1. One of the ten Attic orators, whose orations were contained in the Alexandrian canon.
The time of his birth and death is unknown, but all accounts agree in the statement that he flourished (ἤκμασε
) during the period between the Peloponnesian war and the accession of Philip of Macedonia, so that he lived between B. C. 420 and 348. (Dionys. Isaeus,
1; Plut. Vit. X. Orat.
p. 839; Anonym. γένος Ἰσαίου
He was a son of Diagoras, and was born at Chalcis or, as some say, at Athens, probably only because he came to Athens at an early age, and spent the greater part of his life there.
He was instructed in oratory by Lysias and Isocrates (Phot. Bibl. Cod.
263; Dionys. Plut. Il. cc.
) He was afterwards engaged in writing judicial orations for others, and established a rhetorical school at Athens, in which Demosthenes is said to have been his pupil. Suidas states that Isaeus instructed him gratis, whereas Plutarch relates that he received 10,000 drachmas (comp. Plut. de Glor. Ath.
p. 350c.; Phot. l.c.
); and it is further said that Isaeus composed for Demosthenes the speeches against his guardians, or at least assisted him in the composition. All particulars about his life are unknown, and were so even in the time of Dionysius, since Hermippus, who had written an account of the disciples of Isocrates, did not mention Isaeus at all.
In antiquity there were sixty-four orations which bore the name of Isaeus, but fifty only were recognised as genuine by the ancient critics. (Plut. Vit. X. Orat. l.c.
) Of these only eleven have come down to us; but we possess fragments and the titles of 56 speeches ascribed to him.
The eleven extant are all on subjects connected with disputed inheritances; and Isaeus appears to have been particularly well acquainted with the laws relating to inheritance. (Ππρὶ κλήρου
Ten of these orations had been known ever since the revival of letters, and were printed in the collections of Greek orators; but the eleventh, Περὶ τοῦ Μενεκλέους κλήρου
, was first published in 1785, from a Florentine MS., by Th. Thyrwitt, London, 1785, 8vo.; and afterwards in the Gölting. Biblioth. für alte Lit. und Kunst
for 1788, part iii., and by J. C. Orelli, Zürich, 1814, 8vo. In 1815 A. Mai discovered the greater half of the oration of Isaeus, Περὶ τοῦ Κλεωνύμον κλήρον
, which he published at Milan, 1815,fol., and reprinted in his Classic. Auctor. e Cod. Vatican.
vol. iv. p. 280, &c. (Rome, 1831.)
Isaeus also wrote on rhetorical subjects, such as a work entitled ἰδίαι τέχναι
, which, however, is lost. (Plut. Vit. X. Orat.
p. 839; Dionys. Epist. ad Ammon.
Although his orations were placed fifth in the Alexandrian canon, still we do not hear of any of the grammarians having written commentaries upon them, except Didymus of Alexandria. (Harpocrat. s. vv. γαμηλία
But we still possess the criticism upon Isaeus written by Dionysius of Halicarnassus; and by a comparison of the orations still extant with the opinions of Dionysius, we come to the following conclusion.
The oratory of Isaeus resembles in many points that of his teacher, Lysias: the style of both is pure, clear, and concise; but while Lysias is at the same time simple and graceful, Isaeus evidently strives to attain a higher degree of polish and refinement, without, however, in the least injuring the powerful and impressive character of his oratory.
The same spirit is visible in the manner in which he handles his subjects, especially in their skilful division, and in the artful manner in which he interweaves his arguments with various parts of the exposition, whereby his orations become like a painting in which light and shade are distributed with a distinct view to produce certain effects.
It was mainly owing to this mode of management that he was envied and censured by his contemporaries, as if he had tried to deceive and misguide his hearers.
He was one of the first who turned their attention to a scientific cultivation of political oratory; but excellence in this department of the art was not attained till the time of Demosthenes.
The orations of Isaeus are contained in the collections of the Greek orators, published by Aldus
, and Baiter
A separate edition, with Reiske's and Taylor's notes, appeared at Leipzig, 1773. 8vo.
, and another by G. H. Schäfer, Leipzig, 1822, 8vo. The best separate edition is that by G. F. Schömann, with critical notes and a good commentary, Greifswald, 1831, 8vo.
There is an English translation of the orations of Isaeus, by Sir William Jones (London, 1794, 4to.), with prefatory discourse, notes critical and historical, and a commentary.
Comp. Westermann, Gesch. d. Griech. Beredtsamkeit,
§ 51, and Beilage,
v. p. 293, &c.; J. A. Liebmann, De Isaei Vita et Scriptis,
Halle, 1831, 4to.