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AN ORATION OF
J. H. FREESE, M.A.
FORMERLY FELLOW OF ST. JOHN'S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY THE SAME
LIFE AND CHARACTER OF ISOCRATES
THE LIFE AND CHARACTER OF
ISOCRATES was the fourth of the "ten Attic orators,” the other nine, in chronological order, being Antiphon, Andocides, Lysias, Isaeus, Demosthenes, Aeschines, Hyperides, Lycurgus, and Dinarchus. [See page 17.]
He was born in the beginning of the eighty-sixth Olympiad during the archonship of Lysimachus, i.e., in B.C. 436, five years before the commencement of the Peloponnesian war. His father was an Athenian citizen, named Theodorus, belonging to the deme, or district, of Erchia: he was a well-to-do member of the middle class, his income being derived from a fute manufactory. He served the state as choregus:1 in the words of his son, "he made himself useful to the state, and educated us so carefully, that at that time I was more famous and better known amongst my fellow-pupils than I am now amongst my fellow-citizens.” When he grew up, Isocrates further studied under some of the most famous sophists, or professors of wisdom, such as Protagoras of Abdera, Prodicus of Ceos, the author of the well-known fable of the choice of Heracles," Tisias of Syracuse, and above all, Gorgias of Leontini. The Athenian statesman and orator, Theramenes, is also said to have been one of his teachers: at any rate, the story goes that when, during the rule of the Thirty at Athens, Theramenes was unjustly condemned by Critias, Isocrates rose and stoutly defended him, showing that, if the story be true, he could on emergency overcome his natural defect of want of nerve. He was never admitted into the inner Socratic "circle," but his moral and intellectual character was doubtless influenced by the great teacher, with whom he enjoyed a certain amount of 1 The chorēgia, or duty of defraying the cost of the production of the public choruses, was one of the Athenian public services. 2 See the translation of it in volume four.
intimacy. He is said to have appeared in mourning in the streets after the death of Socrates, but it is doubtful whether his feelings towards him were so pronounced as this would seem to imply: his only passage in which Socrates is mentioned does not display much personal enthusiasm. However, Socrates on his part had the highest opinion of Isocrates : this may be gathered from the Phaedrus of Plato, where he says that, as Isocrates advances in years (he was at the time about thirty years of age) he will outstrip all his competitors in the kind of oratory to which he is devoting his attention: further, that in case he should not be satisfied with this, divine impulse might lead him on to greater things; for, he adds, the man is endowed by nature with a certain philosophy.
Isocrates himself tells us that he was debarred from taking an active part in public life by reason of two natural defects: he possessed neither a strong voice nor a sufficient amount of self-confidence or "nerve" to enable him to hold his own against the noisy demagogues of the ecclesia or public assembly, or in the law courts, and, as he himself puts it, men who are deficient in those qualities are less held in honour than insolvent public debtors. He was naturally of a retiring disposition, and shy in the presence of strangers: and it was not until he was driven to it by actual necessity that he began to lead a more active life.
During the last years of the Peloponnesian war, his father lost all his property, and Isocrates was compelled to look about for a means of gaining a livelihood. He had been extravagant in his youth-among other things he was fond of the turf-50 that on the whole this was the best thing that could have happened to him. Authorities are not agreed as to the manner in which his time was spent until the establishment of his school at Athens, but the following account is considered most probable. After the downfall of the Thirty Tyrants, and the restoration of the democracy, he took to writing legal or forensic speeches for others, and was engaged in this work for ten years (B.C. 403-393): of this period of his literary career he afterwards speaks in most contemptuous terms. In B.C. 393 or B.C. 392 he went to the island of Chios, where he gained considerable reputation as a teacher, and returned to Athens
about B.C. 390, where he set up a regular school of rhetoric near the Lyceum, the chief of the Athenian Gymnasia.
At that time Athens was the centre of attraction of the ancient world, and a favorite resort of foreign visitors, who went thither both for pleasure and instruction. Athens, says Isocrates, is rightly regarded as the recognised teacher of all capable orators and trainers of thought and expression, so that not without reason all masters of eloquence are considered pupils of Athens. Many rich young men came from Sicily, and even from Pontus and the colonies of the Euxine, to prosecute their studies under the teachers of note. The school of Isocrates was largely attended, especially by foreigners, his name having become widely known through his writings. His earliest Athenian pupils are mentioned by name in the speech called Antidosis: one of his later pupils was Timotheus (son of the famous Athenian admiral Conon), whom he is said to have accompanied on his campaigns, receiving a fee of a talent (£250) from the spoil of Samos for composing his despatches: it was through this Timotheus that Isocrates became acquainted with the princes of Salamis in Cyprus. Among his pupils may also be mentioned the historians Ephorus and Theopompus: the tragedians Asclepiades, Astydames, and Theodectes: the orators Hyperides, Isaeus, and Lycurgus: the archaeologist Androtion: and lastly, Isocrates of Apollonia, his successor. He is said to have had a hundred pupils altogether : the above names are sufficient evidence of his reputation as a teacher, and of the different classes from which they were drawn. All the competitions for the prize of oratory instituted by Artemisia, widow of the Carian prince, Mausolus, were pupils of Isocrates, the winner being Theopompus.
Isocrates amassed considerable wealth by his profession: the fee which he demanded from foreigners was a thousand drachmae (£40): it is said that he gave gratuitous instruction to his fellow-citizens, but we can scarcely believe that: he also received handsome presents from Nicocles and Evagoras. He was one of the 1,200 wealthiest Athenian citizens, who constituted the twenty symmories, or associations formed for the purpose of equipping vessels of war: this duty, called trierarchia, was one of the most expensive of the public services.