Ancient History & Civilisation


The Voice of the Navy [354-339 B.C.]

When mariners are swept along by rushing winds, in the matter of steering, two points of view, or a whole body of experts, are no match for one man of average ability exercising his independent judgment.


WHILE PLATO WAS DOING HIS BEST TO TURN ATHENS AWAY FROM the sea, one obscure citizen embarked on a campaign to resurrect the city’s pride and naval dominance. Demosthenes of Paiania had only one gift that qualified him as a champion of the Athenian navy: a genius for writing and delivering speeches. But his patriotic fervor was strong, and during his lifetime Athens had to contend with one of the most dangerous enemies it would ever know. The threat came from northern Greece, where King Philip of Macedon was rapidly building an empire on land. Inevitably Philip’s conquests began to impinge on Athens’ maritime realm. In speech after speech Demosthenes warned his fellow citizens of their peril. His zeal for naval reform and his opposition to Philip inspired orations of such power that they were hailed as classics even in Demosthenes’ own lifetime—even by his antagonists.

A tortuous path had led Demosthenes to the speaker’s platform. His boyhood had been lonely. A weakling with a chronic stutter, he made no friends at wrestling practice or hunting parties. His father died when Demosthenes was only seven, and from then on Demosthenes lived at home with his mother and sister. To an outside observer the boy must have appeared starved for companionship. But he had one constant friend, a familiar spirit from the past: Thucydides. The historian had been dead for some three decades, but his stirring voice lived on. Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War fired Demosthenes’ imagination with tales of perilous adventures and epic battles. Unrolling his copy, he was transported back to an age when Athens blazed with glory, its navy seemingly indomitable and its leaders larger than life. Demosthenes read the whole book eight times and knew parts of it by heart.

Demosthenes’ father had left him an inheritance worth fourteen talents, some of it tied up in a factory that manufactured swords. He therefore expected to be financially independent when he turned eighteen, an event that took place five years after Athens made its final peace with Sparta. But it proved a painful coming of age. The three guardians appointed in his father’s will had stolen or squandered most of his inheritance. Of the fourteen talents in money and property left to Demosthenes, only a little over one talent remained. To rub salt in the wound, the embezzlers had concealed their depletion of the estate by enrolling young Demosthenes in the highest bracket for taxes and liturgies. At the age of seventeen he was already listed among the trierarchs and had made partial payment for the outfitting of a trireme. Two of the guardians were his own cousins, but Demosthenes filed a lawsuit against them, family or no.

Two years passed before the case came to trial, and during that time Demosthenes prepared tirelessly for his day in court. Athenian juries expected citizens to speak for themselves, even if professional speechwriters had been hired to compose the speeches. Demosthenes, intensely self-critical, knew that he made a poor impression. He could do nothing about his wretched physique or habitual scowl, but he learned by listening to actors and orators that he could at least train and strengthen his voice. He began to make solitary excursions to a deserted beach and strained to make himself heard through the whistling wind and crashing waves. To overcome his speech impediment, Demosthenes would put a pebble in his mouth and work his tongue around the stone while still trying to pronounce words clearly. Away from the beach, he declaimed speeches while walking or running up steep hillsides. Skinny legs working, narrow chest heaving, his delivery eventually became smooth even as he almost gasped for breath. Demosthenes had inherited a true Athenian’s competitive nature, but he turned it not toward wrestling or running but toward public speaking.

Demosthenes decided to write his own speeches for the trial. The best speechwriters commanded fees higher than he could afford to pay. In any case, over the years he had mastered the principles of rhetoric from a superlative teacher. His absorption with Thucydides had immersed him in a great school of oratory: Pericles delivering a funeral oration; Phormio rallying his mutinous men; Alcibiades urging the Athenians onward to Sicily; Nicias exhorting the doomed men at Syracuse before the last battle. Demosthenes found in Thucydides a style that was concentrated, analytical, lively, and passionate—a balance of clear ideas and vividly reported facts.

It must have been a shock to the guardians—rich men with established reputations and influence—when the jury voted in favor of their untried and unknown accuser, just twenty years old. It was Demosthenes’ first victory, but like many of his later ones, it proved hollow. His guardians dodged the court’s ruling with a barrage of ploys both legal and illegal. Demosthenes was left with nothing.

And yet, not quite nothing. He had acquired in his legal battle a skill that could provide a steady income. As a speechwriter for hire, he began to make his way in the world. Athens being Athens, this new endeavor inevitably brought him into intimate and constant contact with the maritime world. Trierarchs were continually embroiled in legal battles over the performance of their duties and the equipping of their triremes. Seafaring merchants and shipowners had special courts in the Piraeus to resolve disputes concerning freighters, investments, and loans on ships and cargoes. Demosthenes familiarized himself with a daunting mass of laws, decrees, and historical precedents, as well as such arcana as the cost of a set of oars and the change in interest rates after the rising of the star Arcturus. He worked far into the night, a young man whose little household consumed more lamp oil than wine.

As Demosthenes’ income grew, so did his ambitions. He dreamed of using his gifts of argument and persuasion on behalf of his city. In those days Timotheus was capturing outposts in the Aegean and along the Hellespont: adventurism and imperialism were on the upsurge in Athens. Once Demosthenes reached the age of thirty, he could address these momentous issues in speeches before the Assembly. But why would anyone listen to him? The famous leaders of the past had first proved themselves as men of action before they achieved leadership in the Assembly.

At the age of twenty-four, already a rich and self-made man, Demosthenes put his name forward for a trierarchy. This would be no paper appointment, however, such as the joint trierarchy forced on him when he was seventeen. Now he intended to equip the trireme himself and command it at sea. An old friend of Demosthenes’ father had been elected as general, a man named Cephisodotus. He received orders from the Assembly to lead a squadron of ten triremes on a mission that promised to be both difficult and dangerous, and Demosthenes volunteered to serve under him.

Trierarchs were thrown into daily contact with every element of Athenian society: generals, treasurers, and bankers; the Assembly, the Council, the boards of finance and inspection; merchants, porters, scribes; and then the crew, from the highly skilled steersman who directed the trireme’s course to the lowly piper who kept the rowers in time. The city provided the trierarch with an empty hull and with oars and gear in a condition that depended on the honesty of the previous trierarch. The trierarch also received a modicum of money to hire a crew. The rest was up to him.

Demosthenes threw himself into the task with naïve fervor. While other trierarchs farmed out the burdensome duty to contractors, Demosthenes went himself to the shadowy shed where “his” trireme rested and undertook to bring the ship into first-rate condition. By offering bonuses, he attracted the best rowers in the Piraeus to his crew. His zeal was contagious, and before any of the other nine ships were on the water, Demosthenes’ trireme had been fitted with its girding cables, dragged down the slipway, and launched on the harbor. His crew rowed around to the jetty in the Cantharus harbor, where the inspectors waited to assess the presence and working condition of all sails, rigging, oars, and anchors.

All was in order. Demosthenes eagerly applied for the golden crown or wreath that was awarded to the first ship to reach the jetty. Then came the exhilarating experience of taking the fully manned trireme into open water for its sea trials. As was the custom at the Piraeus, a crowd of interested citizens lined the shore to criticize the performance. The steersman and crew executed the maneuvers, and the young trierarch—the least experienced man on board—stood proudly on the afterdeck. So impressive was the crew’s performance that Cephisodotus chose Demosthenes’ trireme for his flagship. At the launching Demosthenes had the honor of standing beside the general in the sacrifices and libations.

Their destination was the historic seaway that ran through the Hellespont, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus to the Black Sea. Thanks to the recent campaigns of Timotheus, Athens had secured the mouth of the Hellespont and was now attempting to regain control of the rest of the route by concluding treaties with a Thracian king. Demosthenes estimated that the harbor duties collected along the waterway amounted to two hundred talents per year. But he also had a family interest in the route to the Black Sea: his grandfather on his mother’s side had commanded an Athenian garrison in the Crimea during the waning days of the Peloponnesian War.

Demosthenes had undertaken the trierarchy in search of experience. He was not disappointed. During his time at sea he saw the mighty Hellespont with its river of shipping, legendary coasts and islands, great walled towns, amphibious assaults, ambushes at dawn (in fact, in the middle of breakfast), mercenary armies, and piratical bands. The expedition also laid bare to the young idealist the true state of Athens’ naval forces: ill prepared, overconfident, and easily outmaneuvered in both combat and diplomacy.

After many adventures Cephisodotus set out for Athens with a covenant signed by the Thracian king. This document proved so unsatisfactory to the Assembly that the people fined the general five talents. Demosthenes himself was taken to court by some of his envious fellow trierarchs, who challenged his right to the golden crown. Thus the expedition ended in legal charges and countercharges, the leaders suffering more harm from their fellow citizens at home than they had from their enemies overseas.

Demosthenes was realistic enough to absorb this dose of bitter medicine, but he did not abandon the hope that the Athenians could mend their ways. He believed that he knew how to make his city great again, and, like Themistocles before him, he meant to make himself great in the process. Six years had to pass before he would be old enough to present his ideas to the Assembly. He continued to write speeches and to volunteer for trierarchic service, most notably under Timotheus for an expedition to Euboea. Shortly after this exhilarating campaign Demosthenes put his name forward to address an Assembly meeting on a day when naval matters were up for debate.

In the six years since his first overseas campaign, Demosthenes had seen conditions deteriorate. Athens had been defeated at sea by rebellious allies. Triremes sat in the shipsheds at the Piraeus, unfit for service. A treasurer of the shipbuilding fund had absconded with public money that should have paid for new triremes. And when King Philip of Macedon attacked coastal cities in the northern Aegean, the Athenian fleet always arrived too late to intervene.

In one of Aesop’s fables, passengers from a sinking ship suddenly find themselves in the sea. An Athenian among the survivors calls on the gods for help. A man swimming for shore hears the prayer. He turns to the Athenian and says, “Pray by all means! But also move your arms!” Demosthenes intended to be just such a wise counselor to Athenians who seemed to have forgotten that the gods help those who help themselves.

The morning came when Demosthenes walked up to the Pnyx to make his maiden speech to the Assembly. In due course the herald called upon Demosthenes of Paiania, from the tribe of Pandion, to come forward. As Demosthenes mounted the bema, his head was full of a speech into which he had poured his all. It called for nothing less than a complete reorganization of the Athenian navy. Plans for reform and new beginnings were afloat everywhere that year. Isocrates had just written “On the Peace,” Xenophon had cast his advice into the essay “Revenues,” and Plato was busy at the Academy envisioning lost continents and ideal commonwealths. None of those older Athenians, however, had been bold enough to face the Assembly, the body that Plato had once called “the great beast.” Standing for the first time in the place where Themistocles and Cimon and Pericles had made history, Demosthenes launched into the opening of his speech: “Those who praise your forefathers, O men of Athens, seem to me . . .”

As he would do throughout his career, Demosthenes plunged quickly into his main theme: how could Athens best prepare for war? In his view the most obvious threat was Persia. Yet he was urging the city not to embark on a new war but rather to prevent future wars by strengthening the navy: “The first requirements for every war must be, in my view, ships and money and strong positions, and I find that the Great King is more fully supplied with these than we are.” In order to surpass the Persians, Demosthenes advocated an elaborate plan for overhauling and restructuring Periander’s symmoriai, the groups of propertied citizens who contributed naval funds. (The speech later became known as “On the Symmories” or “On the Navy-Boards.”) He proposed raising the number of citizens who directly financed the naval effort from Periander’s twelve hundred to two thousand, all of them potential trierarchs. It would be a people’s navy with a vengeance.

An enlarged fleet of three hundred triremes would be divided into twenty squadrons of fifteen triremes, each assigned to one of Demosthenes’ new navy boards. He went on to talk about equipment and crews and proposed that specific areas of the Navy Yard be assigned to the tribal divisions so that each citizen would know exactly where to muster in case of an emergency. To round out his speech, Demosthenes again invoked the Persians: “The Great King knows that with two hundred triremes our ancestors destroyed a thousand of his ships. Now he will hear that we have three hundred ships of our own ready to launch. Even if he were mad, he would not lightly provoke the hostility of Athens.” Finally he appealed to the Athenians to prove themselves worthy of their fathers not through speeches but through actions.

There was no outburst of approval, no spontaneous vote to adopt the plan over which he had labored. As Demosthenes returned to his place, the machinery of the Assembly rolled on, and the attention of the people passed to other matters. The speech had perhaps been too Thucydidean in its analysis of data and statistics, too Periclean in its dispassionate recommendation that Athens keep quiet but take care of its fleet. And surely he could have found a more compelling incentive than the remote menace of King Artaxerxes III. For the moment, as he must have been gloomily aware, he had failed.

Three years later Demosthenes was back on the bema. This time he ignored due order and usurped first place among the speakers. His urgency was brought on by new threats to the Athenian ships and even the coast of Attica, all emanating from a single source: Philip. The Macedonian king was responsible for kidnapping Athenian citizens on the islands of Lemnos and Imbros, launching piratical raids on Athenian shipping, and attacking Piraeus-bound freighters off the southern cape of Euboea. One of his roving squadrons had actually landed on the beach at Marathon and brazenly towed off one of Athens’ sacred ships. Demosthenes had found the cause he had been seeking.

Demosthenes’ speech against Philip was the first in a bitter and angry series that came to be known as Philippics. The King of Macedon was only thirty-one, two years younger than the orator himself. Philip’s boyhood had been as difficult and uncertain as Demosthenes’ own. His father, King Amyntas, was so unsure of his power that he adopted the Athenian general Iphicrates as a son, hoping that this strong man would protect young Philip, his older brother, and the rest of the royal family. As a youth Philip had been handed over as a hostage to the Thebans, who had recently beaten the Spartan phalanx at the battle of Leuctra. Like Demosthenes, Philip turned his predicaments to his own advantage. He studied phalanx warfare carefully in Thebes, and when he returned to his mountain homeland, he first usurped the throne and then created a formidable Macedonian phalanx armed with eighteen-foot pikes. Constant drill transformed brawling warriors into professional soldiers who ignored distance and time of year in service to their master, Philip.

No Macedonian was physically tougher than the king himself. Philip put himself at risk in all his battles, suffering a broken shoulder, maimed limbs, and the loss of an eye in the process. Warlike and robust, he would nevertheless use diplomacy, intrigue, and deception whenever they served his purpose. And his purpose was to rule a Macedonian empire that would stretch from the Danube River southward into the heart of Greece. The only important obstacle to his ambitions was the Athenian navy.

Macedon’s rise had been fueled in part by Athens itself, for the navy required constant supplies of timber. Plato had already described the deforestation of Attica and its devastating effects on the Athenian countryside. With the trees cleared from the hillsides, the soil had eroded to the sea. Athens’ loss had been Macedon’s gain. Over many years Athenian silver had been enriching the northern kingdom through purchases of oak, fir, and pine for ships and oars. Philip could now cut off this resource at will. Up to now Athenians had paid little heed to Macedon’s growing power or to the remarkable abilities of Philip. In his first Philippic, Demosthenes set out to open their eyes.

The Macedonian king had grown powerful, he told the Assembly, not because he was strong but because they were negligent and weak. State festivals and religious processions at Athens were always lavishly funded and well rehearsed, while everything to do with war was disorganized and uncertain. To check Philip’s advance, Demosthenes called on the people to man and launch two emergency fleets.

One fleet would be a small amphibious force of troop and horse carriers convoyed by ten fast triremes. It would operate year-round in northern waters: “If we are unwilling to fight Philip there, we may be forced to fight him here.” Citizens would serve in relays during this running war. In summer Demosthenes’ proposed northern fleet would avoid pitched battles with the Macedonian phalanx, waging guerrilla warfare instead. In winter they would station themselves on three islands. From Skiathos they would watch the approaches to Attica, from Lemnos the route to the Hellespont, and from Thasos the mining regions of the north. Demosthenes estimated the annual cost of maintaining this force at ninety talents—scant wages, which the men would be eager to increase by plundering enemy territory and ships. “If this proves not to be the case,” he said, “then I am ready to voyage with the fleet as a volunteer and to suffer the worst myself.”

His second fleet would consist of fifty triremes, permanently equipped and on call at the Piraeus: “We must get it into our heads that if necessary we citizens will go on board and man them ourselves.” The triremes would be augmented with carriers for horses and troops, so that a land army could be rapidly transported to strategic points such as Thermopylae. “My proposal is bold, but it will soon be tested in action, and you will be its judges.” It was a touching article of faith with Demosthenes throughout his life that evils would melt away as soon as one took action against them.

It was not to be. Only a few years had passed since Athens’ renascent imperialism had been punished in the war with Byzantium, Chios, Cos, and Rhodes. Isocrates, a fervent advocate of peace, denounced Demosthenes as a warmonger and alarmist. Many influential citizens felt a natural aversion to overseas campaigns and to policing the entire Aegean with little or no allied support. Others were actually in Philip’s pay and ready to pour oil on any waters that Demosthenes might trouble with his speeches. A handsome actor named Aeschines was the leader of these apologists for Philip. Other Athenians were just as Demosthenes described them: self-absorbed. To them, the remedy that Demosthenes proposed looked worse than the illness he sought to cure.

So Athens took no effective action against the Macedonian king. Demosthenes once compared the Athenians to unskilled boxers, always one move behind Philip. Foolishly they grasped the spot where his last punch had fallen instead of looking to prevent the next. For the next ten years Athens kept up its flailing attempts to parry both Philip’s military advances and his diplomatic maneuvers. The Assembly was so bewildered by Philip that it did not take strong action even when his plot to burn the Navy Yard was exposed. The man sent to start the fire had actually reached the Piraeus when he was apprehended, yet still Demosthenes’ speeches could not unite the city in resistance to the threat.

With nine other Athenian ambassadors Demosthenes traveled north to Philip’s court and at last came face-to-face with his larger-than-life antagonist. Both men were at this time in their late thirties, and both were famous for their eloquence. But in all other respects the sociable, hard-drinking monarch, wreathed in battle scars and unexpected charm, appeared the complete antithesis of the scrawny, nervous Athenian. As the youngest envoy, Demosthenes spoke last. It was the only occasion on record when he fumbled over his speech. On Philip’s home ground, surrounded by Philip’s vibrant aura, he was unmanned.

From the beginning Demosthenes had said that the most serious threats to Athens’ survival would come not from Philip but from the Athenians themselves. At the age of ninety Isocrates wrote an open letter to Philip, urging him to unite the cities of Greece under his leadership. After that the king should muster the forces of the Athenians and the other Greeks for a great war in the east. There he might reasonably hope to conquer the entire Persian Empire and liberate the Greeks of Ionia. It was the same dream of a panhellenic campaign that Isocrates had long ago proposed for the Athenian navy and the Spartan army. Unlike his previous addressees, however, Philip seems actually to have read the letter and taken the advice seriously.

Soon Philip’s army was marching eastward through Thrace. It first brought the remainder of the northern Aegean seaboard under Macedonian control and then threatened Athenian settlements on the Gallipoli peninsula beside the Hellespont. Philip had already made alliances with the cities of Perinthus and Byzantium. It seemed inevitable that he would go on to seize control of the grain route.

As he had done so often over the previous decade, Demosthenes addressed the Assembly. With Philip about to grasp the entire seaway from the Hellespont to the Bosporus, Demosthenes was filled with the spirit and almost the very words of Themistocles: “Do not court disaster by fixing on the naïve strategy of your former war against the Spartans. Instead, order your policies and your armament so that your line of defense may lie as far as possible from Athens. Give Philip no opportunity to move forward from his base, and never let him close in on you.” Athens was still strong; it must attack Philip while its strength was undiminished: “While the ship is still safe and sound—that is when the mariner and steersman and the rest must show their zealous care for it, so that it may not be overturned by sabotage or by accident. Once the sea overwhelms the ship, care comes too late.” In this third Philippic Demosthenes proposed that the Assembly send out ambassadors to seek allies against Philip. But with or without allies, Athens should prepare to fight.



For years Demosthenes had been asking and urging this course of resistance in his Philippics and Olynthiacs and other harangues, with no result. But now his persistence and Philip’s threat to the grain route had finally brought popular opinion in Athens to the tipping point. Even so he must have been astounded when the vote was taken, and the count of raised hands showed that his proposal had passed. The Assembly would dispatch envoys throughout Greece and the Aegean, even to the Persians. Athens was roused at last.

To Demosthenes himself fell the most difficult assignment: Byzantium. The city was already allied to Philip, whose army was close while Athens was distant. The Assembly sent Demosthenes in a trireme to persuade the Byzantines to abandon the Macedonian alliance and join Athens. He had to overcome deep resentment over the tolls on shipping that the Athenians had for years exacted on all commerce passing through the Bosporus. But in the end, Demosthenes registered one of the most important victories of his career when the Byzantines swore allegiance to the Athenians.

Philip regarded this alliance as a hostile act. He demanded that the Byzantines and Perinthians support him in a war against the Athenians. They refused. Loading siege equipment on board his ships, Philip moved through the straits to bring these allies to heel. Even with siege towers more than one hundred feet tall, however, he could not capture Perinthus. The rows of houses were built up a theaterlike slope so that each row formed its own defensive wall. When he saw Byzantine vessels slipping into Perinthus Harbor to aid the resistance, Philip abruptly took his army east and assaulted Byzantium itself. Messengers set out at once to appeal for help from the Athenians.

Summer was ending; the annual fleet of some two hundred grain freighters from the Black Sea was assembling in a bay on the Asiatic side of the Bosporus. Riding at anchor, they awaited their convoy, a fleet of forty Athenian triremes under the general Chares. Such a prize was too tempting for Philip to ignore. When his fleet failed to capture the freighters, Philip sent part of his army to attack them from the landward side. He succeeded, and the sale of the cargoes brought in seven hundred talents.

Meanwhile the news of his sieges spread throughout the Aegean. In Athens Demosthenes was the first to call for war and the launching of a fleet. The ardor of the Assembly was now equal to his own. It voted that the inscribed marble slab that bore the terms of the peace treaty with Macedon be taken down and destroyed. More important, it voted the immediate preparation of a fleet of triremes and appointed the veteran general Phocion, hero of the battle of Naxos, to command it. As Phocion led the Athenian force to the scene of action, he found that they were not alone. Athenian diplomacy and Macedonian aggression had raised fears among the islanders. Ships from Chios, Rhodes, and Cos joined the fleet that now swept up the Hellespont to save Byzantium. The former antagonists from the War with the Allies were reunited.

Their arrival staggered Philip. He had supposed that once he seized the grain fleet, the Athenians would come to terms. All the world knew that they had surrendered to Lysander and the Peloponnesians once the supply was cut off, and some years later Athens had accepted the King’s Peace when Artaxerxes II threatened to hold up the grain. Yet here they were in force, with allies beside them as in the old days.

Philip had no intention of risking a battle with this armada from Athens. Like all master tacticians, he believed in attacking weak points, not strengths. He decided to give up the siege of Byzantium and return home. Unfortunately for him the oncoming Athenian fleet was blocking his route back to Macedon. He could not risk a naval battle with Phocion. Casting about for a way to elude the enemy, Philip repeated Phormio’s ruse of a mock summons. He sent a letter in his own handwriting to one of his generals, a Macedonian named Antipater, naming a rendezvous point to which he was moving his forces. Deliberately Philip arranged for both messenger and letter to fall into Athenian hands. The upright and unsuspecting Phocion never considered the possibility of a trick. While the Athenians and allies dashed off in the wrong direction, Philip launched his ships and escaped.

Though Philip eluded them, the Athenians were elated at the success of their naval expedition and gave full credit to Demosthenes. For ten years he had been telling the Athenians that the best way to check their enemy was through decisive action. The events at Byzantium proved his wisdom. The Athenians had put their navy to sea, and the Macedonian threat had disappeared before it like snow before the summer sun. Byzantium was saved. For the first time in Demosthenes’ life, he found himself popular.

There was no resting on laurels, however. He immediately used his credit with the Assembly to ram through the long-needed reform of the navy boards and other financial arrangements for building and equipping the ships. Demosthenes’ measures relieved Athenians with middling incomes of a monetary burden that they had been unable to sustain and placed a proportionately heavier share on the rich. The Assembly gave him everything, in spite of the open protests and undercover bribes of the wealthy citizens. Political enemies took him to court over his reorganization of thesymmoriai, but he was triumphantly acquitted of wrongdoing by the jury. His reforms were divisive, but the abuses involving trierarchs that had once endangered the very existence of Athenian sea power now became a thing of the past.

The struggle had been hard, and Demosthenes did not hesitate to point out the difficulties faced by a democratic leader compared to a despot like Philip: “First, he had absolute rule over his followers, which is the greatest single advantage in war. Second, his followers were armed for war all the time. Third, he was well equipped with money, and did whatever he decided, not publishing his decisions in decrees, not being constantly brought to court by malicious accusers, not defending himself against charges of illegality, not accountable to anyone, but simply ruler, leader, master of all. When I took my position against him (for it is fair to examine this), of what was I master? Of nothing. For even the opportunity to speak on policy, the only privilege I had—and a shared one, at that—you extended equally to Philip’s hirelings and to me.”

Demosthenes, the man whose advice the Assembly had rejected for so many years, was now first citizen in Athens, more clearly in control of policy than any leader since Pericles. The lonely young man on the beach had climbed to a pitch of fame and influence that seemed to rival Philip’s. With his immortal speeches he had inspired his fellow citizens to believe once more in the destiny of Athens and the vital importance of naval power. For the moment, with Philip in retreat from Byzantium and Athens surrounded by admiring allies, Demosthenes seemed poised to preside over the Athenian ship of state in a new age of peace and prestige. The navy’s experienced steersmen could have warned him: smooth and smiling seas sometimes conceal the deadliest reefs.

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