and knowledge how to plead: he afterwards took upon him to speak to the people in assemblies, touching the government of the commonwealth, [as if it were in the great games], and at length did excel all the orators at that time that got up into the pulpit for orations.

But when he first ventured to speak openly, the people made such a noise, that he could scant be heard, and besides they mocked him for his manner of speech that was so strange, because he used so many long confused periods, and his matter he spake of was so intricate with arguments one upon another, that they were tedious, and made men weary to hear him. And furthermore, he had a very soft voice, an impediment in his tongue, and had also a short breath, the which made that men could not well understand what he meant, for his long periods in his oration were oftentimes interrupted, before he was at the end of his sentence. [So that in the end being quite disheartened, he forsook the assembly. As he was walking carelessly and sauntering about the Piraeus], Eunomus the Thessalian, being a very old man, found him, and sharply reproved him, and told him that he did himself great wrong, considering that, having a manner of speech much like unto Pericles, he drowned himself by his faint heart, because he did not seek the way to be bold against the noise of the common people, and to arm his body to away with the pains and burden of public orations, but suffering it to grow feebler, for lack of use and practice.

Part Two

[Another time], being once again repulsed and whistled at, as he returned home, hanging down his head for shame, and utterly discouraged: Satyrus, an excellent player of comedies, being his familiar friend, followed him, and went and spake with him. Demosthenes made his complaint unto him, that where he had taken more pains than all the orators besides, and had almost even worn himself to the bones with study, yet he could by no means devise to please the people; [that drunken sots, mariners, and illiterate fellows were heard, and had the hustings for their own, while he himself was despised].

Satyrus then answered him, "Thou sayest true, Demosthenes, but care not for this, I will help it straight, and take away the cause of all this: so thou wilt but tell me without book certain verses of Euripides, or of Sophocles." Thereupon Demosthenes presently rehearsed some unto him, that came into his mind; Satyrus repeating them after him, gave them quite another grace, with such a pronunciation, comely gesture, and modest countenance becoming the verses, that Demosthenes thought them clean changed. Whereby perceiving how much the action (to wit, the comely manner and gesture in his oration) doth give grace and comeliness in his pleading: he then thought it but a trifle, and almost nothing to speak of, to exercise to plead well, unless therewithal he do also study to have a good pronunciation and gesture. Thereupon he built him a cellar under the ground, the which was whole even in my time, and he would daily go down into it, to fashion his gesture and pronunciation, and also to exercise his voice, and that with such earnest affection, that oftentimes he would be there two or three months one after another, and did shave his head of purpose, because he durst not go abroad in that sort, although his will was good.

And yet he took his theme and matter to declaim upon, and to practise to plead of the matters he had had in hand before, or else upon occasion of such talk as he had with them that came to see him, while he kept his house. For they were no sooner gone from him, but he went down into his cellar, and repeated from the first to the last all matters that had passed between him and his friends in talk together, and alleged also both his own and their answers. And if peradventure he had been at the hearing of any long matter, he would repeat it by himself: and would finely couch and convey it into proper sentences, and thus change and alter every way any matter that he had heard, or talked with others.

Thereof came the opinion men had of him, that he had no very quick capacity by nature, and that his eloquence was not natural, but artificially gotten with extreme labour. And for proof hereof, they make this probable reason, that they never saw Demosthenes make any oration on the sudden, and that oftentimes when he was set in the assembly, the people would call him by his name, to say his opinion touching the matter of counsel then in hand: howbeit that he never rose upon their call, unless he had first studied the matter well he would speak of. So that all the other orators would many times give him a taunt for it: as Pytheas among other[s], that taunting him on a time, told him, his reasons smelled of the lamp. "Yea," replied Demosthenes sharply again, "so is there great difference, Pytheas, betwixt thy labour and mine by lamplight." And himself also speaking to others, did not altogether deny it, but told them plainly, that he did not always write at length all that he would speak, neither did he also offer to speak, before he had made briefs of that he would speak. He said furthermore, that it was a token the man loved the people well, that he would be careful before what he would say to them.

Narration and Discussion

How did Demosthenes' struggle against his guardians help him train for his career? Christian students may want to look up Romans 8:28, and think about how God uses even difficulties for good.

What were Demosthenes' weaknesses as a speaker? How did Satyrus inspire Demosthenes to improve his skills? Choose a passage such as a Shakespearian monologue, a famous poem, or another piece of writing. Find an audio or video version of a professional actor reciting the same passage. How do the actor's skills bring the written words to life?

Lesson Three


As Demosthenes improved his speaking abilities, he began to be compared with other great orators, and he sometimes copied their styles. But, Plutarch says, it was "his own natural wit" that made him invincible.


timorous: timid, hesitant

counterfeit: imitate

choler and fury: Dryden says "a kind of ecstasy"

long-studied reasons: careful preparation

because in few words, he comprehended much matter: Dryden, "he expressed the most sense in the fewest words"

His countenance: Dryden translates this differently: "The action which he used himself... "

too artificial and vehement: Dryden, "[they] appear to be superior in point of construction, and more effective."


Aeschines (389 B.C.-314 B.C.): an Athenian orator who at first supported the movement for Athenian independence, but who was later won to Philip's side

Demades: see introductory note

Phocion: an important Athenian leader (402 B.C.-318 B.C.)

Historic Occasions

356 B.C.: the birth of Alexander the Great

354 B.C.: Demosthenes gave his first public political speeches

Lesson Three Reading

Part One

But now might a man ask again: If Demosthenes was so timorous to speak before the people upon the sudden: what meant Aeschines then to say, that he was marvellous bold in his words? [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?] And how chanced it that Lamachus [the] Myrrinaeian, having made an oration in the praise of Philip and Alexander, kings of Macedon, in the which he spake all the ill he could of the Thebans, and of the Olynthians, and when he had read and pronounced it in the open assembly of the Olympian games: Demosthenes upon the instant rising up on his feet, declared, as if he had read some history, and pointed as it were with his finger unto all the whole assembly, the notable great service and worthy deeds the which the Chalcidians had done in former times, for the benefit and honour of Greece. And in contrary manner also, what mischief and inconvenience came by means of the flatterers, that altogether gave themselves to curry favour with the Macedonians? With these and such like persuasions, Demosthenes made such stir amongst the people, that the orator Lamachus being afraid of the sudden uproar, did secretly convey himself out of the assembly.

But yet to tell you what I think, Demosthenes in my opinion fashioning himself even from the beginning, to follow Pericles' steps and example, he thought that for other qualities he had, they were not so requisite for him, and that he would counterfeit his gravity and sober countenance, and to be wise, not to speak over-lightly to every matter at all adventures: judging, that by that manner of wisdom he came to be great. And like as he would not let slip any good occasion to speak, where it might be for his credit: so would he not likewise over-rashly hazard his credit and reputation to the mercy of fortune.

And to prove this true, the orations which he made upon the sudden without premeditation before, do shew more boldness and courage, than those which he had written, and studied long before: if we may believe the reports of Eratosthenes, Demetrius Phalerian, and of the other comical poets. For Eratosthenes said, that he would be often carried away with choler and fury.

[omission: some notes about Demosthenes' eloquence]

And yet everybody did grant, that Demades of his own natural wit, without art, was invincible: and that many times speaking upon the sudden, he did utterly overthrow Demosthenes' long-studied reasons. And Aristo, of the Isle of Chio, hath written Theophrastus' judgement of the orators of that time. Who, being asked what manner of orator he thought Demosthenes, answered, "Worthy of this city." Then again, how he thought of Demades: "Above this city," said he.

The same philosopher writeth also, that Polyeuctus Sphettian (one of those that practised at that time in the commonwealth) gave this sentence: that Demosthenes indeed was a great orator, but Phocion's tongue had a sharper understanding, because in few words, he comprehended much matter. And to this purpose, they say that Demosthenes himself said also, that as oft as he saw Phocion get up into the pulpit for orations to speak against him, he was wont to say to his friends: "See, the axe of my words riseth." And yet it is hard to judge, whether he spake that in respect of his tongue, or rather for the estimation he had gotten, because of his great wisdom: thinking (as indeed it is true) that one word only, the twinkling of an eye, or a nod of his head of such a man (that through his worthiness is attained to that credit) hath more force to persuade, than all the fine reasons and devises of rhetoric.

Part Two

But now for his bodily defects of nature. Demetrius Phalerian writeth, that he heard Demosthenes himself say, being very old, that he did help them by these means. First, touching the stammering of his tongue, which was very fat, and made him that he could not pronounce all syllables distinctly: he did help it by putting of little pebble stones into his mouth, which he found upon the sands by the riverside, and so pronounced with open mouth the orations he had without book. And for his small and soft voice, he made that louder, by running up steep and high hills, uttering even with full breath some orations or verses that he had without book. And further it is reported of him, that he had a great looking-glass in his house, and ever standing on his feet before it, he would learn and exercise himself to pronounce his orations. For proof hereof it is reported, that there came a man unto him on a time, and prayed his help to defend his cause, and told him that one had beaten him: and that Demosthenes said again unto him, "I do not believe this is true [that] thou tellest me, for surely the other did never beat thee." The plaintiff then thrusting out his voice aloud, said: "What, hath he not beaten me?" "Yes, indeed," quoth Demosthenes then: "I believe it now, for I hear the voice of a man that was beaten indeed." Thus he thought, that the sound of the voice, the pronunciation or gesture in one sort or other, were things of force to believe or discredit that a man sayeth.

His countenance, when he pleaded before the people, did marvellously please the common sort: but the noblemen, and men of understanding, found it too base and mean, as Demetrius Phalerius said, among others. And Hermippus writeth, that one called Aesion, being asked [his opinion] of the ancient orators, and of those of his time, answered that every man that had seen them would have wondered with what honour, reverence, and modesty, they spake unto the people: howbeit that Demosthenes' orations (whosoever read them) were too artificial and vehement. And therefore we may easily judge, that the orations Demosthenes wrote are very severe and sharp.

This notwithstanding, otherwhile he would give many pleasant and witty answers upon the sudden.

[omission of a joke Demosthenes made]

A certain thief called Chalcus (as much to say, as of copper), stepping forth to say somewhat of Demosthenes' late sitting up a-nights, and that he wrote and studied the most part of the night by lamplight: "Indeed," quoth Demosthenes, "I know it grieves thee to see my lamp burn all night. And therefore, you, my lords of Athens, methinks you should not wonder to see such robberies in your city, considering we have thieves of copper, and the walls of our houses be but of clay."

We could tell you of divers others of his like witty and pleasant answers, but these may suffice for this present: and therefore we will proceed to consider further of his nature and conditions, by his acts and deeds in the affairs of the commonwealth.

Narration and Discussion

Demosthenes preferred to plan his speeches ahead, but some of his hearers said that his off-the-cuff orations were better. Why was this so? For fun (or as a serious exercise), prepare and deliver a short speech. Then have someone suggest another topic for you to speak on without preparation. Which was easier for you? Which talk did your audience enjoy more?

What story did Demosthenes tell in later years about the way he had improved his voice?

Lesson Four


What are orators good for? So far, the story of Demosthenes has been about the way he gained a strong reputation as a speaker. Now the story moves to political events, particularly the relationship of Athens to Macedon. This is a good time to study the introductory notes; maps will also be helpful.


Phocians: the people of Phocis, a region of central Greece which included Delphi. (Not to be confused with Phocion, the Athenian statesman.)

I marvel: I disagree with

subtle, unconstant: Dryden says "fickle, unsettled"

he would be no changeling: he would not change his purpose

had oft turned coat: had often switched sides

detect: accuse

were contemporary with him: lived at the same time

a fair man: refers to his physical appearance

meet: proper, suitable

pleader: rhetorician

Byzantines: the Macedonians were besieging Byzantium at this time

Perinthians: Perithus was a town in Thrace

strangers: foreign mercenary soldiers


Philip of Macedon: see introductory notes

king of Persia: this would be Artaxerxes III

Historic Occasions

346 B.C.: The Macedonians' Third Sacred War ended, leaving Athens at peace, but unhappy that they were (unofficially) now subject to Philip

Lesson Four Reading

Part One

Now Demosthenes' first beginning when he came to deal in the affairs of the state, was in the time of the war made with the Phocians, as himself reporteth: and as appeareth further in his orations which he made against Philip: of the which, the last were made after the war was ended, and the first do touch also some particular doings of the same. He made the oration against Midias when he was but thirty-two year[s] old, and was of small countenance and reputation in the commonwealth: the want whereof was the chiefest cause (as I think) that induced him [to withdraw the action, and accept a sum of money as a compromise]. But, knowing that it was no small enterprise, nor that could take effect by a man of so small power and authority as himself, to overthrow a man so wealthy, so befriended, and so eloquent as Midias: he therefore yielded himself unto those that did [intercede] for him. Neither do I think that the three thousand drachmas which he received, could have bridled the bitterness of his nature, if otherwise he had seen any hope or likelihood that he could have prevailed against him.

Now at his first coming unto the commonwealth, taking a noble matter in hand to speak against Philip, for the defence and maintenance of the laws and liberties of the Grecians, wherein he handled himself so worthily: that in short space he won him[self] marvellous fame for his great eloquence and plain manner of speech. Thereby he was marvellously honoured also through all Greece, and greatly esteemed with the king of Persia: and Philip himself made more account of him, than of all the orators in Athens, and his greatest foes which were most against him, were driven to confess that they had to do with a famous man. For, in the orations which Aeschines and Hyperides made to accuse him, they write thus of him.

And therefore, I marvel what Theopompus meant, when he wrote that Demosthenes had a subtle, unconstant mind, and could not long continue with one kind of men, nor in one mind for matters of state. For in contrary manner, in my judgement, he continued constant still to the end, in one self manner and order, unto the which he had betaken himself at the beginning: and that not only he never changed all his lifetime, but to the contrary he lost his life, because he would be no changeling. For he did not like Demades, who to excuse himself for that he had oft turned coat in matters of government, said, that he went oftentimes against his own sayings, as matters fell out: but never against the benefit of the commonwealth. And Melanopus also, who was ever against Callistratus, having his mouth stopped many times with money, he would [go] up to the pulpit for orations, and tell the people, that "indeed Callistratus, which maintaineth the contrary opinion against me, is mine enemy, and yet I yield unto him for this time: for, the benefit of the commonwealth must carry it." And another also, Nicodemus [the] Messenian, who being first of Cassander's side, took part afterwards with Demetrius, and then said that he did not speak against himself, but that it was meet he should obey his superiors. They cannot detect Demosthenes with the like, that he did ever halt or yield, either in word or deed: for he ever continued firm and constant in one mind in his orations.

[omission of more in the same vein]

[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, on the other side (as Demetrius sayeth), was no man to trust to for wars, neither had he any power to refuse gifts and bribes. For, though he would never be corrupted [by] Philip king of Macedon, yet he was bribed with gold and silver that was brought from the cities of Susa and Ecbatana, and was very ready to praise and commend the deeds of their ancestors, but not to follow them. Truly, yet was he the honestest man of all other orators in his time, excepting Phocion.

And besides, he did ever speak more boldly and plainly to the people than any man else, and would openly contrary their minds, and sharply reprove the Athenians for their faults, as appeareth by his orations. Theopompus also writeth, that the people on a time would have had him to accuse a man, whom they would needs have condemned. But he refusing to do it, the people were offended, and did mutiny against him. Thereupon he rising up, said openly unto them: "My lords Athenians, I will always counsel ye to that which I think best for the benefit of the commonwealth, although it be against your minds: but falsely to accuse one, to satisfy your minds, though you command me, I will not do it."

Furthermore, that which he did against Antiphon, sheweth plainly that he was no people pleaser, and that he did lean more unto the authority of the Senate. For when Antiphon was quit by the people in an assembly of the city: Demosthenes notwithstanding took him, and called him again into the court of the Areopagites, and did not pass upon the people's ill will, but there convinced him for promising Philip of Macedon to bum the arsenal of Athens: so by sentence of that court he was condemned, and suffered for it.

[omission of another case]

And for his known orations, those which he made against Androtion, Timocrates, and Aristocrates: he caused them to give them unto others, when he had not yet dealt in matters of state. For indeed when he did put them forth, he was not passing seven or eight and twenty year[s] old.

[omission while Plutarch rambles a bit]

Part Two

Now before the war began, it was evident enough [what course Demosthenes would steer] in the commonwealth: for he would never leave to reprove and withstand against Philip's doings. Therefore, he being more spoken of in Philip's court than any man else, he was sent unto him the tenth person with nine others in ambassade. Philip gave them all audience one after another: howbeit he was more careful and circumspect to answer Demosthenes' oration, than all the rest. But otherwise out of that place, he did not [give] Demosthenes so much honour, nor so good entertainment, as to his other companions. For Philip shewed more kindness, and gave better countenance unto Aeschines, and Philocrates, than unto him.

Wherefore when they did highly praise Philip, and said that he was a well-spoken prince, a fair man, and would drink freely and be pleasant in company: Demosthenes smiled at it, and turned all those things to the worst, saying that those qualities were nothing commendable nor meet for a king. For the first was a quality meet for a pleader, the second for a woman, and the third for a sponge.

[But when things came at last to war] because Philip of the one side could not live in peace, and the Athenians on the other side were still incensed and stirred up by Demosthenes' daily orations, [the first action he (Demosthenes) put them upon was the reducing of Euboea, which, by the treachery of the tyrants, was brought under subjection to Phillip. And on his proposition, the decree was voted, and they crossed over thither and chased the Macedonians out of the island.]. After that also he caused them to send aid unto the Byzantines, and unto the Perinthians, with whom Philip made war. For he so persuaded the Athenians, that he made them forget the malice they did bear unto those two nations, and the faults which either of both the cities had committed against them in the wars, touching the rebellion of their confederates: and he caused them to send them aid, which kept them from Philip's force and power. Furthermore, going afterwards unto all the cities of Greece as ambassador, he did so solicit and persuade them, that he brought them all in manner to be against Philip. So that the army which their tribe should find at their common charge, was fifteen thousand footmen, all strangers, and two thousand horsemen, besides the citizens of every city which should also serve in the wars at their charge: and the money levied for the maintenance of this war, was very willingly disbursed. Theophrastus writeth, that it was at that time their confederates did pray that they would set down a certain sum of money, what every city should pay: and that Crobylus, an orator, should make answer, that the war had no certain maintenance: inferring that the charges of war was infinite.

Narration and Discussion

Demosthenes was recognized as a great speaker, even by his enemies such as Philip of Macedon. According to this passage, what quality in particular made his speeches stand out?

After an official visit to the Macedonian court, other men praised Philip for being well spoken, fair, and someone who would "drink freely." Demosthenes, who had not been as well treated during the visit, turned the compliments into insults and said those were not good qualities for a king. Do you agree?

Lesson Five


Demosthenes had a difficult task: to use his gifts of persuasion to bring the Thebans, the often-unfriendly neighbours of the Athenians, into an alliance against their common enemy. He offered two important words to the Thebans: honour and honesty. However; the day of Greek power had already ended, and even Demosthenes' eloquence could not change that.


Attica: the region of Athens

pleasures: benefits, favours

war of the Phocians: see previous lessons

vicinity: the closeness of their borders

green and uncured: raw, fresh

was up: was aroused

just desert[s]: something well deserved

foreshew and prognosticate: predict

Apollo's nun, the nun Pythia: the Pythian priestess at Delphi

preferred: proposed, declared

to wax sober: to sober up, to think seriously

Historic Occasions

340 B.C.: Demosthenes convinced the Athenians to aid Euboea and Byzantium

399 B.C.: Philip invaded Greece, which led to the alliance of Greek states described here

338 B.C.: the Battle of Chaeronea, which the Greek forces lost to the Macedonians

Lesson Five Reading

Part One

Now all Greece being in arms, attending what should happen, and all these people and cities being unite[d] in one league together: as, the Euboeians, the Athenians, the Corinthians, the Megarians, the Leucadians, and the Corcyriaeians: the greatest matter Demosthenes had to do, was to persuade the Thebans also to enter into this league, because their country confined and bordered with Attica: besides, their force and power was of great importance, for that they carried the fame of all Greece at that time, for the valiantest soldiers. But it was no trifling matter to win the Thebans, and to make them break with Philip, who but lately before had bound them unto him by many great pleasures which he had done to them, in the war of the Phocians: besides also that betwixt Athens and Thebes, by reason of vicinity, there fell out daily quarrels and debates, the which with every little thing were soon renewed.

This notwithstanding, Philip being proud of the victory he had won by the city of Amphissa, when he came and invaded the country of Elatia, and was entered into Phocis: the Athenians were then so amazed with it, that no man durst occupy the pulpit for orations, neither could they tell what way to take. Thus the whole assembly standing in a doubt with great silence, Demosthenes only stepped up, and did again give them counsel to seek to make league and alliance with the Thebans: and so did further encourage the people, and put them in good hope, as he was always wont to do.

Then with others he was sent ambassador unto Thebes: and Philip also for his part, sent ambassadors unto the Thebans, Amyntas and Clearchus, two Macedonians, and with them, Daochus, Thessalus, and Thrasydaeus, to answer and withstand the persuasions of the Athenian ambassadors. Thereupon the Thebans began to advise themselves for the best, and laid before their eyes the miserable fruits and calamities of war. their wounds being yet green and uncured, which they got by the wars of Phocide. Notwithstanding, the great force of Demosthenes' eloquence (as Theopompus writeth) did so inflame the Thebans' courage with desire of honour, that it trod under their feet all manner of considerations, and did so ravish them with the love and desire of honesty: that they cast at their heels all fear of danger, all remembrance of pleasures received, and all reason persuading the contrary. This act of an orator was of so great force, that Philip forthwith sent ambassadors unto the Grecians, to entreat for peace, and all Greece was up, to see what would become of this stir.

Thus, not only the captains of Athens obeyed Demosthenes, doing all that he commanded them: but the governors also of Thebes, and of all the country of Boeotia besides. And the assemblies also of the council of Thebes were as well governed by him, as the assemblies of Athens, being alike beloved both of the one and the other, and having a like authority to command both, and not undeservedly, as Theopompus sayeth, but by just desert.

Part Two

But some fatal destiny, and the revolution of times, had determined the final end of the liberty of Greece at that time, clean contrary to [Demetrius'] purpose and intent. There were also many celestial signs that did foreshew and prognosticate what end should ensue thereof. And among others, Apollo's nun gave these dreadful oracles, and this old prophecy of the Sibyl's was commonly sung in everybody's mouth:

What time the bloody battle shall be fought at Thermodon,

God grant I may be far away, or else (to look thereon)

Have eagles' wings to soar above, among the clouds on high,

For there the vanquished side shall weep, and conqueror shall die.

[omission about Thermodon]

But Demosthenes trusting to the valiantness and power of the Grecians, and being marvellously encouraged to see such a great number of valiant and resolute men, so willing to fight with the enemy: he bade them be of good courage, and not to buzz about such oracles, and to give ear to those prophecies. And furthermore, he told them plainly that he did mistrust [that] the nun Pythia [who had given them the sad prediction] did lean unto Philip, as favouring him; and [he] did put the Thebans in mind of their captain Epaminondas, and the Athenians of Pericles; and persuaded them that those two famous men were always of opinion that such prophecies were no other but a fine cloak for cowards, and that taking no heed to them, they did dispatch their matters according to their own discretion.

Until this present time, Demosthenes shewed himself always an honest man: but when it came to the battle, he fled like a coward, and did no valiant act anything answerable to the orations whereby he had persuaded the people. For he left his rank, and cowardly cast away his weapons to run the lighter, and was not ashamed at all of the words written upon his shield in golden letters, which were "Good Fortune."

[Plutarch gives few details here about the Battle of Chaeronea, other than Demosthenes' less-than-memorable part in it. The armies of Athens and Thebes were destroyed, and the Grecians were now under the rule of Macedon.]

[In the meantime Philip, in the first moment of victory, was so transported with joy, that he grew extravagant.] For after he had drunk well with his friends, he went into the place where the overthrow was given, and there in mockery began to sing the beginning of the decree which Demosthenes had preferred, (by the which, the Athenians accordingly proclaimed wars against him) rising and falling with his voice, and dancing it in measure with his foot:

Demosthenes, the son of Demosthenes,
did put forth this.

But afterwards beginning to wax sober, and leaving his drunkenness, and that he had remembered himself what danger he had been in: then his hair stood bolt upright upon his head, considering the force and power of such an orator, that in a piece of a day had enforced him to hazard his realm and life at a battle.

Narration and Discussion

Why did the people of Athens begin to believe that their city was doomed to fall to Macedon? How did Demosthenes try to get them to ignore the prophecies and omens?

Why did Philip believe that the battle of Chaeronea was influenced by the power of Demosthenes' words? Was he right?

Lesson Six


What is luck? In the aftermath of the battle of Chaeronea, Demosthenes wondered if his luck had run out…or if, even worse, his leadership was now unlucky for the Athenians.


they did not repent them: they did not regret

preferred to the people: proposed

subscribe any: put his name to any of them

to ramp in manner with both their feet upon the dead: literally, to rear up (like a horse); to gloat over the conquered one

Historic Occasions

336 B.C.: the death of Philip

Lesson Six Reading

Part One

Now Demosthenes' fame was so great, that it was carried even to the great king of Persia's court, who wrote unto his lieutenants and governors, that they should feed Demosthenes with money, and should procure to entertain him above all the men in Greece, as he that could best withdraw Philip, and trouble him with the wars and tumults of Greece. And this was afterwards proved by letters found of Demosthenes himself, the which came to King Alexander's hands in the city [of] Sardis, and by other writings also of the governors and lieutenants of the king of Persia: in the which were named directly the express sums of money which had been sent and given unto him. Now, the Grecians being thus overthrown by battle, the other orators, adversaries unto Demosthenes in the commonwealth, began to set upon him, and to prepare to accuse him. But the people did not only clear him of all the accusations objected against him, but did continue to honour him more than before, and to call him to assemblies, as one that loved the honour and benefit of his country.

So that when the bones of their countrymen which were slain at the battle of Chaeronea were brought to be openly buried according to the custom: the people gave him the honour to make the funeral oration in praise of the dead. [They] made no shew of sorrow or grief for the loss they had received (as Theopompus witnesseth, and doth nobly declare); but rather in contrary manner shewed that they did not repent them in battle of following of his counsel, but did honour him that gave it.

Demosthenes then did make the funeral oration. But afterwards, in all the decrees he preferred to the people, he would never subscribe any, to prevent the sinister luck and misfortune of his name, but did pass it under his friends' names one after another, until he grew courageous again, shortly after that he understood of the death of Philip, who was slain immediately after the victory he won at Chaeronea. And it seemeth this was the meaning of the prophecy or oracle in the two last verses:

The vanquished bewails his luckless lot.

And he that wins, with life escapeth not.

Part Two

Now Demosthenes, hearing of Philip's death before the news [was] openly known, [thought] he would put the people again into a good hope of better luck to come. Thereupon he went with a cheerful countenance into the assembly of the council, and told them there, that he had had a certain dream that promised great good hap unto the Athenians; and immediately after, the messengers arrived that brought certain news of King Philip's death. Thereupon the Athenians made sacrifices of joy to the gods for this happy news, and appointed a crown unto Pausanias that had slain him. Demosthenes also came abroad in his best gown, and crowned with flowers, seven days after the death of his daughter, as Aeschines reporteth: who reproveth him for it, and noteth him to be a man having little love or charity unto his own children. But indeed Aeschines [him]self deserveth more blame, to have such a tender womanish heart, as to believe that blubbering, weeping, and lamenting, are signs of a gentle and charitable nature, condemning them that with patience and constancy do pass away such misfortunes.

But now to the Athenians again. I can neither think nor say that they did wisely to shew such open signs of joy, as to wear crowns and garlands upon their heads, nor also to sacrifice to the gods for the death of a prince, that behaved himself so princely and courteously unto them in the victories he had won of them. For, though indeed all cruelty be subject to the revenge of the gods, yet is this an act of a vile and base mind, to honour a man, and while he lived to make him free of their city, and now that another hath slain him, they to be in such an exceeding jollity withal, and to exceed the bonds of modesty so far, as to ramp in manner with both their feet upon the dead, and to sing songs of victory, as if they themselves had been the men that had valiantly slain him.

In contrary manner also, I praise and commend the constancy and courage of Demosthenes, that he leaving the tears and lamentation of his home trouble unto women, did himself in the meantime that [which] he thought was for the benefit of the commonwealth: and in my opinion, I think he did therein like a man of courage, and worthy to be a governor of a commonwealth, never to stoop nor yield, but always to be found stable and constant, for the benefit of the commonwealth, rejecting all his troubles, cares, and affections, in respect of the service of his country, and to keep his honour much more carefully, than common players use[d] to do, when they play the parts of kings and princes, whom we see neither weep nor laugh when they list, though they be on the stage: but when the matter of the play falleth out to give them just occasion. But omitting those reasons, if there be no reason (as indeed there is not) to leave and forsake a man in his sorrow and trouble, without giving him some words of comfort, and rather to devise some matter to assuage his sorrow, and to withdraw his mind from that, to think upon some pleasanter things: even as they should keep sore eyes from seeing bright and glaring colours, in offering them green and darker. And from whence can a man take greater comfort for his troubles and griefs at home, when the commonwealth doth well: than to join their private griefs with common joys, to the end, that the better may obscure and take away the worse? But thus far I disgressed from my history, enlarging this matter, because Aeschines in his oration touching this matter, did move the people's hearts too much to womanish sorrow.

Narration and Discussion

Do you think Demosthenes was "unlucky?"

The Athenians did not blame Demosthenes for their losses, although he had urged them into battle. Why were they grateful rather than resentful?

What was Demosthenes' reaction to the death of King Philip?

Lesson Seven


A new era had begun, with the accession of Alexander as king of Macedon. Alexander summoned Demosthenes, along with other "bright lights" of Athens: it was an invitation they couldn't refuse.

The last paragraph of this lesson describes an event that Plutarch assumes we already know about. In 336 B.C., Ctesiphon had proposed that Athens honour Demosthenes for his stand against Macedon, by presenting him with a golden crown. He was indicted, several years later, because his proposal had violated Athenian law. (This seems to have been as much an attack on Demosthenes as it was on Ctesiphon.) Demosthenes made a famous speech, "On the Crown," in Ctesiphon's defense.


plied the pulpit no more as he was wont: avoided public speaking

this young king: Alexander III of Macedon (the Great)

left the embassy: left the mission, went home

mastiffs: dogs

corn masters: like travelling salesmen with samples

them whom Alexander demanded: the eight ambassadors

Alexander being retired: having withdrawn his threats for the time being

under foot: pushed aside

indictment: accusation, formal charges

archon: head of the city (North translates this "mayor")


Ctesiphon: see introduction

Aeschines: Aeschines was prosecuting Ctesiphon (and lost the case).

Historic Occasions

330 B.C.: the trial of Ctesiphon

Lesson Seven Reading

The cities of Greece, being again stirred up by Demosthenes, made a new league again together. [The Thebans, whom he had provided with arms, set upon the (Macedonian) 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 after that Alexander having set all his things at stay within his realm, came himself in person with his army, and invaded the country of Boeotia: then fell the pride of the Athenians greatly, and Demosthenes also plied the pulpit no more as he was wont. At length, the poor Thebans being left unto themselves, forsaken of every man: they were compelled themselves alone to bear the brunt of this war, and so came their city to utter ruin and destruction. Thereby the Athenians being in a marvellous fear and perplexity, did suddenly choose ambassadors to send unto this young king, and Demosthenes chiefly among others; [but his heart failing him for fear of the king's anger, he returned back from Cithaeron, and left the embassy].

But Alexander sent to summon the Athenians, to send unto him ten of their orators, as Idomeneus and Duris both do write: or eight, as the most writers and best historiographers do report, which were these: Demosthenes, Polyeuctus, Ephialtes, Lycurgus, Myrocles, Damon, Callisthenes, and Charidemus.

At which time, they write that Demosthenes told the people of Athens the fable of the sheep and wolves, how that the wolves came on a time, and willed the sheep, if they would have peace with them, to deliver them their mastiffs that kept them. And so he compared himself, and his companions that travelled for the benefit of the country, unto the dogs that keep the flocks of sheep, and calling Alexander the wolf. "And so forth," said he, "like as you see these corn masters bringing a sample of their corn in a dish or napkin to shew you, and by that little do sell all that they have: so I think you will all wonder, that delivering of us [the ambassadors], you will also deliver yourselves into the hands of your enemies." Aristobulus of Cassandra reporteth this matter thus.

Now the Athenians being in consultation, not knowing how to resolve: Demades having taken five talents of them whom Alexander demanded, did offer himself, and promised to go in this ambassade unto Alexander, and to entreat for them, either because he trusted in the love the king did bear him, or else for that he thought he hoped he should find him pacified, as a lion glutted with the blood of beasts which he had slain. Howsoever it happened, he persuaded the people to send him unto him, and so handled Alexander, that he got their pardon, and did reconcile him with the city of Athens.

Thereupon Alexander being retired, Demades and his fellows bare all the sway and authority, and Demosthenes was under foot.

[omission: an issue at that time with the Lacedaemonians]

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 Chaerondus was archon, but it was not proceeded with till about ten years after, Aristophon being then archon]. This was such an open judgement, and so famous, as never was any, as well for the great fame of the orators that pleaded in emulation one of the other, as also for the worthiness of the judges that gave sentence thereof: who did not leave Demosthenes to his enemies, although indeed they were of greater power than he, and were also supported with the favour and goodwill of the Macedonians: but they did notwithstanding so well quit him, that Aeschines had not so much as the fifth part of men's voices and opinions in his behalf. Wherefore immediately after sentence given, [Aeschines] went out of Athens for shame, and travelled into the country of Ionia, and unto the Rhodes, where he did teach rhetoric.

Narration and Discussion

Did things get better or worse for Greece after the death of Philip? What surprising turn of events took place with Demades?

Tell or act out the fable of the Wolves and the Sheep.

Was it the fault of Demosthenes that Ctesiphon had suggested he be given a crown? Were you surprised that the Athenians supported Demosthenes?

Lesson Eight


In this lesson we are introduced to Harpalus, a former friend of King Alexander, and, we are told right away, a scoundrel who worked on peoples' greed. But could he outsmart Demosthenes?


being to be charged . . .: expecting to be arrested for mishandling the king's money

succour: help

peasing it: poising it in his hand, to judge its weight

It will weigh thee: In North's translation, we seem to be missing some play on words. Dryden says that Demosthenes asked what the cup came to, and that Harpalus said it came with twenty talents.

bound up with wool and rolls: muffled up as if he had a sore throat

synanche, wesill: They "told him it was no sinanche that had stopped his wesill that night . . . but it was Harpalus' argent-synanche which he had received, that made him in that case." A synanche is an inflammation of the throat, or difficulty in swallowing. Wesill means throat, and argent refers to silver. We might say today, "a bit of silver-itis."

pleasant conceited: someone who thought he was funny

that hath such a golden tongue: Dryden translates this, "Will you not hear the cup-bearer?"

he brake prison: he broke out of prison

without the privity: without the knowledge

certain of his enemies: Dryden, "those who had been his adversaries"

unmanly: in a cowardly fashion

the country of Attica: the region of Athens


Harpalus: an aristocrat of Macedon, and boyhood friend of Alexander the Great.

Historic Occasions

324 B.C.: Harpalus arrived in Athens

Lesson Eight Reading

Part One

Shortly after, Harpalus, fleeing out of Alexander's service, came unto Athens, being to be charged with many foul matters he had committed by his exceeding prodigality: and also because he feared Alexander's fury, who was grown severe and cruel [even] unto his chiefest servants. He[came] now amongst the Athenians, with store[s] of gold and silver. The orators, being greedy and desirous of the gold and silver he had brought, began straight to speak for him, and did counsel the people to receive and protect a poor suitor that came to them for succour.

But Demosthenes gave counsel to the contrary, and bade them rather drive [Harpalus] out of the city, and take heed they brought not wars upon their backs, for a matter that not only was not necessary, but furthermore merely unjust. But within [a] few days after, inventory being taken of all Harpalus' goods, he perceiving that Demosthenes took great pleasure to see a cup of the king's, and considered very curiously the fashion and workmanship upon it: he gave it him in his hand, to judge what it weighed. Demosthenes peasing it, wondered at the great weight of it, [because] it was so heavy; so he asked how many pound[s] weight it weighed.

Harpalus smiling, answered him: "It will weigh thee twenty talents." So when night was come, he sent him the cup, with the twenty talents. This Harpalus was a very wise man, and found straight by Demosthenes' countenance that he loved money, and could presently judge his nature, by seeing his pleasant countenance, and his eyes still upon the cup. [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 morning, [Demosthenes] went into the assembly of the people, having his neck bound up with wool and rolls. So when they called him by his name to step up into the pulpit, to speak to the people as he had done before: he made a sign with his head, that he had an impediment in his voice, and that he could not speak. But wise men, laughing at his fine excuse, told him it was no synanche that had stopped his wesill that night, as he would make them believe: but it was Harpalus' argent-synanche which he had received, that made him in that case. Afterwards when the people understood that he was corrupted, Demosthenes going about to excuse himself, they would not abide to hear him: but made a noise and exclamation against him. Thereupon there rose up a pleasant conceited man, that said: "Why my masters, do ye refuse to hear a man that hath such a golden tongue?"

The people thereupon did immediately banish Harpalus, and fearing lest King Alexander would require an account of the gold and silver, which the orators had robbed and pilfered away among them: they made very diligent search and inquiry in every man's house, excepting Callicles' house, the son of Arrenidas, whose house they would have searched by no means, because he was but newly married, and had his new spouse in his house, as Theopompus writeth.

Part Two

[Demosthenes resisted this inquisition], and proposed a decree to refer the business to the court of the Areopagus, and to punish those whom that court should find guilty.] Howbeit he was one of the first whom the court condemned in the sum of fifty talents, and for lack of payment, they put him in prison: where he could not endure long, both for the shame of the matter for which he was condemned, as also for his sickly body. So he brake prison, partly without the privity of his keepers, and partly also with their consent: for they were willing he should make an [e]scape. Some do report that he fled not far from the city, where it was told him that certain of his enemies followed him, whereupon he would have hidden himself from them. But they themselves first called him by his name, and coming to him, prayed him to take money of them, which they had brought him from their houses to help him in his banishment: and that therefore they ran after him. Then they did comfort him the best they could, and persuaded him to be of good cheer, and not to despair for the misfortune that was come unto him. This did pierce his heart the more for sorrow, that he answered them: "Why, would you not have me be sorry for my misfortune, that compelleth me to forsake the city where indeed I have so courteous enemies, that it is hard for me to find anywhere so good friends?"

So he took his banishment unmanly, and remained the most part of his banishment in the city of Aegina, or at the city of Troezen, where oftentimes he would cast his eyes towards the country of Attica, and weep bitterly. And some have written certain words he spake, which shewed no mind of a man of courage, nor were answerable to the noble things he was wont to persuade in his orations. For it is reported of him, that as he went out of Athens, he looked back again, and holding up his hands to the castle, said in this sort: "O Lady Minerva, lady patroness of this city: why dost thou delight in three so mischievous beasts: the owl, the dragon, and the people?"

Besides, he persuaded the young men that came to see him, and that were with him, never to meddle in matters of state, assuring them, that if they had offered him two ways at the first, the one to go into the assembly of the people, to make orations in the pulpit, and the other to be put to death presently, and that he had known as he did then, the troubles a man is compelled to suffer that meddleth with the affairs of the state, the fear, the envy, the accusations, and troubles in the same: he would rather have chosen the way to have suffered death.

Narration and Discussion

Were you surprised by Demosthenes' actions in this lesson?

What was Demosthenes' advice to young people? Was he right? This, might be a good scene to act out.

For older students: Those who have read Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons may want to compare this passage with the story of a cup that caused Sir Thomas More similar trouble.

Lesson Nine


The world turned upside down again with the sudden death of Alexander. Cities, and individuals, chose unexpected allies, and made enemies of former friends. Certain orators fleeing Athens made it their business to preach against Greek alliances; but Demosthenes, even in banishment, made an unexpectedly loyal, and costly, stand for his city.


straitly besieged: shut in, imprisoned

asses' milk: donkeys' milk, long believed to have healing properties

revocation: calling home

deceive the law: get around or bend the law

Jupiter Saviour: the Greek god Zeus (North used the Latin name)

Metageitnion, Boedromion, Pyanepsion: three successive months

by Demades' persuasion: but at the "request" of Antipater, who was now ruling unchallenged over Athens

pinnaces: small boats


Leosthenes: commander of the Greek forces against Macedon

Antipater: a general during the reigns of Philip and Alexander; he oversaw Macedon while the kings were fighting elsewhere. Antipater was the father of Cassander (see the introduction to Demetrius) and Pleistarchus (see Demetrius, Lesson Six).

Pytheas: mentioned in Lesson Two

Archias: a former actor, now a soldier in Antipater's army, who acted as a bounty-hunter

Historic Occasions

323 B.C.: the death of Alexander

Lesson Nine Reading

Part One

So, Demosthenes continuing in his exile, King Alexander died, and all Greece was up [in arms] again: insomuch as Leosthenes being a man of great valour, had shut up Antipater in the city of Lamia, and there kept him straitly besieged. [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 [other] Grecians from revolting and taking part with the Athenians.] But Demosthenes, in contrary manner, joining with the ambassadors sent from Athens into every quarter, to solicit the cities of Greece to seek to recover their liberty: he did aid them the best he could, to solicit the [other] Grecians to take arms with the Athenians, to drive the Macedonians out of Greece.

And Phylarchus writeth, that Demosthenes encountered with Pytheas' words in an open assembly of the people in a certain town of Arcadia. Pytheas having spoken before him, had said: "Like as we presume always that there is some sickness in the house whither we do see asses' milk brought: so must that town of necessity be sick, wherein the ambassadors of Athens do enter." Demosthenes answered him again, turning his comparison against him: that indeed they brought asses' milk, where there was need to recover health: and even so, the ambassadors of Athens were sent, to heal and cure them that were sick.

The people at Athens understanding what Demosthenes had done, they so rejoiced at it, that presently they gave order in the field that his banishment should be revoked. He that persuaded the decree of his revocation was called Daemon Paeanian, that was his nephew: and thereupon the Athenians sent him a galley to bring him to Athens, from the city of Aegina.

Part Two

So Demosthenes being arrived at the haven of Piraea, there was neither governor, priest, nor almost any townsman left in the city, but [everyone] went out to the haven to welcome him home. So that Demetrius Magnesian writeth, that Demosthenes then lifting up his hands unto heaven said, that he thought himself happy for the honour of that journey, that the return from his banishment was far more honourable than Alcibiades' return in the like case had been. (For Alcibiades was called home by force: and he [Demosthenes] was sent for with the goodwill of the citizens.)

This notwithstanding, he [Demosthenes] remained still condemned for his fine: for by the law, the people could not dispense withal, nor remit it. Howbeit they devised a way to deceive the law: for they had a manner to give certain money unto them that did prepare and set out the altar of Jupiter Saviour, for the day of the solemnity of the sacrifice, the which they did yearly celebrate unto him: so they gave him [Demosthenes] the charge to make this preparation for the sum of fifty talents (being the sum of the fine aforesaid wherein he was condemned).

Part Three

[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 Metageitnion; in Boedromion the garrison entered into Munychia; and in the Pyanepsion following died Demosthenes after this manner.]

When news came to Athens that Antipater and Craterus were coming thither with a great army, Demosthenes and his friends got out of the town a little before they [the army] entered; the people, by Demades' persuasion, having condemned them to die.

So, every man making shift for himself, Antipater sent soldiers after them to take them: and of [the soldiers] Archias was captain, surnamed Phygadotheras, as much to say, "a hunter of the banished men." It is reported that this Archias was born in the city of Thuries, and that he had been sometimes a common player of tragedies.

Now, this Archias having found the orator Hyperides in the city of Aegina, and Aristonicus Marathonian, and Himeraeus the brother of Demetrius the Phalerian, which had taken sanctuary in the temple of Ajax: he took them out of the temple by force, and sent them unto Antipater, who was at that time in the city of Cleones, where he did put them all to death: and some say, that he did cut off Hyperides' tongue.

Furthermore, hearing that Demosthenes had taken sanctuary in the Isle of Calauria, he took little pinnaces, and a certain number of Thracian soldiers, and being come thither, he sought to persuade Demosthenes to be contented to go with him unto Antipater, promising him that he should have no hurt.

Narration and Discussion

Describe Demosthenes' homecoming. What happened to his fine? (See Proverbs 17:26) Should he have been made to pay it himself?

How did things deteriorate afterwards?

Lesson Ten


Demosthenes' death was tragic; but the memory of his life inspired memorials and even, if one believes it, miracles.


furniture and provision for the stage: theatrical equipment

dissimulation: deceit

he cast his gown over his head, and laid him down: Dryden says "he bowed down his head and covered it."

play Creon's part: In the play Antigone, King Creon forbids the proper burial of Polynices.

armholes: armpits

Neptune: the god Poseidon

gave up the ghost: died

a piece of gold he had swallowed down: Dryden also says "gold which he swallowed." The exact meaning is not clear.

according to his deserts: as he deserved

running abroad in every man's mouth: being widely discussed


Archias: see previous lesson

Perdiccas: North includes a footnote that, in the Life of Phocion, Plutarch says Antigonus instead of Perdiccas. In any case, it was one of the rivals of Antipater.

Cassander: the son of Antipater

Historic Occasions

322 B.C.: the death of Demosthenes

Lesson Ten Reading

Part One

Demosthenes had a strange dream the night before, and thought that he had played a tragedy contending with Archias, and that he handled himself so well, that all the lookers-on at the theater did commend him, and gave him the honour to be the best player: [yet for want of better furniture and provision for the stage, he lost the day].

The next morning when Archias came to speak with him. [Demosthenes used] gentle words unto him, thinking thereby to win him by fair means to leave the sanctuary: Demosthenes, looking him full in the face, sitting still where he was, without removing, said unto him, "O Archias, thou didst never persuade me when thou played a play, neither shalt thou now persuade me, though thou promise me."

Then Archias began to be angry with him, and to threaten him. "Oh," said Demosthenes, "now thou speakest in good earnest, without dissimulation, as the Oracle of Macedon hath commanded thee: for before, thou spakest in the clouds, and far from thy thought. But I pray thee stay awhile, till I have written somewhat to my friends."

After he had said so, he went into the temple as though he would have dispatched some letters, and did put the end of the quill in his mouth which he wrote withal, and bit it as his manner was when he did use to write anything, and held the end of the quill in his mouth a pretty while together: then he cast his gown over his head, and laid him down. Archias' soldiers seeing that, being at the door of the temple, laughing him to scorn (thinking he had done so for that he was afraid to die) called him "coward" and "beast." Archias also coming to him, prayed him to rise, and began to use the former persuasions to him, promising him that he would make Antipater his friend.

Then Demosthenes feeling the poison work, cast open his gown, and boldly looking Archias in the face, said unto him: "Now when thou wilt, play Creon's part, and throw my body to the dogs, without further grave or burial. For my part, O god Neptune, I do go out of thy temple being yet alive, because I will not profane it with my death: but Antipater, and the Macedonians, have not spared to defile thy sanctuary with blood, and cruel murder."

Having spoken these words, he prayed them to stay him up by his armholes, for his feet began already to fail him, and thinking to go forward, as he passed by the altar of Neptune, he fell down, and giving one gasp, gave up the ghost.

Part Two

Now touching the poison, Ariston reporteth, that he sucked and drew it up into his mouth out of his quill, as we have said before.

But one Pappus (from whom Hermippus has taken his history) writeth, that when he was laid on the ground before the altar, they found the beginning of a letter which said: "Demosthenes unto Antipater," but no more. Now his death being thus sudden, the Thracian soldiers that were at the temple door reported that they saw him pluck the poison which he put into his mouth, out of a little cloth he had, thinking to them that it had been a piece of gold he had swallowed down. Howbeit a maid of the house that served [Demosthenes], being examined by Archias about it: told him that he had carried it about him a long time, for a preservative for him. Eratosthenes writeth, that he kept this poison in a little box of gold made hollow within, the which he wore as a bracelet about his arm.

There are many writers also that do report his death diversely, but to recite them all it were in vain: saving that there was one called Demochares (who was Demosthenes' very friend) said, that he died not so suddenly by poison, but that it was the special favour of the gods (to preserve him from the cruelty of the Macedonians) that so suddenly took him out of his life, and made him feel so little pain.

Demosthenes died the sixteenth day of the month Pynepsion (to wit, October) on the which day they do celebrate at Athens the feast of Ceres, called Tesmophoria, which is the dolefullest feast of all the year: on the which day also, the women remain all day long in the temple of the goddess, without meat or drink.

Shortly after, the Athenians to honour him according to his deserts, did cast his image in brass, and made a law besides, that the oldest man of his house should for ever be kept within the palace, at the charge of the commonwealth: and engraved these verses also upon the base of his image:

Hadst thou, Demosthenes, had strength according to thy heart.
The Macedons should not have wrought the Greeks such woe and smart.

For [there are some] that think that it was Demosthenes himself that made the verses in the Isle of Calauria, before he took his poison: they are greatly deceived.

But yet a little before my first coming to Athens, there went a report that such a thing happened. A certain soldier being sent for to come unto his captain, did put such pieces of gold as he had into the hands of Demosthenes' statue, which had both his hands joined together: and there grew hard by it a great plane tree, divers leaves whereof either blown of by wind by chance, or else put there of purpose by the soldier, covered so this gold, that it was there a long time, and no man found it: until such time as the soldier came again, and found it as he left it. Hereupon this matter running abroad in every man's mouth, there were divers wise men that took occasion of this subject, to make epigrams in the praise of Demosthenes, as one who in his life was never corrupted.

Furthermore, Demades did not long enjoy the honour he thought he had newly gotten. For the justice of the gods, revenger of the death of Demosthenes, brought him into Macedon, to receive just punishment by death, of those whom he dishonestly flattered: being before grown hateful to them, and afterwards committed a fault whereby he could not escape.

For there were letters of his taken, by the which he did persuade and pray Perdiccas to make himself king of Macedon, and to deliver Greece from bondage, saying that it hung but by a thread, and yet it was half rotten; meaning thereby, Antipater. Dinarchus Corinthian accused him, that he wrote these letters: the which so grievously offended Cassander, that first he slew [Demades' son Demeas], and then commanded that they should afterwards kill Demades, making him feel then by those miseries (which are the cruelest that can happen unto man) that traitors betraying their own country do first of all betray themselves. Demosthenes had often forewarned him of his end, but he would never believe him.

Thus, my friend Sossius, you have what we can deliver you, by reading, or report, touching Demosthenes' life and doings.

Narration and Discussion

Read the verses that were engraved upon the base of Demosthenes' statue. What do they mean?

For older students: How might being a public speaker be considered a dangerous occupation? Can you think of modern examples?

Possible Examination Questions

For younger students: Give some account of how Demosthenes went to hear an orator who "bore the bell of eloquence," and how he then trained himself to become an orator.

For older students: "He won him marvellous fame for his great eloquence and plain manner of speech." How did Demosthenes attain this distinction?