Isocrates II

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Isocrates II

Translated by Terry L. Papillon

The Athenian rhetorician Isocrates (436–338) was one of the leading intellectual figures of the fourth century; this volume contains his orations 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, and 14, as well as all of his letters.

Volume 7, Michael Gagarin, series editor



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5.5 x 8.5 | 332 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-70246-2

This is the seventh volume in the Oratory of Classical Greece. This series presents all of the surviving speeches from the late fifth and fourth centuries BC 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's 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, law and legal procedure, and other aspects of Athenian culture that have been largely ignored: women and family life, slavery, and religion, to name just a few. The Athenian rhetorician Isocrates (436-338) was one of the leading intellectual figures of the fourth century. This volume contains his orations 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, and 14, as well as all of his letters. These are Isocrates' political works. Three of the discourses—Panathenaicus, On the Peace, and the most famous, Panegyricus—focus on Athens, Isocrates' home. Archidamus is written in the voice of the Spartan prince to his assembly, and Plataicus is in the voice of a citizen of Plataea asking Athens for aid, while in To Philip, Isocrates himself calls on Philip of Macedon to lead a unified Greece against Persia.

  • The Works of Isocrates
  • Acknowledgments
  • Series Introduction (Michael Gagarin)
    • Oratory in Classical Athens
    • The Orators
    • The Works of the Orators
    • Government and Law in Classical Athens
    • The Translation of Greek Oratory
    • Abbreviations
    • Note on Currency
    • Bibliography of Works Cited
  • Introduction to Isocrates (Michael Gagarin, David Mirhady, Terry L. Papillon, and Yun Lee Too)
    • Life and Career
    • Philosophia, Education, and Politics
    • Style
    • A Note on Terminology
    • Text
    • The Works of Isocrates
  • Introduction to Isocrates, Volume II (Terry L. Papillon)
    • The Translation
  • Speeches
    • 4. Panegyricus
    • 5. To Philip
    • 6. Archidamus
    • 8. On the Peace
    • 12. Panathenaicus
    • 14. Plataicus
  • Letters
    • General Introduction to the Letters
    • 1. To Dionysius
    • 2. To Philip 1
    • 3. To Philip 2
    • 4. To Antipater
    • 5. To Alexander
    • 6. To the Children of Jason
    • 7. To Timotheus
    • 8. To the Rulers of the Mytileneans
    • 9. To Archidamus
  • Bibliography
  • Index

This volume contains the six discourses of Isocrates not treated in Isocrates I of this series, and all the letters. If the second section of Isocrates I shows Isocrates as a teacher, then we could say that the discourses in this volume demonstrate how Isocrates uses his ideas on education and public discourse to address situations affecting the city or polis. Thus, they might be called Isocrates' political works. All of them—and we can include the letters in this—demonstrate his ability to present ideas called forth by a given political and rhetorical situation. Three discourses, Panathenaicus, On the Peace, and the most famous, Panegyricus, focus on Isocrates' home city of Athens; other discourses focus on other cities: Archidamus is in the voice of the Spartan prince to his assembly; Plataicus is in the voice of a citizen of Plataea asking Athens for aid; the discourse To Philip is Isocrates, in propria persona, calling on Philip of Macedon to lead a unified Greece against Persia.

Two speeches, Panathenaicus and Panegyricus, represent what Greek rhetorical theory called epideictic or display oratory, where the speaker addresses a public gathering to offer praise, in these instances praise of the city. The other four, To Philip, Archidamus, On the Peace, and Plataicus, represent deliberative rhetoric, the rhetoric of the Assembly considering issues of interest to the city and its future. In fact, however, Isocrates did not deliver any of these in public; all were pamphlets written and circulated to interested parties.


We do not even know if they actually addressed the specific situation. To take one example, we do not know if the discourse To Philip was ever actually sent to Philip. It may have been sent to him at the dramatic date of the discourse, 346, or it may have been written at that time or later as a sample speech for Isocrates' students. This is generally true of all the discourses included in this volume: we do not know if they were written at the time claimed and if they were sent to the party interested (or written for the person speaking, as in the case of Archidamus or Plataicus). But even if they are fictionalized presentations, Isocrates carefully set these discourses into the appropriate time to address the given situation, and thus they can tell us much about the political realities of the periods represented as well as Isocrates' notion of what it means to be an active citizen.

The dramatic date of each discourse is thus quite important because each speech reacts to a specific situation. Panegyricus represents Isocrates' celebration of the greatness of Athens at a time, 380, when Greek politics was complicated by competition between cities and the intervention of the Great King of Persia. Isocrates presents one of his main ideas in this speech, and one of the central ideas of his career: the need for Greece to unite in a panhellenic campaign against Persia. The speech celebrates Athens at a public gathering, but it must also recognize that Sparta led Greece at the time. Isocrates thus celebrates the past of Athens and argues for a joint leadership for Greece between Athens and Sparta. This is perhaps Isocrates' most famous and most carefully constructed speech, dealing effectively with the political and rhetorical realities of the period while lifting up the greatness of Athens and its culture. Panathenaicus is similar—it too celebrates the greatness of Athens in a public assembly—but it is among the last of Isocrates' works, completed when he was 98, and shows signs of lack of care and weakness even while it presents the glory of Athens at the very end of Greek freedom in 338. Yet it has its own points of interest, such as the discussion he reports with a former pupil about compositional technique.

In both Plataicus and Archidamus, Isocrates writes in the voice of another. It is common enough in Greek oratory for a speechwriter, called a logographer, to compose a speech for another person to present in a lawcourt, but it is unusual for a logographer to compose a deliberative speech, as Isocrates does in these two speeches. In Plataicus, a citizen of Plataea asks Athens for aid after Plataea had been destroyed by Thebes in 373. It represents a vivid picture of the troubles of a smaller Greek city in the very chaotic times of the late 370s. Archidamus presents the Spartan prince addressing the Assembly on how to deal with the difficult times after Sparta lost power in the battle of Leuctra in 371. It is a rare view of Spartan affairs from the Spartan point of view, or at least Isocrates' attempt to present what he thought a Spartan point of view would be.

The two speeches On the Peace and To Philip address Greek politics in Isocrates' own voice. In On the Peace, Isocrates addresses the newly signed peace treaty in 355 that settled the Social War between Athens and its allies. It was a difficult time in Athens' history because the allies had revolted from Athens' control, and Isocrates takes advantage of the occasion to broaden the issue from peace with the allies to peace with all Greek cities, again representing the notion of Greek unity that Isocrates continually advocates. The speech To Philip also addresses this theme of unity, summoning Philip II of Macedon in 346 to lead a unified Greece against Persia. When Philip actually did take control of Greek affairs after the battle of Chaeronea in 338, Isocrates is said to have committed suicide by starvation because he was disillusioned about Philip's military solution. Philip did not lead the Greeks the way Isocrates had envisioned him doing it.

The letters are smaller images of the affairs of the day and offer similar kinds of information about Greece and Isocrates. The fifth letter, to Alexander the Great, is particularly interesting because it represents Isocrates' advice to the future ruler and Isocrates' views of Alexander's training under Aristotle, Isocrates' contemporary and rival. The last piece of writing we have from Isocrates also comes from the letters, the second letter to Philip (Ep. 3), which was written just after Philip's victory at Chaeronea, when Isocrates was 98 years old. This letter is more hopeful about Philip's intentions and plans than the tradition of his disillusionment implies. Perhaps, as Michael Edwards has suggested,4 it was his frustration at the continued opposition on the part of Athens rather than Philip's actions that led to his choice to die.

The Translation

Translating Isocrates is often difficult. So, too, is reading Isocrates. The style Isocrates employs in all the speeches collected in this volume shows an elaborate periodicity that can be difficult to represent in English and difficult to grasp, in English or Greek. This is particularly true of his greatest speech, Panegyricus. In most cases I have broken up longer periods to make them more readable in English. I have also changed many Greek participial phrases, the heart of Greek periodic prose, into subordinate clauses in English because English more comfortably uses subordinate clauses than it does participial phrases. The elaborate nature of Isocratean prose has limited appeal in the early twenty-first century, when discourse tends to be much more direct, and his prose can seem foreign at times. To the extent that this translation helps its readers understand, appreciate, and enjoy Isocrates, his periodic style, and his thought, it will have succeeded.

A second facet of Isocrates' discourse that may seem foreign to modern readers is his self-conscious speech. Isocrates talks of himself often, and often in very glowing terms. This may seem arrogant to modern readers, but a person's claim to superiority was a natural part of discourse in ancient times. Homeric characters, Pericles (as Thucydides presents him), and Cicero do not shy away from stating their own greatness. Isocrates himself faults his confidence in his Panathenaicus (12.230-232). This is the exception that proves the rule, however, in that he mentions it here, where he does not fault himself on the many other occasions when he speaks so highly of himself. This presentation of self-confidence can be different from modern notions, but we must remember that we are entering a different world with different assumptions; one thing this translation tries to do is to take readers to another world, and it asks them to be open to the culture that the other world offers, even if it may seem odd at first.

I rarely translate the Greek word logos as "speech." Instead, I often use the word "discourse." This is partially a function of the complicated question of how Isocrates presented his works; he probably did not present them orally himself (see the introductory essays in this volume) but circulated written versions. I have also hesitated to translate logos as "speech" because of modern notions of speech and discourse. Just as the Speech Communication Association recognized that the word "speech" is too limiting in the study of persuasion and communication when it changed its name to the National Communication Association, so too I want to stress that what Isocrates does and what he argues for is not limited to oral contexts but can be applied to many different areas. When Isocrates presents rhetorical theory, it need not be restricted to oral presentation but can be considered in all areas of persuasive discourse and communication. This awareness of the ubiquity of persuasion and communication is one of the advances that modern rhetorical theory has emphasized in the history of rhetoric, and it is one of the truly modern aspects of Isocrates.

For the translation I have relied on both the Budé edition of Mathieu and Brémond and the Loeb Classical Library edition of van Hook and Norlin. I have also consulted the Teubner edition of Benseler-Blass and the Italian edition of Ghirga and Romussi.


Translated by Terry L. Papillon

Terry L. Papillon is Associate Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Virginia Tech.

"[Papillon] has produced not only a lucid, accurate and fluent translation but also a valuable tool and an easy-to-use introduction to the works of Isocrates."

Bryn Mawr Classical Review