He achieves an astonishing intensity, variety, and freshness of emotional expression. He never lets his audience anticipate what he will say next. No one creates periodic sentences longer or more complex, or so skillfully suspends the conclusion of a thought. No one has a better instinct for when to vary periodic structure with simpler sentences, or when to break off with a single word. No one better handles the thrust and parry of rhetorical questions and answers, sarcastic asides to and about his opponent, and sudden exclamations. No one can shift his tone so swiftly or with such effect. From a Lecture, Greek Prose Style (http://web.gc.cuny.edu/dept/class/gk701.htm)
Demosthenes Statue from Polyeuktos from Athens, c. 280 BC. Roman copy of the bronze original, Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek Copenhagen.
Demosthenes ( Δημοσθένης) (384 BC Athens 12.10.322 BC Calauria Argolis) the son of Demosthenes Paianieus is generally considered the greatest of the Ancient Greek orators. His writings provide an insight into the life and culture of Athens at this period of time.
Born the son of a wealthy sword-maker, Demosthenes was orphaned at the age of seven. His father left him well-provided-for, but his legal guardians defrauded him and squandered his inheritance, causing him to seek retribution through the courts when he came of age.
As a boy Demosthenes suffered from a speech impediment and he worked at a series of self-designed exercises to overcome it. A common story tells of his talking around mouthfuls of rocks to improve his diction, but it is unknown whether this is fact or merely a legendary example of his perseverance and determination. Either way, Demosthenes became a prominent political orator (speech-maker), making his living through his ability to write and make speeches. He is best-known for his Philippic Orations, urging the populace to rise up and defend their country against Philip II of Macedon, who was steadily gaining power and territory for the Macedonian state.
Demosthenes was exiled after a convoluted affair involving money taken by one of the lieutenants of Alexander the Great. He was recalled to Greece after Alexander died, where he attempted once again to rally the Grecian people against Macedonia, but he was unsuccessful and took poison rather than face capture and punishment.
Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ, Demosthenes Practicing Oratory, 1870. “To overcome a stammer he recited with pebbles in his mouth. He matched his orations with the thunders of the Aegean Sea that his voice might gain volume. An ugly hitching of the shoulder he corrected by standing beneath a suspended sword. He corrected any facial distortions by practising in front of a mirror. John Mark Ministries”
He was meager and sickly from the first, and hence had his nickname of Batalus, given him, it is said, by the boys, in derision of his appearance; Batalus being, as some tell us, a certain enervated flute-player, in ridicule of whom Antiphanes wrote a play. Others speak of Batalus as a writer of wanton verses and drinking songs. And it would seem that some part of the body, not decent to be named, was at that time called batalus by the Athenians. Plutarch Demosthenes
Perseus Lookup Text
O Demosthenes if you had power like your intellect then the Macedonian Ares would not rule the Greeks! Inscription of a Demosthenes sculpture
From Plutarch's "Lives of Illustrious Men."
Another time, we are told, when his speeches had been ill-received, and he was going home with his head covered, and in the greatest distress, Satyrus, the player, who was an acquaintance of his, followed and went in with him. Demosthenes lamented to him, "That though he was the most laborious of all the orators, and had almost sacrificed his health to that application, yet he could gain no favour with the people; but drunken seamen and other unlettered persons were heard, and kept the rostrum, while he was entirely disregarded." "You say true," answered Satyrus, "but I will soon provide a remedy, if you will repeat to me some speech in Euripides or Sophocles." When Demosthenes had done, Satyrus pronounced the same speech; and he did it with such propriety of action, and so much in character, that it appeared to the orator quite a different passage. He now understood so well how much grace and dignity action adds to the best oration that he thought it a small matter to premeditate and compose, though with the utmost care, if the pronunciation and propriety of gesture were not attended to. Upon this he built himself a subterraneous study which remained to our times. Thither he repaired every day to form his action and exercise his voice; and he would often stay there for two or three months together, shaving one side of his head, that, if he should happen to be ever so desirous of going abroad, the shame of appearing in that condition might keep him in.