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The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor

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DEMOSTHENES THE GREATEST ORATOR OF ATHENS

[303] DEMOSTHENES had spoken in the law courts, but he was not content. His great ambition now was to speak in the assembly of Athens. He wished to remind the Athenians of their glorious past, he wished to encourage them to fight against the enemies of their country.

His first attempt was a failure. His voice was weak, his sentences long, and before he had finished what he wished to say, the people were laughing and jeering, so that he was forced to sit down.

As he left the assembly he was so unhappy that he thought he would never speak to the people again. He walked along the streets, scarcely knowing, in his distress, where he went.

Suddenly he felt some one touch his arm, and looking up he saw a very old man who had been in the assembly, and had heard him speak. He had seen how disappointed Demosthenes was as he left the hall, and he had determined to encourage him. So first he praised the crestfallen orator, saying that his speech had reminded him of the great orator Pericles, and then he upbraided the young man for being so easily discouraged by the laughter of the people.

Demosthenes allowed himself to be comforted and made up his mind to try again, thinking that perhaps after all he would be able to make the people listen to him. But in spite of all his efforts he could not hold their attention, and he left the assembly, hiding his face in his cloak that none might see his sorrow.


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He left the assembly, hiding his face in his cloak

[304] An actor, named Satyrus, who knew him well, followed him home, for he guessed that Demosthenes would be in despair. The orator did not hide his trouble from his friend. "The citizens will listen to any one, even to those who have not studied, rather than to me," he said in bitter anger. "A sailor with a foolish story will make them applaud, while if I tell them tales of the glorious deeds of their own countrymen they pay no heed."

"You say true, Demosthenes," answered Satyrus, "but I will soon tell you how this is if you will recite to me some lines from one of our great poets."

Demosthenes did as his friend asked. But although he said the words correctly, his voice was dull and his attitude was stiff and awkward.

Satyrus said nothing when his friend ended, but himself began to repeat the same lines. Yet you would scarcely have known that they were the same, for the eyes of the actor flashed, his voice rang clear, then sank to a whisper, his body swayed now this way, now that, as he sought to make the meaning of the poem plain.

Then Demosthenes understood as he had never done before how it was that his carefully studied speeches did not interest the Athenians. He must not only read or recite them, he must act them, so that the things of which he spoke might become real to those who listened.

From that day Demosthenes began to work in a different way. He made one of the cellars of his house into a study, that there, undisturbed, he might practise his voice and gestures. He stayed in this strange study for two or three months at a time, and lest he should be tempted to go to theatres or games, he shaved one side of his head, "that so for shame he might not go abroad, though he desired it ever so much."

At other times to strengthen his voice he would go to the seashore while a storm was raging, and putting pebbles in his mouth he would try to make his words heard above [305] the roar of the waves. He also recited speeches while he was out of breath from running up some steep hill, and at home he would stand before a large mirror to watch his gestures and the expression of his face.

And his hard work and perseverance were rewarded, for Demosthenes became what he most desired to be, the greatest orator of Athens. His enemies learned to fear his speeches, his friends to count upon them to aid their cause.

Demosthenes was thirty-three years of age when he made his first speech against Philip of Macedon, who now, in 356 B.C., invaded Greece.

The king would gladly have made an alliance with the Athenians and gained their goodwill. But they, wishing to recover Amphipolis, which he had taken from them, refused to make peace.

Demosthenes lost no opportunity to speak against Philip. He reminded his countrymen that the king was "not the man to rest content with that he has subdued, but is always adding to his conquests, and casts his snare around us while we sit at home postponing." In another speech he told the Athenians that they chose their captains, "not to fight, but to be displayed like dolls in the market-place."

These and other speeches against the king of Macedon were called "The Philippics" of Demosthenes, and still to-day, if some one makes a speech against a special person, although his name is not Philip, we call the speech a "Philippic."


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