What do you do if your legal guardian screwed you out of your fortune? If you’re Gary Coleman, you get a series of jobs where people harass you to repeat the catchphrase from your childhood television days. If you’re Demosthenes, you learn the law.
The famed ancient Greek (384-322 BC) is remembered because of his speeches, which publishers have kept in print for centuries. He was a lawyer and a politician, the most prominent of his day (although his rival Aeschines approached his level of influence) and among the most notable in Greek history. Demosthenes’ wit was caustic; he was adept both at subtle rejoinders and juvenile name-calling, depending on which the audience would seem more receptive toward. He wrote arguments both for defense and prosecution legal cases as well as dozens of influential political speeches.
He didn’t start out as a great speaker, though. He started out as a fairly weak teen, whose wealthy craftsman father had died when Demosthenes was seven. And according to Plutarch, one of history’s most influential historians, he had other issues… specifically, a speech impediment.
With no hope of being an expert in combat and difficulty speaking, the guardians who wasted his money faced little chance of retribution. But Demosthenes was dedicated. He found an underground cave and sequestered himself in it for months, studying the law and putting pebbles in his mouth to train himself to speak more clearly. Only after he’d practiced enough to be immediately understood did he rejoin society.
The incident did more than train him to speak, however. It also demonstrated his self-awareness. Knowing that he’d be tempted to end his studies early and rejoin his friends, he put an unshakable limit on himself…
…by shaving his head. Not the whole head, just half.
His time limit was thus provided from the beginning of his ordeal. He forced himself to spend months training, because it took that long for his hair to grow back to where he could have it cut evenly and avoid public humiliation.
Question of the night: Have you ever been in a cave or tunnel?