Demosthenes And The Rhetorical Principles Established By His Example -- By: George Shepard

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 027:107 (Jul 1870)
Article: Demosthenes And The Rhetorical Principles Established By His Example
Author: George Shepard

Demosthenes And The Rhetorical Principles Established By His Example

George Shepard

It is a remarkable fact that eloquence is to be found in its highest and best state at so early a period of its history. It is another remarkable fact, that there has been an almost universal concurrence in the sentiment that places Demosthenes at the head of all the eloquent. Men have differed in most other matters. But all eyes, from all countries and all ages, have agreed to look upon Demosthenes as the prince of orators. The verdict of all time being as it is, and being right, probably, I have selected him as being thus the highest authority in all matters of eloquence, and, for the purpose I have in view, shall first give a mere outline of his training — a summary of the qualities of his manner and style — and then proceed to derive from him certain oratorical lessons; using him as a teacher and corrector, and

bringing to this acknowledged standard some of the doctrines and practices of these later times.

The Grecian orator was born about 385 B.C. His father, who was respectable and affluent, died when he was seven years of age. This event placed him under the care of guardians, who plundered his property, while they neglected his education. As to native endowments, it is said, there was no early evidence of anything very remarkable. As to physical constitution, we are told, he was of a slender, sickly habit. But while his body was originally weak, his passions were strong — that for distinction showing itself decisively. The vindictive passions, also, were very prominent and active.

The fire of eloquence was early enkindled within him. Hearing Callistratus deliver an oration, Demosthenes felt the charm of his oratory, beheld the distinction it conferred, and then and there resolved to become an orator of the very first order. He resorted for instruction to Isaeus, on account of the nerve of his style, rather than to Isocrates, who was the more celebrated rhetorician. Cicero intimates that he had help from Plato. But Demosthenes, to a great extent, brought himself on by self-culture, severe personal drill. In this part of his course there was the utmost diligence and decision. However, previous to this protracted and rigid self-discipline, he made some public attempts. The first was a prosecution of his guardians, who had defrauded him of his patrimony. Here he succeeded so well that he adventured further. He stepped on a higher arena, and failed. He was laughed down and hissed away. But he carried with him an indomitable spirit, that said, in the depths of his disgrace: I will return, and stand in this same place, the first orator of Athens. He went out of sight. He went underground. His failu...

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