Plan for the Day
- Isocrates’ Speeches
- Mini-Rhetorical Analysis Fun
- I want you to discuss your topics in class: tonight, 2/15, and 2/22 (Due 3/1)
- Be on the lookout for persuasive passages like we had on February 1st’s page
I want us to address this statement in class:
Education for the sake of education is good in and of itself regardless of any future preparation for a career.
The first time I uttered this was in my first* PhD class on the very first night. I believed it then and still believe it 20 years later.
*Technically, it was the second because we had a summer boot camp course on teaching.
The Work of an Orator
Your textbook, edited by Michael Gagarin, has some important background information to keep in mind when considering the purpose of Isocrates’ work. Our job will be to connect these teachings and advice to contemporary or other historical time periods. What’s similar? What’s different or even anathema? What has remained a core emphasis for elite education? Some general points from Gagarin:
- p. xii: “The practice of writing speeches began in the courts and then expanded to include the Assembly and other settings. Athens was one of the leading cities of Greece in the fifth and fourth centuries, and its political and legal systems depended on direct participation by a large number of citizens; all important decisions were made by these large bodies, and the primary means of influencing these decisions was oratory.”
- p. xii: “It is convenient to designate these three types of oratory by the terms Aristotle later uses: forensic (for the courts), deliberative (for the Assembly), and epideictic (for display).”
- p. xiv: Of “dozens–perhaps even hundreds…only ten of these [orators] were selected for preservation and study by ancient scholars, and only works collected under the names of these ten have been preserved.”
- p. xvi: “[Isocrates] favored accommodation with the growing power of Philip of Macedon and panhellenic unity.”
“Isocrates greatly influenced education and rhetoric in the Hellenistic, Roman, and modern periods until the eighteenth century.”
- p. xxi: “litigants often try to impress the jurors by referring to liturgies they have undertaken”
- “the rich were also subject to special taxes (eisphorai) levied as a percentage of their property in times of need.”
- p. xxiii: “a logographer could probably learn from jurors which points had or had not been successful, so that arguments that are found repeatedly in speeches probably were known to be effective in most cases.”
- p. xxiv: “Suits for injuries to slaves would be brought by the slave’s master, and injuries to women would be prosecuted by a male relative.”
- p. xxv: “For Plato, democracy amounted to the tyranny of the masses over the educated elite and was destined to collapse from its own instability”
- p. xxvi: “the rich used the courts as battlegrounds, though their main weapon was the rhetoric of popular ideology, which hailed the rule of law and promoted the ideal of moderation and restraint.”
So Who Ran Things?
- p. xix: “a great many citizens held public office at some point in their lives, but almost none served for an extended period of time or developed the experience or expertise that would make them professionals.”
- p. xxiv: “Athenians never developed a system of public prosecution; rather, they presumed that everyone would keep an eye on the behavior of his political enemies and bring suit as soon as he suspected a crime, both to harm his opponents and to advance his own career. In this way all public officials would be watched by someone.”
- What does this tell us about the government and, perhaps, ability to continue maintaining a loosely grouped federation of Greek city-states?
- Consider the Macedonian conquerors, Philip and Alexander, who “united” the known world.
|Greek Civilization||Roman Civilization|
|Classical Greece (our figures through Alexander, 323 BCE)|
Mostly a pseudo-Democracy
|Kingdom of Rome (until 509 BCE)|
|Hellenistic Greece (various kingdoms until annexation|
by Rome, 146 BCE)
|Roman Republic (until 49 BCE)|
|Roman Empire (until around 450 CE)|
|Rise of Christianity|
Was Isocrates a philosopher, rhetorician, or sophist? Well, it kind of depends on our definition, but we know he was an important orator and ran a school in competition with Plato, Aristotle, and others in Athens (and elsewhere in the Ancient Greek world). Although he is lesser known than Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, he provides us with both practical rhetorical texts and insight into life in Ancient Greece. He lived to 97 or 98, which meant he lived more than twice as long as the life expectancy* of Ancient Greeks, according to last week’s page. Living to 100 is a feat nowadays and was unbelievable in Ancient Greece, so Isocrates witnessed quite a bit of a turbulent century (436–338 BCE).
*Pay close attention: “life expectancy” isn’t equivalent to “average age.”
- p. 3: “At the core of his teaching was an aristocratic notion of aretē (‘‘virtue, excellence’’), which could be attained by pursuing philosophia…the study and practical application of ethics, politics, and public speaking.”
- p. 4: “He stresses that his teaching (paideia) is practical and is aimed at preparing young men broadly as gentlemen….and is essentially an education in political leadership, a mechanism for the construction of authority among the traditional elite groups that comprise Isocrates’ ideal pupils.”
- p. 5: “For Isocrates logos (discourse) and philosophia (the study of and training in discourse) are at the core of any orderly, civilized community and have been essential to the success of Athens, the classical democratic city par excellence.
- “Discourse institutionalizes morality and makes possible debate, persuasion, and the instruction of others…”
- p. 8: “Isocrates instead seeks to appropriate the term philosophia to describe his intellectual activity and teaching, thereby implicitly challenging Plato, who was seeking to appropriate the term for his own work.”
- And we’ve been fighting about definitions ever since…
- Well, the fight started much earlier, but this is the recorded history we’ve been left.
- p. 17: “But unlike Plato, who was led for this reason to throw out much of the Greek mythology that was handed down from Homer and Hesiod, Isocrates accepts it, claiming justiﬁcation for the actions of many legendary ﬁgures, like Helen, Agamemnon, and Busiris, who are viliﬁed by earlier writers.”
This should be very familiar to audiences because of it’s relationship to religious rhetoric. Notice the style and topics advocated as well as condemned.
- p. 20: The base and the honorable.
- Teach to improve character.
- p. 21: “Wealth supports evil rather than noble conduct: it provides a basis for laziness and exhorts the young to pleasures.”
- By “young,” he means 13 year-olds and others of middle age.
- Interestingly, he was a logographer for those wanting to keep their money or get it back…
- p. 22: Seek moderation.
- “Fear the gods; honor your parents; respect your friends; obey the laws.”
- I swear I’ve heard such Commandments before but where?
- He also says not to be a hypocrite on the next page.
- p. 23: “Wisdom is the only immortal acquisition.”
- Study abroad.
- pp. 23-24: Treat others as you wish to be treated.
- Total déjà vu.
- p. 26: Don’t get drunk.
- p. 27: “ Imitate the manners of kings and follow their habits, for you will…thus achieve more distinction in the eyes of the multitude and more reliable goodwill from kings.”
- Clearly, Isocrates never watched Game of Thrones.
- p. 27: “Prefer a just poverty over unjust wealth…justice furnishes a good reputation even to the dead.”
- p. 28: Manage your expectations.
- P. 29: “we do not do most things in life for the sake of activities themselves, but we work for results.”
- Great tech writing advice–focus on user goals, not tasks
What might be governing the social construction of these “commandments”? Consider the fact that he was selected to the canon by ancient and medieval scholars.
As the translator mentions, this title is a corruption of “Bu-Osiris, meaning ‘the place of Osiris‘” (p. 49).
- p. 50: “most people who are admonished naturally regard it as no help but listen to what is said with reluctance to the extent that anyone examines their mistakes in detail.”
- p. 51: “Everyone knows that those who want to eulogize people must point out more good attributes than they actually have, and those who want to prosecute them must do the opposite.”
- p. 55: “It is especially worthwhile to praise and admire the piety of the Egyptians and their service to the gods.”
- “by instilling in us a fear of the gods from the beginning, they cause us not to act like beasts toward one another.”
- p. 56: “I attribute to him nothing that is impossible, only laws and a constitution, which are the acts of good and noble men.”
- p. 57: “since the facts are open to interpretation and we can only speculate about them, if we look at what is likely, who would suppose anyone more responsible for the institutions there than a son of Poseidon who was descended from Zeus on his mother’s side?”
- That’s a very postmodern statement from an ancient figure…well, at least the stuff before Poseidon.
- p. 58: Not a fan of poets.
- p. 59: “It is unreasonable to attribute the cause of our children’s blessings to the gods but to believe that they take no thought of their own.”
“Against the Sophists”
Again, he’s trying to establish his school as superior to others in Greece.
- p. 62: “They say they have no need for money, disparaging wealth as ‘‘mere silver and gold,’’ but in their desire for a little proﬁt they almost promise to make their students immortal.”
- p. 63: Sophists can’t predict the future and can’t cultivate the souls of students. They are charlatans full of empty promises.
- p. 64: “…the function of letters is unchanging and remains the same, so that we always keep using the same letters for the same sounds, the function of words is entirely opposite.”
- Although I question the idea that letters always have the same sound, once again, this is a very postmodern statement from an ancient figure.”
- pp. 64-65: Natural ability and the limits of education.
- p. 66: “ Nevertheless, those who wish to follow the prescriptions of my philosophy may be helped more quickly to fair-mindedness than to speechmaking.”
- He should explain one can get to enlightenment in less than 3,000 years…
“On the Team of Horses”
It’s Olympic season, and I have many opinions on the individual games, the fact it’s in China, and the industry itself. Just like today, in Ancient Greece rich people loved horse racing.
- pp. 68-69: “I would be ashamed if I appeared to any citizen to give less thought to my father’s reputation than to my own problems.”
- p. 71: “It would be much more reasonable to criticize those who remained and committed crimes that deserve exile.”
- pp. 72-73: “…even the vilest of men can heap abuse not only on the best of men but even on the gods.”
- Why bring this up here? What is he juxtaposing with such a statement? Is this an enthymeme?
- p. 78: “Those who have money face a ﬁne, but those without means like me face losing my civic rights, which I regard a greater misfortune than exile.”
The speaker makes several points about the good deeds his father did for the city when addressing the court. It appears he once had money but is now less well off.
This oratory is a situation where a well off man wants to get a loan back from someone who swindled him. It brings up the preposterous practice of torturing slaves for testimony, offering us insight into the minds of the wealthy of Athens.
The rest of the speeches in Part I have similar rhetorical moves, and we can address them one at a time or all together to find commonalities.
Forge ahead on Isocrates I (Part 2: pp. 137-264) and try to make connections to historical or contemporary situations. His “Antidosis” (pp. 201-264) is quite important for understanding his philosophy, so pay close attention. Also, don’t forget that I will ask you about your Mini-Rhetorical Analysis topic next week. Consider the areas we’ve already discussed: speeches, prefaces, and polemics. Maybe read “Politics of the English Language” by George Orwell.
I will ask you what topic you’re leaning towards next week…