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ISOCRATES (436–338 B.C.)
ATHENS’ SILVER-TONGUED ORATOR
SOCRATES lived at the same time with Lysias and rivalled I him in fame, his style resembling that of Lysias in purity and correctness, though it is more round and full in its periods, while his orations have a power in their full stream of harmonious diction which is found in no earlier work of rhetoric. The ancient estimate of his powers is shown by the statue of a siren erected in his tomb, in indication of his sweetness. Like his fellow orators, his speeches were not extemporaneous, but were elaborated with great care. He is said to have spent ten years in composing and polishing one oration. Of his productions, twenty-one are extant. He opened a school of oratory at Athens, and numbered among his pupils many men of later prominence. He lived to be ninety-eight years of age, and died then from voluntary starvation, occasioned by his grief at the fatal battle in which Philip of Macedon overthrew the power of Athens.
FLATTERY MORE POWERFUL THAN TRUTH
[The orations of Isocrates may be classified as didactic, persuasive, laudatory, and forensic. We select from Dinsdale's translation, a passage illustrative of his method. It may be said further that his weak voice and natural timidity prevented him from becoming a public speaker himself, his orations being written for othcre, or for delivery by chosen speakers on important political occasions. I
Those who come hither are used to say that those things which they are going to speak of are of the noblest nature, and worthy the city's utmost attention ; but if there ever was a time when this might be said of any affairs, methinks that I now handle deserves such an exordium. We are assembled to deliberate about peace and war, which are of the highest importance in human life; and those who consult maturely are more successful than others. The importance, therefore, of our present subject is of this high nature.
Now I have frequently observed that you make a great difference between orators, and are attentive to some but cannot suffer the voice of others. This is in reality no just wonder, for in former times you used to reject all such as did not flatter your inclinations; which, I think, deserves an impartial blame; for, though you know many private houses have been entirely ruined by flatteries, and detest such persons as in their private affairs conduct themselves in this manner; yet you are not disposed yourselves in the same manner in regard of the public amendment, but, finding fault with the censor, and taking pleasure in flatteries, you seem to put more confidence in such than in other citizens. And you yourselves have been a cause that the orators study and meditate not so much what will be beneficial to the State, as what will please your hope and expectation, for which a crowd of them is now flocked together; as it is evident to all that you take more pleasure in those who exhort you to war than to such as give you more peaceable counsels. You have met to choose, as it becomes you, the wisest measures; and though you do not know what is best to be done, yet you will hear none but such as flatter you. But if you truly have the State's good at heart, you ought rather to be attentive to those who oppose your sentiments, than to such as fall in with your humors and weaknesses; for you cannot be ignorant that those who practice such artifices are the most likely to deceive you, since artful flattery easily closes the eye to truth and sincerity. But you can never suffer such prejudice from those who speak the plain, naked truth, for such cannot persuade you but by the clear demonstrations of utility. THE PRINCIPLES OF GOOD GOVERNMENT [The “Areopagiticus” is one of the public discourses of Isocrates in which he
deals with the home affairs of Athens. We offer the following extract, in which the good government of the past is offered as an example for the future.]
Such was the authority to which, as I have said, they entrusted the maintenance of good order, which considered that those were in error who imagined that a community in which the laws were framed with the greatest exactness produced the best men. For, if this were so, there could be nothing to prevent all the Hellenes” being on the same level, so far as the facility of adopting one another's written laws is concerned. They, on the contrary, knew that virtue is not promoted by the laws, but by the habits of daily life, and that most people turn out men of like character to those in whose midst they have severally been brought up. For, where there are a number of laws drawn up with great exactitude, it
*The Greeks—so called because they are believed to be descended from a mythical personage named Hellen.
is a proof that the city is badly administered, for the inhabitants are compelled to frame laws in great numbers as a barrier against offenses.
Those, however, who are rightly governed should not cover the walls of the porticoes with copies of the laws, but preserve justice in their hearts; for it is not by decrees but by manners that cities are well governed, and while those who have been badly brought up will venture to transgress laws drawn up even with the greatest exactitude, those who have been well educated will be ready to abide by laws framed in the simplest terms. With these ideas, they did not first consider how they should punish the disorderly, but by what means they should induce them to refrain from committing any offense deserving of punishment, for they considered that this was their mission, but that eagerness to inflict punishment was a matter of malevolence.
THE BASIS OF A VIRTUOUS LIFE
[The following extract is from the oration or letter to a young man, named Demonicus. It has been much admired for its high standard of conduct.]
In the first place show your gratitude to Heaven, not only by sacrifices, but by a steady veracity and sacred observance of all leagues and oaths. The first indeed shows splendor and gratitude, but the latter only a truly noble, godlike mind. Be such toward your parents as you would hope your children should be toward you. Use exercise rather for health than strength and beauty. You will best attain these if you leave it off before nature is fatigued.
Be not austere and gloomy, but serene and brave. By the first behavior you would be thought proud; but by the latter will be esteemed a man of worth and credit. Never imagine you can conceal a bad action ; for though you hide it from others, your own conscience will condemn you. Be good, and have your own approbation. Be persuaded that every base action will at last take air.
It is the duty of every man to improve his knowledge, will and understanding. It is as great a shame to hear national, instructive discourse, and not be attentive to it, as it is to reject with scorn a valuable gift. Think philosophy a greater treasure than immense sums of gold, for gold is apt to take wings and fly away, but philosophy and virtue are inalienable possessions. Wisdom is the only immortal inheritance.
DEMOSTHENES (382–322 B.C.)
THE PARAGON OF ORATORS
HEN Greece, as a land of independent states, the nursery of W liberty and freedom of speech, was on the verge of falling before the arts and arms of Philip of Macedon, Demosthenes, a native of Athens, arose, and in a succession of orations of unequalled eloquence exposed the designs of the enemy of Grecian liberty, and sought to arouse his countrymen to meet their new foeman as they had met the Persians of old. Several other orators of Athens were bribed by Philip's gold, but the patriotism of Demosthenes was proof against venality. With watchful sagacity he penetrated the designs of the cunning Macedonian, and if the generals of Athens had been equal in ability to their orator, the freedom of Greece would have been preserved. There were eleven or twelve of these great patriotic orations; of which four are especially known as “Philippics.” The persistent opposition of Demosthenes against the foes of Greece, in the end led to his death. His last effort for liberty failing, he was pursued by his enemies and sought an asylum in the temple of Neptune on the island of Calaurea. There, still followed, he took poison and died.
As an orator Demosthenes was superb. Yet his first effort at public speaking was an utter failure. Feeble in frame, weak in voice, shy and awkward in manner, and ungraceful in gesture, he seemed strikingly ill-fitted for success upon the forum. But he had industry, intelligence and determination, and success came to him. He strengthened his lungs and his voice by declaiming while climbing steep hills or seeking to raise his voice above the roar of the sea. His natural defect in delivery was overcome by the practice of speaking with pebbles in his mouth. He learned the art of graceful gesture by praeticing before a mirror. Constant study, composition of orations, and