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ISOCRATES, AGAINST THE SOPHISTS

The Joshua Dinsdale Translation

Introduction

1 IF all those who undertake instruction, would speak the truth, nor make greater promises than they can perform, they would not be accused by the illiterate. Now, those who inconsiderately have dared to boast, have been the cause that those men seem to have reasoned better, who indulge their indolence, than such as study philosophy: for, first, who would not detest and despise those who pass their time in sophistic chicanery? who pretend indeed, that they seek truth, but, from the beginning of their promises, labour to speak falsities; 2 for I think it manifest to all, that the faculty of foreknowing future things is above our nature: nay, we are so far from such prudence, that Homer, who, for his wisdom, has acquired the highest fame, has sometimes introduced gods in his poem, consulting about futurity; not that he knew the nature of their minds, but that he would shew to us, that this was one of those things which are impossible for man. 3 These men are arrived at that pitch of insolence, that they endeavour to persuade the younger, that, if they will be their disciples, they shall know what is best to be done, and thereby be made happy; and, after they have erected themselves into teachers of such sublime things, they are not ashamed to ask of them four or five minaes; 4 tho', did they sell any other possession for much less than its value, they would not hesitate to grant themselves mad. But now exposing to sale all virtue and happiness (if we will believe them), they dare argue, that, as being wise men, they ought to be the preceptors of others; yet they say indeed, that they are not indigent of money, while, to diminish its idea, they call it pitiful gold and silver, tho' they require a trifling gain, and only promise to make those next to immortal, 5 who will commence their disciples. But what is the absurdest of all, is, that they are diffident of those very persons from whom they are to receive their reward, though they themselves are to teach them justice; for they make an agreement, that the money shall be deposited with those whom they never taught. Doing right in regard of their own security, but acting contrary to their own promises: 6 for it becomes those who teach any other thing, by a cautious bargain to avoid controversy (for nothing impedes, but that those who are ingenious in other respects, may not be honest in regard of contracts); yet how can it be but absurd, that they, who pretend to teach virtue and temperance as an art, should not chiefly trust to their own disciples; for they who are just towards other men, will certainly not trespass against those, by whom they were made both good and equitable.

7 When therefore some of the unlearned, considering all these things, see those who profess teaching wisdom and happiness, indigent themselves of many things, requiring a small sum of their scholars, and observing contradictions in silly sentences, though they see them not in actions; professing likewise, that they know futurity, 8 yet not capable of speaking or deliberating properly of things present; and that those are more consistent with themselves, and do more things right who follow common opinions, than those who say they are possessed of wisdom: when they see this, I say, they think such disputations mere trifles, a loss of time in idle things, and not a real improvement of the human mind.

9 Nor is it just to blame these men only, but those likewise who profess to teach civil science to the citizens; for they also disregard truth; and think it artful, if they draw as many as possible, by the smallness of the recompence, and the greatness of their promises, and so receive some thing of them: and they are so stupid, and imagine others so, that tho' they write orations more inaccurate than some who are unlearned speak extempore, yet they promise they will make their disciples such orators, that they shall omit nothing in the nature of things; 10 nay, that they will teach them eloquence, like grammar; not considering the nature of each, but thinking, that, on account of the excellence of their promises, they will be admired, and the study of eloquence seem of higher value; not knowing, that arts render not those famous who insolently boast of them, but those who can find out and express whatever is in them. 11 But I would purchase willingly, at a great price, that philosophy could effect this; perhaps, then, I should not be left the farthest behind, nor have the least share of its benefits: but as the nature of the thing is not so, I would have these triflers to be silent; for I see reflections not only cast upon the faculty, but that all are accused who are conversant in the same studies. 12 I wonder when I see those thought worthy of having scholars, who perceive not they produce a fixed art, and bound down by rules, for example of that which depends chiefly on genius. Is there any one, excepting them, who is ignorant, that, as for letters and grammar, they are unchangeable, and the same, and that we always use the same words about those things; but that the nature of eloquence is quite the contrary: for what has been said by another is not equally useful to him who speaks after; but he is the most excellent in this art, who speaks worthily indeed of his subject, but also those things which never were invented by others. 13 The greatest difference betwixt these arts is this: it is impossible orations should be good, unless there be in them an observation of time and decorum; but there is no need of this in letters. Wherefore those who use such foreign examples, ought rather to pay than receive money, because, wanting much instruction themselves, they pretend to teach others. 14 But if I ought not only to accuse others, but explain my own sentiments, all wise men, I believe, will agree with me, that many, studious of philosophy, have led a private life; but that some others, tho' they never were the scholars of sophists, were skilled both in eloquence and governing the state; for the faculty of eloquence, and all other ingenuity, is innate in men, and is the portion of such as are exercised by use and experience; 15 tho' instruction renders such more knowing in art, and better qualified for life: for learning has taught them to draw, as it were, from a store, what else perhaps they would but casually light on. But as for those who are of a weaker genius, it will never render them adroit pleaders, or good orators; but it will make them excel themselves, and become more prudent in many things. 16 Since I am advanced so far, I will speak more clearly of this topic: I say then, it is no difficult matter to learn those forms or orders of things, by which we know how to compose orations, if any one puts himself under the care not of such as easily vaunt themselves, but such as have the real science: but, in regard of what relates to particular things, which we must first see, and mix together, and dispose in order, and, besides, not lose opportunities, but vary the whole discourse with arguments, and conclude it in a harmonious and musical manner: 17 these things, I say, require great care, and are the province of a manly and wise mind; and the scholar must, besides his having necessary ingenuity, perfectly instruct himself in the different kinds of orations, and be exercised in the practice: but it becomes the master to explain all these as accurately as possible, so as to omit nothing which may be taught. As for the rest, shew himself such an example, 18 that they who can imitate and express it, may be able to speak in a more beautiful and elegant manner than others. In whatever regard any thing of what I have mentioned is wanting, it must follow, that his disciples will be less perfect.

19 And for those sophists who have lately sprung up, and fallen into this arrogance, tho' numerous now, they will be forced at last to conform to my rules. Now, there remain those who were born before us, and have dared to write of arts, not to be dismissed without just reprehension; who have professed, that they would teach how we should plead under an accusation, chusing out the most odious expression of all, which their enviers ought to have done, and not they who preside over this institution; since this, 20 as far as it can be taught, can conduce no more to the composing of law-orations than all others: yet the sophists are worse than those who grovel amidst contentions, because, while they recite such miserable orations, as did any one imitate, he must become unfit for all things, yet affirm, that virtue and temperance are taught in them; but the latter, exhorting to popular orations, and neglecting the other advantages they were possessed of, have suffered themselves to be esteemed teachers of bustling in business, and of gratifying avarice; 21 yet they will sooner assist those who will obey the precepts of this learning, in the habit of equity than eloquence. But let no one think, that I imagine justice can be taught; for I do not think there is any such art which can teach those who are not disposed by nature, either temperance or justice; tho' I think the study of popular eloquence helps both to acquire and practice it. 22 But that l may not seem to accuse other mens promises, and magnify things more than I ought, I judge I shall easily manifest to any one by the same arguments with which I have persuaded myself that these things are so.





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