I was very excited to see the release of this book. Demosthenes is a character of Greek history of vital importance, yet English books on his life specifically and his career, as Greece struggled against the might of Macedonia are very hard to find. This, apparently is the first biography written in English for nearly a century, so it's a very important and timely book. The author has previously written books on Alexander the Great, and Philip II of Macedonia, both of whom were pivotal in Demosthenes' life.
Demosthenes lived from 384 to 322 BC, a period in Greek history which saw the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War, the Social War, the Spartan hegemony and the Theban hegemony, and the rise of Macedonian power under Philip II. It was Philip's seemingly endless ambition for land and power that offered Demosthenes the opportunity to make his mark in Athenian politics. Athenian politics during the Athenian democracy seems incredibly complicated and incredibly personal to us at this remove. Personal ambitions and feelings saw people being indicted, exiled, or even executed, and personal and broader political agendas often became mixed in the message delivered to the Athenian people. It was in this environment that Demosthenes sought to make a name for himself, first as a writer of speeches and offering assistance in legal processes, then in making speeches, and being part of Boards, diplomatic missions etc. It was a heady world, and one in which one slip could mean the end not only of a career, but of citizenship, or even life.
This book offers a fascinating view of Demosthene's political life. Unfortunately we know very little of his personal life, but the speeches and writings that have survived of both Demosthenes, his allies and his enemies offer us some ability to reconstruct his career. His ongoing battle with Aeschines is certainly an eye-opener. The author has written for us here a book which offers an overview of Athenian history, with Demosthene's input at the appropriate moment in the chronology. As Demosthenes' life was so intertwined with Athenian political life this is a really ideal way to approach a book about Demosthenes, and the chance to see an analysis of his speeches as they would have been seen at the time they were delivered, as part of a current event rather than a historical moment as we now see them, offers a unique viewpoint on Demosthenes. Demosthenes, as Athens, was a mix of politics, ambition, rhetoric and power struggles. He outlived Philip and Philip's heir, Alexander the Great but couldn't escape his anti-Macedonian past, and was proscribed by Antipater and hunted down. Demosthenes was a man of his times, and this book offers us the ability to see that. A great read, about a most interesting man and his times. Totally recommended.