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The J. A. Freese Translation


This moral lecture--it can hardly be called a speech--is one of the three "hortatory addresses," which stand first in the list of the "orations" of Isocrates. It is a letter of advice to Demonicus, the youthful son of one Hipponicus, who, according to the argument by an unknown grammarian of the fourth century A.D. prefixed to the treatise, was a Cyprian and a friend of the orator. Of the person to whom it is addressed nothing is known: it can only be gathered that the government of the state in which he lived was monarchical, and not republican. Ancient and modern authorities are divided in opinion as to whether it is a genuine work of Isocrates or not: it may be observed that the only other suspected orations are the Aegineticus (xix) and that against Euthynus (xxi), two of the "forensic" speeches.

Harpocration, the Greek lexicographer, ascribed the Demonicus to Isocrates of Apollonia, the pupil and successor of our author; while others have even imagined a third Isocrates, a friend and contemporary of Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Great stress is laid upon the want of methodical arrangement of the contents as an argument against its genuineness. Some authorities, for this and other reasons, are of opinion that it is the work of one of the pupils of Isocrates, and written in imitation of the "address to Nicocles." It has been pointed out, however, that too much importance may be attached to this.1 Those who reject the speech do not attempt to fix the date of its composition; those who accept it assign it to the period of his life spent by Isocrates in the island of Chios.2

If the state in which Demonicus was living is assumed to be Cyprus, this treatise would form the natural prelude to the "address to Nicocles," "the Nicocles," and "the Evagoras," which are specially concerned with the affairs of that island.

The treatise is interesting as showing the standard of morality --at times not a very lofty one, but curiously mixed--adopted by the author, which may be assumed to have been at least on a level with the average standard of the age. Sagacious and worldly reflections worthy of Lord Chesterfield stand side by side with the precepts of an exalted morality.


1. In many respects, Demonicus, we shall find a great difference between the judgments of good men and the thoughts of bad men; but by far the greatest difference is in their acquaintanceships with one another. Bad men honour their friends only when present, but good men love them even when far away; and, while the acquaintanceships of bad men are dissolved by a short lapse of time, the friendships of good men even eternity will not wipe out. 2. Thinking therefore that it befits those who are eager for fame, and lay claim to a liberal education, to be imitators of the good and not of the bad, I have sent you this discourse as a gift, to be a proof of my good-will towards you both, and a token of my acquaintanceship with Hipponicus; for it is right that sons should inherit their portion of their father's friendship just as they do of his substance. 3. Moreover, I see that fortune too is cooperating with us, and that the present occasion is fighting on our side; for you are desirous of education, while I essay to educate others, and to you is come the ripe moment to become a philosopher,3 while I set those who are becoming philosophers on the right path. Now all4 who compose those hortatory discourses addressed to their friends essay indeed an honourable task, yet do not devote their attention to the noblest branch of philosophy; 4. but those who instruct the young not in the means whereby they may cultivate oratorical skill, but whereby they may show themselves to be naturally of good moral character, benefit their hearers more than the other class of teachers, inasmuch as the latter stimulate the mind to discourse alone, while the former set right the conduct of their pupils.

5. It is for this reason that we, not devising an intellectual invitation, but writing a moral exhortation, propose to counsel you what young men should strive after, what deeds they should avoid, with what sort of men they should associate, and how they should order their own life. For it is only those who tread this path of life who are able in a genuine sense to arrive at virtue, the holiest and surest of all possessions. 6. For beauty is either consumed by time or withered by disease, and wealth is the minister of vice rather than of true nobility, affording license to indolence and inviting young men to pleasures; while strength when joined with discretion profits, but without it does more harm than good to those who possess it, and while it adorns the bodies of those who cultivate it,5 casts a shadow over the care which should be bestowed upon the soul. 7. But the possession of virtue, wherever it has grown up with men in their minds without alloy, alone accompanies them into old age, and is better than wealth and more profitable than noble birth, rendering possible things which are impossible for the rest of mankind, bravely enduring what inspires fear in the multitude, and considering sloth a reproach and toil an honour.

8. It is easy to perceive this from the labours of Heracles and the deeds of Theseus,6 in whose case virtue in conduct has impressed so deep a stamp of glory upon their deeds that even eternity itself cannot cause their achievements to be forgotten. 9. Not but that, by recalling your father's principles, you will find a noble example at home of what I tell you. For not in neglect of virtue nor in laxity did he pass his life, but he would exercise his body with toils, and with his soul he would endure dangers; he did not love wealth unseasonably, but to a mortal's enjoyment of the good within his reach he joined an immortal's thoughtfulness for his possessions. 10. Nor did he order his life meanly, but he was a man of taste, a gentleman of the grand school, whose heart was open to his friends; and he regarded those who felt esteem for him more highly than those connected with him by family ties; for he considered that for purposes of companionship nature was better than convention, conduct than family, and principle than necessity. 11. However, time would fail us if we were to enumerate all his doings; the details of them we will set forth on another occasion, but we have now shown a sample of the nature of Hipponicus, by which you must live as an example, holding his conduct as law, and becoming an imitator and emulator of your father's virtue; for it would be disgraceful that, while painters represent those living creatures that are beautiful, children should not imitate those parents who are good. 12. Consider that no athlete is so much bound to train against his antagonists as you are to aim at becoming a competitor with your father in his habits of life. But it is impossible for a man to be so disposed in his mind unless he be filled with many noble precepts; for as the body naturally grows by duly proportioned exercises, so does the soul grow by earnest words. Therefore I will endeavour concisely to suggest to you the practices whereby it seems to me you would best increase in virtue, and obtain a good report amongst all mankind.

13. First, then, show reverence in religious matters, not only by sacrificing, but also by abiding by your oath; for the former is merely a sign of abundance of wealth, but the latter is a proof of nobility of conduct. Venerate the Deity always, but especially in the common worship of the state; for thus it will be seen that you not only sacrifice to the gods but also that you abide by the laws.

14. Learn to be towards your parents such as you would pray for your own children to be towards yourself.

Of bodily exercises practice not those which conduce to strength, but those which conduce to health; and you will attain this end if you cease from your exertions while you are still able to continue them.

15. Have no fondness for precipitate laughter, and do not show approval of language inspired by rashness;7 for the latter is foolish, the former insane.

What it is disgraceful to do, deem it dishonourable even to speak of. Accustom yourself to be not churlish but thoughtful; for the former will show you to be self-willed, the latter will show you to be discreet. Consider that [propriety,] a sense of shame, justice, and self-control, especially become you;8 for by all these a young man's character seems to be adorned.

16. Never hope that you will escape detection when you have done a base action; for even if you are undetected by others you will be conscious of it in your own mind. Fear the gods, honour your parents, reverence your friends, obey the laws.

As to pleasures, pursue those which are reputable; for enjoyment combined with the beauty of innocence is best of all things, and without it worst of all. 17. Beware of slanders, even if they are false; for the multitude know nothing of the truth, but look to appearances. Show that you do everything as before the eyes of all men; for even if you conceal it for the moment, you will afterwards be detected; and you will gain most respect if you are seen not to do what you would blame others for doing.

18. If you love learning, you will attain to much learning. What you know, preserve by exercise, and what you have not learnt, add to your knowledge; for it is just as disgraceful to hear useful discourse without gaining instruction from it as it is to refuse some good gift when offered to you by your friends. Spend the leisure time of your life in cultivating a ready ear for conversation; for thus you will be able to learn easily what others have acquired with difficulty. 19. Consider that there are many precepts which are better than much wealth; for wealth speedily fails, but precepts abide with a man for ever; wisdom is the only possession which is immortal. Do not hesitate to go a long way to visit those who profess to give useful instruction; for it would be disgraceful if, while merchants cross such great seas for the sake of increasing the property they possess, young men should not even undergo journeys by land in order to improve their understanding.

20. In manner show yourself courteous, and in speech affable; courtesy consists in greeting those who meet you, affability in associating with them familiarly in conversation. Be agreeable to all, but associate with the best men; thus you will avoid being disliked by the former, and will be friendly with the latter. Do not visit the same people frequently nor talk long about the same subjects: for there is surfeit in everything.

21. Exercise yourself with voluntary labours, that you may be also able to endure those which are involuntary. In all things by which it is disgraceful for the soul to be controlled, such as gain, temper, pleasure, or pain, cultivate self-control. You will succeed in this, if you regard as gains those things which will bring you a good name rather than those which will bring you abundance; and as to anger, if you have the like feelings towards those who are in the wrong as you would think it right for others to have towards you if you were in the wrong; and as to delights, if you think it disgraceful to rule your own household and yet be a slave to your pleasures; and as to pains, if you contemplate the misfortunes of others, and remind yourself that you are a man.

22. When secrets are intrusted to you, guard them more carefully than you would deposits of money; for good men must show their conduct to be more trustworthy than an oath. Consider it right to distrust wicked men, as it is to trust honourable men. On secret matters say nothing to anyone except it be equally to the interest of your hearers and of you who speak to them that silence should be kept concerning them.9

23. When an oath is imposed upon you, accept it on two grounds only, either to absolve yourself from a disgraceful charge, or to preserve friends from great dangers; but for money's sake swear by no god, not even if you intend to swear truly; for those who do not think you are swearing falsely, will think you are grasping.

24. Make no man a friend before inquiring how he has treated his former friends; expect him to behave to you as he has behaved to them. Make friends cautiously, but when you have made them endeavour to abide by them; for it is an equal disgrace to have no friend and to be continually changing your companions. Do not try your friends at the risk of harm to yourself, and at the same time be not content to make no trial of your companions. This you can manage, if you pretend to be in want when you are not. 25. Make confidences about things which are not secrets as if they were secrets; for, if you fail, you will suffer no harm, and, if you succeed, you will have a better knowledge of the character of your confidants. Test your friends by means of your misfortunes in life and their fellowship with you in your dangers; for as we assay gold in the fire, so we distinguish friends in misfortunes. The way to behave best towards your friends is, not to wait for requests from them, but of your own free will to help them in times of need. 26. Deem it as great a disgrace to be worsted by your friends in acts of kindness as to be beaten by your enemies in inflicting injuries. Esteem amongst your companions not only those who grieve over your ill fortune, but also those who are not jealous of your good fortune; for many sympathize with individuals in adversity, but envy them in prosperity. Remember absent friends in your conversation with present friends, that they may think that you do not forget them either when they are absent.

27. In matters of dress resolve to be tasteful, but not a fop; for a man of taste shows a proper magnificence, but a fop unnecessary adornment. Of this world's goods love not excessive acquisition but moderate enjoyment. Despise those who strive for riches, and yet cannot use the possessions which they have; such men are in the position of a man who should get a fine horse when only a poor rider. 28. Try to make wealth a real service to you as well as a mere possession; it is a thing of use to those who know how to enjoy it, but a mere acquisition to those who are only able to acquire it. Value your existing property for two reasons, first, that you may be able to pay off a heavy fine; and, secondly, because you can help a good friend in trouble; but in regard to the rest of life esteem it not excessively but moderately.

29. Be content with the present, but seek after what is best. Throw no man's adversity in his teeth, for fortune comes alike to all, and the future is beyond our ken.

Do services to good men; for an obligation imposed upon a man of worth is a rich treasure. If you do services to bad men, you will be in the position of those who feed other men's dogs; for just as they bark at those who give them food as loudly as at any ordinary persons, so bad men injure their benefactors just as much as those who hurt them.

30. Hate those who flatter as much as those who deceive, for both, if trusted, injure those who trust them. If you accept those friends who court your favour from the worst motives, you will during your lifetime be without those who are willing to incur your displeasure from the best motives.10

To those around you behave sociably, not haughtily; for slaves will hardly endure the pride of those who are supercilious, but all gladly put up with the humour of those who are sociable. 31. Now, if you will be sociable, you must not be quarrelsome, nor hard to please, nor eager for the mastery in everything; you must not meet harshly outbreaks of temper on the part of those around you, even if they should happen to be in the wrong, but give way to them while they are angry, and reprove them when their temper has quieted down; neither must you be serious about joking matters, nor delight in jokes about serious things (for what is unseasonable always causes pain); you must not do kindnesses unkindly, as is the way of most men, who, while they do them, yet serve their friends ungraciously; you must not be ready with accusations, for that is offensive, nor fond of finding fault, for that is irritating.

32. If possible, avoid drinking-parties; but if ever you should find yourself in such a position, rise, and go before you are drunk. For when the mind is destroyed by wine, it is like chariots which have lost their drivers; for as they rush on without control for the loss of men to guide them, so the soul often stumbles when the intelligence is destroyed.

Show consciousness of immortality in the loftiness of your soul, but remember mortality in moderate enjoyment of this world's goods.

33. Consider education to be so far a greater advantage than the want of it, in that, while all men make gain out of all other defects, education alone actually inflicts damage on those who possess it; for men have often been punished in deed for the pain they have inflicted in word.11

When you wish to make friends of men, speak good of them to those who will repeat it; for the foundation of friendship is praise, as blame is of enmity.

34. In taking counsel make the past a guide to the future; for the unknown is most speedily discerned by means of the known. Take counsel slowly, but execute your resolves promptly. Consider that while the best thing that comes from the gods is good fortune, the best thing that comes from ourselves is good counsel. If you are ashamed to speak freely about anything, but wish to take some of your friends into council, use language implying that the matter affects some other man; for thus you will both learn their opinion and will avoid betraying yourself. 35. Whenever you are proposing to take anyone's advice about your affairs, first look to see how he manages his own; for the man of defective judgment in his own business will never give good counsel about that of others. Now the way to get the strongest inducement to take counsel will be to contemplate the misfortunes which arise from want of counsel; even so we have the greatest care for health when we recall the pains of sickness.

36. Imitate the characters of kings and pursue their ways of life; you will then appear to approve of and emulate them, so that you will have the advantage of getting at once a greater reputation with the multitude and a surer hold upon the royal favour. Obey, too, the laws established by kings, yet consider their disposition to be the strongest law of all. For just as the citizen who lives under a democracy must court the people, so the dweller under a monarchy must look up to the king.

37. If you are set in authority, do not use an inferior agent to conduct your administration; for wherever he goes wrong, people will lay the blame on you. Leave public employments with an addition, not to your wealth, but to your reputation; for the praise of the people is better than great riches. If a cause is bad, do not support it or plead for it; for it will be thought that you are doing yourself what you assist others in doing.

38. Put yourself in a position to get the upper hand, but hold back when you have your fair share, that you may be seen to strive after justice from a sense of equity and not from weakness.

Approve of just poverty more than of unjust wealth; for justice is so much better than riches, in that riches benefit only the living, but justice wins glory even for the dead, and riches are shared even by bad men, but in justice the wicked can by no possibility have any part. 39. Envy none of those who make a profit out of injustice, but rather approve of those who have suffered injury by following justice; for if there is nothing else in which the just have the advantage of the unjust, at least they excel them in goodly expectations.

40. Take thought for everything which concerns your life, but especially cultivate your own reasoning power; for a sound mind in a man's body is the greatest thing in the smallest compass. Try to be in your body a lover of toil, and in your soul a lover of wisdom, that with the one you may be able to execute your resolves, and with the other may know how to foresee what is expedient.

41. Whenever you propose to ask a question, turn it over in your mind beforehand; for with many the tongue outruns the understanding. Choose two moments only for speaking, the one when you know the subject well, the other when it is necessary to speak about it. These are the only occasions on which speech is better than silence; on all others it is better to be silent than to speak.

42. Deem nothing sure in human affairs; for so you will neither be over-joyful in good fortune, nor over-distressed in evil fortune. Rejoice at the good things which befall you, and grieve in moderation over the ills which come upon you, and in neither case display your feelings to the world; for it is strange to hide property indoors, and yet to walk abroad with your heart upon your sleeve.

43. Beware of blame more than of danger; for bad men should fear the end of life, but good men ill report during life. Try, if possible, to live in safety; but if it should ever fall to your lot to incur danger, seek safe return from war with fair fame, and not with disgrace; for to meet their end is a sentence that destiny has decreed against all men, but death with honour has been assigned by nature to the good as their peculiar possession.

44. Now do not be surprised that much of what I have said does not apply to your present time of life. I was aware of this myself; but my deliberate purpose was, by one and the same undertaking12 at once to deliver counsel for your present time of life, and to leave with you instructions for the years that are to come. For while you will easily recognize the need for these precepts, yet you will have difficulty in finding a well-disposed counsellor. In order, therefore, that you may not have to seek the rest from someone else, but may bring it forth hence as from a treasure-house, I have thought it right to omit nothing of the counsel which I have to offer you. 45. I shall have much to thank the gods for, if I am not deceived in the good opinion which I have of you; for, in the case of most other men we shall find that, just as of foods they like the sweetest better than the most wholesome, so in regard to their friends also, they associate with those who share their faults rather than with those who admonish them. But you, I think, have formed a contrary judgment to these, as a proof of which I take your industry in the rest of your education; for the man who imposes upon himself the highest rule of conduct is likely to approve of those amongst other men who exhort to virtue. 46. Now you would be best spurred on to strive after noble deeds if you understood that even pleasures, too, in the truest sense, we get from them; for in idleness and love of surfeits pains follow close by the side of pleasures, but loving industry in the pursuit of virtue and a temperate ordering of a man's own life ever make13 delights unalloyed and surer; 47. and, while in the former case men are pleased at first but afterwards pained, in the latter case we have the pleasures after the pains. In all actions we have no such vivid recollection of the beginning as appreciation of the end; for most of the transactions of life we do not pursue for their own sake, but we carry them out with a view to the results. 48. Now lay to heart that, while for common people it is possible to do what first comes to hand, since that is the principle of life that they have laid down from the first, for earnest men it is not possible to neglect virtue, because there will be many ready to rebuke them; for all men hate those who do wrong less than those who profess to be respectable, but are no better than ordinary men: and with good reason: 49. for when we condemn those who lie in word only, we cannot but pronounce to be bad those who in their whole life fall short of previous expectations. We should justly consider that such men do not merely sin against themselves, but are also betrayers of fortune; for while she has intrusted to them wealth and reputation and friends, they have made themselves unworthy of the happiness they enjoy.

50. Now if a mortal may conjecture the thoughts of the gods, I fancy that they too, in their dealings with those nearest to them, have most clearly shown what their feelings are towards the bad and good amongst mankind. For Zeus, having begotten Heracles and Tantalus,14 as the myths relate and all believe, made the one for his virtue immortal, and chastised the other for his vice with the severest punishments. 51. By the aid of their example you ought to seek after true nobility, and not merely to abide by what I have said, but also to become acquainted with the best works of the poets15 and to study all the useful precepts of the sophists16 as well. 52. For just as we see the bee settling on all blossoms and sipping what is best from each, so ought those who strive after education to have some knowledge of everything, and to collect what is profitable from every side. For it is only with difficulty even by this diligence that a man will overcome the defects of nature.

1. Sandys, note on 13; cp. Or. xv., 67, 68.

2. See Introd., 3, and Sandys, Introd., p. xxxviii. Professor Jebb gives the date of the letter as about B.C. 374-2.

3. See Introd., 6, for the meaning of "philosophy" in the writings of Isocrates.

4. Referring to contemporary sophists.

5. Such as professional athletes, who go through a strict course of training.

6. See the "Encomium of Helen" (Or. x., 18-38).

7. i.e., in others. Another rendering is, "do not adopt it yourself."

8. The objection to this rendering is the meaning "propriety" given to kosmon, which appears only to be used in the sense of "ornament" by Isocrates. An alternative version is: "Consider that a sense of shame . . . especially become you as an ornament." Blass brackets kosmon, and gives kosmeisthai (to be adorned) instead of krateisthai (to be controlled), which is the usual reading.

9. i.e., before intrusting a secret to anyone, make sure that he has not more interest in letting it out than in keeping it.

10. i.e., who are ready to give you the best advice, even at the risk of offending you.

11. i.e., education must be valuable, seeing that men are eager to acquire it, in spite of the fact that it sometimes entails loss.

12. Another rendering is, "treatise."

13. Another rendering is, "yield as a return."

14. See Or. v., 109, 144.

15. Writers of moral and didactic poems, such as Hesiod and Theognis.

16. Not merely the "Sophists" specially so called (see Introd. 1, 7), but the Seven Wise Men of Greece (the most famous of whom was Solon), who are called by Isocrates himself "the Seven Sophists."

From Isocrates' Orations Vol. I, translated by J. H. Freese. London: George Bell & Sons, 1894.

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