Isocrates (//; Ancient Greek: Ἰσοκράτης; 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 pupil, 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 the social and political changes, such as democracy and the courts of law.
Unlike most rhetoric schools of the time, which were taught by itinerant sophists, Isocrates defined himself with his treatise Against the Sophists. This polemic was written to explain and advertise the reasoning and educational principles behind his newly-opened school. He promoted his 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 was born to a wealthy family in Athens and received a first-rate education. He was greatly influenced by his sophist teachers, Prodicus and Gorgias, and was also closely acquainted with Socrates. After the Peloponnesian War, Isocrates' family lost its wealth, and Isocrates was forced to earn a living.
Isocrates' professional career is said to have begun as a logographer, or a hired courtroom speech writer. Athenian citizens would not hire lawyers because legal procedure required self-representation. Instead, they would speak for themselves and hire people like Isocrates to write speeches for them in exchange for a fee. 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 on large political issues of the fourth century BC. Around 392 BC he set up his own school of rhetoric, because at the time Athens had no set curriculum for higher education (sophist teachers often travelled), 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 (NH VII.30) he could sell a single oration for twenty talents.
Program of rhetoric
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 as opposed to 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 and taught the basis 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 who were interested in political occupations how to be effective in public speaking. Some popular itinerants of the late 5th century BCE include Gorgias and Protagoras. Around 392-390 BC, Isocrates founded his academy in 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 Isocrates for three to four years. Timotheus had such a great appreciation for Isocrates that he erected a statue at Eleusis and dedicated it to him.
Because of Plato's attacks on the sophists, Isocrates' school of rhetoric and philosophy came to be viewed as unethical and deceitful. Yet many of Plato's criticisms are hard to substantiate in the work of Isocrates, and at the end of his Phaedrus Plato even has Socrates praising Isocrates, though some scholars take this to be sarcastic. Isocrates saw the ideal orator as someone who must not only possess rhetorical gifts, but possess also a wide knowledge of philosophy, science, and the arts. The orator should also represent Greek ideals of freedom, self-control, and virtue. In this, he influenced several Roman rhetoricians, such as Cicero and Quintilian, and also had an influence on the idea of liberal education.
On the art of rhetoric, he was also an innovator. He paid closer attention to expression and rhythm far more than any other Greek writer, but because his sentences were so complex and artistic, he often sacrificed clarity to demonstrate his messages.
Of the 60 orations in his name available in Roman times, 21 were transmitted by ancient and medieval scribes. Another three orations 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 has been questioned. He is said to have compiled a treatise, the Art of Rhetoric, but it has not survived. In addition to the orations, other works include his autobiographical Antidosis and educational texts, such as Against the Sophists.
In Panathenaicus, Isocrates argues with a student about the literacy of the Spartans. In section 250, the student claims that the most intelligent of the Spartans owned copies of and admired 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. If this speech is taken literally, it would suggest that Spartans could conduct political affairs and that they collected and made use of written works such as speeches. 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.
"Ἰσοκράτης τῆς παιδείας τὴν ῥίζαν πικρὰν ἔφη, γλυκεῖς δὲ τοὺς καρπούς."
"Isocrates said that the root of education is bitter, but the fruits are sweet."
Panegyricus 50 and its contemporary interpretation
In 2000, a 15-year-old resident alien from Albania living in Michaniona, 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 Constantine 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 in the definition of Greek nationality, and that anyone regardless of the former should be able to represent Greece and carry the Greek flag, if willing to do so.
The following passage from Panegyricus 50, is what Isocrates actually said:
|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 students of 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.|
Isocrates' speech is 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 to have a proper Greek (that is, Athenian) education as well, lest their culture is 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 under the words "our common culture") in a crusade against the Persians rather than their customary fighting against each other. That is, Isocrates was referring to Athenian not Greek culture when he said that. In any case, on this theory, Isocrates was not extending the appellation Hellene to non-Greeks.
- Readings in Classical Rhetoric By Thomas W. Benson, Michael H. Prosser. page 43. ISBN 0-9611800-3-X
- Matsen, Patricia, Philip Rollinson and Marion Sousa. Readings from Classical Rhetoric. Southern Illinois: 1990.
- George Law Cackwell (1998). "Isocrates". The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. York University: Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth | Oxford University Press. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
- Mitchell, Gordon. "Isocrates". Retrieved 1 October 2013.
- Norlin, George (1928). Isocrates. London W. Heinemann. pp. ix–xlvii.
- "Ancient Kellis". Lib.monash.edu.au. 1998-10-02. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
- Roger Pearse (2005-09-17). "The texts found at Kellis in the Dakhleh Oasis". Tertullian.org. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
- Christian Walz, Rhetores Graeci, p. 63.
- Terry L. Papillon, The Oratory of Classical Greece: Isocrates II, 2004.
- 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 wrote,”‘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 equivalent to 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 that 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 warfare.
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."
- 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, including Sparta and its allied states. Relying on and at the same time changing Pericles’ wise words, Isocrates creates the perception of 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."
- Benoit, William L. (1984). "Isocrates on Rhetorical Education". Communication Education: 109–119.
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- Haskins, Ekaterina V. (2004). Logos and power in Isocrates and Aristotle. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1-57003-526-1.
- Isocrates (1968). Isocrates. Loeb Classical Library. George Norlin, Larue van Hook, trans. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-99231-8.
- Isocrates (2000). Isocrates I. David Mirhady, Yun Lee Too, trans. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-75237-7.
- Isocrates (2004). Isocrates II. Terry L. Papillon, trans. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-70245-0.
- Livingstone, Niall (2001). A commentary on Isocrates' Busiris. Boston: Brill. ISBN 90-04-12143-9.
- Papillon, Terry (1998). "Isocrates and the Greek Poetic Tradition". Scholia 7: 41–61.
- Poulakos, Takis; Depew, David J., eds. (2004). Isocrates and civic education. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-70219-1.
- Poulakos, Takis (1997). Speaking for the polis: Isocrates' rhetorical education. Columbia, SC: Univ. of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1-57003-177-0.
- Romilly, Jacqueline de (1985). Magic and rhetoric in ancient Greece. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-54152-9.
- Smith, Robert W.; Bryant, Donald C., eds. (1969). Ancient Greek and Roman Rhetoricians: A Biographical Dictionary. Columbia, MO: Artcraft Press.
- Too, Yun Lee (2008). A commentary on Isocrates' Antidosis. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-923807-1.
- Too, Yun Lee (1995). The rhetoric of identity in Isocrates: text, power, pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 0-521-47406-X.
- Usener, Sylvia (1994). Isokrates, Platon und ihr Publikum: Hörer und Leser von Literatur im 4. Jahrhundert v. Chr. (in German). Tübingen: Narr. ISBN 3-8233-4278-9.
- Robin Waterfield's Notes to his translation of Plato's 'Phaedrus', Oxford University Press, 2002.
- Media related to Isocrates at Wikimedia Commons
- Quotations related to Isocrates at Wikiquote
- English Translation of various texts
- "Plutarch", Life of Isocrates (attalus.org)
- B. Keith Murphy (Fort Valley State University) – Isocrates
- Isocrates (436 – 338 B.C.)