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Letter VI., To the Children of Jason.

2. To the Children of Jason. [Ep. VI.]—Jason, tyrant of Pherae and tagos of Thessaly, was assassinated in Ol. 102. 3, 370 B.C. The facts known about his successors may be summed up thus1:—

370. On the death of Jason, his brothers Polydoros and Polyphron become joint tagoi. Polydoros is soon afterwards murdered by Polyphron.

369. Alexander, son of Polydoros, murders Polyphron and reigns in his stead.

3592. Alexander is murdered, at the instigation of his wife Thebe (daughter of Jason), by her halfbrothers Tisiphonos, Peitholaos and Lykophron. Thebe and Tisiphonos share the chief power.

358. Tisiphonos dies. Lykophron and Peitholaos presently avail themselves of the distraction caused by the Phocian (or ‘Sacred’) War, 357 B. C., to establish a joint tyranny3.

352. Philip of Macedon deposes Lykophron and frees Pherae from the tyranny.

This letter of Isokrates was written to Thebe and her half-brothers, the children of Jason4, in 359 B. C, soon after the death of Alexander. In §§ 7—14 Isokrates counsels the persons whom he addresses, and whom flatterers were ‘spurring on to despotism’ (ἐπὶ τὴν τυραννίδα παροξύνοντες, § 12), to think whether it is better to have honour from willing or from unwilling citizens. This is exactly illustrated by Diodoros, who says of Thebe and her brothers—‘At first they had great acceptance as despot-slayers; but afterwards they changed their minds,—made a bargain with hireling troops, and set themselves up as despots; and after putting out of the way many of those who wrought against them, and equipping their power to a noteworthy strength, seized the government5.’ Isokrates wrote before they had wholly ‘changed their minds.’ The Athenian embassy noticed in § 1 had doubtless been prompted by the hope that the government of Pherae was about to become more democratic6.

‘One of our envoys has brought me word that you asked

him privately whether I could be induced to take up my abode with you. For the sake of my friendship with Jason and Polyalkes I would gladly consent; but many things hinder me. First, old age. It would ill become me to leave Athens now, when, were I abroad, I ought to be hastening back to die. Next, to say the truth, I fear Athens. Her alliances, I see, are shortlived. Should her alliance with you prove so, I, who live among you, would incur at least the shame of siding with friends against friends. (§§ 1—3.)

‘I will try, however, to discuss your affairs as I would have done had I come to you. This letter is not meant for rhetorical display: it is written because I see you in great troubles. A man of my age is past writing well; but the very length of his experience qualifies him to advise. (§§ 4—6.) I always teach my pupils that, in composing a speech, the first thing needful is to define clearly the object which they wish the speech to effect; the next thing is to adapt the means to that end. This principle does not apply to the writing of speeches only; it applies to all enterprises, and to your case among the rest. You must reflect what mode of life, what kind of repute, you desire; whether you are ambitious of honours to be given by, or extorted from, your fellow-citizens; and then you must shape accordingly your daily conduct. To me the life of a private man seems better than that of a king,—the honours of a republic sweeter than those of a monarchy. I know that this view will find many adversaries, especially among those who are about you. They look only to the powers, the riches, the pleasures of royalty, ignoring its troubles and its dangers. Now this is just the feeling with which men dare crimes. They know that there is peril; but trust that they will contrive to avoid it. I envy such easiness of temper; but should be ashamed if, in advising others, I failed to state fairly both sides of the question. Expect, therefore, an impartial estimate.’...(§§ 7—14.)

1 See esp. Diod. XV. 60, XVI. 14: Xen. Hellen. VI. iv. 33.

2 Diodoros (XVI. 14) puts the death of Alexander in the year of Agathokles, 35 7/6 B. C.; but see Clinton, F. H. vol. II., sub anno 359, and Appendix XV. on Alexander of Pherae: also Schafer, Dem. I. P. 133, note 2.

3 See Schäfer, Dem. I. p. 457.

4 Plut. Pelop. c. 28, Θήβη, θυγάτηρ μὲν Ἰάσονος οὖσα γυνὴ δὲ Ἀλεξάνδρου.

5 Diod. XVI. 14.

6 Through not observing the fact that Thebe and her brothers were the children of Jason, some have made the mistake of supposing this Letter to have been written in 370 B.C.—eleven years before its real date. Thus Dobree says (Adv. I. 284)—‘Statim, ut videtur, post Jasonis mortem, Olymp. 102. 3. Ait Diodorus XV. 60 successisse Jasoni fratrem Polydorum; fortasse sub specie tutoris.’ In a modern Greek edition of Isokrates (vol. II. of the Ἑλληνικὴ Βιβλιοθήκη, Didot), the commentator says—εἰκὸς οὖν τὴν ἐπιστολὴν ταύτην γεγράφθαι αὐτίκα μετὰ τὸν τοῦ πατρὸς θάνατον τοῖς παισίν, γοῦν τῷ τετάρτῳ τῆς αὐτῆς Ὀλυμπιάδος ἔτει, ὅπερ συμβαίνει τῷ τριακοστῷ ἑξηκοστῷ ἐννάτῳ [he ought to have said, τῷ τριακοστῷ ἑβδομηκοστῷ] πρὸ Χριστοῦ (p. 310). Blass (Att. Ber. II. 272) does not notice that Thebe was daughter of Jason; and supposes the παῖδες Ἰάσονος to be distinct persons from Thebe and her brothers. In the interval between the murder of Alexander and the setting up of the new tyranny, these sons of Jason may (Blass thinks) have been temporarily strong, and Athens may thus have been led to send envoys to them.

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