1. A celebrated Attic orator and rhetorician, was the son of Theodorus, and born at Athens in B. C. 436. Theodorus was a man of considerable wealth, and had a manufacture of flutes or musical instruments, for which the son was often ridiculed by the comic poets of the time; but the father made good use of his property, in procuring for the young Isocrates the best education that could be obtained : the most celebrated sophists are mentioned among his teachers, such as Tisias, Gorgias, Prodicus, and also Socrates and Theramenes. (Dionys. Isocrat.
1; Plut. Vit. X. Orat.
p. 836; Suidas, s. v. Ἰσοκράτης
; Anonym. Βίος Ἰσοκράτους
, in Westermann's Βιογράφοι
, p. 253; Phot. Bibl. Cod.
260.) Isocrates was naturally timid, and of a weakly constitution, for which reasons he abstained from taking any direct part in the political affairs of his country, and resolved to contribute towards the development of eloquence by teaching and writing, and thus to guide others in the path for which his own constitution unfitted him.
According to some accounts, he devoted himself to the teaching of rhetoric for the purpose of ameliorating his circumstances, since he had lost his paternal inheritance in the war against the Lacedaemonians. (Plut. l.c.
p. 837; Phot. Bibl. Cod. l.c.
176; Isocrat. de Permut.
He first established a school of rhetoric in the island of Chios, but his success does not appear to have been very great, for he is said to have had only nine pupils there.
He is stated, however, to have exerted himself in another direction, and to have regulated the political constitution of Chios, after the model of that of Athens.
After this he returned to Athens, and there opened a school of rhetoric.
He met with the greatest applause, and the number of his pupils soon increased to 100, every one of whom paid him 1000 drachmae.
In addition to this, he made a large income by writing orations ; thus Plutarch (l.c.
p. 838) relates that Nicocles, king of Cyprus, gave Isocrates twenty talents for the oration πρὸς Νικοκλέα
In this manner he gradually acquired a considerable property, and he was several times called upon to undertake the expensive trierarchy; this happened first in B. C. 355, but being ill, he excused himself through his son Aphareus. In 352 he was called upon again, and in order to silence the calumnies of his enemies, he performed it in the most splendid manner.
The oration περὶ ἀντιδόσεως πρὸς Λυσίμαχον
refers to that event, though it was written after it.
In his earlier years Isocrates lived in the company of Athenian hetaerae (Plut. l.c.
p. 839; Athen. 13.592
), but at a later period he married Plathane, the widow of the sophist Hippias, whose youngest son, Aphareus, he adopted. Isocrates has the great merit of being the first who clearly saw the great value and objects of oratory, in its practical application to public life and the affairs of the state.
At the same time, he endeavoured to base public oratory upon sound moral principles, and thus to rescue it from the influence of the sophists, who used and abused it for any and every purpose; for Isocrates, although educated by the most eminent sophists, was the avowed enemy of all sophistry.
He was, however, not altogether free from their influence; and what is most conspicuous in his political discourses is the absence of all practical knowledge of real political life, so that his fine theories, though they were unquestionably well meant, bear a strong resemblance to the visions of an enthusiast.
The influence which he exercised on his country by his oratory must have been limited, since his exertions were confined to his school, but through his school he had the greatest possible influence upon the development of public oratory; for the most eminent statesmen, philosophers, orators, and historians of the time, were trained in it, and afterwards developed each in his particular way the principles they had imbibed in his school. No ancient rhetorician had so many disciples that afterwards shed lustre on their country as Isocrates. If we set aside the question as to whether the political views he entertained were practicable or wise, it must be owned that he was a sincere lover of his native land, and that the greatness and glory of Athens were the great objects for which he was labouring; and hence, when the battle of Chaeroneia had destroyed the last hopes of freedom and independence, Isocrates made away with himself, unable to survive the downfal of his country, B. C. 338. (Plut. p. 837; Dionys. Photius, ll. cc.
; Philostr. Vit. Soph.
The Alexandrian critics assigned to Isocrates the fourth place in the canon of Greek orators, and the great esteem in which his orations were held by the ancient grammarians is attested by the numerous commentaries that were written upon them by Philonicus, Hieronymus of Rhodes, Cleochares, Didymus, and others. Hermippus even treated in a separate work on the pupils of Isocrates; but all these works are lost, with the exception of the criticism by Dionysius of Halicarnassus.
The language of Isocrates is the purest and most refined Attic dialect, and thus forms a great contrast with the natural simplicity of Lysias, as well as with the sublime power of Demosthenes. His artificial style is more elegant than graceful, and more ostentatious than pleasing; the carefully-rounded periods, the frequent application of figurative expressions, are features which remind us of the sophists ; and although his sentences flow very melodiously, yet they become wearisome and monotonous by the perpetual occurrence of the same over-refined periods, which are not relieved by being interspersed with shorter and easier sentences.
In saying this, we must remember that Isocrates wrote his orations to be read, and not with a view to their recitation before the public.
The immense care he bestowed upon the composition of his orations, and the time he spent in working them out and polishing them, may be inferred from the statement, that he was engaged for a period of ten, and according to others, of fifteen years, upon his Panegyric oration. (Quint. Inst. 10.4.4
It is owing to this very care and labour that in the arrangement and treatment of his subject, Isocrates is far superior to Lysias and other orators of the time, and that the number of orations he wrote is comparatively small.
There were in antiquity sixty orations which went by the name of Isocrates, but Caecilius, a rhetorician of the time of Augustus, recognised only twenty-eight of them as genuine (Plut. l.c.
p. 838; Phot. Bibl. Cod.
260), and of these only twentyone have come down to us. Eight of them were written for judicial purposes in civil cases, and intended to serve as models for this species of oratory ; all the others'are political discourses or show speeches, intended to be read by a large public : they are particularly characterised by the ethical element on which his political views are based. Besides these entire orations, we have the titles and fragments of twenty-seven other orations, which are referred to under the name of Isocrates.
There also exist under his name ten letters, which were written to friends on political questions of the time; one of them, however (the tenth), is in all probability spurious.
A scientific manual of rhetoric (τέχνη ῥητορτκὴ
) which Isocrates wrote is lost, with the exception of a few fragments, so that we are unable to form any definite idea of his merits in this respect,
The orations of Isocrates are printed in the various collections of the Greek orators. The first separate edition is that of Demetrius Chalcocondylas (Milan, 1493, fol.)
, which was followed by numerous others, which, however, are mainly based upon the edition of Aldus (e. g. those published at Hagenau, 1533, 8vo.; Venice, 1542, 1544, 1549, 8vo.; Basel, 1546, 1550, 1555, 1561, 8vo.)
. A better edition is that of H. Wolf (Basel, 1553, 8vo.)
, and with Wolf's notes and emendations, Basel, 1570, fol.
, the text of which was often reprinted. Some improvements were made in the edition of H. Stephens (1593, fol., reprinted in 1604, 1642, 1651, 8vo., in London 1615, 8vo, and at Cambridge 1686, 8vo.). The edition of A. Auger (Paris, 1782, 3 vols. 3vo.) is not what it might have been, considering the MSS. he had at his disposal. The best modern editions are those of W. Lange (Halle, 1803, 8vo.)
, Ad. Coraes (Paris, 1807, 2 vols. 8vo.)
, G. S. Dobson (London, 1828, 2 vols. 8vo., with a Latin transl., copious notes and scholia)
, and Baiter and Sauppe (Zürich, 1839, 2 vols. 12mo.).
There are also many good editions of separate orations and of select orations, for which the reader must be referred to bibliographical works (Hoffmann, Lexicon Bibliogr.
vol. ii. p. 615, &c.)
A useful Index Graecitatis was published by Th. Mitchell, Oxford, 1827, 8vo.
Comp. Westermann, Gesch. der Griech. Beredts.
§§ 48, 49, and Beilage
iv. pp. 288-293; Leloup, Commentatio de Isocrate,
Bonn, 1823, 8vo.; J. G. Pfund, de Isocratis Vita et Scriptis,