Letters of Isokrates may best be taken in their probable chronological order.
1. To Dionysios
[Ep. I.]—This is the proem of a letter to Dionysios the Elder, tyrant of Syracuse from 405 to 367 B. C., urging him to interfere, for
the common good, in the affairs of Greece. The fragment breaks off just as Isokrates is going to explain the purpose for which he asks this interference. But the purpose, which could hardly have
been doubtful, is expressly stated in the Philippos
(§ 8). Isokrates wished Dionysios to undertake the work which he had already2
pressed on Athens and Sparta and which he afterwards pressed on Archidamos and on Philip—the leading of united Greece against Persia.
Three points are helps towards fixing the date.
(1) Isokrates is too old and infirm3
for a voyage to Sicily: § 1. (2) The Spartan supremacy is past; the Carthaginians are in such a plight as to be thankful if they can keep their own territory: § 8. (3) Friendly relations exist between Dionysios and Athens. Now the references in § 8 might be applied to the latter part of 394 B.C.; in which year the defeat at Knidos destroyed at least the naval supremacy of Sparta, and Dionysios imposed an humiliating peace upon Imilkon. But in 394 B.C. Isokrates was only forty-two. And the good understanding between Dionysios and Athens was not established before 369 B.C.4
The time indicated is
more probably 368 B.C. In that year Dionysios was again at war with the Carthaginians, and was at first, though not finally, successful5
. This letter may have been written at the time when the report of his first successes had reached Athens. Three years before, the Spartan empire had been finally overthrown at Leuktra.
‘Were I a younger man, I would not have written but
come to you. Written advice is at many disadvantages as compared with oral. But I trust that these disadvantages will be neutralised by your interest in the substance of my letter. Some have pretended that you prefer flatterers to advisers; but I do not believe that your pre-eminence in counsel and in action could have been reached if you had not been willing to gather the best thoughts of every mind. (§§ 1—4.) Do not take this letter for a rhetorical composition. Had display been my object, I should have sought my audience at some great festival. But my object is practical; I want a certain thing done, and therefore address the man who is able to do it. Purposing to give counsel for the welfare of Hellas, to whom ought I to speak but to the first of Hellenes? The time is opportune for such counsel. While Sparta was at the head of Hellas, you could not have interfered in our affairs without adding rivalry with Sparta to your actual struggle against Carthage. Now Carthage has been humbled; and Athens is ready to be your ally. (§§ 5—8.) Do not think it strange if one
who is neither statesman nor general presumes to speak in the cause of Hellas, and to you. I can at least claim a share of culture, and of that culture which concerns itself with the greatest questions. But you shall at once judge for yourself whether my advice is worth any thing...’ (§§ 9—10.)