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Demosthenes was born in 384 BC. He learned rhetoric by studying how the previous great orators had written and delivered their speeches.
His first judicial speeches were delivered at the age of 20, in which he argued that he should gain the remains of his inheritance from his guardians. During this period Demosthenes made his living as a professional logographer (speech-writer) and as a lawyer, writing the speeches to be used in private lawsuits.
This work inspired him to take a more detailed interest in Athenian politics and, in 354 BC, Demosthenes gave his first public political speeches.
Demosthenes was entirely devoted to Athens and much of his life was given to opposing the belligerent and expansionist state of Macedonia ruled by Philip II. His efforts centered on preserving his city's freedom and to work with others for an alliance against Macedonia. He was unsuccessful. Philip II continued his march south conquering all the Greek states in his path.
After Philip's death, Demosthenes was at the heart of his city's uprising against the new king of Macedonia, Alexander the Great. It failed and a very harsh Macedonian reaction was meted out. In order to prevent further attempted revolts Alexander's successor in this region, Antipater, sent men to capture Demosthenes. In order to avoid being arrested Demosthenes took his own life on October 12th 322 BC.
Since those times Demosthenes has been recognised as one of the very greatest public orators and speech-writers. His works outline the intellectual prowess and expression of contemporary Athenian life and provide a revealing and intimate insight into the politics and culture of Greece in the 4th century BC.
Cicero himself said ‘he stands alone among all the orators’, and that he was ‘the perfect orator’ who lacked nothing.