Demosthenes, the son of a prosperous armourer at Athens, was born about 385 B.C., and first gave proof of forensic ability, at the age of 20, by prosecuting Aphobus, his guardian, for embezzling his patrimony. An impediment in his speech retarded for some years his success in addressing popular assemblies; but by unremitting practice, including, it is said, the curious exercise of shouting down the roar of the waves with pebbles in his mouth, he overcame his natural defects. Before he was 30 he had gained the public ear, and soon became the recognised leader of the anti-Macedonian party. In this capacity he composed the powerful series of orations by which he roused his countrymen to resist the encroachments of Philip. The Philippics and Olynthiacs, still extant, quite justify the eulogies of antiquity. To him was largely due the league with Thebes, resulting in the disastrous battle of Chaeronea (338), in which he personally took part. At the death of Philip he renewed his patriotic efforts against his successor Alexander, but he failed to bar the triumphant progress of the young conqueror. His old adversary, AEschines, on the proposal of Ctesiphon to vote Demosthenes a crown, denounced his policy and charged him with cowardice and treachery at Chaeronea. The reply, known as the speech De Corona (330), reviewing his whole political career, is his acknowledged masterpiece. He was not, however, so fortunate in refuting an accusation of having received bribes from Harpalus, and to avoid the penalty following on conviction he fled to AEgina. When Alexander died, he returned and induced the Athenians to declare war against Antipater. The defeat at Crannon once more shattered his hopes. He took refuge in the temple of Poseidon at Calauria, where, fearing to be surrendered to the conqueror, he took poison and died in 322. A statue was erected to his memory at Athens, and his eldest child was brought up at the public expense. The sixty-one orations that have come down to us give a high idea of the intellectual power and consummate skill with which they were prepared. Combining rhetoric in its noblest form with an unbroken succession of logical arguments, these addresses remain unsurpassed models of the most exalted eloquence. If we may believe tradition, they were delivered with a force and a majesty of which it is difficult to form any adequate conception.
2. One of the ablest Athenian generals in the Peloponnesian war. He defended Pylos against the Spartans in 425 B.C. The success for which Cleon was belauded must probably be attributed to him. In 413 he was sent out with Eurymedon to relieve Nicias at Syracuse, and perished with the other members of the expedition.