Demosthenes, an Athenian statesman and orator, born in Pseania, a deme of Attica, on the east side of Mt. Hymettus, and not far from Athens, probably in 385 B. 0., died in 322. His father was an Athenian citizen of the same name; his mother a daughter of Gylon, an Athenian exiled on a charge of betraying Nymphaaum to the enemy. The elder Demosthenes died when his son was seven years old, and left to him and his sister, two years younger, an estate valued at more than 14 talents (about $14,000), then regarded as a considerable property, probably equivalent to about twenty times as much, or $280,000, in our day. It was placed by will under the charge of three guardians, Aphobus, Demophon, and Therip-pides. These, however, proved unfaithful to their trust, and not only disregarded certain complicated directions of the will, in accordance with which Aphobus was to marry the widow and Demophon the daughter of the testator, with certain dowries, while Therip-pides received a certain annual income; but they so squandered the property that when Demosthenes attained the legal age he found it reduced to 70 minae ($1,166, equal to about $23,000 at present). His early education, however, was not neglected.
According to his own assertion, in the oration on the crown, he received literary training suitable to his rank and fortune. Several of the most eminent men of his age are mentioned as his teachers, and among them Plato, Isocrates, and Isaeus, though concerning these there is some doubt. On coming of age, in 366, Demosthenes commenced legal proceedings for the recovery of his property. The case was not finally decided until two years later, although the board of arbitrators, by whom it was twice examined, had rendered a decision in favor of Demosthenes. In 364 Demosthenes brought an action against Aphobus alone, before the archon. Aphobus was condemned to pay 10 talents. The pleas of the young orator in these trials are preserved, but, though models of logical argument, they show scarcely any traces of that vehement and overpowering oratory for which Demosthenes was afterward so distinguished. The prosecution of the guardians brought upon Demosthenes the hostility of Midias, a rich and powerful citizen, who manifested his hatred by a series of outrages, public and private.
He forced his way into the house of Demosthenes and insulted his family, for which the latter prosecuted him and obtained a verdict (361). In 354 Demosthenes came forward, and, with great public spirit, offered to assume the cost of the choregia of his tribe, which for the two preceding years had neglected to make the usual provision for the entertainments at the Dionysian festival. Midias hindered the execution of this design by every species of annoyance, and finally entered the goldsmith's shop and endeavored to destroy the golden crowns which Demosthenes had provided for his chorus. He also assaulted Demosthenes in the orchestra, while he was performing his duties in the sacred character of choragus. Demosthenes brought an action against him, but whether it ever came to trial is doubted. Midias endeavored to intimidate Demosthenes, but without success; it is asserted by Plutarch, however, that he finally consented to accept 30 minae, and to withdraw the accusation. The date of these transactions is 353 B. C. Demosthenes had delivered the oration against the law of Leptines in 355. In it the orator discusses with consummate ability the whole doctrine of the sacredness of the public faith and the inviolability of contracts.
In the same year he delivered the oration against Androtion, and in 353 that against Timocrates. In 354, having been appointed by lot a member of the boule or senate, he passed the scrutiny required by law, in spite of the opposition of Midias and his party. In the following year he was chief of the state deputation sent from Athens to the festival of the Nemean Zeus. He took an active part at this time in the public debates on questions of foreign policy. He opposed, but not successfully, the expedition to Eubcea in 354, and delivered an able oration against the scheme, then much favored by the political leaders of Athens, of making war against Persia . In the following year he delivered the oration in behalf of the Megalopolitans, and in opposition to the request of the Spartans for aid in conquering them. The relations between the states of Greece and King Philip of Macedon, who aimed at the conquest of the Hellenic world as a preliminary step to the subjugation of Asia, called the genius and eloquence of Demosthenes into fuller play. The orator early saw through the designs of the Macedonian, and had the courage to set himself in stern opposition to them. He felt the necessity of union among the Grecian states, and urged with wonderful ability, persistence, and eloquence every consideration that patriotism suggested in favor of this plan. The Philippics, so called because they are aimed against the policy of Philip, are among the most brilliant specimens of his eloquence. But the demoralized condition of the states and the corruptibility of public men made his efforts unsuccessful, except for brief moments of alarm.
The first Philippic was delivered in 352. In 349 Philip attacked the Olynthians, who had made a treaty with Athens. They sent embassies to Athens imploring aid, and Demosthenes supported their cause in the three admirable Olynthiacs, which roused the Athenians to vigorous efforts. These, however, were not sufficient, and finally Olynthus fell into Philip's hands through the treachery of Lasthenes and Euthy-crates. During the Olynthian war Philip had thrown out hints of a desire to make a treaty of alliance with Athens. On the motion of Philo-crates, an embassy, consisting of himself, AEschi-nes, and Demosthenes, was sent to open negotiations with the king. Philip appears to have evaded their demand that Phocis, then in alliance with the Athenians, should be included in the treaty. The ambassadors returned; the terms of the peace were discussed in two assemblies of the people, and were finally agreed to on the part of the Athenians, the customary oath having been given to the ambassadors. A second embassy, of which AEs-chines and Demosthenes were members, was sent to Philip, under instructions to make all haste to receive the oaths from him, because it was apprehended that he would not cease his encroachments until the treaty was completely ratified.
But instead of going to Macedonia by sea, they took the longer way by land; instead of finding Philip at once, they waited three months for his return from an expedition to the Bosporus; and finally they allowed him to defer taking the oaths until he had completed his preparations against the Phocians. They accompanied him on his march into Thessaly, and the oaths were not administered until they arrived at Pherse. This delay enabled Philip to accomplish his object. The Phocians. were excluded from the treaty, and Philip passed through Thermopylae and conquered their country without resistance. The ambassadors having returned to Athens, Demosthenes accused his colleagues of treachery and of being bribed by the king; but AEs-chines succeeded in having the affair delayed. The oration on the peace, another attack upon Philip, was delivered in 347 or 346. From this time Demosthenes was the head of the anti-Macedonian party, and the vehement political antagonism between him and AEschines, whose oratorical ability made him a leader on the other side, commenced.
The oration (the corrupt conduct in the embassy), in which Demosthenes renewed his exposure of the treachery of AEschines, belongs to the year 343; but the prosecutor was again unsuccessful, and the accused leader again escaped punishment. Philip in the mean time continued his intrigues in the Peloponnesus, and Demosthenes was unwearied in his labors to thwart them. He went on embassies to the several states, and employed all his powers of argument, persuasion, and denunciation. Philip sent a deputation to Athens, charging the Athenians with favoring the Spartans in their designs against the liberties of the Pelo-ponnesians. An assembly was called, Philip's ministers Were heard, and in the discussion of the answer to be made Demosthenes (344) delivered the second Philippic. In 343 Philip took Halonesus from the pirates. The Athenians claimed it as an ancient possession of their own. Philip, denying their right to it, offered it to them as a gift; and it was on this occasion that the oration '. was delivered, though it is doubtful whether this is a work of Demosthenes. The Athenians now made vigorous efforts to counteract the schemes of Philip in Acarnania, in the Peloponnesus, and in Thrace. Philip again complained of their course, and Demosthenes, about 341, delivered the oration on the Chersonese, and the third Philippic, a most vigorous and daring attack. He next caused the expulsion of the tyrants who had been established and supported by Philip in Eubcea. In 340 the Athenians, under the influence of Demosthenes, relieved Byzantium, which the king was besieging. In the same year he introduced a reform into the naval system, by which the burdens of this department of the public service were more equitably distributed, and its efficiency increased. At the amphictyonic assembly, held at Delphi in the spring of 340, AEschines proposed a decree against the Locrians of Amphissa for having sacrilegiously occupied lands belonging to the temple. The Amphissians forcibly resisted the execution of the decree, and an extraordinary meeting of the amphictyons was summoned to consider what should be done.
Demosthenes, foreseeing the evil consequences likely to result, persuaded the Athenians to send no deputies to the meeting. The assembly met, declared war against the Amphissians, and placed Cotty-phus, an Arcadian commander, at the head of the amphictyonic forces. But the undertaking failed, and in the following year the partisans of Philip were sufficiently powerful to appoint him in place of Cottyphus, which gave him the desired opportunity of marching with a strong force into the heart of Greece. He occupied at once the important post of Elatea. The news, arriving at evening, caused the greatest alarm at Athens. An assembly was called early the next morning, and all business was suspended in the Agora. In the midst of the universal dismay Demosthenes took the bema, and in a powerful speech, the substance of which he recapitulates in the oration on the crown advocated an alliance with Thebes. The proposal was carried without a dissenting voice, and Demosthenes at once went to Thebes as head of the embassy. The alliance was concluded, and the united armies marched northward to encounter Philip. The great defeat of Chaeronea (338) overturned the hopes of the patriotic party. Yet Demosthenes so retained the confidence of the country that the people appointed him to deliver the funeral oration over the remains of those who had fallen, and charged him with the duty of superintending the fortification of the city, in anticipation of an immediate attack. But his enemies seized the opportunity of assailing him by every form the laws of Athens allowed, and he was daily harassed by their opposition. To put an end to this, and to test the strength of public feeling in favor of the great orator, Ctesiphon, a political friend, not otherwise known to history, introduced into the senate a resolution to confer a golden crown on Demosthenes as a suitable acknowledgment for his patriotic spirit and his public services.
Before the proposition could become a law, it was necessary to pass it through the popular assembly, and in the interval any citizen might prosecute the author of it by an action called or indictment for illegal propositions. AEschines accordingly prosecuted Ctesiphon. Technically the accused party was Ctesiphon, but in reality Demosthenes was put on trial for the whole of his political life. For some reason, not clearly explained, the trial was postponed eight years, and finally was held in 330. Demosthenes appeared in the formal character of counsel for Ctesiphon, but in reality in his own defence. The orations delivered by the rival statesmen were elaborated to the highest point of their abilities, and must be considered their masterpieces; but Demosthenes, in force and cogency of argument, in severity of invective, in loftiness of ethical spirit, and in ardent patriotism, far surpassed AEschines. The result was remarkable. AEschines exposed himself to the penalties of malicious prosecution, inasmuch as he failed to obtain a fifth part of the votes. In consequence of this he left Athens, and never returned. King Philip was assassinated in 336, two years after the battle of Chaeronea, and six years before the trial on the crown. This event led Demosthenes to renew his efforts to unite the Grecian states against Macedon; but the unexpected vigor of Alexander put an end to his hopes.
An embassy, in which Demosthenes was included, was sent from Athens to sue for peace. After proceeding part of the way, his feelings overcame him, and he returned. A false report of the death of Alexander caused another rising among the Greeks, and Demosthenes at his own expense sent a supply of arms to Thebes, the only state which showed energy in the movement. But Alexander suddenly appeared before that city, and completely subdued the spirit of the people by levelling to the ground its walls and all its buildings except the house of Pindar (335). Soon afterward Alexander started on his Asiatic expedition, having appointed Antipater regent of Macedon during his absence. After the conquest of Persia, Harpalus had been left by Alexander in charge of immense treasures at Babylon, while he prosecuted his victorious march to India. He proved faithless, and came to Athens in 325 for the purpose of securing the protection of the city. The Macedonian regent demanded the surrender of the fugitive, and the trial of the popular leaders who were accused of having accepted his bribes. Demosthenes, being among the orators thus implicated, voluntarily offered himself for trial.
Although there was no trustworthy evidence against him, so great was the influence of the Macedonian faction that he was declared guilty and thrown into prison; from which, however, he escaped, it is said, with the connivance of the magistrates, and went into exile, passing his time partly at Troezen and partly in AEgina, gazing daily upon the shores of his native land. When the news of Alexander's death (323) arrived, the Greeks made a fresh effort to throw off the Macedonian yoke. Demosthenes joined the ambassadors sent from Athens to the several states, and again put forth all the power of his eloquence. Demon, a relative, now proposed a decree recalling him from exile. He was brought from AEgina in a public ship, and was met on landing at the Piraeus by crowds of Athenian citizens and the principal magistrates, who welcomed him with enthusiastic demonstrations of joy. He pronounced it the happiest day of his life. But the battle of Cranon (322) and the desertion of the common cause by the confederate states, one after another, left Athens to contend single-handed with Antipater, who marched upon the city. Demosthenes and his friends fled. In the midst of the panic Demades proposed that they should be condemned to death, and the cowardly decree was passed.
Demosthenes thereupon took refuge in the temple of Neptune, on the little island of Calaurea; but the right of asylum could not protect him against the rage of Archias, the officer of Antipater, who pursued him to his retreat. Finding himself at the mercy of his enemies, he put an end to his life by poison which he had kept in a quill. - There is a statue of Demosthenes in the Nuovo Braccio of the Vatican, representing the orator in the act of addressing an assembly. The nervous temperament, the spare figure, the concentrated fire and energy exhibited in the face and brow, embody his character with wonderful truth. Demosthenes inherited a delicate constitution, which prevented him from engaging in the gymnastic exercises and field sports of his contemporaries; but he overcame this natural defect by the most rigid temperance in food and drink. He was naturally afflicted with a hesitation in speech and a shortness of breath; but by incredible force of will he cured himself of these impediments. It is said that he forced himself to speak with a pebble in his mouth; and that, in order to accustom himself to the tumults of the popular assembly, he declaimed on the beach of Phalerum to the waves as they swept along the shore. In the formation of his style he took unwearied pains.
Whether he copied Thucydides eight times, according to the tradition, may be doubted; but there can be no doubt that from his early youth to the last oration he ever spoke, he never ceased to give the profoundest study to both matter and form. He seldom or never addressed an assembly in an extemporaneous speech, and his detractors used to say that his speeches smelt of the lamp. He was never misunderstood by his hearers, and he adapted his style to his subject. In his legal arguments it is precise, clear, technical when necessary, with no attempt at impassioned eloquence. In his deliberative and political speeches he blends with the closest logic every form of vehement appeal to the feelings which the moment of public peril or of patriotic excitement is fitted to arouse. In private life his manners appear to have been somewhat austere. His tone of sentiment was lofty and pure; his domestic life was as stainless as his public life was incorruptible. In all the virtues of the republican citizen, he left an example which none of his countrymen ever surpassed. - Of the works of Demosthenes there are many editions. One of the most convenient is that of Dobson, in the Oratores Attici. Others are those of Taylor, Reiske, Dukas, Bekker, Baiter, and Saupe. The orations of.
Demosthenes alone have been edited by Wolf, Auger, and Schafer. Dindorf's text (Leipsic, 1825) is excellent; still better, that of Bekker in 3 vols. (Leipsic, 1855). The editions of single or selected orations are too numerous to be mentioned. For the use of the American student the oration on the crown, edited by Prof. Champlin, the popular orations by the same, and the Philippics by Prof. Smead, are the best. Dissen's Oratio de Corona, with a Latin commentary, is admirable. The translations in Bohn's "Classical Library" are furnished with useful introductions and illustrative essays.