From Peithô's Web
Lives of the Ten Orators, tr. Bancroft

Demosthenes

DEMOSTHENES, the son of Demosthenes by Cleobule, the daughter of Gylon, was a Paeanian by descent. He was left an orphan by his father, when he was but seven years old, together with a sister of the age of five. Being kept by his mother during his nonage, he went to school to Isocrates, say some; but the generality are of opinion that he was pupil to Isaeus the Chalcidian, who lived in Athens and was Isocrates's scholar. He imitated Thucydides and Plato, and some affirm that he more especially attended the school of Plato. Hegesias the Magnesian writes, that he entreated his master's leave to go to hear Callistratus the son of Empaedus, an Amphidnean, a noble orator, and sometime commander of a troop of horse, who had dedicated an altar to Mercury Agoraeos, and was to make an oration to the people. And when he heard him, he became a lover of oratory, and so long as he continued at Athens, remained his disciple.

But Callistratus being soon banished to Thrace, and Demosthenes arrived at some years of maturity, he joined with Isocrates and Plato. After this, he took Isaeus into his house, and for the space of four years labored very hard in imitation of his orations. Though Ctesibius in his book of philosophy affirms that, by the help of Callias the Syracusan, he got the orations of Zoilus the Amphipolite, and by the assistance of Charicles the Carystian those also of Alcidamas, and devoted himself to the imitation of them. When he came to age, in the year of Timocrates(1) he called his tutors and guardians to account for their maladministration, in not allowing him what was fitting and requisite out of his estate. And these tutors or guardians were three, Aphobus, Therippides, and Demophon (or Demeas), the last of whom, being his uncle, he charged more severely than the other two. He arrested each of them in an action of ten talents, and cast them, but did not exact of them what the law had given him, releasing some for money, and others for favor.

When Aristophon, by reason of his age, could not hold the office any longer, he was chosen choregus, or overseer of the dances. During the execution of which office, Midias the Anagyrasian striking him as he was ordering the dances in the theatre, he sued him upon it, but let fall his suit upon Midias's paying him three thousand drachms.

It is reported of him that, while he was a youth, he confined himself to a den or cave, and there studied his orations, and shaved half of his head that he might not be allured to divert himself from it; and that he lay upon a very narrow bed, that he might awake and rise the sooner. And for that he could not very well pronounce the letter R, he accustomed himself very much to that, that he might master it if possible; and using likewise an unseemly motion of his shoulder when he spake at any time, he remedied that by a spit (or, as some say, a sword) stuck in the ceiling just over his shoulder, that the fear of being pricked with it might break him of that indecent gesture. They report of him further that, when he could declaim pretty well, he had a sort of mirror made as big as himself, and used always in declaiming to look in that, to the end that he might see and correct what was amiss. He used likewise at some certain times to go down to the Phalerian shore, to the end that, being accustomed to the surges and noise of the waves, he might not be daunted by the clamors of the people, when he should at any time declaim in public. And being naturally short-winded, he gave Neoptolemus a player ten thousand drachms to teach him to pronounce long sentences in one breath.

Afterwards, betaking himself to the affairs of the commonwealth, and finding the people divided into two different factions, one in favor of Philip, and the other standing for the liberty and properties of the people, he took part with them that opposed Philip, and always persuaded the citizens to help those who were in danger and trouble by Philip's oppression; taking for his companions in council Hyperides, Nausicles, Polyeuctus, and Diotimus; and then he drew the Thebans, Euboeans, Corcyraeans, Corinthians, Boeotians, and many more into a league with the Athenians. Being in the assembly one day and his memory failing him, his oration was hissed; which made him return home very heavy and melancholy; and being met by Eunomus the Thriasian, an old man, by him he was comforted and encouraged. But he was chiefly animated by Andronicus the player, who told him that his orations were excellent, but that he wanted something of action, thereupon rehearsing certain places out of his oration which he had delivered in that same assembly. Unto which Demosthenes gave good ear and credit, and he then betook himself to Andronicus. And therefore, when he was afterwards asked what was the first part of oratory, he answered, "Action;" and which was the second, he replied, "Action;" and which was the third, he still answered, "Action." Another time, declaiming publicly, and using expressions too youthful for one of his years and gravity, he was laughed at, and ridiculed by the comedians, Antiphanes and Timocles, who in derision used to repeat such phrases as these, as uttered by him

> By the earth, by the fountains, by the rivers, by the floods!

For having sworn thus in presence of the people, he raised a tumult about him. He likewise used to swear by Asclepius, and accented the second syllable ('Asklê'pios)(2) through some mistake, and yet afterwards defended it; for this Asclepius, he said, was called hêpios, that is a mild God. This also often caused him to be interrupted. But all these things he reformed in time, being sometime conversant with Eubulides, the Milesian philosopher. Being on a time present at the Olympic games, and hearing Lamachus the Myrrhinaean sound the praises of Philip and of Alexander the Great, his son, and decry the cowardice of the Thebans and Olynthians, he stood up in their defence against him, and from the ancient poets he proclaimed the great and noble achievements of the Thebans and Olynthians; and so elegantly he behaved himself in this affair, that he at once silenced Lamachus, and made him convey himself immediately out of the assembly. And even Philip himself, when he had heard what harangues he made against him, replied, that if he had heard him, he should have chosen him general in the war against himself. He was used to compare Demosthenes's orations to soldiers, for the force they carried along with them; but the orations of Isocrates to fencers, because of the theatrical delight that accompanied them.

Being about the age of seven and thirty, reckoning from Dexitheus to Callimachus,(3) --in whose time the Olynthians sent to beg aid of the Athenians against Philip, who then made war upon them,--he persuaded them to answer the Olynthians' request; but in the following year, in which Plato died,(4) Philip overthrew and destroyed the Olynthians. Xenophon also, the scholar of Socrates, had some knowledge of Demosthenes, either at his first rise, or at least when he was most famous and flourishing; for he wrote the Acts of the Greeks, as touching what passed at the battle of Mantinea, in the year of Chariclides;(5) our Demosthenes having sometime before overthrown his guardians in a suit he had commenced against them, in the year of Timocrates. When Aeschines, being condemned, fled from Athens, Demosthenes hearing of it took horse and rode after him; which Aeschines understanding, and fearing to be apprehended again, he came out to meet Demosthenes, and fell at his feet, covered his face, and begged his mercy; upon which Demosthenes bid him stand up, be assured of his favor, and as a pledge of it, gave him a talent of silver. He advised the people to maintain a company of mercenary soldiers in Thasos, and thither sailed himself as captain of the galleys. Another time, being entrusted to buy corn, he was accused of defrauding the city, but cleared himself of the accusation and was acquitted. When Philip had seized upon Elatea, Demosthenes with others went to the war of Chaeronea, where he is said to have deserted his colors; and flying away, a bramble caught hold of his vest behind, when turning about in haste, thinking an enemy had overtaken him, he cried out, Save my life, and say what shall be my ransom. On his buckler he had engraven for his motto, To Good Fortune. And it was he that made the oration at the funerals of such as died in that battle.

After these things, he bent his whole care and study for the reparation of the city and wall; and being chosen commissary for repairing the walls, besides what money he expended out the city stock, he laid out of his own at least a hundred minas. And besides this, he gave ten thousand drachms to the festival fund; and taking ship, he sailed from coast to coast to collect money of the allies; for which he was often by Demotelus, Aristonicus, and Hyperides crowned with golden crowns, and afterwards by Ctesiphon. Which last decree had like to have been retracted, Diodotus and Aeschines endeavoring to prove it to be contrary to the laws; but he defended himself so well against their allegations, that he overcame all difficulties, his enemies not having the fifth part of the votes of the judges.

After this, when Alexander the Great made his expedition into Asia, and Harpalus fled to Athens with a great sum of money, at first he would not let him be entertained, but afterwards, Harpalus being landed and having given him a thousand darics he was of another mind; and when the Athenians determined to deliver Harpalus up to Antipater, he opposed it, proposing to deposit the money in the Citadel, still without declaring the amount to the people. Thereupon Harpalus declared that he had brought with him from Asia seven hundred talents, and that this sum had been deposited in the Citadel; but only three hundred and fifty or a little more could be found, as Philochorus relates. But when Harpalus broke out of the prison wherein he was kept till some person should come from Alexander, and was escaped into Crete,--or, as some will have it, into Taenarum in Laconia,--Demosthenes was accused that he had received from him a sum of money, and that therefore he had not given a true account of the sum delivered to him, nor had impeached the negligence of the keepers. So he was judicially cited by Hyperides, Pytheus, Menesaechmus, Himeraeus, and Patrocles, who prosecuted him so severely as to cause him to be condemned in the court of Areopagus; and being condemned, he went into exile, not being able to pay fivefold; for he was accused of receiving thirty talents. Others say, that he would not run the risk of a trial, but went into banishment before the day came. After this tempest was over, when the Athenians sent Polyeuctus to the republic of Arcadia to draw them off from the alliance with the Macedonians, he not succeeding, Demosthenes appeared to second him, where he reasoned so effectually that he easily prevailed. Which procured him so much credit and esteem, that after some time a galley was dispatched to call him home again. And the Athenians decreed that, whereas he owed the state thirty talents, as a fine laid on him for the misdemeanor he was accused of, he should be excused for only building an altar to Jupiter Servator in the Piraeus; which decree was first proposed by Demon his near kinsman. This being agreed on, he returned to the administration of affairs in the commonwealth again.

But when Antipater was blocked up in Lamia, and the Athenians offered sacrifices for the happy news, he happened, being talking with Agesistratus, one of his intimate friends, to say, that his judgment concerning the state of affairs did not jump with other men's, for that he knew the Greeks were brisk and ready enough to run a short course but not to hold on a long race. When Antipater had taken Pharsalus, and threatened to besiege Athens itself if they refused to deliver up such orators as had declaimed against him, Demosthenes, suspecting himself to be one of the number, left the city, and fled first into Aegina, that he might take sanctuary in the temple of Aeacus; but being afraid to trust himself long there, he went over to Calauria; and when the Athenians had decreed to deliver up those orators, and him especially as one of them, he continued a suppliant in the temple of Neptune. When Archias came thither,--who, from his office of pursuing fugitives, was called Phygadotheres and was the scholar of Anaximines the orator,--when he, I say, came to him, and persuaded him to go with him, telling him that no doubt he should be received by Antipater as a friend, he replied: When you played a part in a tragedy, you could not persuade me to believe you the person you represented; no more shall you now persuade me by your counsel. And when Archias endeavored to force him thence, the townsmen would not suffer it. And Demosthenes told them, that he did not flee to Calauria to save his life, but that he might convince the Macedonians of their violence committed even against the Gods themselves. And with that he called for a writing-table; and if we may credit Demetrius the Magnesian, on that he wrote a distich, which afterwards the Athenians caused to be affixed to his statue; and it was to this purpose:

Hadst thou, Demosthenes, an outward force
Great as thy inward magnanimity,
Greece should not wear the Macedonian yoke.

This statue, made by Polyeuctus, is placed near the cloister where the altar of the twelve Gods is erected. Some say this writing was found: "Demosthenes to Antipater, Greeting." Philochorus tells us that he died by drinking of poison; and Satyrus the historiographer will have it, that the pen was poisoned with which he wrote his epistle, and putting it into his mouth, soon after he tasted it he died. Eratosthenes is of another opinion, that being in continual fear of the Macedonians, he wore a poisoned bracelet on his arms. Others say again, that he died with holding his breath; and others, lastly, say that he carried strong poison in his signet. He lived to the age of seventy, according to those who give the highest number,--of sixty-seven, according to other statements. And he was in public life two and twenty years.

When King Philip was dead, he appeared publicly in a glorious robe or mantle, as rejoicing for his death, though he but just before mourned for his daughter. He assisted the Thebans likewise against Alexander, and animated all the other Greeks. So that when Alexander had conquered Thebes, he demanded Demosthenes of the Athenians, threatening them if they refused to deliver him. When he went against Persia, demanding ships of the Athenians, Demosthenes opposed it, saying, who can assure us that he will not use those ships we should send him against ourselves?

He left behind him two sons by one wife, the daughter of one Heliodorus, a principal citizen. He had but one daughter, who died unmarried, being but a child. A sister too he had, who married with Laches of Leuconoe, his kinsman, and to him bore Demochares, who proved inferior to none in his time for eloquence, conduct, and courage. His statue is still standing in the Prytaneum, the first on the right as you approach the altar, clothed with a mantle and girt with a sword, because in this habit he delivered an oration to the people, when Antipater demanded of them their orators.

Afterwards, in process of time, the Athenians decreed nourishment to be given to the kindred of Demosthenes in the Prytaneum, and likewise set up a statue to his memory, when he was dead, in the market, in the year of Gorgias.(6) which honors were paid him at the request of Demochares his sister's son. And ten years after, Laches, the son of Demochares of Leuconoe, in the year of Pytharatus, required the same honor for himself, that his statue should be set up in the market, and that both he and the eldest of his line for the future should have their allowance in the Prytaneum, and the highest room at all public shows. These decrees concerning both of them are engrossed, and to be found among the statute laws. The statue of Demochares, of which we have spoken before, was afterwards removed out of the market into the Prytaneum.

There are extant sixty-five orations which are truly his. Some report of him, that he lived a very dissolute and vicious life, appearing often in women's apparel, and being frequently conversant at masks and revellings, whence he was surnamed Batalus; though others say, that this was a pet name given him by his nurse, and that from this he was called Batalus in derision. Diogenes the Cynic espying him one day in a victualling-house, he was very much ashamed, and to shun him, went to withdraw; but Diogenes called after him, and told him, The more you shrink inward, the more you will be in the tavern. The same Diogenes once upon the banter said of him, that in his orations he was a Scythian, but in war a delicate nice citizen. He was one of them who received gold of Ephialtes, one of the popular orators, who, being sent in an embassy to the king of Persia, took money privily, and distributed it among the orators of Athens, that they might use their utmost endeavors to kindle and inflame the war against Philip; and it is said of Demosthenes, that he for his part had at once three thousand darics of the king. He apprehended one Anaxilas of Oreus, who had been his friend, and caused him to be tortured for a spy; and when he would confess nothing, he procured a decree that he should be delivered to the eleven executioners.

When once at a meeting of the Athenians they would not suffer him to speak, he told them he had but a short story to tell them. Upon which all being silent, thus he began: A certain youth, said he, hired an ass in summer time, to go from hence to Megara. About noon, when the sun was very hot, and both he that hired the ass and the owner were desirous of sitting in the shade of the ass, they each thrust the other away,--the owner arguing that he let him only his ass and not the shadow, and the other replying that, since he had hired the ass, all that belonged to him was at his dispose. Having said thus, he seemed to go his way. But the Athenians willing now to hear his story out, called him back, and desired him to proceed. To whom he replied: How comes it to pass that ye are so desirous of hearing a story of the shadow of an ass, and refuse to give ear to matters of greater moment? Polus the player boasting to him that he had gotten a whole talent by playing but two days, he answered, and I have gotten five talents by being silent but one day. One day his voice failing him when he was declaiming publicly, being hissed, he cried out to the people, saying, Ye are to judge of players, indeed, by their voice, but of orators by the gravity of their sentences.

Epicles upbraiding him for his premeditating what he was to say, he replied, I should be ashamed to speak what comes uppermost to so great an assembly. They say of him that he never put out his lamp--that is, never ceased polishing his orations--until he was fifty years old. He says of himself, that he drank always fair water. Lysias the orator was acquainted with him; and Isocrates knew him concerned in the management of public affairs till the battle of Chaeronea; as also some of the Socratical sect. [He delivered most of his orations extempore, Nature having well qualified him for it.](7) The first that proposed the crowning him with a coronet of gold was Aristonicus, the son of Nicophanes, the Anagyrasian; though Diondas interposed with an indictment.



1. B.C. 364.

2. This name was properly pronounced with the accent on the last syllable, 'Asklêpio's. (G.)

3. B.C. 385-384 to 349-348.

4. B.C. 348-347.

5. B.C. 363-362.

6. B.C. 280.

7. This is supposed to have been added by some other hand, because a contrary sentence is given of him before.



Scanned by Agathon (RSB) from the University of Washington's copy of Plutarch's Lives and Writings, ed. by A.H. Clough and William W. Goodwin, with an introd. by Ralph Waldo Emerson. London, Simpkin, Hamilton, Kent & Co., Ltd. [1914?], vol. 5.



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