Demosthenes became preeminent in the struggle for the prizes of public life among all his countrymen whose arena was the public platform. Yet the first time he faced the Assembly, he was hooted and ridiculed on account of his unusual style of oratory. His speech seemed to be a mere jumble of periods, distorted by arguments excessive both in number and bitterness. He was also, as it seems, afflicted by a certain weakness of voice, by a stammering enunciation, and by a shortness of breath, which confounded the meaning of his words by breaking up the cohesion of the periods. At last he gave up in despair, abandoned the Assembly, and took to roaming about the Piraeus. Here Eunomus, the Thriasian, a very old man by this time, saw him and fell to upbraiding him. Though he possessed, Eunomus told him, a power of speech which resembled very closely that of Pericles, he threw his gifts away through mere cowardice and want of spirit, not attempting either to stand up manfully to the crowds or to practice his physical powers to endure the strain of the struggle, but allowing his talent to be wasted by effeminate weakness.
Upon another occasion, they say, when he had been driven from the Assembly and was departing homeward with head veiled and in deep dudgeon, Satyrus, the actor, his familiar friend, followed him and accompanied him into his house. Demosthenes bewailed to him the fact that though of all the orators he, Demosthenes, was the most unsparing in the labor of preparation, that though he had almost exhausted his physical powers to this end, yet he found no favor with the people—but drink-sodden and ignorant sailors obtained a hearing and held the platform, while he was flouted. “You speak truly, Demosthenes,” said Satyrus, “but I shall soon remedy the mischief, if you will please recite to me some passage from Euripides or Sophocles.” Demosthenes did so. Satyrus then took the same passage, and rendered and delivered it with such a proper regard for character and circumstances that the piece seemed to Demosthenes to be altogether different. Henceforth the young orator, convinced how much elegance and grace is added to a speech by proper declamation, regarded the labor of preparation as trivial and of no account, if one neglected the pronunciation and due expression of the words. He built, accordingly, for the purpose of practicing, a subterranean chamber, which has been preserved even to our day. Thither he descended every single day to form his style of declamation and to exercise assiduously his vocal powers, and frequently he would pass there two or three months consecutively with one half of his head shaved so that he should be prevented by shame from yielding to any desire to go abroad.
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