Study Guide for Plutarch's Life of Demosthenes

Text taken from Thomas North and/or John Dryden
Study Guide by Anne White

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Demosthenes (384-322 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., with the end of the Persian Wars, until 404 B.C. and its defeat in the Peloponnesian War. The Athens into which Demosthenes was born barely resembled its former self. At one time, Athens had ruled an empire; now most of its ships had been destroyed, and its young men killed or imprisoned. Still, life went on, and the city attempted to improve its economic health and re-establish its democratic government. But even greater threats to its survival were soon to come from the northern kingdom of Macedonia.

Is it Macedon or Macedonia? Were the Macedonians Greeks?

The names are used interchangeably. Macedonia, or Macedon, was a kingdom in the northeastern part of mainland Greece. The Macedonians were Greek in many respects, such as religious beliefs; but they valued their distinct heritage and identity

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

If you have read Plutarch's Life of Nicias, you will remember the Sicilian Expedition of 415-413 B.C (during the Peloponnesian War). Because of that defeat, the government of Athens was taken over by an oligarchy (a small group of rulers); but that was soon replaced by a more democratic form of government, which remained in place (with occasional interruptions) until Macedonia 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). In this story, the commonwealth refers to Athens and its dependencies (other places under its protection and control).

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.

"Philip and Alexander"

Some students will already be familiar with these two Macedonian kings, father and son. For those who are not, it is important to view the life of Demosthenes in the context of their reigns: first, because his life covered almost exactly the same years as theirs; but, second, because he became known for his impassioned speeches against them (the Philippics). (Word Trivia: Because of Demosthenes, a philippic came to mean any vehement, bitter speech against someone.)

What was the Third Sacred War?

Plutarch refers several times to this war (356-346 B.C.), but he calls it the War of/with the Phocians (the people of Phocis, not to be confused with Phocion, the Athenian general). The war started out as a conflict between Greek states, but ended up involving Macedonia as well, and the Macedonians jumped at the chance to increase their power. After almost ten years of fighting, the Athenians were planning to send a military force to help the Phocians, but the Phocians suddenly asked for a peace settlement. This is the point at which Athens, seeing that its own security could now be threatened, also sent a delegation to ask for peace terms (Lesson Four).

Who was Demades?

Demades was an Athenian orator who was about the same age as Demosthenes. At first he supported Demosthenes, 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 II that he was released, and he 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. He was, eventually, responsible for Demosthenes' death sentence.

Other orators we should remember?

Phocion: an Athenian statesman and strategos (general), and the subject of one of Plutarch's Lives. He did not care for long-winded speeches, and Demosthenes called him "the axe of my words" (Lesson Three).

Pytheas: the orator who told Demosthenes that his speeches "smelled of the lamp" (Lesson Two); he was also the prosecutor in the Harpalus case (Lesson Eight).

Why are there only ten lessons in this study? (Repeated from the introduction to this volume)

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. 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.

"Is This Going to be on the Exam?"

As noted, the story of Demosthenes is short, but that does not make all of it easy to understand, especially when Plutarch skips quickly over information that may be new to students. There are a lot of names in this story (including historical sources), and a lot of places to search for on maps. The focus is on Athens, but the increasing power of Macedonia is also important. A point worth bringing up during this study is that the insubordination of Athens, though irritating to Philip and Alexander, was by no means their only or biggest concern. Greece was only one piece in the planned worldwide empire of Macedonia.

However, at least in the single P.U.S. term we know of in which Demosthenes was studied (Programme 107), the examination emphasis was almost wholly on his character, and on the ways he used his oratorical skills. It may be read largely as a study of the responsibility that those with a public voice have to speak plainly and honestly (as much as is humanly possible), and the equally important role played by those who listen. It is also a story that acknowledges human temptations and failings, even of those who have earned public admiration.

Therefore, while there are certainly interesting rabbit trails in this story, teachers and students may both need occasional reminders that it really is all right not to have the full back story on every king or general; it is fine just to have a general idea of some of the places. Try to keep the focus on Demosthenes himself, and you will be fine.

Top Vocabulary Terms in theLife of Demosthenes

If you recognize these words, you are well on the way to mastering the vocabulary for this study. They will not be repeated in the lessons.

1. countenance: face; facial expression

2. disposition: temperament, character

3. drachma (pl. drachmae or drachmas), mina(s), talent(s): units of money. A mina was originally equal to 70 drachmae but it was later raised to 100. A talent was a large amount of silver or gold.

4. eloquence: skill in public speaking, especially in pleading a case or persuading people to do something.

5. meet: suitable, proper

6. orator: a professional public speaker. At this time, orators often used their gifts to make political speeches, or to defend or accuse someone in court (the word pleader is also used in this story).

7. periods: sentences

8. preferred: proposed

9. pulpit for orations: speaker's platform; rostrum

10. rhetoric: the formal art of persuasion or motivation through public speaking or writing. A rhetorician can be an orator, or a teacher of that art (or both).

Lesson One


Plutarch, in an unusually personal introduction, talks about some of the difficulties he has in trying to write biographies "from materials gathered by observation and the reading of works not easy to be got in all places, nor written always in his own language, but many of them foreign and dispersed in other hands," especially because he did not live in a place with great libraries or other resources. He then introduces Demosthenes and Cicero: "two orators…who, from small and obscure beginnings, became so great and mighty." (Cicero is the subject of the next study.)


happy: When Plutarch says that happiness is something "placed in the qualities and disposition of the mind," he relates it closely to virtue. Christian students may want to compare this with the word translated "blessed" or "happy" in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5).

requisite: necessary

virtue: moral (and overall) excellence

ingenuous: This word is often used now to mean sincere and innocent, even naïve; but in earlier times it meant noble, honourable.

industrious: hard-working

thoroughly inhabited: with a large population

deficient: lacking

in my latter time: in my old age

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)

contested with: fought for power against

trial of skill: contest, competition

did let the rest run to naught: they mishandled the money

liberal sciences: academic subjects such as philosophy

forbore to urge him: refused to push or force him

meagre: scrawny

enervated: nervous, stammering

give himself to eloquence: become an orator

Oropos incident: Callistratus had recommended that the Athenian-Theban quarrel over Oropos (a disputed border town) be settled diplomatically; but when the plan failed, he and another orator were brought to court to defend themselves.

bore the bell: had the highest reputation


Sosius: Quintus Sosius Senecio was a Roman senator and consul in the first century A.D., whose literary friends included Pliny the Younger and Plutarch. Some of Plutarch's other writings refer to conversations that had taken place in both Greece and Rome, and it appears that Sosius even attended the wedding of Plutarch's son.

Alcibiades: Athenian statesman of the fifth century B.C.; the subject of one of Plutarch's Lives.

Euripides: a writer of tragic plays

Caecilius: Caecilius of Calacte, a literary critic and historian

Theopompus: a Greek historian

Callistratus: (or Kallistratos); Athenian orator and general

Isaeus: an Athenian orator

Isocrates: a famous teacher of rhetoric

Historic Occasions

404 B.C.: End of the Peloponnesian War

384 B.C.: Birth of Demosthenes

382 B.C.: Birth of Philip II of Macedon

On the Map

General introduction: For this study you should have access to a historical map of Greece and its surroundings, showing it as it was during the fourth century B.C. A map or pictures of Athens (and its region Attica) would also be helpful. You will want to note the surrounding bodies of water (including the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas), and the various city/states such as Thebes and Corinth. If the students have not done much study of Greece before, they should learn or review the general geography, e.g. the near-separation of the north and south (the Peloponnesus or Peloponnese) at the Isthmus of Corinth.

Oropos: a small town in east Attica, formerly controlled by Athens, but at this time by the Thebans


Prologue (A general introduction to Demosthenes and Cicero)

Whoeverit was, Sosius, that wrote the poem in honour of Alcibiades, upon his winning the chariot race at the Olympian Games (whether it were Euripides, as is most commonly thought, or some other person), he tells us, that to a man's being happy it is in the first place requisite he should be born in "some famous city." But for him that would attain to true happiness, which for the most part is placed in the qualities and disposition of the mind, it is, in my opinion, of no disadvantage to be of a mean, obscure country [omission]…for virtue, like a strong and durable plant, may take root and thrive in any place where it can lay hold of an ingenuous nature, and a mind that is industrious.

I, for my part, shall desire that for any deficiency of mine in right judgment or action, I myself may be, as in fairness, held accountable, and shall not attribute it to the obscurity of my birthplace.

But if any man undertake to write a history that has to be collected from materials gathered by observation, and the reading of works not easy to be got in all places, nor written always in his own language, but many of them foreign and dispersed in other hands: for him, undoubtedly, it is in the first place and above all things most necessary to reside in some 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 upon inquiry may hear and inform himself of such particulars as, having escaped the pens of writers, are more faithfully preserved in the memories of men, lest his work be deficient in many things, even those which it can least dispense with.

But 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.

The divine power seems originally to have designed Demosthenes and Cicero upon the same plan, giving them many similarities in their natural characters: 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, who, from small and obscure beginnings, became so great and mighty; who both contested with kings and tyrants; [who] both lost their daughters; [who] were driven out of their country, and returned with honour; who, flying from thence again, were both seized upon by their enemies; and [who] at last ended their lives with the liberty of their countrymen. So that if we were to suppose there had been a trial of skill between Nature and Fortune, as there is sometimes between artists, it would be hard to judge whether the first succeeded best in making them alike in their dispositions and manners, or the second in the coincidences of their lives.

We will speak of Demosthenes first.

Part One

Demosthenes, the father of this orator Demosthenes, was, as Theopompus writeth, one of the chief men of the city, surnamed the Sword-maker, 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 when Demosthenes was seven years 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: besides that, on account of weakness and delicate health, his mother would not let him exert himself, and his teachers forbore to urge him.

He was meagre and sickly from the first, and hence he had his nickname of "Batalus" given him, it is said, by the boys, in derision of his appearance; Batalus being, as some tell us, a certain enervated flute-player, in ridicule of whom Antiphanes wrote a play.

[omission: possible other meanings of Batalus]

Part Two

The occasion (as it is reported) that moved him to give himself to eloquence, was this. Callistratus the orator was to defend himself before the judges, regarding his actions over the Oropos incident; 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 attended home with such a train of people after him: but his wonder was more than all excited by the power of his eloquence, which seemed able to subdue and win over anything. 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 because he preferred Isaeus's speaking, as being more business-like and effective in actual use.

[omission for length]

Narration and Discussion

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?

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

For further thought: Would you prefer your oration to be sharper, or sweeter?

For older students: Can good character, or virtue, take root in even a poor environment if it finds an accommodating nature?

Creative narration: "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." Retell or act out this story in any way you choose.

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 of him filling his mouth with pebbles does not appear until Lesson Three).


to go to law with his guardians: to sue his guardians for the misuse of his patrimony or inheritance

he obtained it: he won his case

spleen: an abdominal organ, part of the immune system

lusty and nimble of body: physically strong and agile

the great garland games: athletic competitions at which the prize was a garland (vs. a larger reward such as money or olive oil)

cumbered: burdened, weighed down

impediment: a hindrance or obstruction

forsook the assembly: stopped attending public meetings

having a manner of speech…: this was a great compliment, as Pericles had been a much-admired Athenian statesman and orator

faint heart: lack of courage

suffering: allowing

had the hustings for their own: had the platform to themselves

without book: by heart

rehearsed: recited

exercise himself in declaiming: go to the trouble of making a speech

enunciation: pronouncing words clearly

without intermission: without a break

go abroad: go out and about

subservient to his studies: he used everyday conversation as his training material

peradventure: perhaps; by any chance

"smelled of the lamp": seemed overly rehearsed and artificial

briefs: notes


Thucydides: a Greek historian

Satyrus: an actor and friend of Demosthenes

Pytheas: see introductory notes

Historic Occasions

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

On the Map

Piraeus: As Athens did not have a harbour of its own, it made use of the one at nearby Piraeus.


Part One

As soon, therefore, as he was grown up to man's estate, he began to go to law with his guardians, and to write orations 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. And having got a taste of the honour and power which are acquired by pleadings, he now ventured to come forth, and to undertake public business.

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.

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 it was cumbered with long sentences, and 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, an old man named Eunomus the Thriasian 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 [do] 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 spoke 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. By this, being convinced how much grace and ornament language acquires from action, he began to esteem it a small matter, and as good as nothing for a man to exercise himself in declaiming, if he neglected enunciation and delivery. Hereupon he built himself a place to study underground (which was still remaining in our time); and hither he would continue, oftentimes without intermission, two or three months together, shaving one half of his head, that so for shame he might not go abroad, though he desired it ever so much.

Nor was this all, but he also made his conversation with people abroad, his common speech, and his business, subservient to his studies, taking from hence occasions and arguments as matter to work upon. For as soon as he was parted from his company, down he would go at once into his study, and run over everything in order that had passed, and the reasons that might be alleged for and against it. 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. Hence it was that he was looked upon as a person of no great natural genius, but one who owed all the power and ability he had in speaking to labour and industry. Of the truth of which it was thought to be no small sign that he was very rarely heard to speak upon the occasion, but though he were by name frequently called upon by the people, as he sat in the assembly, yet he would not rise unless he had previously considered the subject, and came prepared for it.

So that all the other orators would many times give him a taunt for it: as Pytheas, among others, 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 which 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?

Creative narration: 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 great orators. But, Plutarch says, it was "his own natural wit" that truly helped him succeed.


timorous: timid, hesitant

inveighed: protested, complained

curry favour: try to gain favour by flattery or special attention

convey himself out of the assembly: sneak out of the room

the character of Pericles: Demosthenes had been told that his style of oration called to mind that of Pericles (Lesson Two); but he seemed to be less interested in using Pericles as his role model in other aspects such as character.

reserve: a formal, dignified manner of speaking, to the point of being aloof or unwilling to open oneself up to others

sustained manner: dignified, formal way of standing and moving

forbearing: restraining oneself from acting; holding back

premeditation: planning, forethought

transported into a kind of ecstasy: overwhelmed with emotion

without art: simply by using his natural gifts

invincible: unconquerable

long-studied reasons: careful preparation

"See, the axe of my words riseth": Dryden, "Here comes the knife to my speech."

bodily defects of nature: physical shortcomings

base and mean: ignoble, unrefined


Aeschines: an Athenian orator

Python of Byzantium: a Greek statesman who later represented Philip of Macedon in Athens

Lamachus, theMyrinaean: a sophist, which at that time meant a teacher or professor, especially of rhetoric

Philip and Alexander, kings of Macedon: see introductory notes

Eratosthenes: Eratosthenes of Cyrene, a famous scholar

Demetrius of Phalerum (c. 350-280 B.C.): Athenian orator and philosopher, who also appears in Plutarch's Life of Demetrius

Demades: see introductory note

Aristo [or Ariston] of Chios: a Stoic philosopher, teacher, and orator; nicknamed "The Siren" because of his persuasive speeches

Theophrastus: a philosopher

Phocion: see introductory notes

Historic Occasions

357/356 B.C.: The Third Sacred War began (see notes in the introduction to this study). Macedon captured two Athenian colonies (Pydna and Potidea).

356 B.C.: Birth of Alexander the Great

354 B.C.: Demosthenes made his first political speeches

352 B.C.: Demosthenes is believed to have made his first speech denouncing Philip

351-350 B.C.: First (official) Philippic

On the Map

Thebes (Thebans): a city in Boeotia, in central Greece

Olynthus (Olynthians): an ancient city of Chalcidice (in Macedonia)


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 of Byzantium, 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, theMyrinaean, having made an oration in the praise of Philip and Alexander, kings of Macedon, in the which he spoke 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 Thebans and 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.

Demosthenes, it should seem, regarded other points in the character of Pericles to be unsuited to him; but his reserve and his sustained manner, and his forbearing to speak on the sudden, or upon every occasion, as being the things to which principally he [Pericles] owed his greatness, these he [Demosthenes] followed, and endeavoured to imitate. 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 show more boldness and courage than those which he had written, and studied long before: if we may believe the reports of Eratosthenes, Demetrius of Phalerum, and the comical poets. Eratosthenes says that often in his speaking he would be transported into a kind of ecstasy.

[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 Chios, has recorded a judgment which Theophrastus passed upon the orators; for being asked what kind of orator he accounted Demosthenes, he answered, "Worthy of this city." Then again, how he thought of Demades: "Above this city," said he.

The same philosopher writeth also, that Polyeuctus the Sphettian (one of those that practised at that time in the commonwealth) was wont to say that Demosthenes was the greatest orator, but Phocion the ablest, as he expressed the most sense in the fewest words. And 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." Yet it does not appear whether he had this feeling for his powers of speaking, or for his life and character, and meant to say that one word or nod from a man who was really trusted would go further than a thousand lengthy periods from others.

Part Two

But now for his bodily defects of nature. Demetrius of Phalerum 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 which a man sayeth.

The action which he used himself, 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 of Phalerum 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 it was admirable to see with what composure and in what high style they addressed themselves to the people; but that the orations of Demosthenes, when they are read, certainly appear to be superior in point of construction, and more effective.

[omission for length]

Narration and Discussion

Demosthenes liked to plan his speeches ahead, but some of his hearers said that his off-the-cuff orations were better. Why was this so?

Can you think of times in the Scriptures when God gave people courage to speak, even against opposition?

For older students: In his first Philippic, Demosthenes said that "for a free people there can be no greater compulsion than shame for their position." What did he mean?"

Creative narration #1: 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?

Creative narration #2: Many people remember the story of Demosthenes and the pebbles, but not as many have heard this one: "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." Try it and see if it works!

Lesson Four


So far, the story of Demosthenes has been about the ways in which he matured both personally and professionally. Now the story moves on to political events, particularly the relationship of Athens to Macedon.

Was Athens at war or at peace with Macedon, and when?

War and peace were complicated things at that time. Sometimes there were small wars (such as the "reducing of Euboea"); and sometimes there were bigger, longer wars against the same enemy, or with different allies. What we do know is that after some crushing Macedonian victories in 348 B.C., Athens sent a group of ambassadors (including Philocrates, Aeschines, and Demosthenes) to try to negotiate peace. This was Demosthenes' first meeting with Philip, and it was not exactly a friendly one, especially because Philip's proposed terms were harsh (forcing them to give up some territory). The ambassadors agreed, however, to accept the the terms, and sent another delegation soon afterwards to, so to speak, sign the contracts. When they arrived, Philip was out of the country, apparently seizing more territory before he could be charged with violating the treaty. Demosthenes wanted to track Philip down and force him to sign it, but the others voted to remain in Pella until he returned. Eventually the treaty (the "Peace of Philocrates") was signed, but only after great delays. And when, soon afterwards, the city of Phocis was taken, the Athenians did not even send help; they could not, under the peace terms they themselves had signed.

How does that history fit in with this lesson?

Plutarch moves back and forth in time in a way that may be confusing. He tells about the first peace embassy, but barely mentions the second one. What we do see clearly, however, are Demosthenes' efforts to unite the Greeks against this powerful (and devious) enemy—and to bring in as many extra soldiers as they could muster. But would that be enough to save Athens?


Phocian war: see introductory notes for this study

Philippic orations: speeches that Demosthenes made against Philip of Macedon; see introductory notes

that action: the war

prevailing: winning his case

fickle: apt to change loyalties or opinions

prevaricate: tell a lie

were contemporary with him: lived at the same time

commendable: praiseworthy

mutiny: rebel

aristocratical: favouring the interests of the aristocracy rather than those of the common people

court of Areopagus: the supreme court in Athens

burn the arsenal: set fire to the city's dockyards (and ships)

one of the ten ambassadors…: see Historic Occasions

fair: nice-looking, handsome

pleader: a lawyer, pleading a case; or a sophist (see Lesson Three)

the reducing of Euboea: a battle against Philip on the island of Euboea, which ended in a stalemate (although Plutarch says that they "chased the Macedonians out of the island")

tyrants: local rulers

he brought them all into a general league: We will hear more about this in the next lesson.

strangers: mercenary soldiers; foreigners hired to serve in the army


Meidias (or Midias): a wealthy Athenian who became an enemy of Demosthenes, apparently because of a property dispute

king of Persia: this would be Artaxerxes III

Aeschines: see Lesson Three

Hypereides (or Hyperides): a speechwriter and orator

Melanopus: another orator

Callistratus: see Lesson One

Nicodemus the Messenian: a politician who shifted sides

Cassander: one of Alexander's successors who ruled Macedonia after his death

Demetrius: Demetrius I Poliorcetes, subject of Plutarch's Life of Demetrius

Ephialtes: an early leader of the democratic movement in Athens

Aristides: nicknamed "The Just"; general during the Persian Wars

Cimon (Kimon): Athenian statesman and general

Antiphon: There were orators by that name, but this particular Antiphon is known only for his traitorous act against Athens. Why did he offer to help the Macedonians by setting fire to the shipyards? Apparently he had been stripped of his Athenian citizenship due to some offense, and this was his retaliation.

Historic Occasions

348 B.C.: Macedon's crushing victories in the Chalcidice region made Athens decide to "sue for peace"

347 B.C.: Demosthenes was part of the delegation sent to Pella (in Macedonia) to discuss peace terms with Philip

346 B.C.: The Third Sacred War (Phocian War) officially ended, leaving Philip with great power over Greece.

340 B.C.: Philip besieged the cities of Perinthus and Byzantium

On the Map

Phocians: the people of Phocis (see introductory notes)

Susa and Ecbatana: important cities of the Persian empire



Demosthenes' first entering into public business was much about the time of the Phocian war, as [he] himself affirms, and may be collected from his Philippic orations. For of these, some were made after that action was over, and the earliest of them refer to its concluding events. It is certain that he engaged in the accusation of Meidias when he was but thirty-two years 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. For of himself—

He was no easy or good-natured man,

but of a determined disposition, and resolute to see himself righted; however, finding it a hard matter and above his strength to deal with Meidias, a man so well secured on all sides with money, eloquence, and friends, he yielded to the entreaties of those who interceded for him. But had he seen any hopes of possibility of prevailing, I cannot believe that three thousand drachmas could have taken off the edge of his revenge.

Part One

The object which he chose for himself in the commonwealth was noble and just, the defense of the Grecians against Philip; and in this he behaved himself so worthily that he soon grew famous, and excited attention everywhere 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 (Demosthenes) than of all the orators in Athens. 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.

So that I cannot imagine what ground Theopompus had to say that Demosthenes was of a fickle, unsettled disposition, and could not long continue with one kind of men, nor in one mind for matters of state; whereas the contrary is most apparent, for the same party and post in politics which he held from the beginning, to these he kept constant to the end; and was so far from leaving them while he lived that he chose rather to forsake his life than his purpose. He was never heard to apologize for shifting sides, like Demades, who would say he often spoke against himself, but never against the city; nor as Melanopus, who, being generally against Callistratus, 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. We have nothing of this kind to say against Demosthenes, as one who would turn aside or prevaricate, either in word or deed. There could not have been less variation in his public acts if they had all been played, so to say, from first to last, from the same score.

[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 (pro-)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:

 "O ye men of Athens, 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."

And his conduct in the case of Antiphon was perfectly aristocratical; whom, after he had been acquitted in the assembly, he took and brought before the court of Areopagus; and, setting at naught the displeasure of the people, convicted him there of having promised Philip to burn the arsenal; whereupon the man was condemned by that court, and suffered for it.

[omission while Plutarch rambles a bit]

Part Two

Now before the war with Macedon began, it was evident enough what course Demosthenes would steer in the commonwealth: for whatever was done by the Macedonian, he criticized and found fault with, and upon all occasions was stirring up the people of Athens, and inflaming them against him [Philip]. Therefore, in the court of Philip, no man was so much talked of, or of so great account as he; and when he came thither, one of the ten ambassadors who were sent into Macedonia, though all had audience given them, yet his speech was answered with most care and exactness. But in other respects, Philip entertained him not so honourably as the rest, neither did he show him the same kindness and civility with which he applied himself to the party of Aeschines and Philocrates. 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 put them upon was the reducing of Euboea, which, by the treachery of the tyrants, was brought under subjection to Philip. And on his proposition, the decree was voted, and they crossed over thither and chased the Macedonians out of the island.

After that also he (Demosthenes) caused them to send aid unto the Byzantines, and unto the Perinthians, with whom Philip made war. He (Demosthenes) persuaded the people to lay aside their enmity against these cities, to forget the offences committed by them in the Confederate War, and to send them such aid as eventually saved and secured them.

Not long after, he undertook an embassy through the states of Greece, which he solicited and so far incensed against Philip that, a few only excepted, he brought them all into a general league.

So that, besides the forces composed of the citizens themselves, there was an army consisting of fifteen thousand foot and two thousand horse, and the money to pay these strangers was levied and brought in with great cheerfulness. On which occasion it was, says Theophrastus, on the allies requesting that their contributions for the war might ascertained and stated, Crobylus the orator made use of the saying, "War can't be fed at so much a day."

Narration and Discussion

"His greatest foes, which were most against him, were driven to confess that they had to do with a famous man." Demosthenes was recognized as someone out of the ordinary, even by his enemies such as Philip of Macedon. According to this passage, what quality in particular made his speeches stand out?

After the visit to the Macedonian court, the Athenian ambassadors praised Philip for being well-spoken, physically attractive, and someone who would "drink freely." Demosthenes turned the compliments into insults and said those were not good qualities for a king. Do you agree?

How did Demosthenes use his own "well-spokenness" in the struggle against the Macedonians?

Creative narration #1: Write a letter or a journal entry by Demosthenes, describing his experience at Philip's court. (Trivia: according to Aeschines' account, Demosthenes collapsed from nervousness in the middle of a speech.)

Lesson Five


In 340 B.C., Demosthenes convinced the Athenians to break the Peace of Philocrates by sending aid to Perinthus and Byzantium. They knew that, if they did so, they would probably end up fighting a battle with Philip; and in that case, they were going to need allies.

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.


up in arms: prepared for war

in a league: alliance, team

pleasures: benefits, favours

vicinity: the closeness of their borders

success at Amphissa: also called the Fourth Sacred War

in a great consternation: greatly upset and confused

perplexity: uncertainty as to what action to take

firing their emulation: stirring up their ambition

in a sort of divine possession: enraptured by his words (more literally, as if they had been possessed by some supernatural force)

was up: was aroused

to put a period…to: to put an end to

Pythian priestess, Sibyl, oracle: These are all terms having to do with the Oracle at Delphi, a sacred place where prophecies were believed to come through a priestess. In this case, the people uncovered an old message that seemed to pertain to the current situation.

belie: contradict; betray

came to himself: calmed down, became serious (North says "waxed sober")

give Philip occupation: keep him busy and out of the way


Epaminondas: a famous Greek general of Thebes

the king: The monarchy of Persia was in flux at this time, as Artaxerxes III died in 338 B.C. and was replaced by several short-lived successors, before the last of them was killed by Alexander. It sounds, though, that Plutarch is speaking here about events before the Battle of Chaeronea, so that would still be Artaxerxes.

Historic Occasions

338 B.C.: Amphissa destroyed by Macedon; Athenians and Thebans became allies against Macedon

338 B.C.: Battle of Chaeronea, which the Greeks lost to the Macedonians (and in which Demades was taken prisoner)

On the Map

Amphissa (or Amfissa): a town in Phocis

Elateia: a city of Phthiotis

Sardis: a city which is now part of Turkey


Part One

Now all Greece was up in arms, attending what should happen. The Euboaeans, the Athenians, the Corinthians, the Megarians, the Leucadians, and the Corcyraeans, their people and their cities, were all joined together in a league. But the hardest task was yet behind, left for Demosthenes, to draw the Thebans into this confederacy with the rest. Their country bordered next upon Attica; they had great forces for the war; and at that time they were accounted the best soldiers of all Greece, but it was no easy matter to make them break with Philip, who 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.

But after Philip, being now grown high and puffed up with his good success at Amphissa, on a sudden surprised Elateia and possessed himself of Phocis, and the Athenians were in a great consternation, none dared venture to rise up to speak, no one knew what to say, all were at a loss, and the whole assembly in silence and perplexity. In this extremity of affairs Demosthenes was the only man who appeared, his counsel to them being alliance with the Thebans. And having in other ways encouraged the people, and as his manner was, raised their spirits up with hopes, he, with some others, was sent as ambassador to Thebes. 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.

Now, the Thebans, in their consultations, were well enough aware what suited best with their own interest; but everyone had before his eyes the terrors of war, and their losses in the Phocian troubles were still recent; but such as the force and power of the orator fanning up, as Theopompus says, their courage, and firing their emulation, that, casting away every thought of prudence, fear, or obligation, in a sort of divine possession, they chose the path of honour to which his words invited them.

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 indeed it was no more than was due to his merit.

Part Two

But there was, it would seem, some divinely ordered fortune, commissioned, in the revolution of things, to put a period at this time to the liberty of Greece, which opposed and thwarted all their actions, and by many signs foretold what should happen. Such were the sad predictions uttered by the Pythian priestess, and this old oracle cited out of the Sibyl's verses:—

The battle on Thermodon that shall be
Safe at a distance I desire to see,
For, like an eagle, watching in the air,
Conquered shall weep, and conqueror perish there.

[Omission for length: argument over the identity of Thermodon]

But of Demosthenes, it is said that he had such great confidence in the Grecian forces, and was so excited by the sight of the courage and resolution of so many brave men ready to engage the enemy, that he would by no means endure they should give any need to oracles, or hearken to prophecies; but gave out that he suspected even the prophetess herself, as if she had been tampered with to speak in favour of Philip. The Thebans he put in mind of Epaminondas; the Athenians of Pericles, who always took their own measures and governed their actions by reason, looking upon things of this kind as mere pretexts for cowardice.

Part Three

Thus far, therefore, Demosthenes acquitted himself like a brave man. But in the fight [the Battle of Chaeronia], he did nothing honourable, nor was his performance answerable to his speeches. For he fled, deserting his place disgracefully, and throwing away his arms, not ashamed, as Pytheas observed, to belie the inscription written on his shield, in letters of gold, "With good fortune."

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

Part Four

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 when he came to himself, and 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.

Now Demosthenes' fame was so great that it was carried even to the court of Persia, and the king sent letters to his lieutenants and governors, that they should supply Demosthenes with money, and to pay every attention to him, as the only man of all the Grecians who was able to give Philip occupation, and find employment for his forces near home, in the troubles of Greece. (This afterwards came to the knowledge of Alexander, by certain letters of Demosthenes which he found at Sardis, and by other papers of the Persian officers, stating the large sums which had been given him.)

Narration and Discussion

Why was the king of Persia so interested in helping the Greek cause?

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

Creative narration: Draw a newspaper cartoon for one of the events in this lesson. (One idea: a new shield for Demosthenes?)

Creative narration for older students: William Shakespeare used North's translation of Plutarch's Lives as source material for various plays, such as Julius Caesar and Coriolanus. Imagine that he had decided to write a play based on the Life of Demosthenes. Write/act out a scene based on this passage:

"In the meantime Philip, in the first moment of victory, was so transported with joy, that he grew extravagant."

Or on this one:

"But of Demosthenes… would by no means endure they should give any need to oracles, or hearken to prophecies; but gave out that he suspected even the prophetess herself, as if she had been tampered with to speak in favour of Philip."

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.


sorrow or grief: that is, they were certainly sorrowful, but they did not seem to blame Demosthenes for the disaster

subscribe any: put his name to any of them

to prevent the sinister luck and misfortune of his name: because he believed that his own bad luck might be transferred to others

chaplet: a wreath worn on the head

reproveth: criticizes

clemency: mercy

a base thing: a dishonourable act

Fortune: Plutarch refers to Fortune as a female deity, called Fortuna in Latin; the Greek equivalent was Tyche.

when they list: when they feel like it

assuage: comfort; lessen his grief


Pausanias: Pausanias of Orestis, a bodyguard of Philip who stabbed him to death (the exact reasons are unclear)

Historic Occasions

336 B.C.: the assassination of Philip II, and the accession of Alexander as king of Macedon


Part One

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 show of sorrow or grief for the loss they had received (as Theopompus writes in his exaggerated style); but on the contrary, by the honour and respect paid to their counsellor, they made it appear that they were no way dissatisfied with the counsels he had given them.

 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:

Conquered shall weep, and conqueror perish there.

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 fortune for Athens; 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 a rich dress, with a chaplet on his head, though it were but the seventh day since 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 himself 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.

For my own part, I cannot say that the behaviour of the Athenians on this occasion was wise or honourable, to crown themselves with garlands and to sacrifice to the gods for the death of a prince who, in the midst of his success and victories, when they were a conquered people, had used them with so much clemency and humanity. For besides provoking Fortune, it was a base thing, and unworthy in itself, to make him a citizen of Athens, and pay him honours while he lived, and yet as soon as he fell by another's hand, to set no bounds to their jollity, to insult over him dead, and to sing triumphant songs of victory, as if by their own valour they had vanquished him.

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 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 digressed 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

Why were the Athenians grateful rather than resentful to Demosthenes?

Do you think Demosthenes was "unlucky?" Explain.

For further thought: Aeschines criticized Demosthenes for rejoicing with the Athenians, and not showing proper respect to his own daughter who had died. What would you say?

Creative narration: Retell the events of this lesson in any format you like (interview, newspaper headlines, drawing, drama).

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., an orator named Ctesiphon had proposed that Athens honour Demosthenes for his stand against Macedon, by presenting him with a golden crown. Ctesiphon 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 his defense.


resolved to send ambassadors to Alexander: As punishment for their rebellion, Alexander had demanded that all anti-Macedonian politicians in Athens be sent into exile. The embassy was intended to plead for mercy in this, but it apparently succeeded only because of Demades' actions.

gave up the embassy: left the mission, went home

mastiffs: dogs

corn masters: like travelling salespeople with samples

the persons whom Alexander had demanded: the ambassadors

put aside: North says "under foot"

vanquished: conquered

indictment: accusation, formal charges

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

suffrages: votes


Aristobulus of Cassandrea: a Greek historian, architect, engineer; a friend of Alexander the Great

Agis the Spartan: King Agis III (not the Agis IV of Agis and Cleomenes)

Ctesiphon: see notes above. Rough pronunciation guide: "Tess-a-fun."

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

Historic Occasions

335 B.C.: Demosthenes started a rumour that Alexander had been killed in battle, which incited a rebellion by the Athenians and the Thebans. Alexander then destroyed Thebes and captured its people.

334 B.C.: Alexander invaded the Persian Empire

333 B.C.: With support from the Persian king, Agis III of Sparta recovered the island of Crete from the Macedonians

331 B.C.: Agis died at the Battle of Megalopolis

330 B.C.: Trial of Ctesiphon

330 B.C.: Alexander burned Persepolis (the Persian capital city)

On the Map

Boeotia: a region of central Greece

Mount Cithaeron: a mountain range which formed the boundary between Boeotia and Attica (the region of Athens)

Rhodes: a large island, northeast of Crete and southeast of Athens

Ionia: a Greek colony, located in present-day Turkey


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 (Alexander) "child" and "simpleton."

But as soon as Alexander had settled matters in his own country, and came in person with his army into Boeotia, down fell the courage of the Athenians, and Demosthenes was hushed. 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.

After which, the people of Athens, all in distress and great perplexity, resolved to send ambassadors to Alexander, and amongst others, made choice of Demosthenes for one; but his heart failing him for fear of the king's anger, he returned back from Mount Cithaeron, and gave up the embassy. But Alexander sent to Athens requiring ten of their orators to be delivered up to him, as Idomeneus and Duris have reported, but as the most and best historians say, he demanded these eight only: Demosthenes, Polyeuctus, Ephialtes, Lycurgus, 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. He further told them, "As we see corn-masters sell their whole stock by a few grains of wheat which they carry about with them in a dish, as a sample of the rest, so you by delivering up us, who are but a few, do at the same time unawares surrender up yourselves all together with us." (So we find it related in the history of Aristobulus of Cassandrea.)

The Athenians were deliberating, and at a loss what to do, when Demades, having agreed with the persons whom Alexander had demanded, for five talents, undertook to go as an ambassador, and to intercede with the king 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.

So he (Demades) and his friends, when Alexander went away, were great men, and Demosthenes was quite put aside. Yet when Agis the Spartan made his insurrection, he also for a short time attempted a movement in his favour; but he soon shrunk back again, as the Athenians would not take any part in it, and, Agis being slain, the Lacedaemonians were vanquished.

During this time it was that the indictment against Ctesiphon, concerning the crown, was brought to trial. The action was commenced a little before the Battle of Chaeronea, when Chaerondus was archon, but it was not proceeded with till about ten years after, Aristophon being then archon. Never was any public cause more celebrated than this, alike for the fame of the orators, and for the generous courage of the judges, who, though at the time the accusers of Demosthenes were in the height of power, and supported by all the favour of the Macedonians, yet would not give judgment against him, but acquitted him so honourably, that Aeschines did not obtain the fifth part of their suffrages on his side; so that, immediately after, he left the city, and spent the rest of his life in teaching rhetoric about the island of Rhodes, and upon the continent in Ionia.

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?

Was it Demosthenes' fault that it was suggested he be given a crown?

Creative narration #1: Retell the fable of the Wolves and the Sheep.

Creative narration #2: Taking the part of a television reporter or interviewer, tell about the events of the Ctesiphon trial.

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 knew how to exploit people's greed. But could he outsmart Demosthenes?


terrible: frightening, terrifying

to their disposal: to use as they chose

an armed garrison: a troop of soldiers

citadel: fortress

swathed about…: muffled up as if he had a sore throat

wits: jokers

"silver quinsy": We might say today, "a bit of silver-itis."

cup-bearer: At feasts, a cup of wine was passed from person to person, and the one who held the cup was permitted (or expected) to entertain the others by speaking or singing.

pilfered: stolen, embezzled

inquisition: close examination, investigation

fortitude: strength and courage in a time of trouble

Acropolis: the hill overlooking Athens, site of the temple of Athena

Lady Minerva: the Greek goddess Athena, who, besides being the patron goddess of Athens, also represented wisdom and justice

intractable: untamable, hard to control


Harpalus: an aristocrat of Macedon, and boyhood friend of Alexander

Historic Occasions

326 B.C.: Alexander invaded India

324 B.C.: Harpalus arrived in Athens

On the Map

Aegina: an island in the Saronic Gulf

Troezen: a town in the northeastern Peloponnese


Part One

It was not long after that Harpalus fled from Alexander, and came to Athens out of Asia; knowing himself guilty of many misdeeds into which his love of luxury had led him, and fearing the king, who was now grown terrible even to his best friends. Yet this man had no sooner addressed himself to the people, and delivered up his goods, his ships, and himself to their disposal, but the other orators of the town had their eyes quickly fixed upon his money, and came in to his assistance, and did counsel the people to receive and protect a poor suitor that came to them for aid.

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, being amazed to feel how heavy it was, asked him what weight it came to. "To you," said Harpalus, smiling, "it shall come with twenty talents." And presently after, when night drew on, he sent him the cup with so many talents.

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 swathed about with wool and rollers. 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 the wits, turning the matter to ridicule, said that certainly the orator had been seized that night with no other than a "silver quinsy." 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; and one man stood up and cried out, "What, ye men of Athens, will you not hear the cup-bearer?"

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 made his escape, by the carelessness of some and by the contrivance of others of the citizens.

We are told, at least, that he had not fled far from the city when, finding that he was pursued by some of those who had been his adversaries, he endeavoured to hide himself. But when they called him by his name, and coming up nearer to him, desired he would accept from them some money which they had brought from home as a provision for his journey, and to that purpose only had followed him; when they entreated him to take courage, and to bear up against his misfortune, he burst out into much greater lamentation, saying, "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?"

He did not show much fortitude in his banishment, spending his time for the most part in Aegina and Troezen, and with tears in his eyes, looking towards the country of Attica. And there remain upon record some sayings of his, little resembling those sentiments of generosity and bravery which he used to express when he had the management of the commonwealth. For, as he was departing out of the city, it is reported, he lifted up his hands towards the Acropolis, and said, "O Lady Minerva, how is it that thou takest delight in three such fierce intractable beasts: the owl, the dragon [Dryden: the snake], 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?

When Demosthenes was banished, what was his somewhat bitter advice to young people? Do you agree?

Creative narration: There are some good opportunities here for dramatic narration (see also the Shakespeare activity in Lesson Five).

For older students: Those who have read Robert Bolt's playA 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 chose unexpected allies and made enemies of former friends; people did the same. 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

fled from Athens: Pytheas, at least, was more likely banished.

rencounter: chance meeting

railing: loud argument, sharp words

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

pecuniary fine: the amount of money he had been charged

Jupiter Soter: the Greek god Zeus

Metageitnion, Boedromion, Pyanepsion: three successive months

privily: secretly

apprehend: arrest

temple of Ajax: The mythical hero Ajax was worshipped by the Athenians.

light vessels: small boats


Leosthenes: commander of the Greek forces against Macedon

Antipater: Macedonian general and statesman

Callimedon: An orator who headed the pro-Macedonian party in Athens. He was nicknamed "The Crab" or, more literally, "The Spiny Lobster," not because of his appearance or disposition, but because he liked to eat them.

Phylarchus: a Greek historian whose works are now lost

Demetrius of Magnesia: a biographer

Alcibiades: see Lesson One

Craterus: Macedonian general, allied with Antipater

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 (of causes which are still disputed)

323-322 B.C.: Lamian War between Athens/the Aetolian League against Macedonia/Boeotia

322 B.C.: Battle of Crannon (the decisive battle of the Lamian War)

On the Map

Munichia (or Munychia): a steep hill in Piraeus, the town containing the port used by Athens

Cleonae: a city in the Peloponnese

Calauria (Kalaureia): an island close to the coast of Troezen


Part One

But now happened the death of Alexander, while Demosthenes was in this banishment which we have been speaking of. And the Grecians were once again up in arms, encouraged by the brave attempts of Leosthenes, who, being a man of great valour, had shut up Antipater in the city of Lamia, and there kept him straitly besieged. Pytheas (who had prosecuted Demosthenes), and Callimedon, called the Crab, both fled from Athens, and taking sides with Antipater [that is, to promote the Macedonian cause], went about with his friends and ambassadors to keep the other Grecians from revolting and taking part with the Athenians. But, on the other side, Demosthenes, associating himself with the ambassadors that came from Athens, used his utmost endeavours and gave them his best assistance in persuading the cities to fall unanimously upon the Macedonians, and to drive them out of Greece. Phylarchus says that in Arcadia there happened a rencounter between Pytheas and Demosthenes, which came at last to downright railing, while the one pleaded for the Macedonians, and the other for the Grecians. Pytheas, 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. (The decree was brought in by Daemon the Paenian, cousin to Demosthenes.)

He landed at the port of Piraeus, where he was met and joyfully received by all the citizens, not so much as an archon or a priest staying behind. And Demetrius of Magnesia says that he lifted up his hands towards heaven, and blessed this day of his happy return, as far more honourable than that of Alcibiades; since he was recalled by his countrymen, not through any force or constraint put upon them, but by their own goodwill and free inclinations. There remained only his pecuniary fine, which, according to law, could not be remitted by the people. But they found out a way to elude the law. It was a custom with them to allow a certain quantity of silver to those who were to furnish and adorn the altar for the sacrifice of Jupiter Soter. This office, for that turn, they bestowed on Demosthenes, and for the performance of it ordered him fifty talents, the very sum in which he was condemned.

Part Two

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 Crannon 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 took their opportunity to escape privily out of the city; but sentence of death was, upon the motion of Demades, passed upon them by the people. They dispersed themselves, flying some to one place, some to another; and Antipater sent about his soldiers into all quarters to apprehend them. Archias was their captain, and was thence called "the Exile-hunter." (He was a Thurian born, and is reported to have been an actor of tragedies; and they say that Polus, of Aegina, the best actor of his time, was his scholar; but Hermippus reckons Archias among the disciples of Lacritus, the orator, and Demetrius says he spent some time with Anaximenes.)

Now, this Archias having found the orator Hyperides in the city of Aegina, and Aristonicus Marathonian, and Himeraeus the brother of Demetrius of Phalerum, 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 Cleonae, 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 some light vessels, 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? Should he have been made to pay it himself? (See Proverbs 17:26)

How did things deteriorate afterwards?

Creative narration #1: See the Shakespeare activity in Lesson Five.

Creative narration #2: You are the editor and chief reporter for a monthly news report called the Athens Advocate. Show the front page and headlines for the Metagitnion, Boedromion, or Pyanepsion issue.

Lesson Ten and Examination Questions


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


contending with Archias: in a contest with him for a drama prize

furniture and provision for the stage: theatrical equipment

forbear only a little: wait just a few minutes; be patient

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.

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.

preservative: This word makes it sound as if Demosthenes was carrying a drug "for medicinal purposes"; but other translators have used the word "safeguard," implying that it was intended for a purpose such as he used it here, rather than a means to "preserve" his health.

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

epigrams: verses (in this context); inscriptions


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


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, "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. "Now," said Demosthenes, "you speak like the genuine Macedonian oracle; before you were but acting a part. Therefore forbear only a little, while I write a word or two home to my family."

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." After he had thus spoken and desired to be held up, because already he began to tremble and stagger, as he was going forward, and passing by the altar, he fell down, and, with a groan, gave up the ghost.

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. And that when his sudden death was much wondered at, 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; yet I must not omit what is said by Demochares, the relation of Demosthenes, who is of opinion it was not by the help of poison that he met with so sudden and so easy a death, but that by the singular favour and providence of the gods he was thus rescued from the cruelty of the Macedonians. He died on the sixteenth of Pyanepsion, the most sad and solemn day of the Thesmophoria, which the women observe by fasting in the temple of the goddess.

Shortly after, the Athenians, to honour him as he deserved, did cast his image in brass, and made a law besides, that the oldest man of his house should forever 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. (North's translation; see others under Narration and Discussion)

But it is simply ridiculous to say, as some have related, that Demosthenes made these verses himself in Calauria, as he was about to take the poison.

Part Three

A little before I [Dryden: he] went to Athens, the following incident was said to have 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 oft 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 the 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 Sosius, 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. Here is an alternative translation (Langhorne's):

"Divine in speech, in judgment, too, divine,
Had valour's wreath, Demosthenes, been thine,
Fair Greece had still her freedom's ensign borne."

And here is Dryden's version:

"Had you for Greece been strong, as wise you were,
The Macedonian had not conquered her."

Can you explain what is meant?

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

Creative narration #1: See the Shakespeare activity in Lesson Five. (Write or act out any part of this lesson in a way that Shakespeare might have done.)

Creative narration #2 (for older students): Write an "epigram" for Demosthenes. Or create a "new translation" of the inscription above.

Examination Questions

For Younger Students

1. 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

1. "He won him marvellous fame for his great eloquence and plain manner of speech." By what means did Demosthenes attain this distinction?

2. (High School) Comment upon, with illustrations from his life, the celebrated inscription on the pedestal of Demosthenes' statue,—

"Had you for Greece been strong, as wise you were,
The Macedonian had not conquered her." (Dryden)


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

Comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero

This is as much as we could gather by our knowledge touching the notable acts and deeds worthy of memory, written of Cicero and Demosthenes. Furthermore, leaving the comparison aside of the difference of their eloquence in their orations: methinks I may say thus much of them. That Demosthenes did wholly employ all his wit and learning (natural or artificial) unto the art of rhetoric, and that in force, and virtue of eloquence, he did excel all the orators in his time: and for gravity and magnificent style, all those also that only write for shew or ostentation: and for sharpness and art, all the sophisters and masters of rhetoric. And that Cicero was a man generally learned in all sciences, and that had studied divers books, as appeareth plainly by the sundry books of philosophy of his own making, written after the manner of the Academic philosophers.

Furthermore, they may see in his orations he wrote in certain causes to serve him when he pleaded: that he sought occasions in his by-talk to shew men that he was excellently well learned. Furthermore, by their phrases a man may discern some spark of their manners and conditions. For Demosthenes' phrase hath no manner of fineness, jests, nor grace in it, but is altogether grave and harsh, and smelleth not of the lamp, as Pytheas said when he mocked him: but sheweth a great drinker of water, extreme pains, and therewith also a sharp and sour nature. But Cicero oftentimes fell from pleasant taunts, unto plain scurrility: and turning all his pleadings of matters of importance, to sport and laughter, having a grace in it, many times he did forget the comeliness that became a man of his calling. As in his oration for Caelius, where he sayeth, "It is no marvel if in so great abundance of wealth and fineness he give himself a little to take his pleasure: and that it was a folly not to use pleasures lawful, and tolerable, sith the famousest philosophers that ever were, did place the chief felicity of man, to be in pleasure." And it is reported also, that Marcus Cato having accused Muraena, Cicero being consul, defended his cause, and in his oration pleasantly girded all the sect of the Stoic philosophers for Cato's sake, for the strange opinions they hold, which they call paradoxes: insomuch as he made all the people and judges also fall a-laughing a-good. And Cato himself also smiling a little, said unto them that sat by him: "What a laughing and mocking consul have we, my lords?" But letting that pass, it seemeth that Cicero was of a pleasant and merry nature; for his face shewed ever great life and mirth in it. Whereas in Demosthenes' countenance on the other side, they might discern a marvelous diligence and care, and a pensive man, never weary with pain: insomuch that his enemies (as he reporteth himself) called him a perverse and froward man.

Furthermore, in their writings is discerned, that the one speaketh modestly in his own praise, so as no man can justly be offended with him: and yet not always, but when necessity enforceth him for some matter of great importance, but otherwise very discreet and modest to speak of himself. Cicero in contrary manner, using too often repetition of one self thing in all his orations, shewed an extreme ambition of glory, when incessantly he cried out: "Let spear and shield give place to gown / And give the tongue the laurel crown."

Yea, furthermore, he did not only praise his own acts and deeds, but the orations also which he had written or pleaded: as if he should have contended against Isocrates, or Anaximenes, a master that taught rhetoric, and not to go about to reform the people of Rome: "Which were both fierce and stout in arms / And fit to work their enemies harms." For, as it is requisite for a governor of a commonwealth to seek authority by his eloquence: so, to covet the praise of his own glorious tongue, or as it were to beg it, that sheweth a base mind. And therefore in this point we must confess that Demosthenes is far graver, and of a nobler mind: who declared himself, that all his eloquence came only but by practise, the which also required the favour of his auditory: and further, he thought them fools and mad men (as indeed they be no less) that therefore would make any boast of themselves. In this they were both alike, that both of them had great credit and authority in their orations to the people, and for their orations obtaining that they would propound: insomuch as captains, and they that had armies in their hands, stood in need of their eloquence. As Chares, Diopithes, and Leosthenes, they all were holpen of Demosthenes: and Pompey, and Octavius Caesar the young man, of Cicero: as Caesar himself confesseth in his Commentaries he wrote unto Agrippa, and Maecenas. But nothing sheweth a man's nature and condition more, (as it is reported, and so is it true) than when one is in authority: for that bewrayeth his humor, and the affections of his mind, and layeth open also all his secret vices in him. Demosthenes could never deliver any such proof of himself, because he never bare any office, nor was called forward. For he was not general of the army, which he himself had prepared against King Philip. Cicero on the other side being sent Treasurer into Sicily, and proconsul into Cilicia and Cappadocia, in such time as covetousness reigned most (insomuch that the captains and governors whom they sent to govern their provinces, thinking it villainy and dastardliness to rob, did violently take things by force, at what time also to take bribes was reckoned no shame, but to handle it discreetly, he was the better thought of, and beloved for it) he shewed plainly that he regarded not money, and gave forth many proofs of his courtesy and goodness.

Furthermore, Cicero being created consul by name, but dictator indeed, having absolute power and authority over all things to suppress the rebellion and conspirators of Catiline: he proved Plato's prophecy true, which was: that the cities are safe from danger, when the chief magistrates and governors (by some good divine fortune) do govern with wisdom and justice. Demosthenes was reproved for his corruption, and selling of his eloquence: because secretly he wrote one oration for Phormio, and another in the selfsame matter for Apollodorus, they being both adversaries. Further, he was defamed also for receiving money of the king of Persia, and therewithal condemned for the money which he had taken of Harpalus. And though some (peradventure) would object, that the reporters thereof (which are many) do lie: yet they can not possibly deny this, that Demosthenes had no power to refrain from looking of the presents which divers kings did offer him, praying him to accept them in good part for their sakes: neither was that the part of a man that did take usury by traffic on the sea, the extremest yet of all other. In contrary manner (as we have said before) it is certain that Cicero being treasurer, refused the gifts which the Sicilians offered him, there: and the presents also which the king of the Cappadocians offered him whilst he was proconsul in Cilicia, and those especially which his friends pressed upon him to take of them, being a great sum of money, when he went as a banished man out of Rome.

Furthermore, the banishment of the one was infamous to him, because by judgement he was banished as a thief. The banishment of the other was for as honourable an act as ever he did, being banished for ridding his country of wicked men. And therefore of Demosthenes, there was no speech after he was gone: but for Cicero, all the Senate changed their apparel into black, and determined that they would pass no decree by their authority, before Cicero's banishment was revoked by the people. Indeed Cicero idly passed his time of banishment, and did nothing all the while he was in Macedon: and one of the chiefest acts that Demosthenes did, in all the time that he dealt in the affairs of the commonwealth, was in his banishment. For he went unto every city, and did assist the ambassadors of the Grecians, and refused the ambassadors of the Macedonians. In the which he shewed himself a better citizen, than either Themistocles, or Alcibiades, in their like fortune and exile. So when he was called home, and returned, he fell again to his old trade which he practised before, and was ever against Antipater, and the Macedonians. Where Laelius in open Senate sharply took up Cicero, for that he sat still and said nothing, when that Octavius Caesar the young man made petition against the law, that he might sue for the consulship, and being so young, that he had never a hair on his face. And Brutus self also doth greatly reprove Cicero in his letters, for that he had maintained and nourished a more grievous and greater tyranny, than that which they had put down.

And last of all, me thinketh the death of Cicero most pitiful, to see an old man carried up and down, (with tender love of his servants) seeking all the ways that might be to flee death, which did not long prevent his natural course : and in the end, old as he was, to see his head so pitifully cut off. Whereas Demosthenes, though he yielded a little, entreating him that came to take him: yet for that he had prepared the poison long before, that he had kept it long, and also used it as he did, he cannot but be marvellously commended for it. For if the god Neptune denied him the benefit of his sanctuary, he betook him to a greater, and that was death: whereby he saved himself out of the soldiers' hands of the tyrant [Dryden: freeing himself from arms and soldiers], and also scorned the bloody cruelty of Antipater.

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Plutarch Texts:
Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey, Pt 1 Pompey, Pt 2 Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus

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Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey, Pt 1 Pompey, Pt 2 Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus
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