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Demosthenes (dĭmŏsˈthənēz), 384?–322 B.C., Greek orator, generally considered the greatest of the Greek orators. He was a pupil of Isaeus, and—although the story of his putting pebbles in his mouth to improve his voice is only a legend—he seems to have been forced to overcome a weak voice and delivery. After years of private practice in law, he became a political orator in 351 B.C. when he delivered the first of three Philippics. Philip II of Macedon had been steadily building power, and Demosthenes saw clearly the danger to Greek liberty in the great Macedonian state. The Philippics (the second in 344, the third in 341) and the three Olynthiacs (349), in which he urged aid for Olynthus against Philip, were all directed toward arousing Greece against the conqueror. The third of the Philippics is generally considered the finest of his orations. In On the Peace (346) Demosthenes urged an end to the Phocian War. In 343 he accused his rival, Aeschines, of accepting Macedonian bribes in a speech entitled (as was Aeschines' defense) On the False Legation. Philip triumphed in the battle of Chaeronea (338), and Demosthenes' cause was lost. Although he had many rivals, he was greatly honored by his admirers, but a proposal by Ctesiphon to give Demosthenes a gold crown caused Aeschines to bring suit. Demosthenes roundly defended his own career and attacked that of Aeschines in On the Crown (330). The verdict was in favor of Demosthenes. Later he was involved in a complex and obscure affair involving money taken by one of the lieutenants of Alexander the Great; it ended with Demosthenes in exile. After the death of Alexander he was recalled and attempted to build Greek strength to throw off the yoke of Macedon, but he was unsuccessful and Antipater triumphed. Demosthenes fled and took poison before he could be captured.


See A. W. Pickard-Cambridge, Demosthenes and the Last Days of Greek Freedom (1914); W. W. Jaeger, Demosthenes: The Origin and Growth of His Policy (1938, repr. 1963); J. J. Murphy, ed., Demosthenes on the Crown (1983); H. Montgomery, The Way to Chaeronea (1984); I. Worthington, Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece (2012).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Born c. 384 B.C., in Attica; died 322 B.C., in Calauria. Ancient Greek orator and political leader.

Demosthenes was the son of a master armorer. After studying the art of oratory, he became a logographer (speechwriter), taught rhetoric, took part himself in court cases, and spoke in the popular assembly. Some 61 speeches, 56 addresses, and six letters ascribed to Demosthenes have been preserved (of these, about 20 speeches and several letters probably are not his). In 351 B.C., Demosthenes delivered the First Philippic, a speech against the king of Macedonia, Philip II (the father of Alexander the Great). In it he sharply criticized the passive position of Athens with regard to the expansionist policy of Macedonia, which was threatening the independence of the Greek city-states. From this time on, Demosthenes became the acknowledged leader of the anti-Macedonian faction in Athens and other Greek city-states. Having become the de facto leader of Athens, he succeeded in having a law passed that introduced an extraordinary service to the state, the trierarchy (the maintenance of warships, the triremes, by individual citizens and metics), and that allocated the theorika (the spectator entertainment money) for military purposes; by means of a number of military alliances Demosthenes managed to create an anti-Macedonian coalition of Greek city-states. After the defeat of the allied army at Chaeronea (338), Demosthenes continued to maintain a cautious but consistent anti-Macedonian position. In 323, after the death of Alexander the Great, he again called for a struggle against Macedonia. After a new defeat of the Greeks in the Lamian War (323-322), Demosthenes, pursued by his enemies, poisoned himself. Demosthenes’ consistently patriotic position and his unsurpassed oratorical mastery have made his name famous. His works marked an important stage in the development of oratory.


Orationes [vols. 1-3]. Edited by C. Fuhr and J. Sykutris. Leipzig, 1914-27.
In Russian translation:
Rechi. With a preface by S. I. Radtsig. Moscow, 1954. (Translated from Greek.)


Zhebelev, S. A. Demosfen. Berlin-Petrograd-Moscow, 1922.
Cloché, P. Démosthènes et la fin de la démocratie athénienne [2nd ed.]. Paris, 1957.
Jaeger, W. Demosthenes der Staatsmann und sein Werden. [Berlin] 1939.
Mathieu, G. Démosthéne, l’homme et l’oeuvre. Paris [1948].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(384–322 B.C.) learned proper diction by practicing with mouth full of pebbles. [Gk. Hist.: NCE, 744]


(382–322 B.C.) generally considered the greatest of the Greek orators. [Gk. Hist.: NCE, 559]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


384--322 bc, Athenian statesman, orator, and lifelong opponent of the power of Macedonia over Greece
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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