Isocrates I

Isocrates I

Isocrates I

Isocrates I


This is the fourth volume in the Oratory of Classical Greece series. Planned for publication over several years, the series will present all of the surviving speeches from the late fifth and fourth centuries B.C. in new translations prepared by classical scholars who are at the forefront of the discipline. These translations are especially designed for the needs and interests of today' undergraduates, Greekless scholars in other disciplines, and the general public. Classical oratory is an invaluable resource for the study of ancient Greek life and culture. The speeches offer evidence on Greek moral views, social and economic conditions, political and social ideology, and other aspects of Athenian culture that have been largely ignored: women and family life, slavery, and religion, to name just a few. This volume contains works from the early, middle, and late career of the Athenian rhetorician Isocrates (436-338). Among the translated works are his legal speeches, pedagogical essays, and his lengthy autobiographical defense, Antidosis. In them, he seeks to distinguish himself and his work, which he characterizes as "philosophy," from that of the sophists and other intellectuals such as Plato. Isocrates' identity as a teacher was an important mode of political activity, through which he sought to instruct his students, foreign rulers, and his fellow Athenians. He was a controversial figure who championed a role for the written word in fourth-century politics and thought.



Isocrates (436–338) differs from the other Attic Orators in that his reputation was not based on speeches that he delivered in the courts or the Assembly, or wrote for others to deliver, but rather on “speeches” (logoi) that were intended to be circulated in writing and read by others. This is important for his representation of himself and his career (and his dissociation of himself from those he called “sophists”) and for understanding the important role he played in the intellectual life of fourth-century Athens.

Early in his career Isocrates did write speeches for others to deliver in the lawcourts, but he soon gave up this practice and opened a school where he taught about education and rhetoric, that is, politics. His views on these subjects put him at odds with Plato (and later Aristotle), who had a rival school, and his generally aristocratic political views brought him into conflict with politicians like Demosthenes. But among his pupils were many prominent Greeks of the time, and in antiquity and the Renaissance he enjoyed a reputation as a political writer, a stylist, and the foremost teacher of rhetoric in his day (e.g., Cicero, De Oratore 2.94 –95).

Details of Isocrates’ life are provided by his own works and by several later biographies, notably those of Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Pseudo-Plutarch (Moralia 836–839). But Isocrates was a controversial figure, and so all our sources may be influenced by political agendas,

This Introduction to Isocrates is a joint effort of the three translators of Isocrates (David Mirhady, Terry Papillon, and Yun Lee Too) and the Series Editor.

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