previous next

Isokrates.

It might have seemed that a finished simplicity so congenial to the Attic spirit had for ever superseded the ideal of Gorgias. But, just as the influence of that ideal was declining, a pupil of Gorgias came forward to show that his master's theory, though deformed by extravagances, was grounded in truth. Isokrates proved that, without loss of ease and fluency, prose may be artistically ornate in the general sense of Gorgias, (that is, with the aid of certain embellishments proper to poetry,) if only these are rightly chosen and are temperately used. The great difference between the work of Lysias and
His work compared with that of Lysias.
the work of Isokrates is this:—Lysias did perfectly what could be done to such perfection in pure Attic alone: Isokrates did excellently, though not faultlessly, a thing from which the finest instincts of Attic Greek were averse, but which, on the other hand, could be reproduced with fair success in any language that was sufficiently flexible and polished. Lysias traced the canon of Attic subtlety. Isokrates sent his influence from Greece into modern Europe
He founds a Normal Prose.
by founding a norm of literary prose.

Two circumstances especially favoured his aptitude for such a task. The first was that, until after the time of Aristotle, epideictic oratory, the branch of Isokrates, had a higher dignity in general

Estimation of the Epideictic branch.
estimation than either the forensic or the deliberative. A forensic or a deliberative speech had served its purpose when it had been spoken; it might be published, for students or for statesmen; but it was not intrinsically a part of the national literature in the same sense as (for instance) the Panegyrikos. Aristotle, who had probably heard Demosthenes, notices him only cursorily. Theophrastos, in tracing the development of Attic prose, stopped at Isokrates. It was only later Greek critics who could see things in a more just perspective. Secondly, Isokrates is
The School of Isokrates.
the only considerable Attic writer who was also a popular teacher of composition. He could affirm that all the men formed in his school had the same stamp of style: and, so far as the statement can be tested, it seems to be strictly true. The Isokratic
The Isokratic Prose —meant chiefly for readers.
prose was meant to be read rather than to be spoken. This is the basis of its character, distinguishing it from the earlier rhetorical prose, and fitting it to influence the literary prose of the modern world. To the conservative section of the Gorgian school this seemed, of course, an error. When Alkidamas1 attacked Isokrates in his essay against the composers of ‘written discourses’ (γραπτοὺς λόγους),—meaning, by that phrase, discourses composed, not to be spoken, but to be read,—he was loyal to the genuine tradition of his master. The object of Gorgias was to cultivate the faculty of oral and extemporary eloquence. But Isokrates, moved partly by his own want of voice and nerve, partly by the desire of teaching all Greece and of doing permanent work, resolved that epideictic oratory should have a literary form. For these purposes, as he saw, the composition of Gorgias and Thrasymachos, with its short clauses, was not sufficiently copious: that of Thucydides was not too rough. He sought, then, to give speech a fuller flow and a softer tone: and he moderated the use of every ornament which disturbs this flow or violates this tone. The chief
Its broad characteristics.
marks of Isokratic prose are,—the avoidance of poetical diction; the ampler period; evenness, obtained especially by systematic care against the collision of vowels; and the sparing admission of anything like a declamatory or passionate strain. These essential characteristics, to judge from fragments and from notices, were common to the Isokratic school. Epideictic Rhetoric, in application to its old subjects, was doomed. The first generation of Isokratics already felt that it could not last out their time, and were led, therefore, to widen their range. The application of Epideictic Rhetoric to
Its influence on History-writing.
History was a gain for Rhetoric, and, on the whole, a decided gain for the popular culture of that day: it was even so far a gain to History that much good work was done by men like Theopompos who, fifty years before, would have left nothing but a collection of panegyrical discourses. On the other hand, the vice of an origin from the Rhetoric of display became disastrously apparent when lesser men than Theopompos began to think that they must be accurate if they could, but brilliant at all costs. This evil tendency, however, did not fully set in until the style itself was declining: and it ought not to mislead us into underrating the value to literature of the Isokratic prose. Theopompos was a thoroughly
Theopompos.
Isokratic composer, but, as might be expected in the disciple who ‘needed the curb,’ had more force and passion. Ephoros, emulating the smooth copiousness
Ephoros.
of his master, was languid and diffuse. Such a contrast of personal temperaments and faculties is the best possible evidence to the definiteness of that common type which could still be recognised in both. The same type was equally clear in Theodektes, who
Theodektes.
seems to have had some dialectical training; and in Kephisodoros, who shared the orthodox hostility of
Kephisodoros.
his school to dialectic. In short, there was now a literary method, not to be obscured by individualities of culture or of aptitude, in virtue of which its possessor could be called Isokratic.

1 Sauppe (O. A. II. 156) and others reject the περὶ τῶν τοὺς γραπτοὺς λόγους γραφόντων περὶ σοφιστῶν. Blass (Att. Ber. II. 327 f.), reviewing the arguments, pronounces—rightly, to my thinking—for its genuineness.

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: