1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Isocrates
ISOCRATES (436-338 B.C.), Attic orator, was the son of Theodorus, an Athenian citizen of the deme of Erchia—the same in which, about 431 B.C., Xenophon was born—who was sufficiently wealthy to have served the state as choregus. The fact that he possessed slaves skilled in the trade of flute-making perhaps lends point to a passage in which his son is mentioned by the comic poet Strattis. Several popular “sophists” are named as teachers of the young Isocrates. Like other sons of prosperous parents, he may have been trained in such grammatical subtleties as were taught by Protagoras or Prodicus, and initiated by Theramenes into the florid rhetoric of Gorgias, with whom at a later time (about 390 B.C.) he was in personal intercourse. He tells us that his father had been careful to provide for him the best education which Athens could afford. A fact of greater interest is disclosed by Plato’s Phaedrus (278 E). “Isocrates is still young, Phaedrus,” says the Socrates of that dialogue, “but I do not mind telling you what I prophesy of him.... It would not surprise me if, as years go on, he should make all his predecessors seem like children in the kind of oratory to which he is now addressing himself, or if—supposing this should not content him—some divine impulse should lead him to greater things. My dear Phaedrus, a certain philosophy is inborn in him.” This conversation is dramatically supposed to take place about 410 B.C. It is unnecessary to discuss here the date at which the Phaedrus was actually composed. From the passage just cited it is at least clear that there had been a time—while Isocrates could still be called “young”—at which Plato had formed a high estimate of his powers.
Isocrates took no active part in the public life of Athens; he was not fitted, as he tells us, for the contests of the popular assembly or of the law-courts. He lacked strength of voice—a fatal defect in the ecclesia, when an audience of many thousands was to be addressed in the open air; he was also deficient in “boldness.” He was, in short, the physical opposite of the successful Athenian demagogue in the generation after that of Pericles; by temperament as well as taste he was more in sympathy with the sedate decorum of an older school. Two ancient biographers have, however, preserved a story which, if true, would show that this lack of voice and nerve did not involve any want of moral courage. During the rule of the Thirty Tyrants, Critias denounced Theramenes, who sprang for safety to the sacred hearth of the council chamber. Isocrates alone, it is said, dared at that moment to plead for the life of his friend. Whatever may be the worth of the story, it would scarcely have connected itself with the name of a man to whose traditional character it was repugnant. While the Thirty were still in power, Isocrates withdrew from Athens to Chios. He has mentioned that, in the course of the Peloponnesian War—doubtless in the troubles which attended on its close—he lost the whole of that private fortune which had enabled his father to serve the state, and that he then adopted the profession of a teacher. The proscription of the “art of words” by the Thirty would thus have given him a special motive for withdrawing from Athens. He returned thither, apparently, either soon before or soon after the restoration of the democracy in 403 B.C.
For ten years from this date he was occupied—at least occasionally—as a writer of speeches for the Athenian law-courts. Six of these speeches are extant. The earliest (Or. xxi.) may be referred to 403 B.C.; the latest (Or. xix.) to 394-393 B.C. This was a department of his own work which Isocrates afterwards preferred to ignore. Nowhere, indeed, does he say that he had not written forensic speeches. But he frequently uses a tone from which that inference might be drawn. He loves to contrast such petty concerns as engage the forensic writer with those larger and nobler themes which are treated by the politician. This helps to explain how it could be asserted—by his adopted son, Aphareus—that he had written nothing for the law-courts. Whether the assertion was due to false shame or merely to ignorance, Dionysius of Halicarnassus decisively disposes of it. Aristotle had, indeed, he says, exaggerated the number of forensic speeches written by Isocrates; but some of those which bore his name were unquestionably genuine, as was attested by one of the orator’s own pupils, Cephisodorus. The real vocation of Isocrates was discovered from the moment that he devoted himself to the work of teaching and writing. The instruction which Isocrates undertook to impart was based on rhetorical composition, but it was by no means merely rhetorical. That “inborn philosophy,” of which Plato recognized the germ, still shows itself. In many of his works—notably in the Panegyricus—we see a really remarkable power of grasping a complex subject, of articulating it distinctly, of treating it, not merely with effect but luminously, at once in its widest bearings and in its most intricate details. Young men could learn more from Isocrates than the graces of style; nor would his success have been what it was if his skill had been confined to the art of expression.
It was about 392 B.C.—when he was forty-four—that he opened his school at Athens near the Lyceum. In 339 B.C. he describes himself as revising the Panathenaicus with some of his pupils; he was then ninety-seven. The celebrity enjoyed by the school of Isocrates is strikingly attested by ancient writers. Cicero describes it as that school in which the eloquence of all Greece was trained and perfected: its disciples were “brilliant in pageant or in battle,”}} foremost among the accomplished writers or powerful debaters of their time. The phrase of Cicero is neither vague nor exaggerated. Among the literary pupils of Isocrates might be named the historians Ephorus and Theopompus, the Attic archaelogist Androtion, and Isocrates of Apollonia, who succeeded his master in the school. Among the practical orators we have, in the forensic kind, Isaeus; in the political, Leodamas of Acharnae, Lycurgus and Hypereides. Hermippus of Smyrna (mentioned by Athenaeus) wrote a monograph on the “Disciples of Isocrates.” And scanty as are now the sources for such a catalogue, a modern scholar has still been able to recover forty-one names. At the time when the school of Isocrates was in the zenith of its fame it drew disciples, not only from the shores and islands of the Aegean, but from the cities of Sicily and the distant colonies of the Euxine. As became the image of its master’s spirit, it was truly Panhellenic. When Mausolus, prince of Caria, died in 351 B.C., his widow Artemisia instituted a contest of panegyrical eloquence in honour of his memory. Among all the competitors there was not one—if tradition may be trusted—who had not been the pupil of Isocrates.
Meanwhile the teacher who had won this great reputation had also been active as a public writer. The most interesting and most characteristic works of Isocrates are those in which he deals with the public questions of his own day. The influence which he thus exercised throughout Hellas might be compared to that of an earnest political essayist gifted with a popular and attractive style. And Isocrates had a dominant idea which gained strength with his years, until its realization had become, we might say, the main purpose of his life. This idea was the invasion of Asia by the united forces of Greece. The Greek cities were at feud with each other, and were severally torn by intestine faction. Political morality was become a rare and a somewhat despised distinction. Men who were notoriously ready to sell their cities for their private gain were, as Demosthenes says, rather admired than otherwise. The social condition of Greece was becoming very unhappy. The wealth of the country had ceased to grow; the gulf between rich and poor was becoming wider; party strife was constantly adding to the number of homeless paupers; and Greece was full of men who were ready to take service with any captain of mercenaries, or, failing that, with any leader of desperadoes. Isocrates draws a vivid and terrible picture of these evils. The cure for them, he firmly believed, was to unite the Greeks in a cause which would excite a generous enthusiasm. Now was the time, he thought, for that enterprise in which Xenophon’s comrades had virtually succeeded, when the headlong rashness of young Cyrus threw away their reward with his own life. The Persian empire was unsound to the core—witness the retreat of the Ten Thousand: let united Greece attack it and it must go down at the first onset. Then new wealth would flow into Greece; and the hungry pariahs of Greek society would be drafted into fertile homes beyond the Aegean.
A bright vision; but where was the power whose spell was first to unite discordant Greece, and, having united it, to direct its strength against Asia? That was the problem. The first attempt of Isocrates to solve it is set forth in his splendid Panegyricus (380 B.C.). Let Athens and Sparta lay aside their jealousies. Let them assume, jointly, a leadership which might be difficult for either, but which would be assured to both. That eloquent pleading failed. The next hope was to find some one man equal to the task. Jason of Pherae, Dionysius I. of Syracuse, Archidamus III., son of Agesilaus—each in turn rose as a possible leader of Greece before the imagination of the old man who was still young in his enthusiastic hope, and one after another they failed him. But now a greater than any of these was appearing on the Hellenic horizon, and to this new luminary the eyes of Isocrates were turned with eager anticipation. Who could lead united Greece against Asia so fitly as the veritable representative of the Heracleidae, the royal descendant of the Argive line—a king of half-barbarians it is true, but by race, as in spirit, a pure Hellene—Philip of Macedon? We can still read the words in which this fond faith clothed itself; the ardent appeal of Isocrates to Philip is extant; and another letter shows that the belief of Isocrates in Philip lasted at any rate down to the eve of Chaeronea. Whether it survived that event is a doubtful point. The popular account of the orator’s death ascribed it to the mental shock which he received from the news of Philip’s victory. He was at Athens, in the palaestra of Hippocrates, when the tidings came. He repeated three verses in which Euripides names three foreign Conquerors of Greece—Danaus, Pelops, Cadmus—and four days later he died of voluntary starvation. Milton (perhaps thinking of Eli) seems to conceive the death of Isocrates as instantaneous:—
“As that dishonest victory
At Chaeronea, fatal to liberty,
Killed with report that old man eloquent.”
Now the third of the letters which bears the name of Isocrates is addressed to Philip, and appears to congratulate him on his victory at Chaeronea, as being an event which will enable him to assume the leadership of Greece in a war against Persia. Is the letter genuine? There is no evidence, external or internal, against its authenticity, except its supposed inconsistency with the views of Isocrates and with the tradition of his suicide. As to his views, those who have studied them in his own writings will be disposed to question whether he would have regarded Philip’s victory at Chaeronea as an irreparable disaster for Greece. Undoubtedly he would have deplored the conflict between Philip and Athens; but he would have divided the blame between the combatants. And, with his old belief in Philip, he would probably have hoped, even after Chaeronea, that the new position won by Philip would eventually prove compatible with the independence of the Greek cities, while it would certainly promote the project on which, as he was profoundly convinced, the ultimate welfare of Greece depended,—a Panhellenic expedition against Persia. As to the tradition of his suicide, the only rational mode of reconciling it with that letter is to suppose that Isocrates destroyed himself, not because Philip had conquered, but because, after that event, he saw Athens still resolved to resist. We should be rather disposed to ask how much weight is to be given to the tradition. The earliest authority for it—Dionysius of Halicarnassus in the age of Augustus—may have had older sources; granting, however, that these may have remounted even to the end of the 4th century B.C., that would not prove much. Suppose that Isocrates—being then ninety-eight and an invalid—had happened to die from natural causes a few days after the battle of Chaeronea. Nothing could have originated more easily than a story that he killed himself from intense chagrin. Every one knew that Isocrates had believed in Philip; and most people would have thought that Chaeronea was a crushing refutation of that belief. Once started, the legend would have been sure to live, not merely because it was picturesque, but also because it served to accentuate the contrast between the false prophet and the true—between Isocrates and Demosthenes; and Demosthenes was very justly the national idol of the age which followed the loss of Greek independence.
Isocrates is said to have taught his Athenian pupils gratuitously, and to have taken money only from aliens; but, as might have been expected, the fame of his school exposed him to attacks on the ground of his gains, which his enemies studiously exaggerated. After the financial reform of 378 B.C. he was one of those 1200 richest citizens who constituted the twenty unions (συμμορίαι) for the assessment of the war-tax (εἰσφορά). He had discharged several public services (λειτουργίαι); in particular, he had thrice served as trierarch. He married Plathane, the widow of the “sophist” Hippias of Elis, and then adopted her son Aphareus, afterwards eminent as a rhetorician and a tragic poet. In 355 B.C. he had his first and only lawsuit. A certain Megaclides (introduced into the speech under the fictitious name of Lysimachus) challenged him to undertake the trierarchy or exchange properties. This was the lawsuit which suggested the form of the discourse which he calls the Antidosis (“exchange of properties”—353 B.C.)—his defence of his professional life.
He was buried on a rising ground near the Cynosarges—a temenos of Heracles, with a gymnasion, on the east side of Athens, outside the Diomeian gate. His tomb was surmounted by a column some 45 ft. high, crowned with the figure of a siren, the symbol of persuasion and of death. A tablet of stone, near the column, represented a group of which Gorgias was the centre; his pupil Isocrates stood at his side. Aphareus erected a statue to his adopted father near the Olympieum. Timotheus, the illustrious son of Conon, dedicated another in the temple of Eleusis.
It was a wonderful century which the life of one man had thus all but spanned. Isocrates had reached early manhood when the long struggle of the Peloponnesian War—begun in his childhood—ended with the overthrow of Athens. The middle period of his career was passed under the supremacy of Sparta. His more advanced age saw that brief ascendancy which the genius of Epameinondas secured to Thebes. And he lived to urge on Philip of Macedon a greater enterprise than any which the Hellenic world could offer. His early promise had won a glowing tribute from Plato, and the rhetoric of his maturity furnished matter to the analysis of Aristotle; he had composed his imaginary picture of that Hellenic host which should move through Asia in a pageant of sacred triumph, just as Xenophon was publishing his plain narrative of the retreat of the Ten Thousand; and, in the next generation, his literary eloquence was still demonstrating the weakness of Persia when Demosthenes was striving to make men feel the deadly peril of Greece. This long life has an element of pathos not unlike that of Greek tragedy; a power above man was compelling events in a direction which Isocrates could not see; but his own agency was the ally of that power, though in a sense which he knew not; his vision was of Greece triumphant over Asia, while he was the unconscious prophet of an age in which Asia should be transformed by the diffusion of Hellenism.
His character should be viewed in both its main aspects—the political and the literary.
With regard to the first, two questions have to be asked: (1) How far were the political views of Isocrates peculiar to himself, and different from those of the clearest minds contemporary with him? (2) How far were those views falsified by the event?
1. The whole tone of Greek thought in that age had taken a bent towards monarchy in some form. This tendency may be traced alike in the practical common sense of Xenophon and in the lofty idealism of Plato. There could be no better instance of it than a well-known passage in the Politics of Aristotle. He is speaking of the gifts which meet in the Greek race—a race warlike, like the Europeans, but more subtle—keen, like the Asiatics, but braver. Here, he says, is a race which “might rule all men, if it were brought under a single government.” It is unnecessary to suppose a special allusion to Alexander; but it is probable that Aristotle had in his mind a possible union of the Greek cities under a strong constitutional monarchy. His advice to Alexander (as reported by Plutarch) was to treat the Greeks in the spirit of a leader (ἡγεμονικῶς) and the barbarians in the spirit of a master (δεσποτικῶς). Aristotle conceived the central power as political and permanent; Isocrates conceived it as, in the first place, military, having for its immediate aim the conduct of an expedition against Asia. The general views of Isocrates as to the largest good possible for the Greek race were thus in accord with the prevailing tendency of the best Greek thought in that age.
2. The vision of the Greek race “brought under one polity” was not, indeed, fulfilled in the sense of Aristotle or of Isocrates. But the invasion of Asia by Alexander, as captain-general of Greece, became the event which actually opened new and larger destinies to the Greek race. The old political life of the Greek cities was worn out; in the new fields which were now opened, the empire of Greek civilization entered on a career of world-wide conquest, until Greece became to East and West more than all that Athens had been to Greece. Athens, Sparta, Thebes, ceased indeed to be the chief centres of Greek life; but the mission of the Greek mind could scarcely have been accomplished with such expansive and penetrating power if its influence had not radiated over the East from Pergamum, Antioch and Alexandria.
Panhellenic politics had the foremost interest for Isocrates. But in two of his works—the oration On the Peace and the Areopagiticus (both of 355 B.C.)—he deals specially with the politics of Athens. The speech On the Peace relates chiefly to foreign affairs. It is an eloquent appeal to his fellow-citizens to abandon the dream of supremacy, and to treat their allies as equals, not as subjects. The fervid orator personifies that empire, that false mistress which has lured Athens, then Sparta, then Athens once more, to the verge of destruction. “Is she not worthy of detestation?” Leadership passes into empire; empire begets insolence; insolence brings ruin. The Areopagiticus breathes a kindred spirit in regard to home policy. Athenian life had lost its old tone. Apathy to public interests, dissolute frivolity, tawdry display and real poverty—these are the features on which Isocrates dwells. With this picture he contrasts the elder democracy of Solon and Cleisthenes, and, as a first step towards reform, would restore to the Areopagus its general censorship of morals. It is here, and here alone—in his comments on Athenian affairs at home and abroad—that we can distinctly recognize the man to whom the Athens of Pericles was something more than a tradition. We are carried back to the age in which his long life began. We find it difficult to realize that the voice to which we listen is the same which we hear in the letter to Philip.
Turning from the political to the literary aspect of his work, we are at once upon ground where the question of his merits will now provoke comparatively little controversy. Perhaps the most serious prejudice with which his reputation has had to contend in modern times has been due to an accident of verbal usage. He repeatedly describes that art which he professed to teach as his φιλοσοφία. His use of this word—joined to the fact that in a few passages he appears to allude slightingly to Plato or to the Socratics—has exposed him to a groundless imputation. It cannot be too distinctly understood that, when Isocrates speaks of his φιλοσοφία, he means simply his theory or method of “culture”—to use the only modern term which is really equivalent in latitude to the Greek word as then current.
The φιλοσοφία, or practical culture, of Isocrates was not in conflict, because it had nothing in common, with the Socratic or Platonic philosophy. The personal influence of Socrates may, indeed, be traced in his work. He constantly desires to make his teaching bear on the practical life. His maxims of homely moral wisdom frequently recall Xenophon’s Memorabilia. But there the relation ends. Plato alludes to Isocrates in perhaps three places. The glowing prophecy in the Phaedrus has been quoted; in the Gorgias a phrase of Isocrates is wittily parodied; and in the Euthydemus Isocrates is probably meant by the person who dwells “on the borderland between philosophy and statesmanship.” The writings of Isocrates contain a few more or less distinct allusions to Plato’s doctrines or works, to the general effect that they are barren of practical result. But Isocrates nowhere assails Plato’s philosophy as such. When he declares “knowledge” (ἐπιστήμη) to be unattainable, he means an exact “knowledge” of the contingencies which may arise in practical life. “Since it is impossible for human nature to acquire any science (ἐπιστήμην) by which we should know what to do or to say, in the next resort I deem those wise who, as a rule, can hit what is best by their opinions” (δόξας).
Isocrates should be compared with the practical teachers of his day. In his essay Against the Sophists, and in his speech on the Antidosis, which belong respectively to the beginning and the close of his professional career, he has clearly marked the points which distinguish him from “the sophists of the herd” (ἀγελαῖοι σοφισταί). First, then, he claims, and justly, greater breadth of view. The ordinary teacher confined himself to the narrow scope of local interests—training the young citizen to plead in the Athenian law courts, or to speak on Athenian affairs in the ecclesia. Isocrates sought to enlarge the mental horizon of his disciples by accustoming them to deal with subjects which were not merely Athenian, but, in his own phrase, Hellenic. Secondly, though he did not claim to have found a philosophical basis for morals, it has been well said of him that “he reflects the human spirit always on its nobler side,” and that, in an age of corrupt and impudent selfishness, he always strove to raise the minds of his hearers into a higher and purer air. Thirdly, his method of teaching was thorough. Technical exposition came first. The learner was then required to apply the rules in actual composition, which the master revised. The ordinary teachers of rhetoric (as Aristotle says) employed their pupils in committing model pieces to memory, but neglected to train the learner’s own faculty through his own efforts. Lastly, Isocrates stands apart from most writers of that day in his steady effort to produce results of permanent value. While rhetorical skill was largely engaged in the intermittent journalism of political pamphlets, Isocrates set a higher ambition before his school. His own essays on contemporary questions received that finished form which has preserved them to this day. The impulse to solid and lasting work, communicated by the example of the master, was seen in such monuments as the Atthis of Androtion, the Hellenics of Theopompus and the Philippica of Ephorus.
In one of his letters to Atticus, Cicero says that he has used “all the fragrant essences of Isocrates, and all the little stores of his disciples.” The phrase has a point of which the writer himself was perhaps scarcely conscious: the style of Isocrates had come to Cicero through the school of Rhodes; and the Rhodian imitators had more of Asiatic splendour than of Attic elegance. But, with this allowance made, the passage may serve to indicate the real place of Isocrates in the history of literary style. The old Greek critics consider him as representing what they call the “smooth” or “florid” mode of composition (γλαφυρά, ἀνθηρὰ ἀρμονία) as distinguished from the “harsh” (αὐστηρά) style of Antiphon and the perfect “mean” (μέση) of Demosthenes. Tried by a modern standard, the language of Isocrates is certainly not “florid.” The only sense in which he merits the epithet is that (especially in his
earlier work) he delights in elaborate antitheses. Isocrates is an “orator” in the larger sense of the Greek word rhetor; but his real distinction consists in the fact that he was the first Greek who gave an artistic finish to literary rhetoric. The practical oratory of the day had already two clearly separated branches—the forensic, represented by Isaeus, and the deliberative, in which Callistratus was the forerunner of Demosthenes. Meanwhile Isocrates was giving form and rhythm to a standard literary prose. Through the influence of his school, this normal prose style was transmitted—with the addition of some florid embellishments—to the first generation of Romans who studied rhetoric in the Greek schools. The distinctive feature in the composition of Isocrates is his structure of the periodic sentence. This, with him, is no longer rigid or monotonous, as with Antiphon—no longer terse and compact, as with Lysias—but ample, luxuriant, unfolding itself (to use a Greek critic’s image) like the soft beauties of a winding river. Isocrates was the first Greek who worked out the idea of a prose rhythm. He saw clearly both its powers and its limits; poetry has its strict rhythms and precise metres; prose has its metres and rhythms, not bound by a rigid framework, yet capable of being brought under certain general laws which a good ear can recognize, and which a speaker or writer may apply in the most various combinations. This fundamental idea of prose rhythm, or number, is that which the style of Isocrates has imparted to the style of Cicero. When Quintilian (x. 1. 108) says, somewhat hyperbolically, that Cicero has artistically reproduced (effinxisse) “the force of Demosthenes, the wealth of Plato, the charm of Isocrates,” he means principally this smooth and harmonious rhythm. Cicero himself expressly recognizes this original and distinctive merit of Isocrates. Thus, through Rome, and especially through Cicero, the influence of Isocrates, as the founder of a literary prose, has passed into the literatures of modern Europe. It is to the eloquence of the preacher that we may perhaps look for the nearest modern analogue of that kind in which Isocrates excelled—especially, perhaps, to that of the great French preachers. Isocrates was one of the three Greek authors, Demosthenes and Plato being the others, who contributed most to form the style of Bossuet.
Works.—The extant works of Isocrates consist of twenty-one speeches or discourses and nine letters. Among these, the six forensic speeches represent the first period of his literary life—belonging to the years 403-393 B.C. All six concern private causes. They may be classed as follows: 1. Action for Assault (δίκη αἰκίας), Or. xx., Against Lochites, 394 B.C. 2. Claim to an Inheritance (ἐπιδικασία), Or. xix., Aegineticus, end of 394 or early in 393 B.C. 3. Actions to Recover a Deposit: (1) Or. xxi., Against Euthynus, 403 B.C.; (2) Or. xvii., Trapeziticus, end of 394 or early in 393 B.C. 4. Action for Damage (δίκη βλάβης), Or. xvi., Concerning the Team of Horses, 397 B.C. 5. Special Plea (παραγραφή), Or. xviii., Against Callimachus, 402 B.C. Two of these have been regarded as spurious by G. E. Benseler, viz. Or. xxi., on account of the frequent hiatus and the short compact periods, and Or. xvii., on the first of these grounds. But we are not warranted in applying to the early work of Isocrates those canons which his mature style observed. The genuineness of the speech against Euthynus is recognized by Philostratus; while the Trapeziticus—thrice named without suspicion by Harpocration—is treated by Dionysius, not only as authentic, but as the typical forensic work of its author. The speech against Lochites—where “a man of the people” (τοῦ πλήθους εἶς) is the speaker—exhibits much rhetorical skill. The speech Περὶ τοῦ ζεύγους (“concerning the team of horses”) has a curious interest. An Athenian citizen had complained that Alcibiades had robbed him of a team of four horses, and sues the statesman’s son and namesake (who is the speaker) for their value. This is not the only place in which Isocrates has marked his admiration for the genius of Alcibiades; it appears also in the Philippus and in the Busiris. But, among the forensic speeches, we must, on the whole, give the palm to the Aegineticus—a graphic picture of ordinary Greek life in the islands of the Aegean. Here—especially in the narrative—Isocrates makes a near approach to the best manner of Lysias.
The remaining fifteen orations or discourses do not easily lend themselves to the ordinary classification under the heads of “deliberative” and “epideictic.” Both terms must be strained; and neither is strictly applicable to all the pieces which it is required to cover. The work of Isocrates travelled out of the grooves in which the rhetorical industry of the age had hitherto moved. His position among contemporary writers was determined by ideas peculiar to himself; and his compositions, besides having a style of their own, are in several instances of a new kind. The only adequate principle of classification is one which considers them in respect to their subject-matter. Thus viewed, they form two clearly separated groups—the scholastic and the political.
Scholastic Writings.—Under this head we have, first, three letters or essays of a hortatory character. (1) The letter to the young Demonicus—once a favourite subject in the schools—contains a series of precepts neither below nor much above the average practical morality of Greece. (2) The letter to Nicocles—the young king of the Cyprian Salamis—sets forth the duty of a monarch to his subjects. (3) In the third piece, it is Nicocles who speaks, and impresses on the Salaminians their duty to their king—a piece remarkable as containing a popular plea for monarchy, composed by a citizen of Athens. These three letters may be referred to the years 374-372 B.C.
Next may be placed four pieces which are “displays” (ἐπιδείξεις) in the proper Greek sense. The Busiris (Or. xi., 390-391 B.C.) is an attempt to show how the ill-famed king of Egypt might be praised. The Encomium on Helen (Or. x., 370 B.C.), a piece greatly superior to the last, contains the celebrated passage on the power of beauty. These two compositions serve to illustrate their author’s view that “encomia” of the hackneyed type might be elevated by combining the mythical matter with some topic of practical interest—as, in the case of Busiris, with the institutions of Egypt, or, in that of Helen, with the reforms of Theseus. The Evagoras (Or. ix., 365 B.C.?), the earliest known biography, is a laudatory epitaph on a really able man—the Greek king of the Cyprian Salamis. A passage of singular interest describes how, under his rule, the influences of Hellenic civilization had prevailed over the surrounding barbarism. The Panathenaicus (Or. xii.), intended for the great Panathenaea of 342 B.C., but not completed till 339 B.C., contains a recital of the services rendered by Athens to Greece, but digresses into personal defence against critics; his last work, written in extreme old age, it bears the plainest marks of failing powers.
The third subdivision of the scholastic writings is formed by two most interesting essays on education—that entitled Against the Sophists (Or. xiii., 391-390 B.C.), and the Antidosis (Or. xv., 353 B.C.). The first of these is a manifesto put forth by Isocrates at the outset of his professional career of teaching, in which he seeks to distinguish his aims from those of other “sophists.” These “sophists” are (1) the “eristics” (οἱ περὶ τὰς ἔριδας), by whom he seems to intend the minor Socratics, especially Euclides; (2) the teachers of practical rhetoric, who had made exaggerated claims for the efficacy of mere instruction, independently of natural faculty or experience; (3) the writers of “arts” of rhetoric, who virtually devoted themselves (as Aristotle also complains) to the lowest, or forensic, branch of their subject (see also E. Holzner, Platos Phaedrus und die Sophistenrede des Isokrates, Prague, 1894). As this piece is the prelude to his career, its epilogue is the speech on the “Antidosis”—so called because it has the form of a speech made in court in answer to a challenge to undertake the burden of the trierarchy, or else exchange properties with the challenger. The discourse “Against the Sophists” had stated what his art was not; this speech defines what it is. His own account of his φιλοσοφία—“the discipline of discourse” (ἡ τῶν λόγων παιδεία)—has been embodied in the sketch of it given above.
Political Writings.—These, again, fall into two classes—those which concern (1) the relations of Greece with Persia, (2) the internal affairs of Greece. The first class consist of the Panegyricus (Or. iv., 380 B.C.) and the Philippus (Or. v., 346 B.C.). The Panegyricus takes its name from the fact that it was given to the Greek public at the time of the Olympic festivals—probably by means of copies circulated there. The orator urges that Athens and Sparta should unite in leading the Greeks against Persia. The feeling of antiquity that this noble discourse is a masterpiece of careful work finds expression in the tradition that it had occupied its author for more than ten years. Its excellence is not merely that of language, but also—and perhaps even more conspicuously—that of lucid arrangement. The Philippus is an appeal to the king of Macedon to assume that initiative in the war on Persia which Isocrates had ceased to expect from any Greek city. In the view of Demosthenes, Philip was the representative barbarian; in that of Isocrates, he is the first of Hellenes, and the natural champion of their cause.
Of those discourses which concern the internal affairs of Greece, two have already been noticed,—that On the Peace (Or. viii.), and the Areopagiticus (Or. vii.)—both of 355 B.C.—as dealing respectively with the foreign and the home affairs of Athens. The Plataicus (Or. xiv.) is supposed to be spoken by a Plataean before the Athenian ecclesia in 373 B.C. In that year Plataea had for the second time in its history been destroyed by Thebes. The oration—an appeal to Athens to restore the unhappy town—is remarkable both for the power with which Theban cruelty is denounced, and for the genuine pathos of the peroration. The Archidamus (Or. vi.) is a speech purporting to be delivered by Archidamus III., son of Agesilaus, in a debate at Sparta on conditions of peace offered by Thebes in 366 B.C. It was demanded that Sparta should recognize the independence of Messene, which had lately been restored by Epameinondas (370 B.C.). The oration gives brilliant expression to the feeling which such a demand was calculated to excite in Spartans who knew the history of their own city. Xenophon witnesses that the attitude of Sparta on this occasion was actually such as the Archidamus assumes (Hellen. vii. 4. 8-11).
Letters.—The first letter—to Dionysius I.—is fragmentary; but a passage in the Philippus leaves no doubt as to its object. Isocrates was anxious that the ruler of Syracuse should undertake the command of Greece against Persia. The date is probably 368 B.C.
Next in chronological order stands the letter “To the Children of Jason” (vi.). Jason, tyrant of Pherae, had been assassinated in 370 B.C.; and no fewer than three of his successors had shared the same fate. Isocrates now urges Thebe, the daughter of Jason, and her half-brothers to set up a popular government. The date is 359 B.C. The letter to Archidamus III. (ix.)—the same person who is the imaginary speaker of Oration vi.—urges him to execute the writer’s favourite idea,—“to deliver the Greeks from their feuds, and to crush barbarian insolence.” It is remarkable for a vivid picture of the state of Greece; the date is about 356 B.C. The letter to Timotheus (vii., 345 B.C.), ruler of Heraclea on the Euxine, introduces an Athenian friend who is going thither, and at the same time offers some good counsels to the benevolent despot. The letter “to the government of Mytilene” (viii., 350 B.C.) is a petition to a newly established oligarchy, begging them to permit the return of a democratic exile, a distinguished musician named Agenor. The first of the two letters to Philip of Macedon (ii.) remonstrates with him on the personal danger to which he had recklessly exposed himself, and alludes to his beneficent intervention in the affairs of Thessaly; the date is probably the end of 342 B.C. The letter to Alexander (v.), then a boy of fourteen, is a brief greeting sent along with the last, and congratulates him on preferring “practical” to “eristic” studies—a distinction which is explained by the sketch of the author’s φιλοσοφία, and of his essay “Against the Sophists,” given above. It was just at this time, probably, that Alexander was beginning to receive the lessons of Aristotle (342 B.C.). The letter to Antipater (iv.) introduces a friend who wished to enter the military service of Philip. Antipater was then acting as regent in Macedonia during Philip’s absence in Thrace (340-339 B.C.). The later of the two letters to Philip (iii.) appears to be written shortly after the battle of Chaeronea in 338 B.C. The questions raised by it have already been discussed.
No lost work of Isocrates is known from a definite quotation, except an “Art of Rhetoric,” from which some scattered precepts are cited. Quintilian, indeed, and Photius, who had seen this “Art,” felt a doubt as to whether it was genuine. Only twenty-five discourses—out of an ascriptive total of some sixty—were admitted as authentic by Dionysius; Photius (circ. A.D. 850) knew only the number now extant—twenty-one.
With the exception of defects at the end of Or. xiii., at the beginning of Or. xvi., and probably at the end of Letters i., vi., ix., the existing text is free from serious mutilations. It is also unusually pure. The smooth and clear style of Isocrates gave few opportunities for the mistakes of copyists. On the other hand, he was a favourite author of the schools. Numerous glosses crept into his text through the comments or conjectures of rhetoricians. This was already the case before the 6th century, as is attested by the citations of Priscian and Stobaeus. Jerome Wolf and Koraes successively accomplished much for the text. But a more decided advance was made by Immanuel Bekker. He used five MSS., viz. (1) Codex Urbinas III., Γ (this, the best, was his principal guide); (2) Vaticanus 936, Δ; (3) Laurentianus 87, 14, Θ (13th century); (4) Vaticanus 65, Λ; and (5) Marcianus 415, Ξ. The first three, of the same family, have Or. xv. entire; the last two are from the same original, and have Or. xv. incomplete.
J. G. Baiter and H. Sauppe in their edition (1850) follow Γ “even more constantly than Bekker.” Their apparatus is enriched, however, by a MS. to which he had not access—Ambrosianus O. 144, Ε, which in some cases, as they recognize, has alone preserved the true reading. The readings of this MS. were given in full by G. E. Benseler in his second edition (1854-1855). The distinctive characteristic of Benseler’s textual criticism was a tendency to correct the text against even the best MS., where the MS. conflicted with the usage of Isocrates as inferred from his recorded precepts or from the statements of ancient writers. Thus, on the strength of the rule ascribed to Isocrates—φωνήεντα μὴ συμπίπτειν—Benseler would remove from the text every example of hiatus (on the MSS. of Isocrates, see H. Bürmann, Die handschriftliche Überlieferung des Isocrates, Berlin, 1885-1886, and E. Drerup, in Leipziger Studien, xvii., 1895).
(R. C. J.)
Editions.—In Oratores Attici, ed. Imm. Bekker (1823, 1828); W. S. Dobson (1828); J. G. Baiter and Hermann Sauppe (1850). Separately Ausgewählte Reden, Panegyrikos und Areopagitikos, by Rudolf Rauchenstein, 6th ed., Karl Münscher (1908); in Teubner’s series, by G. E. Benseler (new ed., by F. Blass, 1886-1895) and by E. Drerup (1906- ); Ad Demonicum et Panegyricus, ed. J. E. Sandys (1868); Evagoras, ed. H. Clarke (1885). Extracts from Orations iii., iv., vi., vii., viii., ix., xiii., xiv., xv., xix., and Letters iii., v., edited with revised text and commentary, in Selections from the Attic Orators, by R. C. Jebb (1880); vol. i. of an English prose translation, with introduction and notes by J. H. Freese, has been published in Bohn’s Classical Library (1894). See generally Jebb’s Attic Orators (where a list of authorities is given) and F. Blass, Die attische Beredsamkeit (2nd ed., 1887-1898), and the latter’s Die Rhythmen der attischen Kunstprosa (1901). There is a special lexicon by S. Preuss (1904). On the philosophy of Isocrates and his relation to the Socratic schools, see Thompson’s ed. of Plato’s Phaedrus, Appendix 2.
- Ἀταλάντη, fr. 1, Meineke, Poëtarum comicorum Graecorum frag. (1855), p. 292.
- [Plut.] Vita Isocr., and the anonymous biographer. Dionysius does not mention the story, though he makes Isocrates a pupil of Theramenes.
- Some would refer the sojourn of Isocrates at Chios to the years 398-395 B.C., others to 393-388 B.C. The reasons which support the view given in the text will be found in Jebb’s Attic Orators, vol. ii. (1893), p. 6, note 2.
- Partim in pompa, partim in acie illustres (De orat. ii. 24).
- P. Sanneg, De schola Isocratea (Halle, 1867).
- De falsa legat. p. 426 οὐχ ὅπως ὠργίζοντο ἢ κολάζειν τοὺς ταῦτα ποιοῦντας, ἀλλ᾽ ἀπέβλεπον, ἐζήλουν, ἐτίμων, ἅνδρας ἡγοῦντο.
- ἐκείνους γὰρ ὁμολογεῖται ... ἤδη ἐγκρατεῖς δοκοῦντας εἶναι τῶν πραγμάτων διὰ τὴν Κύρου προπέτειαν ἀτυχῆσαι (Philippus, 90; cp. Panegyr. 149).
- Philippus, 346 B.C.; Epist. ii. end of 342 B.C. (?).
- The views of several modern critics on the tradition of the suicide are brought together in the Attic Orators, ii. (1893) p. 31, note 1.
- Isocrates, a loyal and genuine Hellene, can yet conceive of Hellenic culture as shared by men not of Hellenic blood (Panegyr. 50). He is thus, as Ernst Curtius has ably shown, a forerunner of Hellenism—analogous, in the literary province, to Epameinondas and Timotheus in the political (History of Greece, v. 116, 204, tr. Ward).
- τὸ τῶν Ἑλλήνων γένος ... δυνάμενον ἄρχειν, μιᾶς τυγχάνον πολιτείας (Polit. iv. [vii.] 6, 7).
- De Alex. virt. i. 6.
- The word φιλοσοφία seems to have come into Athenian use not much before the time of Socrates; and, till long after the time of Isocrates, it was commonly used, not in the sense of “philosophy,” but in that of “literary taste and study—culture generally” (see Thompson on Phaedrus, 278 D). Aristeides, ii. 407 φιλοκαλία τις καὶ διατριβὴ περὶ λόγους, καὶ οὐχ ὁ νῦν τρόπος οὗτος, ἀλλὰ παιδεία κοινῶς. And so writers of the 4th century B.C. use φιλοσοφεῖν as simply = “to study”; as e.g. an invalid “studies” the means of relief from pain, Lys. Or. xxiv. 10; cf. Isocr. Or. iv. 6, &c.
- Plato, Gorg. p. 463; Euthyd. 304-306.
- These allusions are discussed in the Attic Orators, vol. ii. ch. 13.
- Isocr. Or. xv. 271.
- A. Cartelier, Le Discours d’Isocrate sur lui-même, p. lxii. (1862).
- Totum Isocratis μυροθήκιον atque omnes ejus discipulorum arculas (Ad Att. ii. 1).
- Idque princeps Isocrates instituisse fertur, ... ut inconditam antiquorum dicendi consuetudinem ... numeris astringeret (De or. iii. 44, 173).
- The dates here given differ to some extent from those in F. Blass, Die attische Beredsamkeit (2nd ed., 1887-1898).
- Some authorities consider the Ad Demonicum spurious.
- This was shown by R. C. Jebb in a paper on “The Sixth Letter of Isocrates,” Journal of Philology, v. 266 (1874). The fact that Thebe, widow of Alexander of Pherae, was the daughter of Jason is incidentally noticed by Plutarch in his life of Pelopidas, c. 28. It is this fact which gives the clue to the occasion of the letter; cf. Diod. Sic. xvi. 14.