The augury of the Platonic Sokrates.
The dramatic date of the Phaedros
—whatever is its actual date—may be placed about 410 B.C., when Isokrates was twenty-six years of age, and when Lysias, according to the received account, was forty-eight. At the end of the conversation, Sokrates suggests that Phaedros should relate it to his friend Lysias.
And you—what will you do? Your
friend ought not to be neglected either.
And who is he?
The gentle Isokrates. What message will you take to him, Sokrates? What are we to call him?
Isokrates is still young, Phaedros; but I do not mind telling you what I prophesy of him.
And what may that be?
He seems to me to have a genius above the oratory of Lysias, and altogether to be tempered of nobler elements. And so 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 diviner impulse should lead him to greater things. My dear Phaedros, a certain philosophy is inborn in him. This is my
message, then, from the gods of the place to my pet Isokrates —and you have your message for your Lysias1
This memorable prophecy offers to Isokrates the choice of two careers; and the fact that, in Plato's sense, he did not
eventually rise to the higher career only increases the interest of such a testimony. The ‘philosophy’ of Isokrates—the way in which he was affected by Sokrates, and his relation to the Sokratics—must be considered separately. At present we are concerned with the outer facts of his life. It appears, then, from the Phaedros
that Isokrates was intimate with Sokrates; and further, that there was a time in his earlier life when he seemed to Plato capable of rising from the art of expression to the highest search for truth. The companionship of Sokrates has left a broad mark upon his work, in his purpose of bringing his ‘philosophy’ to bear directly on the civic life: the ‘philosophic’ bent which raised and disappointed the hopes of Plato may perhaps be traced in his constant effort to grasp general conceptions and to bring phenomena back to principles.