previous next

Isaeos and Demosthenes.

Demosthenes was born in 384, and came of age in 366. Before attaining his majority he had resolved on the contest with the guardians who had abused their trust. The two orations Against Aphobos belong to 363 B. C.; the two orations Against Onetor to 362. Now, in 366, Isaeos must have been known for upwards of twenty years as a successful writer of forensic speeches, and also as a master of Attic law, especially in the department of claims to property. No one could be better fitted to arm Demosthenes for his first encounter. There is no doubt whatever that Demosthenes had recourse to the aid of Isaeos. Afterwards, when that relative obscurity in which the critics left the elder orator was hardly broken save by this stray gleam from the glory of the younger, friendly biographers naturally welcomed everything that could add brightness to the borrowed ray1. It is due quite as much to Isaeos as to Demosthenes that we should be on our guard against exaggerations. According to one story, Demosthenes, on coming of age, took Isaeos into his house, and studied with him for four years2. He is further said to have paid Isaeos 10,000 drachms (about £400) on condition that the teacher should withdraw from a school of Rhetoric which he had opened, and should devote himself wholly to his new pupil3. ‘It was a close personal relation,’ writes a brilliant historian, ‘into which they entered, an intellectual armed alliance, in order with their united strength to carry on the contest of vengeance which Demosthenes, like the Heroes of ancient mythology, undertook against the desolaters of his paternal home4.’ It would be agreeable thus to conceive Isaeos,—as a Pylades divided by nothing but, perhaps, thirty-six years from his young partner in the chastisement of a triple Aegisthos. Plutarch, however, says merely that Demosthenes—‘employed Isaeos as his master in Rhetoric, though Isokrates was then teaching, either (as some say) because he could not pay Isokrates the prescribed fee of ten minae; or because he preferred the style of Isaeos for his purpose, as being vigorous and astute’ (δραστήριον καὶ πανοῦργον5. The school of Isaeos is nowhere else mentioned6, nor is the name of any other pupil recorded.

The Sixth Oration, On the Estate of Philoktemon (364—363 B. C.), falls in the midst of those years (366—362) which the tradition supposes Isaeos to have reserved for Demosthenes; showing that, if Isaeos had no other disciples, he had at least concurrent occupations. Then another version claims for Isaeos the credit of having taught Demosthenes gratis7. But the decisive argument is furnished by the speeches Against Aphobos and Onetor. These are not the compositions of one who had given himself wholly to the guidance of Isaeos, who was sitting at the master's feet, who was working under the master's eye. On the contrary, these earliest speeches of Demosthenes have a stamp of their own as marked as it is original. Some valuable hints Demosthenes unquestionably got from Isaeos, and an attempt will be made presently to show what these were. But the limits of the influence forbid us to think that the intercourse between Isaeos and Demosthenes as teacher and learner can have been either very intimate or of very long duration8.

1 Even Dionys. begins: Ἰσαῖος δέ, Δημοσθένους καθηγησάμενος, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο μάλιστα γενόμενος περιφανής.

2 Ἰσαῖον ἀναλαβὼν εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν τετραετῆ χρόνον αὑτὸν διεπόνησε, μιμούμενος αὐτοῦ τοὐς λόγους: [Plut.] vit. Dem. The same author represents these studies with Isaeos as having begun while Demosthenes was yet a minor and living in his mother's house; and so Plutarch, vit. Demosth. c. 5: Libanios vit. Dem. p. 3 (Reiske): Suidas s v. Δημοσθένης, &c. Schäfer (Dem. I. 257) would date the relation only from 366. It was only after attaining his majority and receiving the guardians' account that Demosth. could have resolved on the law-suit.

3 [Plut.] vit. Isae.: Phot. cod. 263. Curtius adopts the tradition (V. 221, Ward). Schäfer suggests that it may have arisen from Demosthenes having made some present to Isaeos on winning the cause against Aphobos (Dem. I. 257).

4 Curtius V. 220 (Ward).

5 Plut. vit. Dem. [not the pseudoPlutarch in the lives of the X. Orators] c. 5.

6 Plutarch, no doubt, mentions τοὺς Ἰσοκράτεις καὶ Ἀντιφῶντας καὶ Ἰσαίους among τοὺς ἐν ταῖς σχολαῖς τὰ μειράκια προδιδάσκοντας (de glor. Athen. p. 350 C): but this is vague; and need mean no more than that he knew an Art of Rhetoric (see ch. XXI. ad init.) to be extant under the name of Isaeos.

7 Suidas s. v. Ἰσαῖος: ἐπαινεῖται ...ὡς Δημοσθένης ἀμισθὶ προαγαγών. Weissenborn (Ersch. and Gruber, Encycl. II. xxxviii. 286) adopts this account.

8 The enemy—Pythcas, as Dionys. Isae. c. 4 conjectures—who reproached Demosthenes with having ‘swallowed Isaeos bodily’ (τὸν Ἰσαῖον ὅλον σεσίτισται) paid a bad compliment to the discernment of his audience.

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: