The Story of the Greeks
Page: 100The Athenians read the letter in the public square, so that every one could hear it, and then began to discuss whether they should send any help. As was always the case, some were for, and others against, the plan, and there was much talking. Among the best speakers of the city was the orator De-mos´the-nes, a very clear-sighted man, who suspected Philip's designs. He therefore warmly advised the Athenians to do all they could to oppose the Macedonian king, so as to prevent his ever getting a foothold in Greece. Indeed, he spoke so eloquently and severely against Philip, and told the people so plainly that the king was already plotting to harm them, that violent speeches directed against any one have ever since been called "Philippics," like these orations against the King of Macedon.
Philip took not only O-lyn´thus, but all the towns which formed the Olynthian union, and destroyed them so completely that a few years later one could not even find out where these once prosperous cities had been.
Demosthenes made three very fine speeches in favor of the Olynthians, and several against Philip. These were written down, and have been translated time and again. You may some day read and admire them for yourselves.
Of course, when Philip heard of Demosthenes' speeches, he was very angry; but he thought that his gold could do wonders, so he sent a beautiful cup of that precious metal to the orator. The gift was accepted; still Demosthenes, instead of remaining silent as Philip had expected, went on talking against him as openly as before.[Pg 223]
As Demosthenes was such a great man, you will like to hear how he learned to speak so well. He was an orphan, but very ambitious indeed. He saw how eagerly the Athenians listened to the best speakers, and he thought that he too would like to become an orator.
Unfortunately, he could not talk very plainly, and instead of listening to him, even his playmates made fun of him. But instead of crying, sulking, or getting angry, Demosthenes sensibly made up his mind to learn how to speak so well that they could no longer laugh at him. He therefore learned a great deal of poetry, which he recited daily as distinctly as possible. To be able to do this without attracting any attention, he used to go down to a lonely spot on the seashore, where he would put some pebbles in his mouth, and then try to recite so loud that his voice could be heard above the noise of the waves.
To make his lungs strong, he used to walk and run up hill, reciting as he went; and, in order to form a pleasant style, he copied nine times the works of the great Greek historian Thu-cyd´i-des.
When a young man, he shut himself up in the house to study hard. Then, as he was afraid of being tempted to go out and amuse himself, he shaved one side of his head, and let the hair grow long on the other.
You see, he was bound to succeed, and his constant trying was duly rewarded, as it always is. He became learned, eloquent, and energetic; and whenever he rose to speak in the public places of Athens, he was surrounded by an admiring crowd, who listened open-mouthed to all he said.[Pg 224]
The Athenians were too lazy at this time, however, to bestir themselves very much, even for their own good. So, in spite of all that Demosthenes could say, they did not offer any great resistance to Philip, who little by little became a very powerful king.
When Philip had entirely subdued the Thracians and Olynthians, he helped the Thessalians to get rid of their tyrant; and, adding their cavalry to his infantry, he boasted of as fine an army as the Greeks had ever been able to muster. He was very anxious to find a pretext to march into Greece at the head of this force, because he thought that, once there, he would soon manage to become master of all the towns. And the excuse for which he longed so much soon came.
A contest known as the Sacred War was going on in Greece at that time. It had arisen because the Pho´cians had taken possession of lands that were left waste in honor of the god Apollo. The Amphictyonic Council said they should pay a fine for this offense; and the Phocians, angry at being thus publicly reproved, defied the council.
To show how little they intended to obey, they not only kept the land they had taken, but robbed the temple at Delphi. Then they used the money thus obtained to win over some allies, and soon began to make war against the people who obeyed the council.[Pg 225]
The loyal Greeks fought against the Phocians for a long time, but were unable to conquer them: so Philip proposed to come and help the council. In their anxiety to win in this war, the Greeks gladly allowed him to bring his army into their country, and he soon completely subdued the rebels.
In reward for his help, Philip was made president of the council,—a position he had long coveted,—and leader of the Pyth´i-an games held in honor of Apollo.
When the war was ended, Philip quietly went back to Macedon. He was, however, merely waiting for a favorable opportunity to reënter Greece, and punish the Athenians for listening to Demosthenes' speeches against him.
In the mean while, Philip's gold had been very busy, and he was buying up as many friends and allies as he could. Many of his gifts had the desired effect, and were not like the gold cup which he sent to Demosthenes. This, you know, had wholly failed in its purpose, for the orator went on talking more eloquently than ever against the Macedonian king.
He finally roused the Athenians to the point of arming to meet Philip, when they heard that he was really coming at last to make himself master of Greece. Their allies, the Thebans, joined them; and the two armies met at Chær-o-ne´a, in Bœotia, where a terrible battle was fought.
Demosthenes had joined the army; but as he was no soldier, and was not very brave, he fled at the very first onset. Dashing through the bushes, he was suddenly stopped by some spiky branches that caught in his cloak[Pg 226] and held him fast. The orator was so frightened that he thought the enemy had captured him, and, falling upon his knees, he began to beg that his life might be spared.