DEMOSTHENES is born in Athens. Anyone who has struggled with public speaking knows the parable about putting pebbles in your mouth. It was Demosthenes who invented the practice. When he wasn’t practicing with pebbles he was dating the young men of the city. His father, a rich manufacturer of swords and other arms, died when Demosthenes was seven. The guardians of his father’s estate handled it dishonestly, and at eighteen Demosthenes demanded his rightful inheritance. After studying with Isaeus, an orator and specialist in law, Demosthenes brought charges against his guardians and finally won his case, but actually received little of what was due him. To earn a living, Demosthenes became a professional writer of speeches.
According to tradition, his failure as an orator when speaking before the assembly for the first time only stimulated him to intense study and practice, which included speaking with pebbles in his mouth and other extremely difficult exercises. Demosthenes’ great talent and extraordinary self-discipline eventually made him the greatest and most famous Athenian orator.
Although it is only legend, the story about the pebbles has always been a bit troubling. How on earth could speaking with a full mouth – full of pebbles no less – help one to speak more clearly? It doesn’t make much sense. Considering Demosthenes’ love affairs with the youths Cnosion and Epicrates, perhaps two myths got crossed in transmission: the pebbles actually having been, um, something else.