Isocrates (/aɪˈsɒkrəˌtiːz/; Greek: Ἰσοκράτης
[isokrátɛ̂ːs]; 436–338 BC), an ancient Greek rhetorician, was
one of the ten Attic orators. Among the most influential Greek
rhetoricians of his time,
Isocrates made many contributions to
rhetoric and education through his teaching and written works.
Greek rhetoric is commonly traced to Corax of Syracuse, who first
formulated a set of rhetorical rules in the fifth century BC. His
Tisias was influential in the development of the rhetoric of the
courtroom, and by some accounts was the teacher of Isocrates. Within
two generations, rhetoric had become an important art, its growth
driven by social and political changes such as democracy and courts of
2 Program of rhetoric
3 The first school of rhetoric
4 Other influences
5.3 Panegyricus 50 and its contemporary interpretation
5.4 Major orations
6 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Isocrates was born to a wealthy family in
Athens and received a
first-rate education. He was greatly influenced by his sophist
Prodicus and Gorgias, and was also closely acquainted with
Socrates. After the Peloponnesian War, his family lost its wealth,
Isocrates was forced to earn a living.
His professional career is said to have begun with logography: he was
a hired courtroom speechwriter. Athenian citizens did not hire
lawyers; legal procedure required self-representation. Instead, they
would hire people like
Isocrates to write speeches for them. Isocrates
had a great talent for this since he lacked confidence in public
speaking. His weak voice motivated him to publish pamphlets and
although he played no direct part in state affairs, his written speech
influenced the public and provided significant insight into major
political issues of the day.
Around 392 BC he set up his own school of rhetoric (at the time,
Athens had no standard curriculum for higher education; sophists were
typically itinerant), and proved to be not only an influential
teacher, but a shrewd businessman. His fees were unusually high, and
he accepted no more than nine pupils at a time. Many of them went on
to be philosophers, legislators and historians. As a consequence,
he amassed a considerable fortune. According to
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder (NH
VII.30) he could sell a single oration for twenty talents.
Program of rhetoric
According to George Norlin,
Isocrates defined rhetoric as outward
feeling and inward thought of not merely expression, but reason,
feeling, and imagination. Like most who studied rhetoric before and
Isocrates believed it was used to persuade ourselves and
others, but also used in directing public affairs.
rhetoric as "that endowment of our human nature which raises us above
mere animality and enables us to live the civilized life."
Isocrates unambiguously defined his approach in the treatise Against
the Sophists. This polemic was written to explain and advertise the
reasoning and educational principles behind his new school. He
promoted broad-based education by speaking against two types of
teachers: the Eristics, who disputed about theoretical and ethical
matters, and the Sophists, who taught political debate techniques.
Isocrates is viewed by many as being a rhetor and
practicing rhetoric, he refers to his study as philosophia—which he
claims as his own.
Against the Sophists is Isocrates' first published
work where he gives an account of philosophia. His principal method is
to contrast his ways of teaching with Sophistry. While
not go against the
Sophist method of teaching as a whole, he
emphasizes his disagreement with bad Sophistry practices.
Isocrates' program of rhetorical education stressed the ability to use
language to address practical problems, and he referred to his
teachings as more of a philosophy than a school of rhetoric. He
emphasized that students needed three things to learn: a natural
aptitude which was inborn, knowledge training granted by teachers and
textbooks, and applied practices designed by educators. He also
stressed civic education, training students to serve the state.
Students would practice composing and delivering speeches on various
subjects. He considered natural ability and practice to be more
important than rules or principles of rhetoric. Rather than
delineating static rules,
Isocrates stressed "fitness for the
occasion," or kairos (the rhetor's ability to adapt to changing
circumstances and situations). His school lasted for over fifty years,
in many ways establishing the core of liberal arts education as we
know it today, including oratory, composition, history, citizenship,
culture and morality.
The first school of rhetoric
Prior to Isocrates, teaching consisted of first-generation Sophists,
walking from town to town as itinerants, who taught any individuals
interested in political occupations how to be effective in public
speaking. Some popular itinerants of the late 5th century BC include
Gorgias and Protagoras. Around 392-390 BC,
Isocrates founded his
Cius which was known as the first academy of rhetoric. The
foundation of this academy brought students to
Athens to study. Prior
to this, teachers travelled amongst cities giving lectures to anyone
interested. The first students in Isocrates’ school were
Athenians. However, after he published the Panegyrius in 380 BC, his
reputation spread to many other parts of Greece. Following the
founding of Isocrates’ academy,
Plato (a rival of Isocrates) founded
his own academy as a rival school of philosophy. Isocrates
encouraged his students to wander and observe public behavior in the
city (Athens) to learn through imitation. His students aimed to learn
how to serve the city. Some of his students included Isaeus,
Lycurgus, Hypereides, Ephorus, Theopompus, Speusippus, and Timotheus.
Many of these students remained under the instruction of
three to four years. Timotheus had such a great appreciation for
Isocrates that he erected a statue at
Eleusis and dedicated it to
Because of Plato's attacks on the sophists, Isocrates' school —
having its roots, if not the entirety of its mission, in rhetoric, the
domain of the sophists — came to be viewed as unethical and
deceitful. Yet many of Plato's criticisms are hard to substantiate in
the actual work of Isocrates; at the end of Phaedrus,
Plato even shows
Isocrates (though some scholars have taken this to
Isocrates saw the ideal orator as someone who must
possess not only rhetorical gifts, but also a wide knowledge of
philosophy, science, and the arts. He promoted the Greek ideals of
freedom, self-control, and virtue; in this he influenced several Roman
rhetoricians, such as
Cicero and Quintilian, and influenced the core
concepts of liberal arts education.
Isocrates' innovations in the art of rhetoric paid closer attention to
expression and rhythm than any other Greek writer, though because his
sentences were so complex and artistic, he often sacrificed
Of the 60 orations in his name available in Roman times, 21 remained
in transmission by the end of the medieval period. Three more were
found in a single codex during a 1988 excavation at Kellis, a
site in the
Dakhla Oasis of Egypt. We have nine letters in his name,
but the authenticity of four of those has been questioned. He is said
to have compiled a treatise, the Art of Rhetoric, but there is no
known copy. Other surviving works include his autobiographical
Antidosis, and educational texts such as Against the Sophists.
Isocrates wrote a collection of ten known orations, three of which
were directed to the rulers of Salamis on Cyprus. To Nicocles,
Isocrates suggests first how the new king might rule best. For the
extent of the rest of the oration,
Isocrates advises Nicocles of ways
to improve his nature, such as the use of education and studying the
best poets and sages.
Isocrates concludes with the notion that, in
finding the happy mean, it is better to fall short than to go to
excess. His second oration concerning Nicocles was related to the
rulers of Salamis on Cyprus; this was written for the king and his
Isocrates again stresses that the surest sign of good
understanding is education and the ability to speak well. The king
uses this speech to communicate to the people what exactly he expects
Isocrates makes a point in stating that courage and
cleverness are not always good, but moderation and justice are. The
third oration about Cyprus is an encomium to Euagoras who is the
father of Nicocles.
Isocrates uncritically applauds Euagoras for
forcibly taking the throne of Salamis and continuing rule until his
assassination in 374 BC.
Two years after his completion of the three orations,
an oration for Archidamus, the prince of Sparta.
the settling of the Thebans colonists in Messene a violation of the
Peace of Antalcidas. He was bothered most by the fact that this ordeal
would not restore the true Messenians but rather the Helots, in turn
making these slaves masters.
Isocrates believed justice was most
important, which secured the Spartan laws but he did not seem to
recognize the rights of the Helots. Ten years later
Isocrates wrote a
letter to Archidamus, now the king of Sparta, urging him to reconcile
the Greeks, stopping their wars with each other so that they could end
the insolence of the Persians.
At the end of the Social War in 355 BC, 80-year-old
Isocrates wrote an
oration addressed to the Athenian assembly entitled On the Peace;
Aristotle called it On the Confederacy.
Isocrates wrote this speech
for the reading public, asking that both sides be given an unbiased
hearing. Those in favour of peace have never caused misfortune, while
those embracing war lurched into many disasters.
the flatterers who had brought ruin to their public affairs.
P. Oxy. 1183, late-1st-century-AD papyrus containing Isocrates's
Isokratous Apanta (1570)
Main article: Antidosis
Isocrates argues with a student about the literacy
of the Spartans. In section 250, the student claims that the most
intelligent of the Spartans admired and owned copies of some of
Isocrates' speeches. The implication is that some Spartans had books,
were able to read them and were eager to do so. The Spartans, however,
needed an interpreter to clear up any misunderstandings of double
meanings which might lie concealed beneath the surface of complicated
words. This text indicates that some Spartans were not illiterate.
This text is important to scholars' understanding of literacy in
Sparta because it indicates that Spartans were able to read and that
they often put written documents to use in their public affairs.
Panegyricus 50 and its contemporary interpretation
In 2000, a 15-year-old resident alien from
Albania living in
Greece finished first in his class and became eligible as
the standard-bearer of the Greek flag in the upcoming parade for a
major national holiday, the Ohi Day. Once news broke that an
Albanian was to lead in the parade and carry the Greek flag, massive
public outcry ensued throughout
Greece and eventually the young
Albanian agreed to step down and give his place to a Greek classmate.
When the story first began circulating, Greek President Konstantinos
Stephanopoulos defended the right of the young Albanian to represent
his school by quoting Isocrates: "Greeks are they who partake in Greek
education" ("Έλληνες είναι οι μετέχοντες
της Ελληνικής παιδείας"). The insinuation is that
ancestry should not factor into the definition of Greek nationality,
and that anyone, regardless of the former, should be able to represent
Greece and carry its flag, if willing to do so.
The following passage (from Panegyricus 50) is what
Tοσοῦτον δ' ἀπολέλοιπεν ἡ πόλις ἡμῶν
περὶ τὸ φρονεῖν καὶ λέγειν τοὺς
ἄλλους ἀνθρώπους, ὥσθ' οἱ ταύτης
μαθηταὶ τῶν ἄλλων διδάσκαλοι
γεγόνασι, καὶ τὸ τῶν Ἑλλήνων ὄνομα
πεποίηκε μηκέτι τοῦ γένους ἀλλὰ τῆς
διανοίας δοκεῖν εἶναι, καὶ μᾶλλον
Ἕλληνας καλεῖσθαι τοὺς τῆς
παιδεύσεως τῆς ἡμετέρας ἢ τοὺς τῆς
κοινῆς φύσεως μετέχοντας.
Our city has so far surpassed other men in thought and speech that
Athens have become the teachers of others, and the city
has made the name “Greek” seem to be not that of a people but of a
way of thinking; and people are called Greeks because they share in
our education (paideusis) rather than in our birth.
Extensive analysis shows Isocrates' speech here as restrictive; he is
not inviting foreigners to learn Greek. He is warning his fellow
Greeks that it is not enough for them to be of Greek blood; they need
a proper Greek (that is, Athenian) education as well, lest their
culture be overtaken by barbarians.
Some claim that
Isocrates was merely making an appeal to unite all
Hellenes under the hegemony of
Athens (whose culture is implied by the
words "our common culture") in a crusade against the Persians (rather
than their customary fighting amongst themselves). That is, Isocrates
was referring to Athenian (not 'greater Greek') culture, and was not
extending the appellation "Hellene" to non-Greeks.
And yet by these same rules of rhetoric, whether the precedent was
narrowly or broadly conceived, it is still precedent.
Anaximenes of Lampsacus
Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 27
^ a b c d e Matsen, Patricia, Philip Rollinson and Marion Sousa.
Readings from Classical Rhetoric. Southern Illinois: 1990.
^ a b Cackwell, George Law (1998). "Isocrates". The Oxford Companion
to Classical Civilization. York University: Simon Hornblower and
Antony Spawforth Oxford University Press. Retrieved October 18,
2011. [permanent dead link]
^ a b c Norlin, George (1928). Isocrates. London W. Heinemann.
^ Readings in Classical
Rhetoric By Thomas W. Benson, Michael H.
Prosser. page 43. ISBN 0-9611800-3-X
^ Livingstone, Niall (2007). "Writing Politics: Isocrates'
Philosophy". Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric. 25 (1):
^ a b c d Mitchell, Gordon. "Isocrates". Archived from the original on
18 September 2014. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
^ "Ancient Kellis". Lib.monash.edu.au. 1998-10-02. Archived from the
original on 2012-04-20. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
^ Pearse, Roger (2005-09-17). "The texts found at
Kellis in the
Dakhleh Oasis". Tertullian.org. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
^ a b c Beck, Sanderson.
Greece & Rome to 30 BC (Volume 4 ed.).
Ethics of Civilization.
^ Terry L. Papillon, The Oratory of Classical Greece:
^ a b F. W. Walbank, "The Problem of Greek Nationality" (in: Frank W.
Walbank, Selected Papers: Studies in Greek and Roman History and
Historiography, Cambridge University Press, 2010,
ISBN 978-0-5211-3680-8, p. 5; also in: Thomas Harrison (ed.),
Greeks and Barbarians (Edinburgh Readings on the Ancient World),
Edinburgh University Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-7486-1270-3, pp.
139–140): "It has been widely assumed in the past that the word
Hellene began by having a ‘national’ sense and later, especially
in Hellenistic times, came to mean ‘possessing Greek culture’. For
instance, in Ptolemaic and Roman
Egypt the Hellenes were also known as
οἱ ἀπὸ τοῦ γυμνασίου, ‘those from the
gymnasium’) and frequently had non-Greek names. From Tebtunis we
have a list of five Ἑλλήνων γεωργ[ῶν], ‘Greek
farmers’, of whom only one has a Greek name.’ And it has been
thought that the beginning of this extension in the meaning of the
word can be traced to the fourth century, when Isocrates
Athens has become the teacher of the other cities, and has
made the name of Greek (τὸ τῶν Ἑλλήνων ὄνομα) no
longer a mark of race (γένος) but of Intellect (διάνοια),
so that it is those who share our upbringing (τῆς
παιδεύσεως) rather than our common nature (τῆς
κοινῆς φύσεως) who are called Hellenes.’ This passage
has attracted great attention, Jaeger going so far as to claim it as
‘a higher ǁ justification for the new national imperialism, in that
it identifies what is specifically Greek with what is universally
human’. ‘Without the idea which [Isocrates] here expresses for the
first time’, he continues, ‘... there would have been no
Macedonian Greek world-empire, and the universal culture which we call
Hellenistic would never have existed.’ Unfortunately for this claim,
it has been shown” that in this passage
Isocrates is not extending
the term Hellene to non-Greeks, but restricting its application; he is
in effect saying, ‘Hellenes are no longer all who share in the
γένος and common φύσις of the Greek people, as hitherto, but
only those who have gone to school to Athens; henceforth Greece” is
Athens and her cultural following.’ Thus Isocrates
gives the term a cultural value; but he cannot be regarded as
initiating a wider concept of Hellas."
^ James I. Porter, Classical Pasts: The Classical Traditions of Greece
and Rome, Princeton University Press, 2006, 0691089426, 9780691089423,
pp. 383–384: "The telos towards which the whole encomium is directed
is neither military nor material, but cultural, and in particular
linguistic: •toiio4ia[clarification needed] (in Isocrates’, not in
Plato’s sense) is Athens’s gift to the world, and eloquence, which
distinguishes men from animals and liberally educated men ... from
uncultured ones, is honoured in that city more than in any other. Thus
Isocrates can claim that it is above all in the domain of language
Athens has become the school for the rest of the world: “And so
far has our city distanced the rest of mankind in thought and in
speech that her pupils have become the teachers of the rest of the
world; and she has brought it about that the name ‘Hellenes’
suggests no longer a race but an intelligence, and the title
‘Hellenes’ is applied rather to those who share our culture than
to those who share a common blood: Like Pericles’ funeral oration in
Thucydides, upon which this section of the Panegyricus is closely
modelled, Isocrates’ panegyric emphasizes abstract cultural values
but its ultimate goal is in fact more concretely military: the speech
as a whole aims at convincing the other Greek cities to grant Athens
hegemony and leadership in an expedition against the Persians, which
will reunite the Greeks by distracting them from their internecine
But Athens’s present military weakness in the wake of the Peace of
Antalcidas (387 B.C.E.) deprives
Isocrates of the easiest argument,
that leadership should be given to the city that has the greatest
military strength. Hence he must appeal to past military and culturall
glories in order to justify present claims—indeed, his evident reuse
of themes from Pericles’ funeral oration is part of the same
rhetorical strategy, designed as it is to remind fourth-century
pan-Hellenic readers of Athens’s fifth-century glory. But what
passes itself off here as the disinterested praise of a city is in
fact the canny self-advertisement of a successful businessman, and
Isocrates’ climactic celebration of Athenian philosophy and
eloquence is little more than a thinly disguised panegyric for what he
saw as his very own contribution to Athenian, Greek and world culture.
For φιλοσοφία and eloquence were in fact the slogans of
Isocrates’ own educational program."
^ a b Takis Poulakos, David J. Depew,
Isocrates and Civic Education,
University of Texas Press, 2004, 0292702191, 9780292702196, pp.
63–64: "He crafts onto his predecessor’s analogy
Athens as a
school of Hellas an enduring bond among the Hellenes and a great
divide between them and the Persians: Athens’ pupils have become the
teachers of the rest of the world” and “the title ‘Hellenes’
is applied rather to those who share our culture than to those who
share a common blood” (50).
The cultural links Pericles had named as uniting
Athenians and their
allies lies together are refigured here rhetorically, and in a way
that forges a symbolic unification among all the cities of Hellas,
Sparta and its allied states. Relying on and at the same
time changing Pericles’ wise words,
Isocrates creates the perception
Athens as having been unified with all Greek city-stares from the
very beginning, and thereby makes this perception part and parcel of
Athens’ glorious history. As a result of this rhetorical engagement
of conventional wisdom, current concerns about pan-Hellenism find
their way into the city’s timeless traditions. Capitalizing on the
propensity of epideictic language to amplify and to augment, lsocrates
finesses the stable doxa of the community and enlarges its boundaries
so as to accommodate the less stable doxa of the present."
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"Isocrates". Encyclopædia Britannica. 14 (11th ed.).
English Translation of various texts
"Plutarch", Life of
B. Keith Murphy (Fort Valley State University) – Isocrates
Isocrates (436 – 338 B.C.)
Isocratis sermo de regno ad Nicoclem regem. Bartholomei Facii
Orationes at Somni
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