Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece

Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece

Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece

Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece


Demosthenes (384-322 BC) profoundly shaped one of the most eventful epochs in antiquity. His political career spanned three decades, during which time Greece fell victim to Macedonian control, first under Philip II and then Alexander the Great. Demosthenes' courageous defiance of Macedonian imperialism cost him his life but earned for him a reputation as one of history's outstanding patriots. He also enjoyed a brilliant and lucrative career as a speechwriter, and his rhetorical skills are still emulated today by statesmen and politicians. Yet he was a sickly child with a challenging speech impediment, who was swindled out of much of his family's estate by unscrupulous guardians. His story is therefore one of triumph over adversity.

In this new biography--the first written in English for almost a century--Ian Worthington brings the great orator's career vividly to life. He provides a moving narrative of Demosthenes' humble and difficult beginnings, his fierce rivalries with other Athenian politicians, his victories and defeats in the public Assembly, and finally his posthumous influence as a politician and orator. In doing so, Worthington offers new insights into Demosthenes' motives and how he shaped his policy to achieve political power. Set against the rich backdrop of late classical Athens and Macedonia, this biography will appeal to all readers interested in the history and heritage of ancient Greece. All quotations from Demosthenes' speeches are translated and briefly discussed in order for both professional and non-professional readers to appreciate his rhetorical genius.


In a book about Demosthenes published over seven decades ago, Werner Jaeger commented that “no one who hopes for the unanimous applause of his readers ever does well to take a politician for his hero.” If Demosthenes was a hero he was certainly a flawed one. However, my intention is to take into account differing interpretations of his policies and motives and, in offering new insights into these, present as well-rounded a portrait of Demosthenes as possible, set against the history of not only Athens but also Greece and Macedonia. Whether this will generate any applause remains to be seen.

Demosthenes was one of ancient Greece’s most influential figures. His political career spanned three decades, during which Athens clashed with Philip ii of Macedonia, and his city as well as Greece lost their independence. His resolute defiance of Philip earned for him a reputation in antiquity and throughout the ages as one of history’s outstanding patriots. He is also universally regarded as Greece’s most distinguished orator, given the rhetorical style and power of his surviving speeches. Yet the odds against the sickly child, who suffered several physical and speech impediments and an interrupted education becoming as powerful as he did, were great. His story is certainly one of triumph over adversity.

Born in 384 and orphaned at the age of seven, Demosthenes was swindled by guardians out of the lion’s share of his father’s considerable estate so that when he came of age he, his sister, and their mother faced financial hardship. Demosthenes’ afflictions prevented him from . . .

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