Birth and parentage
ISOKRATES was born five years before the beginning of the Peloponnesian War and died just after the battle of Chaeroneia. It might have been expected that such a life, touching both limits of such a century, would have been in its written records the vivid image of that century itself, with all its vicissitudes of struggle, with all its variety of impressive contrasts. One whose youth had known the intense and desperate energy of that war in which Imperial Athens was fighting for existence, whose early manhood had witnessed the terrible and moving drama of her overthrow, whose middle age had been passed under the dominion of Sparta now changed from the deliverer into the despot, whose later days had seen the restoration of Athens to the headship of a great Confederacy, the rise of Epameinondas—a second, though a Theban, Perikles for Greece—and his death before his national patriotism could give a new coherence to the nation, then
the space of hopeless quarrelling and confusion, with the voice of Demosthenes heard above it all, but heard in vain, till Philip came in and struck his blow—surely, it might have been thought, a political essayist with such a compass of personal experience must be of almost unique value for the comparison of period with period. Isokrates in one sense disappoints any such hope. For us, he lives and thinks and feels almost exclusively in the years 380—338 B.C. By his ideas and aspirations, by the whole bent of his character, he is thoroughly detached from that order of things under which the first part of his long life was passed; he has carried little or nothing of its mind on with him; it is a memory, giving a certain tragic irony to his afterlife, not a force blending with the new forces. As Antiphon breathes the spirit of the elder commonwealth, as Andokides is associated with the troubled politics of Athens in the second half of the Peloponnesian War, as Lysias expresses the ordinary citizenlife of the restored democracy, so Isokrates is distinctively the man of the decadence—an Athenian, still more a Greek, of the age of declining independence.
Isokrates was born in 436 B.C. (Ol. 86. 1.)— five years before the birth of Xenophon1
, a native of the same deme of Erchia, and seven years before the birth of Plato. His father Theodoros owned slaves skilled in the trade of flute-making,—a
fact of which Comedy, when it attacked Isokrates, did not forget to avail itself2
,—and was rich enough to have been choregus; his mother's name was Hêduto. He had three brothers, Diomnêstos, Telesippos and Theodoros; and a sister. The teachers of the young Isokrates are variously enumerated. One thing is clear, that two contrasted influences came to bear upon his early training; the influence of Sokrates and the influence of the sophists.