Gateway to the Classics: Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding

King Philip and Demosthenes

A FTER the power of Sparta had been broken by its wars with Thebes there was no city in Greece which could claim power over the others. They were all free and equal now; and if the Greeks had been as brave and noble and wise as they had been when they fought against the Persians, their cities might have remained free.

But this was not the case. Their leaders now thought more of money than they did of their country, and let themselves be bribed by their country's enemies. And the cities were all so jealous of one another, and each so afraid that some other city might get power over it, that they would not join together to save their freedom So when the king of another country made war upon them, just as the Persian king had done one hundred and fifty years before, the Greeks were beaten, and all their cities lost their freedom.

The people who were to conquer the Greeks were the Macedonians, and their country lay just north of Greece. The Macedonians were not so civilized a people as the Greeks were. They had almost no cities; and most of them lived in the country, herding cattle and tilling the soil. But they were a brave and warlike people, and when they had a strong skillful king to lead them they became very powerful.

While the Greeks were at their weakest the Macedonians found such a king. His name was Philip. While he was still a boy, he was taken as a captive to Thebes, and there he stayed for several years. He was a bright boy, he was taken as a captive to Thebes, and there he stayed for several years. He was a bright boy, so that he learned there all that the Greeks could teach him. The Theban soldiers were at this time the best soldiers in Greece, and from them young Philip learned the art of war. And so well did he learn it, that after he had gone back to Macedonia, and had become king, it was found that he was a better general than any other man of that time.

After Philip had become king of Macedonia, the first thing that he did was to build up a strong army on the plan that he had learned in Thebes. Then he used this army to win some rich gold-mines from a barbarian people who dwelt near his kingdom. After that he had not only a fine army, but also a great treasure to use in carrying on his wars. The next thing that he needed to make his kingdom great was a harbor on the coast, so that ships might come to and go from his kingdom. The Athenians still ruled over several of the coast towns in that region, and by a trick King Philip got one of these. Then he began to plan to go into Greece itself, and make himself master of that country as well.

As you can imagine, the wiser Greeks were very much troubled when they heard how strong this king of Macedonia was becoming. But they were only a few. Most of the Greek cities were so much taken up by their quarrels with their neighbors that they paid little attention to what was going on among the "barbarian Macedonians" And if at any time one of the wiser Greeks thought to warn the others, King Philip would send him such handsome presents and such flattering letters that he would change his mind, and say nothing about the danger. So well did the king succeed in bribing the Greek leaders, that he used to say,—

"No town is too strong to be captured, if once I can get a mule-load of silver passed within its gates."

But there was one Greek that Philip could neither bribe nor flatter. This was Demosthenes, the Athenian. Demosthenes was not a general nor a soldier; indeed, in the only battle in which he took part he became so frightened that he threw down his shield and ran away. But he was one of the greatest orators that the world was ever seen And when it was necessary to tell the Athenians unpleasant things about themselves, and to warn them again King Philip, no man was so brave as Demosthenes.



When Demosthenes was only seven years old, his father died, leaving him an orphan. The guardians who were appointed for him were dishonest men, and they wasted and stole most of the property which his father had left him. So as Demosthenes grew to be a man, he began to plan how he could get the judges to punish his guardians, and make them give up the property which they had stolen.

Now, in those days every man had to be his own lawyer. So Demosthenes began to practice writing speeches and repeating them, so that when the time came he might prove to the judges how unjustly he had been treated. But he had a great many difficulties to overcome. He was awkward and ungraceful in his manner, and his voice was weak, and he did not speak distinctly. To learn to do so, he used to make long speeches with pebbles in his mouth. To make his voice stronger, he would walk along the beach by the sea, and make speeches loud enough to be heard above its roar. And to overcome his awkwardness he used to say his speeches before a large mirror, so that he could see every motion that he made.

At last, after years of practice, he went to law with his guardians, and he made such good speeches that he won his suit. Then he began to take part in politics; and by the time that King Philip had begun to interfere in Greece, Demosthenes had become so great an orator that Philip once said,—

"Demosthenes' speeches do me more harm than all the fleets and armies of the Athenians."

The most famous speeches that Demosthenes every made are those which he made against King Philip. In those orations, Demosthenes told the Athenians how King Philip was bribing their leaders, and how he was preparing to make himself master of all the Greeks. Demosthenes wanted the Athenians to cease their quarrels with Thebes and other cities, and make war upon Philip. But for a long time the men whom Philip had bribed were able to prevent this, in spite of all that Demosthenes could do

At last one evening as the officers of the city were seated together at supper in the city hall, a messenger came and told them that an army of King Philip had seized a strong place not far from Athens. Now the Athenians saw that Demosthenes was right, and that the danger was real. Everybody ran hither and thither, and all was confusion Demosthenes alone knew what to do. He told them that they must at once send to the Thebans, and get them to help in fighting Philip. This they did; and the Thebans joined them, for their freedom was in danger too.

Then the army of the Thebans and the Athenians marched to oppose King Philip. For several weeks they succeeded in keeping him back. At last one day a terrible battle took place, in which the Greeks fought bravely. But their short spears were of little use against the long pikes with which King Philip had armed his men. So the Greeks were terribly beaten, and after that day they were never free as they had been in the days of Themistocles and Pericles.

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