“orator” in the larger sense of the Greek word rhetor; but his real distinction consists in the fact that he was the first Greek who gave an artistic finish to literary rhetoric. The practical oratory of the day had already two clearly separated branches—the forensic, represented by Isaeus, and the deliberative, in which Callistratus was the forerunner of Demosthenes. Meanwhile Isocrates was giving form and rhythm to a standard literary prose. Through the influence of his school, this normal prose style was transmitted—with the addition of some florid embellishments—to the first generation of Romans who studied rhetoric in the Greek schools. The distinctive feature in the composition of Isocrates is his structure of the periodic sentence. This, with him, is no longer rigid or monotonous, as with Antiphon—no longer terse and compact, as with Lysias—but ample, luxuriant, unfolding itself (to use a Greek critic’s image) like the soft beauties of a winding river. Isocrates was the first Greek who worked out the idea of a prose rhythm. He saw clearly both its powers and its limits; poetry has its strict rhythms and precise metres; prose has its metres and rhythms, not bound by a rigid framework, yet capable of being brought under certain general laws which a good ear can recognize, and which a speaker or writer may apply in the most various combinations. This fundamental idea of prose rhythm, or number, is that which the style of Isocrates has imparted to the style of Cicero. When Quintilian (x. 1. 108) says, somewhat hyperbolically, that Cicero has artistically reproduced (effinxisse) “the force of Demosthenes, the wealth of Plato, the charm of Isocrates,” he means principally this smooth and harmonious rhythm. Cicero himself expressly recognizes this original and distinctive merit of Isocrates. Thus, through Rome, and especially through Cicero, the influence of Isocrates, as the founder of a literary prose, has passed into the literatures of modern Europe. It is to the eloquence of the preacher that we may perhaps look for the nearest modern analogue of that kind in which Isocrates excelled—especially, perhaps, to that of the great French preachers. Isocrates was one of the three Greek authors, Demosthenes and Plato being the others, who contributed most to form the style of Bossuet.
Works.—The extant works of Isocrates consist of twenty-one speeches or discourses and nine letters. Among these, the six forensic speeches represent the first period of his literary life—belonging to the years 403-393 B.C. All six concern private causes. They may be classed as follows: 1. Action for Assault (δίκη αἰκίας), Or. xx., Against Lochites, 394 B.C. 2. Claim to an Inheritance (ἐπιδικασία), Or. xix., Aegineticus, end of 394 or early in 393 B.C. 3. Actions to Recover a Deposit: (1) Or. xxi., Against Euthynus, 403 B.C.; (2) Or. xvii., Trapeziticus, end of 394 or early in 393 B.C. 4. Action for Damage (δίκη βλάβης), Or. xvi., Concerning the Team of Horses, 397 B.C. 5. Special Plea (παραγραφή), Or. xviii., Against Callimachus, 402 B.C. Two of these have been regarded as spurious by G. E. Benseler, viz. Or. xxi., on account of the frequent hiatus and the short compact periods, and Or. xvii., on the first of these grounds. But we are not warranted in applying to the early work of Isocrates those canons which his mature style observed. The genuineness of the speech against Euthynus is recognized by Philostratus; while the Trapeziticus—thrice named without suspicion by Harpocration—is treated by Dionysius, not only as authentic, but as the typical forensic work of its author. The speech against Lochites—where “a man of the people” (τοῦ πλήθους εἶς) is the speaker—exhibits much rhetorical skill. The speech Περὶ τοῦ ζεύγους (“concerning the team of horses”) has a curious interest. An Athenian citizen had complained that Alcibiades had robbed him of a team of four horses, and sues the statesman’s son and namesake (who is the speaker) for their value. This is not the only place in which Isocrates has marked his admiration for the genius of Alcibiades; it appears also in the Philippus and in the Busiris. But, among the forensic speeches, we must, on the whole, give the palm to the Aegineticus—a graphic picture of ordinary Greek life in the islands of the Aegean. Here—especially in the narrative—Isocrates makesa near approach to the best manner of Lysias.
themselves to the ordinary classification under the heads of “deliberative” and “epideictic.” Both terms must be strained; and neither is strictly applicable to all the pieces which it is required to cover. The work of Isocrates travelled out of the grooves in which the rhetorical industry of the age had hitherto moved. His position among contemporary writers was determined by ideas peculiar to himself; and his compositions, besides having a style of their own, are in several instances of a new kind. The only adequate principle of classification is one which considers them in respect to their subject-matter. Thus viewed, they form two clearly separated groups—the scholastic and the political.
Scholastic Writings.—Under this head we have, first, three letters or essays of a hortatory character. (1) The letter to the young Demonicus—once a favourite subject in the schools—contains a series of precepts neither below nor much above the average practical morality of Greece. (2) The letter to Nicocles—the young king of the Cyprian Salamis—sets forth the duty of a monarch to his subjects. (3) In the third piece, it is Nicocles who speaks, and impresses on the Salaminians their duty to their king—a piece remarkable as containing a popular plea for monarchy, composed by a citizen of Athens. These three letters may be referred to theyears 374-372 B.C.
in the proper Greek sense. The Busiris (Or. xi., 390-391 B.C.) is an attempt to show how the ill-famed king of Egypt might be praised. The Encomium on Helen (Or. x., 370 B.C.), a piece greatly superior to the last, contains the celebrated passage on the power of beauty. These two compositions serve to illustrate their author’s view that “encomia” of the hackneyed type might be elevated by combining the mythical matter with some topic of practical interest—as, in the case of Busiris, with the institutions of Egypt, or, in that of Helen, with the reforms of Theseus. The Evagoras (Or. ix., 365 B.C.?), the earliest known biography, is a laudatory epitaph on a really able man—the Greek king of the Cyprian Salamis. A passage of singular interest describes how, under his rule, the influences of Hellenic civilization had prevailed over the surrounding barbarism. The Panathenaicus (Or. xii.), intended for the great Panathenaea of 342 B.C., but not completed till 339 B.C., contains a recital of the services rendered by Athens to Greece, but digresses into personal defence against critics; his last work, written in extreme old age, it bears the plainest marks offailing powers.
most interesting essays on education—that entitled Against the Sophists (Or. xiii., 391-390 B.C.), and the Antidosis (Or. xv., 353 B.C.). The first of these is a manifesto put forth by Isocrates at the outset of his professional career of teaching, in which he seeks to distinguish his aims from those of other “sophists.” These “sophists” are (1) the “eristics” (οἱ περὶ τὰς ἔριδας), by whom he seems to intend the minor Socratics, especially Euclides; (2) the teachers of practical rhetoric, who had made exaggerated claims for the efficacy of mere instruction, independently of natural faculty or experience; (3) the writers of “arts” of rhetoric, who virtually devoted themselves (as Aristotle also complains) to the lowest, or forensic, branch of their subject (see also E. Holzner, Platos Phaedrus und die Sophistenrede des Isokrates, Prague, 1894). As this piece is the prelude to his career, its epilogue is the speech on the “Antidosis”—so called because it has the form of a speech made in court in answer to a challenge to undertake the burden of the trierarchy, or else exchange properties with the challenger. The discourse “Against the Sophists” had stated what his art was not; this speech defines what it is. His own account of his φιλοσοφία—“the discipline of discourse” (ἡ τῶν λόγων παιδεία)—has been embodied in the sketchof it given above.
which concern (1) the relations of Greece with Persia, (2) the internal affairs of Greece. The first class consist of the Panegyricus (Or. iv., 380 B.C.) and the Philippus (Or. v., 346 B.C.). The Panegyricus takes its name from the fact that it was given to the Greek public at the time of the Olympic festivals—probably by means of copies circulated there. The orator urges that Athens and Sparta should unite in leading the Greeks against Persia. The feeling of antiquity that this noble discourse is a masterpiece of careful work finds expression in the tradition that it had occupied its author for more than ten years. Its excellence is not merely that of language, but also—and perhaps even more conspicuously—that of lucid arrangement. The Philippus is an appeal to the king of Macedon to assume that initiative in the war on Persia which Isocrates had ceased to expect from any Greek city. In the view of Demosthenes, Philip was the representative barbarian; in that of Isocrates, he is the firstof Hellenes, and the natural champion of their cause.
two have already been noticed,—that On the Peace (Or. viii.), and the Areopagiticus (Or. vii.)—both of 355 B.C.—as dealing respectively with the foreign and the home affairs of Athens. The Plataicus (Or. xiv.) is supposed to be spoken by a Plataean before the Athenian ecclesia in 373 B.C. In that year Plataea had for the second time in its history been destroyed by Thebes. The oration—an appeal to Athens to restore the unhappy town—is remarkable both for the power with which Theban cruelty is denounced, and for the genuine pathos of the peroration. The Archidamus (Or. vi.) is a speech purporting to be delivered by Archidamus III., son of Agesilaus, in a debate at Sparta on conditions of peace offered by Thebes in 366 B.C. It was demanded that Sparta should recognize the independence of Messene, which had lately been restored by Epameinondas (370 B.C.). The oration gives brilliant expression to the feeling which such a demand was calculated to excite in Spartans who knew the history of their own city. Xenophon witnesses that the attitude of Sparta on this occasion was actually such as the Archidamusassumes (Hellen. vii. 4. 8-11).
a passage in the Philippus leaves no doubt as to its object. Isocrates was anxious that the ruler of Syracuse should undertake the commandof Greece against Persia. The date is probably 368 B.C.
- Idque princeps Isocrates instituisse fertur, ... ut inconditam antiquorum dicendi consuetudinem ... numeris astringeret (De or. iii. 44, 173).
- The dates here given differ to some extent from those in F. Blass, Die attische Beredsamkeit (2nd ed., 1887-1898).
- Some authorities consider the Ad Demonicum spurious.