Isokrates compared with the Practical Orator.
But the merits of Isokrates whether on the verbal or the real side are not those which are best fitted to succeed in a law-court or in an assembly. It is true that, as Hermogenes1
says, he has in a very high degree that purity of diction and that distinctness of method which are at least two virtues of civil eloquence: it is true that, as Dionysios2
says, lessons may be learned from him in everything that goes to form the complete ‘faculty of citizenship.’ Yet his practical rhetoric is not oratory. It is for
the palaestra, not for the battle-field3
. It has not the stamp of vigorous nature. The great speaker in real contests holds his own argument, and can seize that of his adversary, with an iron grasp; he is impassioned and can kindle passion, he can animate the embodiment of his thought with a living soul which seems to come to it, through him, from a present and inspiring power; the artist of the school—and it is as such that Isokrates most often appears—suffers neither keenness of controversy, nor feeling, nor even what perhaps is most divine in the idea which he is enforcing, to agitate him as he marshals the slow and stately pageant of an eloquence which moves with always the same cold brilliancy. One who had tried the experiment of declaiming the discourses of Isokrates says that he had found that they would not bear delivery with raised tones, or passion, or gesture: Isokrates, he says, has dropped his voice to the key in which a slave reads aloud to his master4
. The disappointed reciter is too severe; but that such compositions should be better suited for reading than for declaiming is natural; and it is worthy of notice that when Isokrates himself complains of his speeches being marred by bad reading, the two points of which he deprecates the neglect are both consistent with a subdued
manner—namely, attention to the êthos (general moral tone)—and attention to the cadences of the rhythm. Dionysios has been at pains to contrast a passage of the De
(§§ 41—50) with a passage of the Third Olynthiac
(§§ 23—32)—the contrast coming to this, that the former is a display of graces and the latter a stirring summons to action5
. But the fact is that it is unmeaning to compare Isokrates and Demosthenes at all. While practical oratory was parting more and more distinctly into two branches—the pure Deliberative, best represented probably by Kallistratos, the Forensic, by Isaeos, branches of which the excellences were for once to meet in Demosthenes—Isokrates was occupied apart from both in
developing a literary rhetoric, important, certainly, in its influence on the practical oratory of a later day, but of contemporary significance in the way
Influence of his work on contemporaries.
of style chiefly
for that Rhetorical school of history in which Ephoros and Theopompos are the earliest great names. Chiefly—yet not solely. In so far as merely literary lessons have to be learned by a great speaker, Demosthenes learned much from Isokrates: but the spirit of Demosthenes was not to be bound to any rigid outward law of euphony6
. In the epideictic kind we can see from the Funeral Oration of Hypereides just the two points of contact between Hypereides and Isokrates—the large freedom of development, and the tone, sincere in all its rhetorical elevation, of a moralist speaking the language of panegyric7
. But the best
representative of Isokrates in his influence on the
Its later influence. Cicero.
development of oratory is Cicero. Cicero was intellectually stronger than Isokrates; he had the power for real contests—living force and passion; and the greater width of his mental horizon was not due simply to the age in which he lived. But as a stylist he is inferior to Isokrates. The idea which Cicero got from Isokrates was that of number8
. To this Cicero added special Isokratic graces with more than the richness but with less than the elegance of the Greek master. Seldom, perhaps, has an unconscious criticism on self told the truth more neatly than does the phrase of Cicero when he speaks of having used ‘all the fragrant essences of Isokrates and all the little stores of his disciples9
.’ The brilliancy of Isokrates had come to Cicero through the school of Rhodes10