Demosthenes orator Louvre.jpg
Bust of Demosthenes (Louvre, Paris, France)
Born384 BC
Died12 October 322 BC (aged 62)[1]
Island of Kalaureia (present-day Poros)

Demosthenes (z/; Greek: Δημοσθένης Dēmosthénēs; Attic Greek[dɛːmosˈtʰenɛːs]; 384 – 12 October 322 BC) was a Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens. His orations constitute a significant expression of contemporary 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 20, 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 southward by conquering all the other Greek states.

After Philip's death, Demosthenes played a leading part in his city's uprising against the new king of Macedonia, 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 of Thurii, Antipater's confidant.

The Alexandrian Canon compiled by Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace recognised Demosthenes as one of the ten greatest Attic orators and logographers. Longinus likened Demosthenes to a blazing thunderbolt, and argued that he "perfected to the utmost the tone of lofty speech, living passions, copiousness, readiness, speed".[2] Quintilian extolled him as lex orandi ("the standard of oratory"), and Cicero said about him that inter omnis unus excellat ("he stands alone among all the orators"), and he also acclaimed him as "the perfect orator" who lacked nothing.[3]

Early years and personal life

Family and personal life

Bust of Demosthenes (British Museum, London), Roman copy of a Greek original sculpted by Polyeuktos.

Demosthenes was born in 384 BC, during the last year of the 98th Olympiad or the first year of the 99th Olympiad.[4] His father—also named Demosthenes—who belonged to the local tribe, Pandionis, and lived in the deme of Paeania[5] in the Athenian countryside, was a wealthy sword-maker.[6] Aeschines, Demosthenes' greatest political rival, maintained that his mother Kleoboule was a Scythian by blood[7]—an allegation disputed by some modern scholars.[a] 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.[8]

Demosthenes started to learn rhetoric because he wished to take his guardians to court and because he was of "delicate physique" and couldn't receive gymnastic education which was customary. In Parallel Lives Plutarch states that Demosthenes built an underground study where he practiced speaking and shaving one half of his head so that he could not go out in public. Plutarch also states that he had “an inarticulate and stammering pronunciation” that he got rid of by speaking with pebbles in his mouth and by repeating verses when running or out of breath. He also practiced speaking in front of a large mirror.[9]

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, (equivalent to about 220 years of a labourer's income at standard wages, or 11 million dollars in terms of median US annual incomes)[10] Demosthenes asserted his guardians had left nothing "except the house, and fourteen slaves and thirty silver minae" (30 minae = ½ talent).[11] At the age of 20 Demosthenes sued his trustees in order to recover his patrimony and delivered five orations: three Against Aphobus during 363 and 362 BC and two Against Onetor during 362 and 361 BC. The courts fixed Demosthenes' damages at ten talents.[12] When all the trials came to an end,[b] he only succeeded in retrieving a portion of his inheritance.[13]

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.[14] Demosthenes also had a daughter, "the only one who ever called him father", according to Aeschines in a trenchant remark.[15] His daughter died young and unmarried a few days before Philip II's death.[15]

In his speeches, Aeschines uses pederastic relations of Demosthenes as a means to attack him. In the case of Aristion, a youth from Plataea who lived for a long time in Demosthenes' house, Aeschines mocks the "scandalous" and "improper" relation.[16] In another speech, Aeschines brings up the pederastic relation of his opponent with a boy called Cnosion. The slander that Demosthenes' wife also slept with the boy suggests that the relationship was contemporary with his marriage.[17] Aeschines claims that Demosthenes made money out of young rich men, such as Aristarchus, the son of Moschus, whom he allegedly deceived 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. 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. 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.[18]


Demosthenes Practising Oratory by Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte du Nouy (1842–1923). Demosthenes used to study in an underground room he constructed himself. He also used to talk with pebbles in his mouth and recited verses while running.[19] To strengthen his voice, he spoke on the seashore over the roar of the waves.

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.[20] At the same time, Demosthenes prepared himself for the trials and improved his oratory skill. According to a story repeated by Plutarch, when Demosthenes was an adolescent, his curiosity was noticed by the orator Callistratus, who was then at the height of his reputation, having just won a case of considerable importance.[21] According to Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philologist and philosopher, and Constantine Paparrigopoulos, a major modern Greek historian, Demosthenes was a student of Isocrates;[22] according to Cicero, Quintillian and the Roman biographer Hermippus, he was a student of Plato.[23] Lucian, a Roman-Syrian rhetorician and satirist, lists the philosophers Aristotle, Theophrastus and Xenocrates among his teachers.[24] These claims are nowadays disputed.[c] 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's style better suited a vigorous and astute orator such as himself .[25] Curtius, a German archaeologist and historian, likened the relation between Isaeus and Demosthenes to "an intellectual armed alliance".[26]

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.[26] Another version credits Isaeus with having taught Demosthenes without charge.[27] 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".[26] Konstantinos Tsatsos, a Greek professor and academician, believes that Isaeus helped Demosthenes edit his initial judicial orations against his guardians.[28] 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.[29] These references hint at his respect for a historian he must have assiduously studied.[30]

Speech training

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".[31] 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.[32] 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.[33]

As a boy Demosthenes had a speech impediment: Plutarch refers to 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."[31] There are problems in Plutarch's account, however, and it is probable that Demosthenes actually suffered rhotacism, mispronouncing ρ (r) as λ (l).[34] Aeschines taunted him and referred to him in his speeches by the nickname "Batalus",[d] apparently invented by Demosthenes' pedagogues or by the little boys with whom he was playing[35] and corresponding to the way in which a person with that variety of rhotacism would pronounce Battaros, the name of a legendary Libyan king who spoke quickly and in a disordered fashion. Demosthenes undertook a disciplined programme to overcome his weaknesses and improve his delivery, including diction, voice and gestures.[36] According to one story, when he was asked to name the three most important elements in oratory, he replied "Delivery, delivery and delivery!"[37] It is unknown whether such vignettes are factual accounts of events in Demosthenes' life or merely anecdotes used to illustrate his perseverance and determination.[38]

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Demosthenes
العربية: ديموستيني
asturianu: Demóstenes
azərbaycanca: Demosfen
български: Демостен
bosanski: Demosten
čeština: Démosthenés
Cymraeg: Demosthenes
Deutsch: Demosthenes
Ελληνικά: Δημοσθένης
español: Demóstenes
Esperanto: Demosteno
euskara: Demostenes
فارسی: دموستن
français: Démosthène
galego: Demóstenes
հայերեն: Դեմոսթենես
हिन्दी: डिमास्थेने
hrvatski: Demosten
Bahasa Indonesia: Demosthenes
íslenska: Demosþenes
italiano: Demostene
עברית: דמוסתנס
ქართული: დემოსთენე
қазақша: Демосфен
Latina: Demosthenes
latviešu: Dēmostens
lietuvių: Demostenas
македонски: Демостен
Malagasy: Demosthenes
Bahasa Melayu: Demosthenes
မြန်မာဘာသာ: ဒီမော့စသီးနီး
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Demosfen
پنجابی: ڈیموستھین
polski: Demostenes
português: Demóstenes
română: Demostene
русский: Демосфен
shqip: Demosteni
Simple English: Demosthenes
slovenčina: Demostenes
slovenščina: Demosten
српски / srpski: Демостен
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Demosten
svenska: Demosthenes
Türkçe: Dimosthenis
українська: Демосфен
Tiếng Việt: Demosthenes
Winaray: Demosthenes
Zazaki: Demostenes
中文: 狄摩西尼