Rhetoric at Athens about 390 B.C.
Isokrates began the career of his choice—when the labours not of his choice were over—about
392 B.C. Rhetoric was then represented at Athens chiefly by two classes of men. First, there were the writers of speeches for the law-courts. Lysias,
The writers for the lawcourts.
then at the height of his fame, was the most eminent of these, and had already set before his brethren a new standard of excellence; though it is not likely that, so early as 390 B.C., the ‘plain style’ had made much way. Secondly, there were
The teachers of Rhetoric.
teachers of rhetoric who professed to impart a method of deliberative or forensic speaking, but who in the exercises which they wrote as models, seem to have preferred subjects of an epideictic character taken from mythology. Extant examples are the Speech of Odysseus against Palamedes, the Defence of Palamedes, the Controversy between Ajax and Odysseus for the arms of Achilles1
. It was in a half-disdainful rivalry with such efforts that Isokrates wrote his Busiris
Distinctive aim of Isokrates.
his Encomium of Helen.
But the real ambition of Isokrates was to raise the Art of Rhetoric above such themes as were supplied either by the law-courts or by the myths. He held that the subject-matter of Rhetoric was to be found neither in the petty concerns of to-day nor in a far-off age of heroes, but in the largest practical interests of Greek citizenship. He held, further— and here he was completing the theory of Gorgias— that not only may prose be artistic, but that the
utterance of Rhetoric may be, ought to be, a work of art as complete and as substantive as the utterance of Poetry; that it has its own ascertainable laws of rhythm and of harmony; and that the artist who, having mastered these laws, addresses himself to the treatment of a great subject, has with him a power, beside and beyond the strength of his cause or of his genius—a power coming to him, as to the poet, through his art, and springing from an essential music latent in language which his art has shown him how to bring upon the ear.