[Or. XII.]—Isokrates began the Panathenaikos
when he was 94 years of age (§ 3) —i.e. in 342 B.C. A celebration of the Great
Panathenaea — mentioned in § 17—fell in Hekatombaeon (July—August) of that year, the third of Olympiad CIX. 3. It was probably the original intention of Isokrates that his speech should be published at this festival, as the Panegyrikos
was probably published at Olympia: thus in § 135 he defends himself against the charge of discussing subjects unsuited to a great festal gathering. But this design, if he entertained it, was frustrated. He had written about half the discourse when he fell ill (§ 267); but at last it was completed and published when he was ninety-seven years old (§ 270), i.e. in
339. It is thus the latest of his works1
falls into three parts. I. §§ 1
—34: Introduction. Of these sections only §§ 1—4 are properly introductory. The rest—§§ 5—34—form a parenthetical defence of his ‘philosophy’ generally, in reply to an attack make upon him by some ‘vulgar’ (ἀγελαῖοι
) sophists ‘a little before the Great Panathenaea’ (§ 17).—II. §§ 35—198. The praises of Athens.—III. §§ 199—265. A supplement, in which the author notices certain criticisms upon his work, and rélates the circumstances under which it was composed.
I. ‘In my younger days I used to write, not on legends or remote history, nor in forensic causes, but on practical interests of Athens and Hellas—bringing to bear upon these all the resources of rhetoric. Such subjects and such a style do not now become my ninety-four years; rather it becomes me to speak as all men are apt to think that they could if they would, but as none can without toil.
‘I shall speak of the deeds of Athens and the goodness
of our ancestors. But first I must touch upon a personal matter. All my days I have been misrepresented by obscure and worthless sophists, and misjudged by those who knew me but from hearsay. Health, wealth, a certain repute among the educated have been mine; and yet, in old age, I am discontented. Nature denied me force for action, and gave me but imperfect talents for speech. Strength of voice and firm nerves were denied to me; and at Athens it is more discreditable to lack these than to owe money to the treasury. Not daunted, however, I took refuge in a literary life; and hoped, as the counsellor of Hellenic unity and of war against Asia, to gain more esteem than the speakers who rail against each other in the ekklesia. This hope has failed; I have been praised,—and slighted. It is not strange, indeed, that the public should treat me thus, when the professional sophists, who make their living by plagiarising from me, are my worst enemies. Their slanders never annoyed me until, a few days before the Panathenaea, I learned that a group of them, talking in the Lykeion about Hesiod, Homer and other poets, had spoken of me as scorning all such subjects,—as ignoring all fields of thought, all lines of culture, except my own. I thought that I was safe from a charge of this kind; but I find that I did not overrate the spite which has baulked me of due recognition. Instead of retorting upon the slanderers, or arguing with those whom they influence, I will state in a few words what my notion of culture is. Geometry, astrology, eristic dialogues are good for the young, if only as employing them; but they do not make practical men. By an educated man I understand one who can deal with all that comes upon him day by day; who is honest and mannerly in society; who rules his desires; who is not spoiled by good fortune. So much for culture: my views about the poets shall be set forth at some other time. I have already passed the limits of a preface (§§ 1—34).
II. ‘The beneficence of Athens to Hellas has often ere now been praised by me incidentally; but it has never been, as now, my special themc. I am moved to choose
that subject at once by the intemperate censure and by the feeble, or else extravagant, praise bestowed upon our city; also by my own advanced age, which will make failure pardonable and success more creditable (§§ 35—38).
‘As purple or gold is most brilliant when it has a foil, Athens will be best estimated if we place beside her another great city—Sparta (§§ 39—41).
‘The comparison may begin from the Dorian conquest of
Athens contrasted with Sparta.
the Peloponnesos. Now our ancestors will be found to have cherished loyally the traditions of the Trojan war—concord with Hellas, and enmity against the barbarian. When the Kyklades, about which there had been disputes in the time of Minos, were at last seized, by the Karians, Athens restored them to the Hellenes2
. She founded cities on either
continent, drove the barbarians from the Asiatic seaboard, and taught the Greek communities how to live. Sparta, meanwhile, careless of agriculture and of all civilising arts, was concentrated upon one selfish object—the conquest of the Peloponnesos; all of which, save Argos, fell under her power. Thus, so far, Athens had been a friend to Hellas; Sparta, only to herself (§§ 42—48).
‘When, later, Xerxes invaded Greece, Sparta, the ruler
of the Peloponnesos, sent but ten triremes to Salamis— Athens sent more than all the other states together. Sparta was represented by Eurybiades, who all but ruined Hellas; Athens, by Themistokles, who saved it (§§ 49—52).
‘Each of the two cities was in turn empress of the sea,
and thereby of the greater part of Hellas. Athens used that power to give to her allies the same form of government which she had herself found best; Sparta used it to impose upon her subjects an unheard-of form of tyranny—the dekarchies, which led to such enormous evils. We held our empire 65 years; when attacked by Greece and Persia combined, we resisted ten years, and afterwards reestablished our power in less time than it had cost to overthrow it. The Spartans kept their empire barely ten years; lost it by a single battle; and have never recovered it. In treating with the Persian king, we forbade him to come west of Halys or Phaselis3
; the Spartans made him master of Hellas (§§ 53—61).
‘Those who reluctantly admit the positive merits of
The faults of Athens compared with those of Sparta.
Athens will perhaps attempt to qualify them by citing her crimes. I do not say that Athens has been faultless; but only that, where she has sinned, Sparta has sinned more. We are accused of having forced our allies to bring their causes to our tribunals. Is not the number of those summoned before our courts smaller than the number of those whom Sparta put to death without trial? We are accused of having taxed our allies. But they paid tribute of their own choice, for their own defence, out of property which we had preserved to them; and, in return, were brought by us out of their forlorn condition to a prosperity as great as that of the Peloponnesians who paid no impost. We are accused of cruelties to Melos, Skione, Torone. If Athens has sometimes been guilty in this respect, the sufferers were petty islands or towns; while the cities which Spartan ambition has made desolate are the greatest in the Peloponnesos, —Messene, which sent Nestor to Troy,—Argos, which sent Agamemnon (§§ 62—73).
‘(Can I pass by Agamemnon without a word of special
praise, feeling for him, as I do, the sympathy of one who, like him, has missed his due fame? What element of greatness did Agamemnon lack? The only man who ever
was leader of all Hellas, he led it against Asia, with kings for his subalterns; fought, not for his own gain, but for the safety of Greece, against such foreign adventurers as Pelops, Danaos, Kadmos; and, after keeping his army together for ten years by his own ability, took Troy, and quelled the insolence of the barbarians.) §§ 74—87.
‘I was saying that the victims of our severity have been insignificant; those of Sparta's illustrious, and, moreover, her own allies against Troy; the Messenians, namely, whom she drove from their country; and the Argives, with whom she is still at war. Plataea, the only city of Boeotia loyal to Hellas in the Persian war, was soon after taken by Sparta, and most of its citizens were put to death, in order to please Thebes. Athens, on the other hand, gave an asylum at Naupaktos to the Messenians, and bestowed her franchise upon the surviving Plataeans (§§ 88—94).—Both Athens and Sparta are accused of having reduced those cities, of whose liberty they professed themselves champions, to vassalage. Now in the early history of Athens there is no instance of her having aimed at ruling a single other city; whereas the policy of Sparta in the Peloponnesos has been from the first aggressive. Down to the time of our disaster at the Hellespont, we had never caused in any city the factions, the bloodshed, the revolution which, under Sparta, became rife everywhere. It was only when the Lacedaemonian power, after having become the first in Greece, began to decline, that two or three of our generals were guilty of imitating in a few cases a policy of which Sparta had set the earliest example.
‘Lastly, there is an offence against Hellas which Sparta has committed, but Athens, never. When most closely pressed by her neighbours, Athens has never forgotten the enmity which all Greeks ought to feel against the barbarian. Sparta used the alliance of the great king to advance her own power in Hellas; and rewarded him by supporting the rebel Cyrus with the forces led by Klearchos. Then, when Persia had defeated the Spartans at Knidos, they conciliated her by giving up the Asiatic Greeks (§§ 95—107).
‘Discreet admirers of Sparta will admit the truth of
these criticisms. But those who cannot allow any fault in her will perhaps try to shift the ground of comparison to the relative merits of the Spartan and Athenian Constitutions. They will contrast the temperance and discipline which prevail there with the licence common among us.
‘I hope to show the superiority of the Athenian Constitution—not,
indeed, in its present form, but in the form which it had under our ancestors; and which they abandoned, not because they were dissatisfied with it, but from necessity. A land-empire is maintained by moderation and strict discipline; a maritime empire requires nautical skill, hands to row the ships, and a certain reckless, piratical spirit. It was plain that in becoming naval, Athens must lose her old decorum and her hold upon the affection of the allies; but even this was better than submitting to the rule of Sparta.
‘The history of our ancestors’ polity must be traced from a time when as yet Oligarchy and Democracy were not; when barbarians and Greeks alike lived under Monarchies. If the savage heroes of other cities have claimed mention, much more do those of Athens deserve it. The horrors of which, in those days, Thebes and Argos were full, have supplied endless material for tragic poets; Athens, meanwhile, had already a noble civilisation. The favour of the gods was shown by this rare blessing—that from Ericthonios to Theseus the line of hereditary kings was unbroken4
Elsewhere I have spoken at length of Theseus, or this would have been a fitting time to celebrate him. It was his glory that he chose work before the mere pleasures of a
kingly lot; and that he shared the government of the city with the people. His successors established a Democracy tempered with Aristocracy. Some regard Aristocracy, like Timocracy, as a distinct type of polity5
. I recognise but three distinct types—Oligarchy, Democracy, Monarchy. The principle which selects the best men for office is applicable to any one of these; and, in all alike, insures prosperity. At present we have to consider the application of this principle to Democracy only. If the subject seem to some too grave for such an occasion as this, it will at least interest those whom I most wish to please; though I doubt my own power of doing justice to it.
‘The excellence of the old Democracy was due to the
moral discipline to which the people had been subject under the monarchy. They did not forget the lessons learned then; they chose for leaders men friendly to the new system, but characterised by the old virtues of justice and sobriety. Under the presidency of such men, they soon got a thoroughly good code of laws,—compact, fair, useful, and consistent. Officials were chosen by the demes and tribes, and looked upon office as a task, troublesome, indeed, but honourable. The punctual discharge of this task was followed by moderate praise and designation to some fresh labour; the slightest failure in it was infamy and ruin. Office, therefore,
was rather shunned than courted in those days; and the people were content with a constitution which, while exempting them from services, gave them sovereign power over their servants. The proof of this contentment is the fact that the constitution remained unchanged for not fewer than 1000 years,—from its origin to the time of Solon and of Peisistratos6
. The latter used his demagogic power to make himself a despot. If it is objected that I speak too positively of a remote past, I reply that this is at least a generally credited account (§§ 108—150).
‘The principles of the old polity have been stated; it
Mutual Political Lessons.
remains to speak of its results. But a possible objection must first be met. It will, perhaps, be said that both the civil and the military institutions of Athens in the earliest times were borrowed from Lykurgos. The resemblance may be allowed. But it was Sparta that borrowed from us the idea of a Democracy tempered with Aristocracy, and of elective, instead of sortitive, offices. The Areiopagos, again, was the model of the Gerousia (§§ 151—154).
‘As regards military science, too, it can be shown that
the Spartans did not practise it earlier, or use it better, than we did. First, however,—in order to appreciate the manner in which our ancestors used their military skill,—it is necessary to remember how both Athens and Sparta dealt with Hellas after the Persian wars. They made peace with Persia, and attacked each other. Argos and Thebes followed their example; and to this day Persia is arbiter of Hellas (§§ 155—160).
‘The rulers of Athens before the Persian war had no aim but the national well-being. They mediated between cities which were at variance; drove the barbarian from the islands and coasts which he had seized; and thus gave the Greeks wealth and security (§§ 161—167). Their military repute may be judged still better from their interference on behalf of Adrastos, when the Thebans, alarmed at their approach, consented to bury the Argive dead (§§ 168—171). (In the Panegyrikos7
the Athenians were spoken of as having prevailed by force; but the more exact account given here proves no less the fame of their arms (§§ 172—174.)
‘Further, compare the early wars of Sparta with those of
Early wars of Athens and of Sparta.
Athens. Immediately after the Dorian conquest, the aristocratic party became predominant in Lacedaemon; and, instead of allowing the people to share the franchise, fixed them to dwell as vassals in outlying villages, subject not only to the burdens of war, but to outrage and death at the caprice of the civic body. The victories of our Athenian ancestors were not of this shameful kind, but were won in three different periods of war against aliens. One period was that of the struggle with Xerxes; another, that of the war for the possession of the Asiatic colonies,—in which no Dorian took part. In the third (the earliest) period, Thracians, Scythians, and Eurystheus with his Peloponnesians, were in turn defeated; and, later, the troops of Dareios were routed at Marathon. Victorious so often, our fathers were yet true to their old, steadfast character; for they knew that the highest soldiership is impossible to immorality (175—198).
III. ‘Here, at its climax, this discourse would naturally
have ended. I will explain how I have been forced to prolong it.
‘It had been written thus far, and I was revising it with three or four of my young pupils. We thought that nothing but a conclusion was wanted; but it occurred to me to ask a friend of oligarchical sympathies, and devoted to Sparta, if he could point out any misstatement which we had over
looked. He came; heard, and praised, the greater part of
Conversation with a friendly critic.
the essay; but evidently disliked the criticisms upon the Spartans. ‘If Hellas owes them nothing else,’ he said, ‘it should be grateful to them for this—that they discovered the noblest rules of conduct, which they observe themselves and have taught to others.’—‘All would allow,’ I replied, ‘that piety, justice, prudence, are the best rules of conduct. The Spartans have been settled no more than 700 years in the Peloponnesos. If, then, these rules were first observed at Sparta, were they unknown to Herakles and Theseus, to Minos, Rhadamanthos, Aeakos? Again, discoverers are usually men of more than average intelligence and knowledge; but the Spartans are ignorant of the rudiments of letters. And as for their morality, they train their youth to rob the surrounding country; punishing them if they are found out, and promoting them if they are not.’ ‘By rules of conduct,’ he answered, ‘I did not mean piety, justice, prudence. I meant a manly, warlike training, and loyalty to one common purpose.’ ‘None are so blameable,’ I said, ‘as those who put good things to a bad use. The Spartans employ their warlike science to harass, and their unanimity to divide, the other Greeks’ (§§ 199—228).
‘My opponent was silenced, and went away a wiser man, inasmuch as he had learned the lesson recommended at Delphi. He had learned to know himself—and Lacedaemon. I had my essay written out immediately. But three or four days later new misgivings assailed me. It seemed to me
that I had been too supercilious and too bitter in my expressions about Sparta. At last I called a council of friends to decide whether the composition should be burnt or published. It was read to them, and well received. The rest were
The critic as a comforter.
talking it over among themselves, when my original adviser, the partisan of Sparta, addressed me. ‘I suspect,’ he said, ‘that you are not really uneasy about the manner in which you have spoken of the Lacedaemonians, and that you have brought us here only to try us. Your first idea was to extol Athens by comparing it advantageously with Sparta. Then, conscious that you had always been a panegyrist of Sparta, you became afraid of seeming inconsistent. Accordingly, you
gave the semblance of censure to what was really praise. You have reproached the Spartans as arrogant, warlike, grasping. Now arrogance is allied to a lofty spirit. It is a warlike, not a peaceful temper which enlarges and guards possessions. Covetousness on a petty scale is, indeed, unpopular, and so defeats its own ends; but the covetousness of nations and despots has results which all the world admires. I am no enemy to the fame of your performance in thus pointing out its covert meaning. The hint will assist intelligent Spartans to perceive that, in accusing their city of having conquered all its great neighbours, you have glorified it; and that, in dwelling upon the faction and bloodshed among its dependents, you have implied the exemption of Sparta from such evils. You are to be congratulated upon the fame which you must win for having made both Athens and Sparta appear admirable;— Athens, to the many; Sparta, to the thoughtful. Do not burn your essay, but publish it, adding the discussion to which it has given rise; and so prove that you are as superior to the ordinary writers for the festivals as Homer to the poets who have copied him.’
‘These remarks were applauded enthusiastically; and all urged me to take the counsel. I thanked my able adviser; but did not tell him how far he had hit, or missed, my real mind (§§ 229—265).
‘My work is finished; a word in conclusion as to the
Conditions under which the work was written.
circumstances under which it was done. It was begun in the 94th year of my age, and was half-completed, when I was seized with the disorder against which I have been struggling for three years. For a long time I did not allow it to stop my labours; but had at last given in, when friends pressed me not to leave this speech unfinished. I did as they wished, though in my 97th year, and in a state in which few could bear to be listeners, much less writers. This is not said to win indulgence, but simply in order to make the facts known. An acknowledgment is due to those who value instructive and artistic essays above mere displays; and a warning to those who judge rashly what they do not understand’ (§§ 266—272).
Isokrates prefaces the Panathenaikos
remark that both in respect to subject-matter and in respect to style it belongs to a different class from those works which employed his best years. Those works dealt with contemporary politics; this is purely historical: those displayed all the resources of an elaborate rhetoric; this is in a plain, though finished, style. He fears that the Panathenaikos
will seem somewhat languid—μαλακώτερος
—if compared with its brilliant predecessors: it must be judged, he says, in view of its own special scope.
There is one comparison, however, which can
The Panathenaikos compared with the Panegyrikos.
hardly be avoided on this plea. The chief topics of the Panathenaikos
are embraced in the first half of the Panegyrikos.
These are:—1. The early services of Athens to Hellas in founding colonies, and in repelling the barbarians: Panath.
§§ 42—48: Panegyr.
§§ 34—37. 2. The early wars of Athens: Panath.
§§ 175—198: Panegyr.
§§ 51—70. 3. Athens in the Persian wars: Panath.
§§ 49—52 and 189: Panegyr.
§§ 71—74, 85—98. 4. The maritime empire of Athens: Panath.
§§ 53—61: Panegyr.
§ 104, &c. 5. The misdeeds in Hellas of Athens and of Sparta respectively: Panath.
§§ 62—107: Panegyr.
§§ 100—132. Now, it is not merely in rhetorical brilliancy, it is in point and definiteness of thought, in vigour, in clearness of arrangement, that the Panegyrikos
is so greatly superior to the Panathenaikos.
is the earliest of its author's longer compositions, and the best; the Panathenaikos
is the latest, and must be pronounced the weakest. The symptoms of the condition in which
the writer then was—‘exhausted both by sickness and by old age’ (§ 268)—are indeed evident in many places. They appear in the diffuse yet incomplete reply to his detractors inserted at the beginning; in the long digression on Agamemnon, closed by the avowal that he knows not whither he is ‘drifting’ (§ 88); in the disorder especially of §§ 155—198; and in the rambling supplement §§ 199—265. This last raises a curious point. Isokrates evidently felt that his vehement censures of Sparta in the Panathenaikos
were inconsistent with much in the general tone of his other writings (§ 239). But how far did he seriously mean to hint, as his own, the view which he makes his critic suggest—that these censures were, in their esoteric meaning, praise; since arrogance, aggressiveness, rapacity often win prizes which command [vulgar] admiration? In § 265 he declines to say how far the critic's suggestion had hit or missed his mind. If the critic was in any measure right, then the ingenuity of Isokrates had, indeed, declined.
contains, as has been seen,
Isokrates on Early Athens.
little that is not said better in the Panegyrikos;
but it has at least one passage of distinctive interest. In §§ 108—154 Isokrates sketches his theory of the early Constitutional History of Athens. The characteristic feature of this theory is that it ignores any Oligarchical period, properly so called, between the Monarchy and the Democracy. The Monarchy is immediately succeeded by a Democracy; a Democracy tempered, indeed, by the principle of preferring the ‘best men’—δημοκρατία ἀριστοκρατίᾳ
(§ 153). The term ‘oligarchic,’ as applied to the statesmen of this period, was a mere calumny of Peisistratos (§ 143). The elasticity of meaning which Isokrates gave to ‘democracy’ may be illustrated from Areopag.
§ 61, where he says that the Lacedaemonians are best governed because they are most democratic.
It is noticeable, however, that in the Areopagitikos
he dates that elder Democracy which he holds up to imitation, only from Solon— ὁ δημοτικώτατος
(§ 16); perhaps because that preSolonian democracy which he here extols appeared to him a practically unattainable ideal.