Speech-Language Pathology/Stuttering/Famous People Who Stutter/In the Ancient World

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Stuttering is one of the few disorders that generally gets better over time. Most children who stutter outgrow it. Even adults who stutter severely in their teens and 20s often overcome stuttering—via speech therapy or on their own—in their 30s or 40s. At the life stage when other people experience the dreams of their youth crashing down, stutterers realize they can accomplish anything they want, regardless of their speech. Stutterers are less likely to be famous in their youth, and more likely to be famous five hundred years later.

Moses, Israelite Leader[edit | edit source]

Or five thousand years later. Moses stuttered:

But Moses said to the Lord, "Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either heretofore or since thou hast spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of tongue."

Then the Lord said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Or who gives sight to one and makes another blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now, therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak."

But he said, "Oh, my Lord, send, I pray, some other person."

Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, "Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well; and behold, he is coming out to meet you, when he sees you he will be glad in his heart. And you shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. He shall speak for you to the people; and he shall be a mouth for you, and he shall be to him as God." (Exodus 4:10-17)

Aesop, Master Storyteller[edit | edit source]

Aesop (620 to 560 BC) was born a slave and "most deformed" and "he coulde not speke." One day he fell asleep under a shady tree. The Goddess of Hospitality appeared to him in a dream and gave him the gift of speech. His life changed and he became a master storyteller.[1]

Demosthenes, Orator[edit | edit source]

Demosthenes (384 BC–322 BC) was the greatest orator of ancient Greece. He overcame stuttering by speaking with pebbles in his mouth to improve articulation, shouting above the ocean waves to improve his volume, and working with an actor in reciting Sophocles and Euripedes to coordinate his voice and gestures.[2]

Virgil, Poet[edit | edit source]

Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BC-19 BC), known in English as Virgil, was a Roman poet. His works included the Eclogues, the Georgics and The Aeneid, the latter becoming the Roman Empire's national epic poem.

Claudius, Emperor[edit | edit source]

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (10 BC-AD 54), was the Roman Emperor from AD 41 to AD 54.

Claudius stuttered severely and was said to have weak hands and knees, although he was a tall, well-built man with no physical disability. His symptoms diminished after he became emperor. Claudius said that he'd exaggerated his weaknesses to avoid being murdered. By appearing to be weak and disabled, Claudius survived the deaths of all other rivals to the throne. He then served as one of the most effective and able emperors of Rome, for thirteen years.

Claudius' life was portrayed in Robert Graves' novel I, Claudius (1934).

Dekanawida, The Great Peacemaker[edit | edit source]

Dekanawida invented representative government. He united the Iroquois nation in what is now New York state. This was in the sixteenth century, before the Iroquois encountered Europeans.

Dekanawida's ideas influenced English philosophers, as well as Benjamin Franklin. The Iroquois model of representative government inspired the Americans and French to create representative democracies.

The League of the Five Nations of the Iroquois was established, according to eighteenth-century sources, in the late sixteenth century. Iroquois tradition tells of constant warfare…One bereaved by this warfare was a Mohawk man, Hiawatha ("He Who Makes Rivers").

Crazed by grief for his murdered family, Hiawatha fled into the forests, living like a cannibal monster in the Iroquois myths. One day, Hiawatha met Dekanawida. The charismatic goodness of this man, said to have been a Huron miraculously born of a virgin, reawakened in Hiawatha his humanity.

Dekanawida confided to Hiawatha plans to free their peoples from the horrors of war by allying all the Iroquois in a grand league, a longhouse…in which [the leader of] each Iroquois nation would sit as a brother with brothers.

The visionary felt himself unequal to the task of forming the league because he suffered a speech impediment. Hiawatha, however, was an imposing man with a fluent tongue. Together, in the time-honored fashion of a wise leader who relies on his executive assistant to make his speeches (as among the Cherokee and Creek), Dekanawida and Hiawatha might be effective in restoring sanity and peace to their nations.

Hiawatha was inspired. Tirelessly, the two men traveled up and down the land…Hiawatha fervently preaching the alliance outlined by Dekanawida.

Most Iroquois were at first hesitant to trust a plan that contained their enemies. Thadodaho, an Onondaga leader, relentlessly opposed Hiawatha. In a dramatic showdown, Hiawatha's superior spiritual power overcame the evil Thadodaho. Hiawatha combed out of Thadodaho's hair the snakes that had marked him as a fearful sorcerer.

Then the five nations—Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca—came together, fifty great chiefs meeting in a grand council at the principal town, in the center of the alliance territory.[3]

Each of these men and women found a way to overcome stuttering, and this became the basis of his or her success. For each, their disability became their strength—and perhaps each looks back and sees stuttering as a gift.

  1. ^ Bobrick, Benson. Knotted Tongues. New York: Simon&Schuster, 1995
  2. ^ Bobrick, Benson. Knotted Tongues. New York: Simon&Schuster, 1995
  3. ^ Kehoe, Alice. North American Indians: A Comprehansive Account, 2nd Edition, p.245. Prentice-Hall, Inc. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1992. See also Hiawatha and the Iroquois Confederation and Proc. of the American Association for the Advancement of Science 30:324-341, both by Horatio E. Hale, 1882; and "Hi-a-wat-ha," by William M. Beauchamp, Journal of American Folklore 4(15):295-306, 1891.