Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Greece by Mary Macgregor
The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor

Demosthenes Wishes To Become an Orator

Demosthenes, the great Athenian orator, was born in 384 b.c. He was a shy and delicate boy, and often stammered when he spoke. Some of his companions were cruel enough to laugh at him and even to imitate his stammer. So he would often slip away from his playmates, but when they saw that he did not join in their games, they but laughed at him the more.

The father of Demosthenes was a rich man. He died when his little son was seven years old, leaving his fortune to his child. But the guardians who took charge of Demosthenes and his wealth were careless and dishonest men. Some of the boy's money they lost, some they spent on themselves.

As the child grew older, his guardians found that there was little money left to use for his education. They could not afford to get the best teachers, nor did they pay well those whom they employed. So that Demosthenes was often taught carelessly or not at all.

Of the boy's mother we are told little, save that she was kind to her delicate little son and tended him with care. But she, too, died while he was still young.

Demosthenes did not learn his lessons well or quickly, but he was interested in all that went on around him, and he soon began to distrust his guardians. Long before he was sixteen years old, he knew that they had lost his money, and even then he hoped that some day he would be able to punish them.

The boy loved the beautiful city of Athens in which he grew up. Never did he tire of gazing at the wonderful temples, the noble statues which made her renowned throughout Greece.

There were in these as in other days famous orators in Athens, to whom the citizens were ever eager to listen. For they were well pleased to be reminded of the glorious days of Thermopylæ, and of Marathon, though now they were not anxious to win glory on the battlefield. They had grown rich and indolent, and were content to stay at home, content to go to games and to theatres.

Demosthenes often heard his teachers talk of the great orators of Athens, and he wished that he might listen to their eloquent speeches.

One day Callistratus, a famous orator, was to speak at a great trial that was taking place in the city.

The boy begged to be allowed to go, and his tutor at length agreed to find a corner in the hall where the boy might sit to see and to hear all that went on.

Demosthenes could imagine no greater treat than to be there, hidden away in the midst of the crowd, to listen to Callistratus.

The speech was a great one, and when it was over the Athenians crowded round the orator, eager to applaud, while many followed him to his home. Demosthenes came away with his ambition roused. He said to himself, "I too will be an orator and make the people do as I wish. They shall applaud me, even as they have applauded Callistratus to-day."

But another reason that made him wish to speak in public was that he might expose the dishonesty of his guardians in the law courts. For he could not be content until they were punished.

When the boy had made up his mind to be an orator he lost no time in beginning to study. He knew that he must work hard if he would succeed.

For two years he read history, wrote speeches, and when it was possible, went to hear famous orators. When he was eighteen he thought that he was ready to speak in public. So he went to the law courts and accused his guardians of theft.

At first little notice was taken of what the lad said, but he pleaded his cause again and again, until at length he won his suit, and his guardians were punished. But it was too late to recover the money, which was now nearly all lost.

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