Birth and Family of Demosthenes:
Demosthenes, renowned as a great Greek orator and statesman, was born in 384 (or 383) B.C. He died in 322.
Demosthenes' father, also Demosthenes, was an Athenian citizen from the deme of Paeania who died when Demosthenes was seven. His mother was named Cleobule.
Demosthenes Learns to Speak Publicly:
The first time Demosthenes made a speech in the public assembly was a disaster. Discouraged, he was fortunate to run into an actor who helped show him what he needed to do to make his speeches compelling. To perfect the technique, he set up a routine, which he followed for months until he had mastered oratory.
Plutarch on the Self-Training of Demosthenes:
Hereupon he built himself a place to study in under ground (which was still remaining in our time), and hither he would come constantly every day to form his action and to exercise his voice; and here he would continue, oftentimes without intermission, two or three months together, shaving one half of his head, that so for shame he might not go abroad, though he desired it ever so much.
- Plutarch's Demosthenes
Demosthenes as Speech Writer :
Demosthenes was a professional speech writer or logographer. He gave his own first political speech in 354. Demosthenes wrote speeches against Athenians he believed guilty of corruption.
Aspects of Athenian Political Life:
Greek men of means were expected to contribute to the polis and so Demosthenes outfitted a trireme in 357 B.C. and, as choregus at Athens, he paid for a theatrical performance in 348. Demosthenes also fought as a hoplite at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338.
Demosthenes Gains Fame as an Orator:
Demosthenes became one of 10 official Athenian orators. As official orator he warned against Philip, when the Macedonian king and father of Alexander the Great was beginning his conquest of Greece. Demosthenes' three orations against Philip, known as the Philippics, were so bitter that today a severe speech denouncing someone is called a Philippic.
Another writer of Philippics was Cicero, the Roman with whom Plutarch compares Demosthenes in Plutarch's Parallel Lives.
Death of Demosthenes:
Demosthenes' troubles with the royal house of Macedon didn't end with Philip's death. When Alexander insisted that the Athenian orators be delivered to him to be punished for treason, Demosthenes fled to a temple of Poseidon for sanctuary. A guard prevailed on him to come out.
Realizing he was at the end of his rope, Demosthenes requested permission to write a letter. Permission was granted; the letter was written; then Demosthenes began to walk, quill pen in his mouth, to the door of the temple. He died before he reached it -- of a poison he'd kept in his pen.