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I think there can hardly be found two other orators, who, from small
and obscure beginnings, became so great and mighty; who both contested
with kings and tyrants; both lost their daughters, were driven out
of their country, and returned with honour; who, flying from thence
again, were both seized upon by their enemies, and at last ended their
lives with the liberty of their countrymen. So that if we were to
suppose there had been a trial of skill between nature and fortune,
as there is sometimes between artists, it would be hard to judge whether
that succeeded best in making them alike in their dispositions and
manners, or this in the coincidences of their lives. We will speak
of the eldest first.
Demosthenes, the father of Demosthenes, was a citizen of good rank
and quality, as Theopompus informs us, surnamed the Sword-maker, because
he had a large workhouse, and kept servants skilful in that art at
work. But of that which Aeschines the orator said of his mother, that
she was descended of one Gylon, who fled his country upon an accusation
of treason, and of a barbarian woman, I can affirm nothing, whether
he spoke true, or slandered and maligned her. This is certain, that
Demosthenes, being as yet but seven years old was left by his father
in affluent circumstances, the whole value of his estate being little
short of fifteen talents, and that he was wronged by his guardians,
part of his fortune being embezzled by them, and the rest neglected;
insomuch that even his teachers were defrauded of their salaries.
This was the reason that he did not obtain the liberal education that
he should have had; besides that, on account of weakness and delicate
health, his mother would not let him exert himself, and his teachers
forbore to urge him. He was meagre and sickly from the first, and
hence had his nickname of Batalus given him, it is said, by the boys,
in derision of his appearance; Batalus being, as some tell us, a certain
enervated flute-player, in ridicule of whom Antiphanes wrote a play.
Others speak of Batalus as a writer of wanton verses and drinking
songs. And it would seem that some part of the body, not decent to
be named, was at that time called batalus by the Athenians. But the
name of Argas, which also they say was a nickname of Demosthenes,
was given him for his behaviour, as being savage and spiteful, argas
being one of the poetical words for a snake; or for his disagreeable
way of speaking, Argas being the name of a poet who composed very
harshly and disagreeably. So much, as Plato says, for such matters.
The first occasion of his eager inclination to oratory, they say,
was this. Callistratus, the orator, being to plead in open court for
Oropus, the expectation of the issue of that cause was very great,
as well for the ability of the orator, who was then at the height
of his reputation, as also for the fame of the action itself. Therefore,
Demosthenes, having heard the tutors and school-masters agreeing among
themselves to be present at this trial, with much importunity persuades
his tutor to take him along with him to the hearing; who, having some
acquaintance with the doorkeepers, procured a place where the boy
might sit unseen, and hear what was said. Callistratus having got
the day, and being much admired, the boy began to look upon his glory
with a kind of emulation, observing how he was courted on all hands,
and attended on his way by the multitude; but his wonder was more
than all excited by the power of his eloquence, which seemed able
to subdue and win over anything. From this time, therefore, bidding
farewell to other sorts of learning and study, he now began to exercise
himself, and to take pains in declaiming, as one that meant to be
himself also an orator. He made use of Isaeus as his guide to the
art of speaking, though Isocrates at that time was giving lessons;
whether, as some say, because he was an orphan, and was not able to
pay Isocrates his appointed fee of ten minae or because he preferred
Isaeus's speaking, as being more businesslike and effective in actual
use. Hermippus says that he met with certain memoirs without any author's
name, in which it was written that Demosthenes was a scholar to Plato,
and learnt much of his eloquence from him; and he also mentions Ctesibius,
as reporting from Callias of Syracuse and some others, that Demosthenes

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