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Isocrates ( ; 436–338 BC, not to be confused with Socrates), an ancient Greek rhetorician, was one of the ten Attic orators. In his time, he was probably the most influential rhetorician in Greece and 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.

The demand for rhetorical training was so high that a number of philosophers and teachers set up their own schools to train orators. Among these were the Sophists, which included such teachers as Isocrates and Gorgias. These schools proved to be a lucrative enterprise, and later attracted less reputable characters. However unlike most rhetoric schools of the times which were taught by itinerant sophists, Isocrates defined himself with his treatise against the sophists.

Isocrates was born to a wealthy family (his father owned a successful flute factory) and received a fine education. He studied with Gorgias and possibly Socrates, among others. 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. Around 392 BC he set up his own school of rhetoric, and proved to be not only an influential teacher, but a shrewd businessman. His fees were unusually high, but he managed to attract more students than any other school. As a consequence, he amassed a considerable fortune.

Isocrates' program of rhetorical education stressed the ability to use language to address practical problems, cases where absolute truth was not obtainable. 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).

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 discern 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 was an influence on Roman rhetoricians, such as Cicero and Quintilian, and on the idea of liberal education.

On the art of rhetoric, he was also an innovator. He promoted a clear and natural style that avoided artificiality, while providing rhythm and variation that commanded the attention of the listener. Like most rhetoricians, he saw rhetoric as a method of clarifying the truth, rather than one of obscuring it.

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 Kellismarker, a site in the Dakhla Oasismarker of Egyptmarker. 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 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 the Spartans had books, were able to read them, and were able to do so. The Spartans, however, needed an interpreter to clear up misunderstandings of double meanings which may lie concealed beneath the surface of complicated words. This text indicates that Spartans were not illiterate. If the speech is taken literally, the Spartans could conduct political affairs and collected and made use of written works such as speeches in their political dealings. This text is important when examining whether Spartans were thought to have been able to read and whether literacy played any role in their daily lives. The indication is that the Spartans were literate and did make use of complex speeches in their polical lives even if they needed the aid of an interpreter on some occasions.

Panathenaicus and Famous Quote

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 the 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 may lie concealed beneath the surface of complicated words. This text indicates that Spartans were not illiterate. If this speech is taken literally, the Spartans could conduct political affairs and colected 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.

"Ισοκρατης της παιδειας την ριζαν πικραν εφη, γλυκεις δε τους καρπους."[25380]

"Isocrates said that the root of education is bitter, but the fruits are sweet."

Progymnasmata of Aphthonios. A similar sentence is found in the Progymnasmata of Libanios.

Notes

  1. Readings in Classical Rhetoric By Thomas W. Benson, Michael H. Prosser Page 43 ISBN 096118003X
  2. [1]
  3. [2]


Sources

  • Bryant, Donald C., ed. Ancient Greek and Roman Rhetoricians: A Biographical Dictionary. Columbia, MO 1969.
  • Eucken, Ch. Isokrates (Berlin/New York) 1983.
  • Haskins, Ekaterina V. Logos and Power in Isocrates and Aristotle. Edited by Thomas W. Benson. University of South Carolina Press, 2004.
  • Isocrates. Volumes I and II, translated by George Norlin. Volume III, translated by Larue van Hook. Loeb Classical Library, London, 1928, 1929, 1945.
  • Isocrates. The Rhetorical Tradition. Second Edition. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Bedford/St. Martin's, Boston, 2001.
  • Isocrates II, translated by Terry Papillon. University of Texas Press-Austin, 2004.
  • Livingstone, Niall. A Commentary on Isocrates' Busiris. (Brill) 2001. The first scholarly commentary on Busiris.
  • Poulakos, T. Speaking for the Polis: Isocrates' Rhetorical Education (South Carolina) 1997.
  • Too, Y.L. The Rhetoric of Identity in Isocrates (Cambridge) 1995.
  • Usener, S. Isokrates, Platon und ihr Publikum (Tübingen) 1994.
  • Robin Waterfield's Notes to his translation of Plato's 'Phaedrus', Oxford University Press, 2002.


See also



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