What did Demosthenes believe in ?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Demosthenes believed that the people of Athens should resist the expansionism of Macedonia under Philip II. In a series of famous speeches given in the 340s BC and known as "Philippics" after the Macedonian ruler, Demosthenes encouraged political unity and reform in order to resist Philip. He argued that the institutions that the Athenians prized, in particular democracy, would not survive if Athens became a subject city to Philip. In the abstract, he encouraged patriotism and a spirit of civic-mindedness in those difficult times. More concretely, he advocated efforts to expand the Athenian military, especially the navy, mandatory military service for Athenian men, higher taxes, and anti-corruption measures. While Athens fell to Macedon during his lifetime, forcing him to flee to safety, his philippics have survived as essential works in the Western canon. A brief excerpt that exemplifies the tone and message of Demosthenes' speeches follows:

First, then, Athenians! these our affairs must not be thought desperate; no, though their situation seems entirely deplorable. For the most shocking circumstance of all our past conduct is really the most favorable to our future expectations. And what is this? That our own total indolence hath been the cause of all our present difficulties. For were we thus distressed, in spite of every vigorous effort which the honor of our state demanded, there were then no hope of a recovery.

The idea that the current travails of the polis were the result of a lapsed sense of obligation to the city as well as the corruption of its ideals would be a stock principle in all of his speeches. It would also be a theme common to Roman orators around the fall of the Republic, Renaissance-era leaders like Savanarola, Puritan rebels during the English Civil War, and American preachers in the years leading to the American Revolution, to name a few.

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