Demosthenes, the father of Demosthenes, belonged to the better class of citizens, as Theopompus tells us, and was surnamed Cutler, because he had a large factory and slaves who were skilled workmen in this business. But as for what Aeschines the orator says of the mother of Demosthenes,1
namely, that she was a daughter of one Gylon, who was banished from the city on a charge of treason, and of a barbarian woman, I cannot say whether he speaks truly, or is uttering slander and lies.
However, at the age of seven, Demosthenes was left by his father in affluence, since the total value of his estate fell little short of fifteen talents;2
but he was wronged by his guardians, who appropriated some of his property to their own uses and neglected the rest, so that even his teachers were deprived of their pay.
It was for this reason, as it seems, that he did not pursue the studies which were suitable and proper for a well-born boy, and also because of his bodily weakness and fragility, since his mother would not permit him to work hard in the palaestra, and his tutors would not force him to do so. For from the first he was lean and sickly, and his opprobrious surname of Batalus is said to have been given him by the boys in mockery of his physique.
Now Batalus, as some say, was an effeminate flute-player, and Antiphanes wrote a farce in which he held him up to ridicule for this. But some speak of Batalus as a poet who wrote voluptuous verses and drinking songs. And it appears that one of the parts of the body which it is not decent to name was at that time called Batalus by the Athenians.
But the name of Argas (for they tell us that Demosthenes had this nickname also) was given him either with reference to his manners, which were harsh and savage, the snake being called
‘argas’ by some of the poets; or with reference to his way of speaking, which was distressing to his hearers, Argas being the name of a composer of vile and disagreeable songs. So much on this head.