Plutarch's Life of Demosthenes

Text taken from Thomas North and/or John Dryden

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

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

Reading for Lesson One

Prologue (A general introduction to Demosthenes and Cicero)

Whoever it was, Sosius, that wrote the poem in honour of Alcibiades, upon his winning the chariot race at the Olympian Games (whether it were Euripides, as is most commonly thought, or some other person), he tells us, that to a man's being happy it is in the first place requisite he should be born in "some famous city." But for him that would attain to true happiness, which for the most part is placed in the qualities and disposition of the mind, it is, in my opinion, of no 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]

Reading for Lesson Two

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.

Reading for Lesson Three

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]

Reading for Lesson Four


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."

Reading for Lesson Five

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.)

Reading for Lesson Six

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.

Reading for Lesson Seven

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.

Reading for Lesson Eight

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.

Reading for Lesson Nine

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.

Reading for Lesson Ten

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.

AmblesideOnline Plutarch Readings:

AmblesideOnline's free Charlotte Mason homeschool curriculum prepares children for a life of rich relationships with God, humanity, and the natural world.
Share AO with your group or homeschool fair! Download our printable brochure