Oratory in classical Greece. Why was it so important?

To understand the current oratory, one must understand the oratory in classical Greece. The legend says that Hermes was a great speaker. This is defined by Procolo, the Neoplatonic philosopher. The figure of Hermes was so admired that the myth takes him to the most tender childhood, being able to make a triumphant speech from […]

To understand the current oratory, one must understand the oratory in classical Greece. The legend says that Hermes was a great speaker. This is defined by Procolo, the Neoplatonic philosopher. The figure of Hermes was so admired that the myth takes him to the most tender childhood, being able to make a triumphant speech from the cradle. Hermes is a clear example of the importance that the Greeks gave to oratory and persuasion.

In fact, in the same way that to learn to dance, it is important to have a classical training, in order to understand the current oratory, you have to achieve that classical basis. And for that you have to go back to Greece.

Here at Nestoras College students learn about Greek traditions at no extra cost for their parents. Today we will learn more about one of the most important aspects of Greek culture: oratory.

Greek oratory

To understand this concept, we must first talk about rhetoric. The clear definition of rhetoric would be the set of rules that the speaker had to master to get strength, vigour and beauty in his presentation. The aim was to get the audience or the audience to please and persuade him.

It was vital that a Greek with a certain power had oratorical abilities because in the Greek democracy citizens had to speak well before the Assembly and Courts. Moreover, in the trials there were no lawyers or prosecutors, each one had to defend himself using his word.

One of the main schools was that of the Sophists, whose main mission was to speak appropriately and convincingly according to the rules of the art of oratory. Curiously, one of the main detractors of the sophists was Aristotle, who proclaimed the ethical use of rhetoric: it was not permissible to use the art of oratory to defend a lie.

The logos

When there are schools, gods, philosophers … it is clear that the next point is to take economic advantage of all this. At this point it’s time to talk about the logographers. The most basic definition would be: professional speech writers.

For the logographers, Aristotle was a figure to follow. From him they extracted three procedures that sought to persuade an audience.

  • The moral character. It must determine the credibility of the speaker before the public. Today we would speak of frankness of expression: not saying one thing and doing the opposite.
  • The emotion, He had to generate a favourable effect in his audience. He must motivate his audience to action and do it in a positive way.
  • Eloquence: The ability that the speaker has for argumentation.
  • For this, the discourse should always have the same structure:


  • The beginning was vital and should get the sympathy of the listeners (or the court). Establishing common ground or using questions was vital to achieve an effective introduction.
  • Then we had to expose the facts.
  • Data, testimonies or arguments that should be used to defend the thesis that was exposed.
  • It was more than a simple summary … although, the basis was the same: recapitulate all the information that had been presented. The purpose of this recapitulation was to attract the audience or court again.

However, for the logographers, the important thing was to know which was the audience they were going to speak to (since they could get more remuneration). Basically, there were three types of speeches depending on the theme or occasion:

  • The one that was done in court.
  • The one that pronounced before an assembly or political organ.
  • It was only used on solemn occasions and had two purposes: praise or vituperation.

There are three great logographers in oratory in classical Greece: Lysias, Demosthenes and Isocrates. Today we will also talk about Demosthenes way to become one of the best speakers in history.

The legend of Demosthenes

Demosthenes was educated as befitted his position. He had great health problems, but he was a curious and motivated student, who always wanted to learn more. That’s why he became a voracious reader. He became one of the most educated youth of his time. Beyond this, a story was created around his figure, which I still do not know what is real and what is legend.

This young Athenian wanted to become the best speaker in Greece. He was interested in politics and he wanted his ideas to have as much influence as he guessed right. He studied the speeches of the great speakers with great care. It is said that when he was very young he tried to give his first “conference” and this was a fiasco.

They say that during his first speech he was booed by the public. This was because Demosthenes had a serious problem: he was stuttering. The words trampled on his lips and could not be understood. It is said that someone in the audience shouted: “Put the air in your lungs and not in your brain!” This caused a serious impact on Demosthenes. However, he was determined to reach his goal, above that obstacle that seemed so great.

A process of evolution

Demosthenes assumed the ridicule and criticism as a challenge to his character. He had grown up alone and this had strengthened his temper. That’s why he decided to fight against his own limitations, to achieve what he wanted: to be the best speaker. Nobody believed that he could achieve it: a stutterer wanted to be a speaker?


Tells the story, or the legend, that Demosthenes imposed a severe regime to overcome his difficulties. The first thing he did was shave his head. At that time it was very bad seen that someone was allowed to see if he did not have hair. His purpose was to force himself not to leave to dedicate himself completely to working on his goal. He practiced oratory until dawn.

When the first lights of the Sun came out, Demosthenes went to the beach. There he shouted at the king star with all his strength. His goal was to strengthen the lungs. He had accepted the advice of that anonymous character who had mocked him. After performing this ritual, he returned home to practice. He did it in a very particular way. He put a handful of stones between his mouth and put a knife between his teeth. Thus, he forced himself to speak without stuttering.

After several years with this training discipline, Demosthenes managed to speak normally. Since then, he actively participated in the legal and political life of his city. It is said that his speeches were acclaimed by thousands of people. He was not only the best speaker, but also an excellent writer. So much so that today, more than 2,000 years later, he is still among the most outstanding figures in history.

Here at Nestoras College we love spreading Greek culture.