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Demosthenes

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DEMOSTHENES, famous Greek orator: b. Athens, 384 or 385 B.C. • d. 322 B.C. His father left him a considerable fortune, of which his guardians attempted to defraud him. Demosthenes, at the age of 17 years, conducted a suit against them himself, and gained his cause. He studied rhetoric under Ismus, and benefited in some degree from the teachings of Isocrates and Plato. But nature had placed great obstacles in his way, and his first at tempts to speak in public were attended with derision. He not only had very weak lungs and a shrill voice, but was unable to pronounce the letter r. These natural defects he endeav ored to remedy by the greatest exertions. He succeeded by the advice of the actor Satyrus, who advised him to recite with pebbles in his mouth, on the roughest and steepest places. To strengthen his voice he exercised himself in speaking aloud on the seashore, amidst the noise of the waves. At other times he shut himself up for months in a subterranean room, with his head half-shaved, that he might not be tempted to go out, and endeavored to ac quire dignity of manner by practising before a mirror. He is also said to have transcribed the history of Thucydides eight times for the purpose of forming his style. After such a laborious preparation he composed and deliv ered his masterly speeches, of which his ene mies said that they smelt of the lamp, but to which posterity has assigned the first rank among the models of eloquence—speeches in which he openly opposed the foolish wishes of the multitude, censured their faults and in flamed their courage, their sense of honor and their patriotism. He thundered against Philip of Macedon in his orations known as the Phil ippics, and instilled into his fellow-citizens the hatred which animated his own bosom. The first Philippic was delivered in 352 s.c., when Philip could no longer conceal his ambitious scheme of subjugating the whole of Greece. In 349 the city of Olynthus, the northern ally of Athens, was captured and destroyed by the Macedonians, and shortly, afterward Philip took possession of the Pass of Thermopylae. 'The orator insisted on the necessity of immedi ately preparing a fleet and an army; urging the Athenians to begin the war themselves; to make Macedonia the theatre, and to terminate it only by an advantageous treaty or a decisive battle. They and approved his plans, but did not execute them. The celebrated Pho cion, who knew the weakness of Athens, un ceasingly . advised peace, Demosthenes went twice to the court of Philip to negotiate, but without success. On his return he recom mended war and endeavored to arm not only Athens, but all Greece. When Philip had finally penetrated into Phocis, through the Pass of Thermopylae, and had taken possession of the city of Eletea (338), to the terror of Athens, Demosthenes obtained a decree of the people for fitting out a fleet of 200 vessels, marching an army to Eleusis and sending am bassadors to all the cities of Greece, for the purpose of forming a universal tonfederars against Philip. He was himself among the ambassadors, and prevailed on the Thebans to receive an Athenian army within 'their walls.

He also exerted himself actively throughout Bceotia, and by his efforts a numerous army was collected to act against Philip. A battle was fought near Cheronea, and the Greeks were vanquished. Demosthenes fled, like thousands more. Nevertheless he was desirous of deliver ing a funeral oration over those who had fallen in battle. iEschines, his rival, did not fail to attack him on this account. The hostility be tween the two orators was the occasion of the speech 'De Corona' (on the crown), which resulted in the triumph of Demosthenes and the exile of his adversary. Philip having been soon after assassinated, Demosthenes en deavored to rouse Athens to regain her inde pendence, but Alexander's dreadful chastise ment of her ally Thebes filled the Athenians with such terror that they sued for mercy. It was with difficulty that Alexander could be persuaded to desist from his demand of the surrender of Demosthenes and some other orators; for the Macedonians feared Demos thenes more than they did the armies of Athens. He was afterward fined SO talents on a charge of bribery, and being unable 'to pay the fine, was thrown into prison, from which he escaped and fled to 1Egina, where he re mained till the death of Alexander. Then followed the war with Antipater. Demosthenes again appeared in public, and endeavored to persuade the small Grecian states to unite against Macedonia. The Athenians received him with honor; but the war was unsuccessful, and Antipater insisted upon his being surren dered to him. Demosthenes fled to the Temple of Poseidon, in the-island of Calauria, on the ,coast of Argolis, Inn finding himself. not the took !poison, which he always carried aboix with him. He died, according to the general account, in 322 a.c., at the age of 60 or 62 years.

The character of Demosthenes is by most modern scholars considered almost spotless. Cicero pronounces him to be the most perfect of all orators. He always spoke as circum stances required, and was by turns calm, vehe ment, or elevated. He carried the Greek lan guage to a degree of perfection which it never before had reached. In energy and power of persuasion, in penetration and power of rea soning, in the adaptation of the parts to the whole, in beauty and vigor of expression, in strong and melodious language, he surpassed all his predecessors. Everything in his speeches is natural, vigormis, concise, symmetrical. This alone can explain his great influence over his contemporaries. We have under his name 61 orations, 56 exordiums, and 6 letters, some of which are not genuine. Among the oldest edi tions of the orations the best is that of Paris, 1570, in folio, with the commentaries of Ulpian, The first edition of his complete work, G'reek and Latin, was edited by Hieronymus Wolf (Basel 1549). The edition by Bekker (Leipzig 1855) is considered among the best of the modern ones. (See ORATION ON THE CROWN). Consult Schafer, 'Demosthenes and seine Zeit' (2d ed., Leipzig, 1885-87) ; Jebb, 'The Attic Orators' (2 vols., London, 1875-76) ; Wright, 'Short History of Greek Literature' (New York, 1907).