THE MAN WITH THE SILVER TONGUE
HE greatest orator the world ever knew was probably Demosthenes. His father
made knives and swords at Athens, and in that city Demosthenes was born. He
was a delicate child and had a weak voice, but he was determined to be a
great public speaker.
Because he stammered, he put pebbles in his mouth, that he might learn to
speak more slowly. Because his breath was short, he practiced running uphill
to make himself long-winded. Knowing that his voice was weak, he went down
to the seashore and shouted against the roaring waves, so that when the
people were noisy in public meetings he could make himself heard. He even
built a study entirely underground and practiced speaking there, so that he
might gain a loud, clear voice.
He was a pupil in the school of Plato and learned much from that wise
When he was seven years old his father died. The men who were left in charge
of his property cheated him. He said nothing until he was eighteen years
old. Then he went into the courts of law and accused his guardians of
dishonesty and wrong. He made five orations on that subject and won his
case, but could never get back all his money.
 That he might learn a good style in writing he copied the history of
Thucydides several times. To acquire a good manner of speaking he tried to
imitate Pericles. When he began to appear in public a man said, "Your
arguments smell of the lamp," which meant that they had been carefully
studied by night.
"Yes," replied Demosthenes, "but your lamp and mine are used for different
purposes." He meant that while he studied the other was carousing.
He took up the profession of a lawyer, but his finest speeches were
political addresses against the evils of the time.
Philip of Macedon was then growing more and more powerful. Demosthenes was
determined to hinder him from mastering Athens. In twelve years he delivered
eleven orations against Philip, several of which were especially called
Philippics because they were so full of sharp and bitter words against the
Macedonian king. He went to other cities and persuaded them to unite against
Philip, who, he said, would conquer all unless all combined against him.
He never was chosen for any great office and never led any armies. He was in
the battle of Chaeronea fighting against Philip; but it is said that he
threw away his shield and fled from the field. Yet no man was more highly
honored by the state. It was proposed that the city should give him a golden
crown as a reward for what he had done. A prominent citizen said that such
an action would not be according to law. The case was put off for six years.
Demosthenes then made an
ad-  dress, "On the Crown," which is thought to be the best of all his speeches. It was
really the history of his life. He won the case and the crown was given to
When Alexander became king of Macedon and thought of being a mighty
conqueror, he sent word to Athens that eight of the chief orators, one of
them Demosthenes, should be sent to him. A public meeting was held to talk
over the matter. Demosthenes told the fable of the wolves and the sheep.
"There was once a time," he said, "when the wolves were very anxious to be
at peace with the shepherds. They said they were sorry that those good men
were angry at them and did not trust them. There was no cause for that
feeling, as the wolves did not mean to attack the folds. For that reason
they wished the shepherds would not keep dogs.
"The shepherds were pleased to find the wolves so friendly. They sent away
their dogs and all was peace until a dark night came. Then while the
shepherds were asleep and the sheep were helpless the wolves burst into the
folds and made an end of the flock."
The people of Athens did not give up their orators but found some other way
to satisfy Alexander.
Some years later Demosthenes was charged with receiving money from the king
of Persia to help the cause of that ruler. He was convicted and sentenced to
pay a very large sum of money. Not intending to pay the amount, he left the
city and went into exile.
As he passed out of the gate, he lifted up his hands, and said, "0 Athene,
goddess of these towers, why do you
 delight in three such monsters as the owl, the dragon, and the people?"
After the death of Alexander he was recalled to Athens and went back in
honor. But the new king, Antipater, gave orders that he should be put to
death. Demosthenes fled to a neighboring island and took refuge in a temple
there. When he found that the soldiers of the king were following him and
that he could not escape he said, "Permit me to go to the inner room and
write a few lines."
He sat down and took out his pen, which he always carried with him. After
writing a few words he suddenly unscrewed the top of the pen and swallowed a
poison which he had hidden there. So ended the life of Demosthenes, the
greatest of orators.