August 20, 2012

Demosthenes unveiled

Demosthenes was (384-320 BC)  one of the most famous orators of ancient times, and many of his speeches are preserved and studied by students of rhetoric.

Here is the story of his stuggle with his stuttering and eventual success...
Birth to age 19

Demosthenes was born in Athens, Greece in 384 B.C. to a wealthy family. At the age of seven, his father died and he was put under the care of guardians.

He had a delicate physique that prevented him from receiving the customary Greek gymnastic education.

Ages 20 to 29
When he turned 20, Demosthenes realized that his large inheritance had been squandered by his guardians. He was now without a means a support.

Angry at being cheated and put in a difficult position, Demosthenes sought to sue his guardians in the courts. In 4th-century democratic Athens, every citizen who wished to prosecute a lawsuit or to defend himself against accusation had to do the speaking himself in court.

Motivated to overcome stuttering.
His strong desire to sue the scoundrels led him to study legal rhetoric and train himself as an orator.

Had speech defect
The problem was that Demosthenes had a speech defect. He was inarticulate and had a stammering pronunciation. He sought to overcame his handicap by practicing speaking with pebbles in his mouth. Doing this forced him clearly enunciate his words, instead of rushing and stammering. He learned to control his speaking.

Demosthenes also practiced reciting speeches when running and climbing uphill. Again, he was able to control his speaking, as well as his breathing. Another thing he did was to practice speaking before a large mirror. In those days before microphones, the speaker had to have a strong voice and use dramatic gestures for effect.

 Self-Training of Demosthenes:

He built himself a place to study in under ground (which was still remaining in our time), and hither he would come constantly every day to form his action and to exercise his voice; and here he would continue, oftentimes without intermission, two or three months together, shaving one half of his head, that so for shame he might not go out, though he desired it ever so much.

The story of Demosthenes evolution as an orator is especially notable because he was not a naturally talented or confident speaker as a youth, but rather, a relatively poor one. He gained his reputation mainly through hard work, and improved his speaking abilities by various methods such as shouting to be heard above the crashing of the ocean waves, and spending many hours in his studio preparing his speeches. He eventually became a prosperous lawyer and when Philip of Macedonia began involving himself in the affairs of Greece, he became increasingly involved in politics.

Note: The above information is compiled from various online aticles on Demosthenes.

1 comment:

sachin said...

So very true- and relevant to most of us! I find very meaningful that he did not deny that he had a problem, he did not run away from it.. But he squarely FACED the problem and dealt with it, without getting lost into unending discussions about its origin and cure..
Yes, he just went ahead and solved HIS problem..
Hope, we will learn from him..