Demosthenes Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Demosthenes (dih-MAHS-thuh-neez) is the most famous of ten authors whom Alexandrian critics included in the canon of Attic orators. Orphaned in childhood, he supposedly developed his skills as a writer and speaker to sue trustees who mismanaged his estate. Despite a weak voice and physique, he trained himself and studied until he won his lawsuit. He then became a leading politician at Athens from about 351 b.c.e. until his death.

The issue of the day was whether Athens and other city-states should resist the expansion of Macedonia under Philip II and Alexander the Great. Demosthenes’ speeches tried to rally unity; the best known are the three speeches against Philip II’s policies—Kata Philippou A, B, and G (351 b.c.e., 344 b.c.e., and 341 b.c.e.; First Philippic, Second Philippic, Third Philippic, all 1570)—and the three OlynthiacsOlunthiakos A, B, and G (349 b.c.e., 349 b.c.e., and 348 b.c.e.; First and Second Olynthiacs, Third Olynthiac, all 1570).

Demosthenes fought at the Battle of Chaeronea (338 b.c.e.), which Macedonia won; nonetheless, he was later awarded a crown in recognition of his services to Athens. In 324 b.c.e., he was charged with appropriating money deposited at Athens by a Macedonian turncoat. Although the charge may have been politically inspired, he was found guilty and went into exile. He returned to Athens after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 b.c.e., was arrested again in 322 b.c.e., and committed suicide by taking poison.


Demosthenes was considered the supreme exponent of Classical Greek rhetoric. About sixty of his political and legal...

(The entire section is 725 words.)