Plutarch’s Lives: The Rise of Demosthenes

Demosthenes on the Seashore, 1859.

Plutarch, a Greek philosopher and historian who lived in the first century BC, wrote biographies in a way clearly distinct from other historians of the time. He focused on the characters of the men he wrote about, not just their accomplishments and conquests. One man he wrote about in particular was named Demosthenes, a Greek statesman and orator in ancient Athens.

Later in life Demosthenes was recognized as a brilliant orator, but as a young man his talents were far from developed. He was weak and rather sick, and had a horrible stutter and a timid air that made rhetoric nearly impossible. Plutarch relates how Demosthenes locked himself in his cellar and practiced speaking for hours, even talking with pebbles in his mouth to try to fix his stutter. He learned from the great orators who came before him, and by the age of twenty, he argued in his first public setting. Demosthenes gave this first speech when he sued his guardians for the mishandling of his property left to him by his father, and won the case against them. The rest of his public career was devoted to preserving the liberty of Athens and fighting against the expansion of Macedon.

We as Christians can learn from Demosthenes’ story in the way it relates to Jesus calling his apostles. The disciples were not great orators or statesmen, they were fishermen. Jesus used them in a way they would have never guessed, and they became incredible preachers of the Word. In the same way Demosthenes was not a naturally gifted speaker, but God used him for his plans in Athens anyways. As James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God often chooses the unlikely person for his plans, but trusting in him will result in the furthering of the kingdom and in one’s own personal growth.