previous next

Diction of Isokrates

In applying more closely to Isokrates the general description just quoted, the first point to be noticed is his choice of words. His diction is tempered of two opposite elements. It is a compromise between the ‘elaborate’ diction represented by Thucydides and the ‘plain’ diction represented by Lysias1. But it is infinitely more Lysian than Thucydidean.

Of its Lysian qualities, the first is purity; an

Its Purity.
excellence already2 explained as including two ideas —avoidance of obsolete, or novel or too poetical words3,—and correctness of idiom. In this Isokrates was the nearest rival, though not the equal, of Lysias4. Next, though the general effect of
Its Simplicity.
Isokrates is ornate and the general effect of Lysias is plain, yet the Lysian simplicity belongs in a certain sense to the language of Isokrates. His composition abounds in figures—to be noticed presently; but his diction generally avoids tropes5; that is, it uses the individual word in the normal sense. Yet here again there is a difference. Lysias prefers common words; Isokrates, though he can distinguish occasions, has a general bent towards grandeur6. There is far less of this in the six forensic speeches than elsewhere; yet even here there is something7.

1 id. Demosth. c. 4.

2 Vol. I. p. 168.

3 As exceptions, note the words οὐρανομήκης, Antid. [XV] § 134: φιλοπροσήγορος (‘courteous’—more general than εὐπροσήγορος, ‘affable’) Ad Demon. [I] § 20: τερθρεία (‘jugglery’), Helen. Enc. [X] § 4: φθόη, Aeginet. [XIX] § 11: τύρβη Antid. § 130: ἐπικήρως, Bus. [XI] § 49. ἐνδελεχέστατος, Antid. § 156: κατασκελετευθεῖσαν, Ant. § 268: διασκαριφᾶσθαι, Areop. § 12. Also the metaphorical use of εἱλωτεύειν (Pan. § 131), ἐξοκείλας, Ant. § 268 and Ep. II. § 13. (Sandys, Ad Dem. and Paneyr. pp. xi, xxxiv.Aristotle instances ἔτλησαν (Pan. § 96) and φήμη (ib. § 186) as poetical words legitimately used in a climax: Rh. III. 7.

4 Dionys. de Isokr. c. 2: Lys. c. 2: Dem. c. 4.

5 id. Dem. c. 18—where Dionys. is criticising a passage from the De Pace (§§ 41—50) taken as showing Isokr. at his best—and notices the avoidance of τροπικαὶκατασκευαί as even excessive. Hermogenes (περὶ ἰδεῶν ά c. 12, Speng. Rh. G. II. 33) observes that the first condition of beauty in expression is purity; now tropes give vividness, but are against purity; hence Isokr., who thought most about beauty, made least use of tropes.

6 σεμνολογία (Dionys. Isokr. c. 20), σεμνοτὴς πομπική (ib. 2), καλλιλογία (Dem. c. 4).

7 Speaking of the forensic work of Isokr. generally, Dionys. remarks that here he comes near to the manner of Lysias (Isocr. c. 18). Then examining the Trapez. [XVII] §§ 1—14 in detail, he points out that the manner is ὅλῳ τω? γένει distinct from that of I.'s deliberative or epideictic speeches; yet that it is Isokratic still—it bears the predominant stamp of art (c. 20).—Perhaps Or. XVIII (Against Kallimachos) and XIX (Aeginetikos) are the best examples of I.'s plain manner.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: