See A. W. Pickard-Cambridge, Demosthenes and the Last Days of Greek Freedom (1914); W. W. Jaeger, Demosthenes: The Origin and Growth of His Policy (1938, repr. 1963); J. J. Murphy, ed., Demosthenes on the Crown (1983); H. Montgomery, The Way to Chaeronea (1984).
Demosthenes, marble statue, detail of a Roman copy of a Greek original of c. 280 BC; in the Ny elipsis
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Demosthenes (384–322 BC, Greek: Δημοσθένης, Dēmosthénēs) was a prominent Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens. His orations constitute a significant expression of ancient Athenian intellectual prowess and provide an insight into the politics and culture of ancient Greece during the 4th century BC. Demosthenes learned rhetoric by studying the speeches of previous great orators. He delivered his first judicial speeches at the age of twenty, in which he argued effectively to gain from his guardians what was left of his inheritance. For a time, Demosthenes made his living as a professional speech-writer (logographer) and a lawyer, writing speeches for use in private legal suits.
Demosthenes grew interested in politics during his time as a logographer, and in 354 BC he gave his first public political speeches. He went on to devote his most productive years to opposing Macedon's expansion. He idealized his city and strove throughout his life to restore Athens' supremacy and motivate his compatriots against Philip II of Macedon. He sought to preserve his city's freedom and to establish an alliance against Macedon, in an unsuccessful attempt to impede Philip's plans to expand his influence southwards by conquering all the Greek states. After Philip's death, Demosthenes played a leading part in his city's uprising against the new King of Macedon, Alexander the Great. However, his efforts failed and the revolt was met with a harsh Macedonian reaction. To prevent a similar revolt against his own rule, Alexander's successor in this region, Antipater, sent his men to track Demosthenes down. Demosthenes took his own life, in order to avoid being arrested by Archias, Antipater's confidant.
The Alexandrian Canon compiled by Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace recognized Demosthenes as one of the ten greatest Attic orators and logographers. According to Longinus, Demosthenes "perfected to the utmost the tone of lofty speech, living passions, copiousness, readiness, speed". Cicero acclaimed him as "the perfect orator" who lacked nothing, and Quintilian extolled him as "lex orandi" ("the standard of oratory") and that "inter omnes unus excellat" ("he stands alone among all the orators").
Demosthenes was born in 384 BC, during the last year of the 98th Olympiad or the first year of the 99th Olympiad. His father—also named Demosthenes—who belonged to the local tribe, Pandionis, and lived in the deme of Paeania in the Athenian countryside, was a wealthy sword-maker. Aeschines, Demosthenes' greatest political rival, maintained that his mother Kleoboule was a Scythian by blood—an allegation disputed by some modern scholars. Demosthenes was orphaned at the age of seven. Although his father provided well for him, his legal guardians, Aphobus, Demophon and Therippides, mishandled his inheritance.
As soon as Demosthenes came of age in 366 BC, he demanded they render an account of their management. According to Demosthenes, the account revealed the misappropriation of his property. Although his father left an estate of nearly fourteen talents, (very roughly 3,000 pounds in gold or 400,000 current United States dollars) Demosthenes asserted his guardians had left nothing "except the house, and fourteen slaves and thirty silver minae" (30 minae = ½ talent). At the age of 20, Demosthenes sued his trustees in order to recover his patrimony and delivered five orations — three Against Aphobus during 363 BC and 362 BC and two Against Ontenor during 362 and 361 BC. The courts fixed Demosthenes' damages at ten talents. When all the trials came to an end, he only succeeded in retrieving a portion of his inheritance.
Between his coming of age in 366 BC and the trials that took place in 364 BC, Demosthenes and his guardians negotiated acrimoniously but were unable to reach an agreement, for neither side was willing to make concessions. At the same time, Demosthenes prepared himself for the trials and improved his oratory skill. As an adolescent, his curiosity had been noticed by the orator Callistratus, who was then at the height of his reputation, having just won a case of considerable importance. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philologist and philosopher, and Constantine Paparregopoulus, a major Greek historian, Demosthenes was a student of Isocrates; according to Cicero, Quintillian and the Roman biographer Hermippus, he was a student of Plato. Lucian, a Roman-Syrian rhetorician and satirist, lists the philosophers Aristotle, Theophrastus and Xenocrates among his teachers. These claims are nowadays disputed. According to Plutarch, Demosthenes employed Isaeus as his master in Rhetoric, even though Isocrates was then teaching this subject, either because he could not pay Isocrates the prescribed fee or because Demosthenes believed Isaeus' style better suited a vigorous and astute orator such as himself . Curtius, a German archaeologist and historian, likened the relation between Isaeus and Demosthenes to "an intellectual armed alliance".
It has also been said that Demosthenes paid Isaeus 10,000 drachmae (somewhat over 1.5 talents) on the condition that Isaeus should withdraw from a school of Rhetoric which he had opened, and should devote himself wholly to Demosthenes, his new pupil. Another version credits Isaeus with having taught Demosthenes without charge. According to Sir Richard C. Jebb, a British classical scholar, "the intercourse between Isaeus and Demosthenes as teacher and learner can scarcely have been either very intimate or of very long duration". Konstantinos Tsatsos, a Greek professor and academician, believes that Isaeus helped Demosthenes edit his initial judicial orations against his guardians. Demosthenes is also said to have admired the historian Thucydides. In the Illiterate Book-Fancier, Lucian mentions eight beautiful copies of Thucydides made by Demosthenes, all in Demosthenes' own handwriting. These references hint at his respect for a historian he must have assiduously studied.
According to Pseudo-Plutarch, Demosthenes was married once. The only information about his wife, whose name is unknown, is that she was the daughter of Heliodorus, a prominent citizen. Demosthenes also had a daughter, "the first and only one who ever called him father", according to Aeschines' in a trenchant remark. His daughter died young and unmarried a few days before Philip's death.
Aeschines often asserted that Demosthenes made money out of young rich men. He claimed that he deluded Aristarchus, the son of Moschus, with the pretence that he could make him a great orator. Apparently, while still under Demosthenes' tutelage, Aristarchus killed and mutilated a certain Nicodemus of Aphidna, gouging out his eyes and tongue. Aeschines accused Demosthenes of complicity in the murder, pointing out that Nicodemus had once pressed a lawsuit accusing Demosthenes of desertion. He also accused Demosthenes of having been such a bad erastes to Aristarchus so as not even to deserve the name. His crime, according to Aeschines, was to have betrayed his eromenos by pillaging his estate, allegedly pretending to be in love with the youth so as to get his hands on the boy's inheritance. This he is said to have squandered, having taken three talents upon Aristarchus' fleeing into exile so as to avoid a trial. Thus, in payment for the trust that Aristarchus and his family put in him, "You entered a happy home [...] you ruined it. Nevertheless, the story of Demosthenes' relations with Aristarchus is still regarded as more than doubtful, and no other pupil of Demosthenes is known by name.
|"If you feel bound to act in the spirit of that dignity, whenever you come into court to give judgement on public causes, you must bethink yourselves that with his staff and his badge every one of you receives in trust the ancient pride of Athens."|
|Demosthenes (On the Crown, 210) - The orator's defense of the honor of the courts was in contrast to the improper actions of which Aeschines accused him.|
As an example, Aeschines accused Demosthenes of writing a speech for Phormion, a wealthy banker, and then communicating it to Apollodorus, who was bringing a capital charge against Phormion. Plutarch supported this accusation, stating that Demosthenes "was thought to have acted dishonorably".
Even before he turned 21-years-old in 363 BC, Demosthenes had already demonstrated an interest in politics. In 363, 359, and 357 BC, he assumed the office of the trierarch, being responsible for the outfitting and maintenance of a trireme. In 348 BC, he became a choregos, paying the expenses of a theatrical production. Although Demosthenes said he never pleaded a single private case, it remains unclear when and if Demosthenes abandoned the profitable but not so prestigious profession of logography. According to Plutarch, when Demosthenes first addressed himself to the people, he was derided for his strange and uncouth style, "which was cumbered with long sentences and tortured with formal arguments to a most harsh and disagreeable excess".
Some citizens however discerned his talent. When he first left the ecclesia (the Athenian Assembly) disheartened, an old man named Eunomus encouraged him, saying his diction was very much like that of Pericles. Another time, after the ecclesia had refused to hear him and he was going home dejected, an actor named Satyrus followed him and entered into a friendly conversation with him.
As a boy Demosthenes had a speech impediment — an inarticulate and stammering pronunciation. Aeschines taunted him and referred to him in his speeches by the nickname "Batalus", apparently invented by Demosthenes' pedagogues or by the little boys with whom he was playing. According to Plutarch, he had a weakness in his voice of "a perplexed and indistinct utterance and a shortness of breath, which, by breaking and disjointing his sentences much obscured the sense and meaning of what he spoke." Demosthenes soon undertook a disciplined program to overcome these shortcomings and improve his locution. He worked on his diction, his voice and his gestures. His zeal and perseverance have passed into proverb. It is however unknown whether these vignettes are factual accounts of events in Demosthenes' life or merely anecdotes used to illustrate his perseverance and determination.
|"While the vessel is safe, whether it be a large or a small one, then is the time for sailor and helmsman and everyone in his turn to show his zeal and to take care that it is not capsized by anyone's malice or inadvertence; but when the sea has overwhelmed it, zeal is useless."|
|Demosthenes (Third Philippic, 69) - The orator warned his countrymen of the disasters Athens would suffer, if they continued to remain idle and indifferent to the challenges of their times.|
In 354 BC, Demosthenes delivered his first political oration, On the Navy, in which he espoused moderation and proposed the reform of "symmories"(boards) as a source of funding for the Athenian fleet. In 352 BC, he delivered For the Megalopolitans and, in 351 BC, On the Liberty of the Rhodians. In both speeches he opposed Eubulus, the most powerful Athenian statesman of the period 355 to 342 BC, who was against any intervention in the internal affairs of the other Greek cities.
Although none of his early orations were successful, Demosthenes established himself as an important political personality and broke with Eubulus' faction, a prominent member of which was Aeschines. He laid the foundations for his future political successes and for becoming the leader of his own party. His arguments revealed his desire to articulate Athens' needs and interests.
In 351 BC, Demosthenes felt strong enough to express his view concerning the most important foreign policy issue facing Athens at that time: the stance his city should take towards Philip II of Macedon. According to Jacqueline de Romilly, a French philologist and member of the Académie française, the threat of Philip would give Demosthenes' stances a focus and a raison d'être. Henceforth, Demosthenes' career is virtually the history of Athenian foreign policy.
Most of Demosthenes' major orations were directed against the growing power of King Philip II of Macedon. Since 357 BC, when Philip seized Amphipolis and Pydna, Athens had been formally at war with the Macedonians. In 352 BC, Demosthenes characterized Philip as the very worst enemy of his city; his speech presaged the fierce attacks that Demosthenes would launch against the Macedonian king over the ensuing years. A year later he criticized those dismissing Philip as a person of no account and warned that he was as dangerous as the King of Persia.
In 352 BC, Athenian troops successfully opposed Philip at Thermopylae, but the Macedonian victory over the Phocians at the Battle of Crocus Field shook Demosthenes. The theme of the First Philippic (351–350 BC) was preparedness and the reform of the theoric fund, a mainstay of Eubulus' policy. In his rousing call for resistance, Demosthenes asked his countrymen to take the necessary action and asserted that "for a free people there can be no greater compulsion than shame for their position".
|"We need money, for sure, Athenians, and without money nothing can be done that ought to be done."|
|Demosthenes (First Olynthiac, 20) - The orator took great pains to convince his countrymen that the reform of the theoric fund was necessary to finance the city's military preparations.|
From this moment until 341 BC, all of Demosthenes' speeches referred to the same issue, the struggle against Philip. In 349 BC, Philip attacked Olynthus, an ally of Athens. In the three Olynthiacs, Demosthenes criticized his compatriots for being idle and urged Athens to help Olynthus. He also insulted Philip by calling him a "barbarian". Despite Demosthenes' warnings, the Athenians engaged in a useless war in Euboea and offered no military support to Olynthus.
|"Just think. The instant this court rises, each of you will walk home, one quicker, another more leisurely, not anxious, not glancing behind him, not fearing whether he is going to run up against a friend or an enemy, a big man or a little one, a strong man or a weak one, or anything of that sort. And why? Because in his heart he knows, and is confident, and has learned to trust the State, that no one shall seize or insult or strike him."|
|Demosthenes (Against Meidias, 221) - The orator asked the Athenians to defend their legal system, by making an example of the defendant for the instruction of others.|
Demosthenes decided to prosecute his wealthy opponent and wrote the judicial oration Against Meidias. This speech gives valuable information about Athenian law at the time and especially about the Greek concept of hybris (aggravated assault), which was regarded as a crime not only against the city but against society as a whole. He stated that a democratic state perishes if the rule of law is undermined by wealthy and unscrupulous men, and that the citizens acquire power and authority in all state affairs due "to the strength of the laws". According to philologist Henri Weil, Demosthenes dropped the charges for political reasons and never delivered Against Meidias, although Aeschines maintained that Demosthenes was bribed.
The ecclesia officially accepted the harsh terms Phillip imposed. However, when an Athenian delegation arrived at Pella to put Phillip under oath, which was required to conclude the treaty, he was campaigning abroad. He expected that he would hold safely any Athenian possessions which he might seize before the ratification. Being very anxious about the delay, Demosthenes insisted that the embassy should travel to the place where they would find Philip and swear him in without delay. Despite his suggestions, the Athenian envoys, including himself and Aeschines, remained in Pella, until Philip successfully concluded his campaign in Thrace.
Finally, peace was sworn at Pherae, but Demosthenes accused the other envoys of venality. Just after the conclusion of the Peace of Philocrates, Philip passed Thermopylae, and subdued Phocis; Athens made no move to support the Phocians. Supported by Thebes and Thessaly, Macedon took control of Phocis' votes in the Amphictyonic League, a Greek religious organization formed to support the greater temples of Apollo and Demeter. Despite some reluctance on the part of the Athenian leaders, Athens finally accepted Philip's entry into the Council of the League. Demosthenes was among those who recommended this stance in his oration On the Peace.
In 343 BC, Macedonian forces were conducting campaigns in Epirus and, in 342 BC, Philip campaigned in Thrace. He also negotiated with the Athenians an amendment to the Peace of Philocrates. When the Macedonian army approached Chersonese (now known as the Gallipoli Peninsula), an Athenian general named Diopeithes ravaged the maritime district of Thrace, thereby inciting Philip's rage. Because of this turbulence, the Athenian Assembly convened. Demosthenes delivered On the Chersonese and convinced the Athenians not to recall Diopeithes. Also in 342 BC, he delivered the Third Philippic, which is considered to be the best of his political orations. Using all the power of his eloquence, he demanded resolute action against Philip and called for a burst of energy from the Athenian people. He told them that it would be "better to die a thousand times than pay court to Philip". Demosthenes now dominated Athenian politics and was able to considerably weaken the pro-Macedonian faction of Aeschines.
In 341 BC Demosthenes was sent to Byzantium, where he sought to renew its alliance with Athens. Thanks to Demosthenes' diplomatic manoeuvres Abydos also entered into an alliance with Athens. These developments worried Philip and increased his anger at Demosthenes. The Athenian Assembly, however, laid aside Philip's grievances against Demosthenes' conduct and denounced the peace treaty — so doing, in effect, amounted to an official declaration of war. In 339 BC Philip made his last and most effective bid to conquer southern Greece, assisted by Aeschines' stance in the Amphictyonic Council. During a meeting of the Council, Philip accused the Amfissian Locrians of intruding on consecrated ground. The presiding officer of the Council, a Thessalian named Cottyphus, proposed the convocation of an Amphictyonic Congress to inflict a harsh punishment upon the Locrians. Aeschines agreed with this proposition and maintained that the Athenians should participate in the Congress. Demosthenes however reversed Aeschines' initiatives and Athens finally abstained. After the failure of a first military excursion against the Locrians, the summer session of the Amphictyonic Council gave command of the league's forces to Philip and asked him to lead a second excursion. Philip decided to act at once; in the winter of 339–338 BC, he passed through Thermopylae, entered Amfissa and defeated the Locrians. After this significant victory, Philip swiftly entered Phocis in 338 BC. He then turned south-east down the Cephissus valley, seized Elateia, and restored the fortifications of the city.
At the same time, Athens orchestrated the creation of an alliance with Euboea, Megara, Achaea, Corinth, Acarnania and other states in the Peloponnese. However the most desirable ally for Athens was Thebes. To secure their allegiance, Demosthenes was sent, by Athens, to the Boeotian city; Philip also sent a deputation, but Demosthenes succeeded in securing Thebes' allegiance. Demosthenes' oration before the Theban people is not extant and, therefore, the arguments he used to convince the Thebans remain unknown. In any case, the alliance came at a price: Thebes' control of Boeotia was recognized, Thebes was to command solely on land and jointly at sea, and Athens was to pay two thirds of the campaign's cost.
While the Athenians and the Thebans were preparing themselves for war, Philip made a final attempt to appease his enemies, proposing in vain a new peace treaty. After a few trivial encounters between the two sides, which resulted in minor Athenian victories, Philip drew the phalanx of the Athenian and Theban confederates into a plain near Chaeronea, where he defeated them. Demosthenes fought as a mere hoplite. Such was Philip's hate for Demosthenes that, according to Diodorus Siculus, the King after his victory sneered at the misfortunes of the Athenian statesman. However, the Athenian orator and statesman Demades is said to have remarked: "O King, when Fortune has cast you in the role of Agamemnon, are you not ashamed to act the part of Thersites? [an obscene soldier of the Greek army during the Trojan War]" Stung by these words, Philip immediately altered his demeanour.
After Chaeronea, Philip inflicted a harsh punishment upon Thebes, but made peace with Athens on very lenient terms. Demosthenes encouraged the fortification of Athens and was chosen by the ecclesia to deliver the Funeral Oration. In 337 BC, Philip created the League of Corinth, a confederation of Greek states under his leadership, and returned to Pella. In 336 BC, Philip was assassinated at the wedding of his daughter, Cleopatra of Macedonia, to King Alexander of Epirus. After Philip's death, the army proclaimed Alexander, then aged twenty, as the new King of Macedon. Greek cities like Athens and Thebes saw in this change of leadership an opportunity to regain their full independence. Demosthenes celebrated Philip's assassination and played a leading part in his city's uprising. According to Aeschines, "it was but the seventh day after the death of his daughter, and though the ceremonies of mourning were not yet completed, he put a garland on his head and white raiment on his body, and there he stood making thank-offerings, violating all decency." Demosthenes also sent envoys to Attalus, whom he considered to be an internal opponent of Alexander. Nonetheless, Alexander moved swiftly to Thebes, which submitted shortly after his appearance at its gates. When the Athenians learned that Alexander had moved quickly to Boeotia, they panicked and begged the new King of Macedon for mercy. Alexander admonished them but imposed no punishment.
|"You stand revealed in your life and conduct, in your public performances and also in your public abstinences. A project approved by the people is going forward. Aeschines is speechless. A regrettable incident is reported. Aeschines is in evidence. He reminds one of an old sprain or fracture: the moment you are out of health it begins to be active."|
|Demosthenes (On the Crown, 198) - In On the Crown Demosthenes fiercely assaulted and finally neutralized Aeschines, his formidable political opponent.|
Despite the unsuccessful ventures against Philip and Alexander, the Athenians still respected Demosthenes. In 336 BC, the orator Ctesiphon proposed that Athens honor Demosthenes for his services to the city by presenting him, according to custom, with a golden crown. This proposal became a political issue and, in 330 BC, Aeschines prosecuted Ctesiphon on charges of legal irregularities. In his most brilliant speech, On the Crown, Demosthenes effectively defended Ctesiphon and vehemently attacked those who would have preferred peace with Macedon. He was unrepentant about his past actions and policies and insisted that, when in power, the constant aim of his policies was the honor and the ascendancy of his country; and on every occasion and in all business he preserved his loyalty to Athens. He finally defeated Aeschines, although his enemy's legal objections to the crowning were probably valid.
|"For a house, I take it, or a ship or anything of that sort must have its chief strength in its substructure; and so too in affairs of state the principles and the foundations must be truth and justice."|
|Demosthenes (Second Olynthiac, 10) - The orator faced serious accusations more than once, but he never admitted to any improper actions and insisted that it is impossible "to gain permanent power by injustice, perjury, and falsehood".|
Plutarch lauds Demosthenes for not being of a fickle disposition. Rebutting historian Theopompus, the biographer insists that 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". On the other hand, Polybius, a Greek historian of the Mediterranean world, was highly critical of Demosthenes' policies. Polybius accused him of having launched unjustified verbal attacks on great men of other cities, branding them unjustly as traitors to the Greeks. The historian maintains that Demosthenes measured everything by the interests of his own city, imagining that all the Greeks ought to have their eyes fixed upon Athens. According to Polybius, the only thing the Athenians eventually got by their opposition to Philip was the defeat at Chaeronea. "And had it not been for the king's magnanimity and regard for his own reputation, their misfortunes would have gone even further, thanks to the policy of Demosthenes".
|"The man who deems himself born only to his parents will wait for his natural and destined end; the son of his country is willing to die rather than see her enslaved, and will look upon those outrages and indignities, which a commonwealth in subjection is compelled to endure, as more dreadful than death itself."|
|Demosthenes (On the Crown, 205) - During his long political career Demosthenes urged his countrymen to defend their city and to preserve their freedom and their democracy.|
The fact that Demosthenes fought at the battle of Chaeronea as a hoplite indicates that he lacked any military skills. According to historian Thomas Babington Macaulay, in his time the division between political and military offices was beginning to be strongly marked. Almost no politician, with the exception of Phocion, was at the same time an apt orator and a competent general. Demosthenes dealt in policies and ideas, and war was not his business. This contrast between Demosthenes' intellectual prowess and his deficiencies in terms of vigor, stamina, military skill and strategic vision is illustrated by the inscription his countrymen engraved on the base of his statue:
Had you for Greece been strong, as wise you were, The Macedonian had not conquered her.
According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Greek historian and teacher of rhetoric, Demosthenes represented the final stage in the development of Attic prose. Dionysius asserts that Demosthenes brought together the best features of the basic types of style; he used the middle or normal type style ordinarily and applied the archaic type and the type of plain elegance where they were fitting. In each one of the three types he was better than its special masters. He is, therefore, regarded as a consummate orator, adept in the techniques of oratory, which are brought together in his work. In his initial judicial orations, the influence of both Lysias and Isaeus is obvious, but his marked, original style is already revealed.
According to the classical scholar Harry Thurston Peck, 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. He had no wit, no humour, no vivacity, in our acceptance of these terms. The secret of his power is simple, for it lies essentially in the fact that his political principles were interwoven with his very spirit." In this judgement, Peck agrees with Jaeger, who said that the imminent political decision imbued the Demosthenes' speech with a fascinating artistic power. Demosthenes was apt at combining abruptness with the extended period, brevity with breadth. Hence, his style harmonizes with his fervent commitment. His language is simple and natural, never far-fetched or artificial. According to Jebb, Demosthenes was a true artist who could make his art obey him. For his part, Aeschines stigmatized his intensity, attributing to his rival strings of absurd and incoherent images. Dionysius stated that Demosthenes' only shortcoming is the lack of humor, although Quintilian regards this deficiency as a virtue. The main criticism of Demosthenes' art, however, seems to have rested chiefly on his known reluctance to speak extempore; he often declined to comment on subjects he had not studied beforehand. However, he gave the most elaborate preparation to all his speeches and, therefore, his arguments were the products of careful study. He was also famous for his caustic wit.
According to Cicero, Demosthenes regarded "delivery" (gestures, voice etc.) as more important than style. Although he lacked Aeschines' charming voice and Demades's skill at improvisation, he made efficient use of his body to accentuate his words. Thus he managed to project his ideas and arguments much more forcefully. Nonetheless, his delivery was not accepted by everybody in antiquity: Demetrius Phalereus and the comedians ridiculed Demosthenes' "theatricality", whilst Aeschines regarded Leodamas of Acharnae as superior to him.
Demosthenes' fame continued down the ages. The scholars at the Library of Alexandria carefully edited the manuscripts of his speeches, and Roman schoolboys studied his art as part of their own oratorical training. Juvenal acclaimed him as "largus et exundans ingenii fons" (a large and overflowing fountain of genius), and he inspired Cicero's speeches against Mark Antony, also called the Philippics. Plutarch drew attention in his Life of Demosthenes to the strong similarities between the personalities and careers of Demosthenes and Marcus Tullius Cicero:
The divine power seems originally to have designed Demosthenes and Cicero upon the same plan, giving them many similarities in their natural characters, as their passion for distinction and their love of liberty in civil life, and their want of courage in dangers and war, and at the same time also to have added many accidental resemblances. I think there can hardly be found two other orators, who, from small and obscure beginnings, became so great and mighty; who both contested with kings and tyrants; both lost their daughters, were driven out of their country, and returned with honor; who, flying from thence again, were both seized upon by their enemies, and at last ended their lives with the liberty of their countrymen.
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Demosthenes had a reputation for eloquence. He was read more than any other ancient orator; only Cicero offered any real competition. French author and lawyer Guillaume du Vair praises his speeches for their artful arrangement and elegant style; John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury, and Jacques Amyot, a French Renaissance writer and translator, regard Demosthenes as a great or even the "supreme" orator.
In modern history, orators such as Henry Clay would mimic Demosthenes' technique. His ideas and principles survived, influencing prominent politicians and movements of our times. Hence, he constituted a source of inspiration for the authors of the Federalist Papers (series of 85 articles arguing for the ratification of the United States Constitution) and for the major orators of the French Revolution. French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau was among those who idealized Demosthenes and wrote a book about him. For his part, Friedrich Nietzsche often composed his sentences according to the paradigms of Demosthenes, whose style he admired. During World War II, the fighters of the French Resistance identified themselves with Demosthenes, and Adolf Hitler with Philip.
Fifty-six prologues and six letters are also extant. The prologues were openings of Demosthenes's speeches. They were collected for the Library of Alexandria by Callimachus, who believed that Demosthenes composed them. Modern scholars are divided: some of them reject them, while others, such as Blass, believe they are genuine. The letters are written under Demosthenes's name, but their authorship has been fiercely debated.
b. According to Tsatsos, the trials against the guardians lasted until Demosthenes was twenty four. Nietzsche reduces the time of the judicial disputes to five years.
c. According to the 10th century encyclopedia Suda, Demosthenes studied with Eubulides and Plato. Cicero and Quintilian argue that Demosthenes was Plato's disciple. Tsatsos and Weil believe that there is no indication that Demosthenes was a pupil of Plato or Isocrates. As far as Isaeus is concerned, according to Jebb "the school of Isaeus is nowhere else mentioned, nor is the name of any other pupil recorded". Peck believes that Demosthenes continued to study under Isaeus for the space of four years after he had reached his majority.
d. Both Tsatsos and Weil maintain that Demosthenes never abandoned the profession of the logographer, but, after delivering his first political orations, he wanted to be regarded as a statesman. According to James J. Murphy, Professor emeritus of Rhetoric and Communication at the University of California, Davis, his lifelong career as a logographer continued even during his most intense involvement in the political struggle against Philip.
e. "Batalus" or "Batalos" meant "stammerer" in ancient Greek, but it was also the name of a flute-player (in ridicule of whom Antiphanes wrote a play) and of a song-writer. The word "batalus" was also used by the Athenians to describe the anus. Another nickname of Demosthenes was "Argas." According to Plutarch, this name was given him either for his savage and spiteful behavior or for his disagreeable way of speaking. "Argas" was a poetical word for a snake, but also the name of a poet.
f. "Theorika" were allowances paid by the state to poor Athenians to enable them to watch dramatic festivals. Eubulus passed a law making it difficult to divert public funds, including "theorika," for minor military operations.
g. Demosthenes characterized Philip as a "barbarian" in the Third Olynthiac and in the Third Philippic. According to Tsatsos, Demosthenes regarded as Greeks only those who had reached the cultural standards of south Greece and he did not take into consideration ethnological criteria.
h. According to Plutarch, Demosthenes deserted his colors and "did nothing honorable, nor was his performance answerable to his speeches".
i. Aeschines reproached Demosthenes for being silent as to the seventy talents of the king's gold which he allegedly seized and embezzled. Aeschines and Dinarchus also maintained that when the Arcadians offered their services for ten talents, Demosthenes refused to furnish the money to the Thebans, who were conducting the negotiations, and so the Arcadians sold out to the Macedonians.
j. According to Pausanias, Demosthenes himself and others had declared that the orator had taken no part of the money that Harpalus brought from Asia. He also narrates the following story: Shortly after Harpalus ran away from Athens Harpalus was put to death by the servants who were attending him, though some assert that he was assassinated. The steward of his money fled to Rhodes, and was arrested by a Macedonian, Philoxenus. Philoxenus proceeded to examine the slave, "until he learned everything about such as had allowed themselves to accept a bribe from Harpalus." He then sent a dispatch to Athens, in which he gave a list of the persons who had taken a bribe from Harpalus. "Demosthenes, however, he never mentioned at all, although Alexander held him in bitter hatred, and he himself had a private quarrel with him." On the other hand, Plutarch believes that Harpalus sent Demosthenes a cup with twenty talents and that "Demosthenes could not resist the temptation, but admitting the present, ... he surrendered himself up to the interest of Harpalus."
k. Blass disputes the authorship of the following speeches: Fourth Philippic, Funeral Oration, Erotic Essay, Against Stephanus 2 and Against Evergus and Mnesibulus, while Arnold Schaefer, a German classical scholar, recognizes as genuine only twenty-nine orations.
l. In this discussion the work of Jonathan A. Goldstein, Professor of History and Classics at the University of Iowa, is regarded as paramount. Goldstein regards Demosthenes's letters as authentic apologetic letters that were addressed to the Athenian assembly.