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date: 28 November 2022



  • J. D. Mikalson


Isocrates (436–338 bce) of Athens is generally classified as an orator, although because of a weak voice and a lack of confidence, he never delivered an oration to a legislative or legal assembly. He wanted and practised a quiet life, free from political and legal wranglings. Early in his career he wrote legal speeches for others, but soon turned to moral and sophistic essays and pseudo-orations epideictic in style but serious in purpose. He earned a fortune as a teacher of rhetoric for elite local and foreign youth. His teachings included a philosophy directed to practical, conventional morality intended to produce good citizens and future leaders. From the Panegyricus of 380 bce to the end of his long life, he promoted in various writings the idea of a Panhellenic expedition, always with some form of Athenian leadership, to Asia Minor to free the Greeks living there from Persian domination. For military leadership of the expedition he appealed over the years, successively and unsuccessfully, to Dionysius I of Sicily, Archidamus of Sparta, and finally Philip of Macedon. In the 350s bce he unfavourably compared the current Athenian democracy with that established by Solon and Cleisthenes and decried Athenian mistreatment of their allies in the Second Athenian Confederacy. Isocrates’ thought and unique periodic and elaborate prose style were much admired by Cicero and Quintilian and largely thanks to them remained highly influential through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and beyond. His educational programme, contrasted with that of Plato, is still discussed in modern educational theory and in the promotion of the liberal arts.


  • Greek Law

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