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Lives of the Ten Orators, tr. Bancroft


ISOCRATES was the son of Theodorus, of Erchia, reckoned among the middle class of citizens, and a man who kept servants under him to make flutes, by which he got so much money as enabled him not only to bring up his children after the most genteel manner, but likewise to maintain a choir. For besides Isocrates, he had other sons, Telesippus and Diomnestus, and one daughter. And hence, we may suppose, those two comical poets, Aristophanes and Stratis, took occasion to bring him on the stage. He was born in the eighty-sixth Olympiad.(1) Lysimachus being archon, about two and twenty years after Lysias, and seven before Plato. When he was a boy, he was as well educated as any of the Athenian children, being under the tuition of Prodicus the Cean, Gorgias the Leontine, Tisias the Syracusan, and Theramenes the rhetorician. And when Theramenes was to be apprehended by the order of the Thirty Tyrants, and flying for succor to the altar of the senate, only Isocrates stood his friend, when all others were struck with terror. For a long time he stood silent; but after some time Theramenes advised him to desist, because, he told him, it would be an aggravation of his grief, if any of his friends should come into trouble through him. And it is said that he made use of certain institutions of rhetoric composed by Theramenes, when he was slandered in court; which institutions have since borne Boton's name.

When Isocrates was come to man's estate, he meddled with nothing of state affairs, both because he had a very weak voice and because he was something timorous; and besides these two impediments, his estate was much impaired by the loss of a great part of his patrimony in the war with the Lacedaemonians. It is evident that he composed orations for others to use, but delivered only one; that concerning Exchange of Property. Having set up a school, he gave himself much to writing and the study of philosophy, and then he wrote his Panegyrical oration, and others which were used for advice, some of which he delivered himself, and others he gave to others to pronounce for him; aiming thereby to persuade the Greeks to the study and practice of such things as were of most immediate concern to them. But his endeavors in that way proving to no purpose, he gave those things over, and opened a school in Chios first, as some will have it, having for a beginning nine scholars; and when they came to him to pay him for their schooling, he weeping said, "Now I see plainly that I am sold to my scholars." He admitted all into his acquaintance who desired it. He was the first that made a separation between wrangling pleas and political arguments, to which latter he rather addicted himself. He instituted a form of magistracy in Chios, much the same with that at Athens. No schoolmaster ever got so much; so that he maintained a galley at his own charge. He had more than a hundred scholars, and among others Timotheus the son of Conon was one, with whom he visited many cities, and composed the epistles which Timotheus sent to the Athenians; who for his pains gave him a talent out of that which he got at Samos. Theopompus likewise the Chian, Ephorus the Cumaean, Asclepiades who composed arguments for tragedies, and Theodectes of Phaselis, who afterwards wrote tragedies, were all Isocrates's scholars. The last of these had a monument in the way to the shrine of Cyamites, as we go to Eleusis by the Sacred Way, of which now remains only rubbish. There also he set up with his own the statues of other famous poets, of all which only Homer's is to be seen. Leodamas also the Athenian, and Lacritus who gave laws to the Athenians, were both his scholars; and some say, Hyperides and Isaeus too. They add likewise, that Demosthenes also was very desirous to learn of him, and because he could not give the full rate, which was a thousand drachms, he offered him two hundred, the fifth part, if he would teach him but the fifth part of his art proportionable: to whom Isocrates answered, We do not use, Demosthenes, to impart our skill by halves, but as men sell good fish whole, or altogether, so if thou hast a desire to learn, we will teach thee our full art, and not a piece of it. He died in the year when Charondas was chief magistrate,(2) when, being at Hippocrates's public exercise, he received the news of the slaughter at Chaeronea; for he was the cause of his own death by a four days' fast, which he then made, pronouncing just at his departure the three verses which begin three tragedies of Euripides:

Danaus, father of the fifty sisters,--
Pelops, son of Tantalus, in quest of Pisa,--
Cadmus, in time past, going from Sidan.

He lived ninety-eight years, or, as some say, a hundred, not being able to behold Greece the fourth time brought into slavery. The year (or, as some say, four years) before he died, he wrote his Panathenaic oration. He labored upon his Panegyric oration ten years, or, as some tell us, fifteen, which he is supposed to have borrowed out of Gorgias the Leontine and Lysias. His oration concerning Exchange of Property he wrote when he was eighty-two years old, and those to Philip a little before his death. When he was old, he adopted Aphareus, the youngest of the three sons of Plathane, the daughter of Hippias the orator. He was very rich, both in respect of the great sums of money he exacted of his scholars, and besides that, having at one time twenty talents of Nicocles, king of Cyprus, for an oration which he dedicated to him. By reason of his riches he became obnoxious to the envy of others, and was three times named to maintain a galley; which he evaded twice by the assistance of his son and a counterfeit sickness, but the third time he undertook it, though the charge proved very great. A father telling him that he had allowed his son no other companion than one slave, Isocrates replied, Go thy way then, for one slave thou shalt have two. He strove for the prize which Aretemisia dedicated to the honor and memory of her husband Mausolus; but that oration is lost. He wrote also another oration in praise of Helen, and one called Areopagiticus. Some say that he died when he had fasted nine days, --some again, at four days' end,--and his death took its date from the funeral solemnities of those that lost their Lives at Chaeronea. His son Aphareus likewise wrote several orations.

He lies buried with all his family near Cynosarges, on the left hand of the hill. There are interred Isocrates and his father Theodorus, his mother and her sister Anaco, his adoptive son Aphareus, Socrates the son of Anaco, Theodorus his brother, bearing his father's name, his grandsons, the sons of his adopted Aphareus, and his wife Plathane, the mother of Aphareus. On these tombs were erected six tables, which are now demolished. And upon the tomb of Isocrates himself was placed a column thirty cubits high, and on that a mermaid of seven cubits, which was an emblem of his eloquence; there is nothing now extant. There was also near it a table, having poets and his schoolmasters on it; and among the rest, Gorgias inspecting a celestial globe, and Isocrates standing by him. There is likewise a statue of his of bronze in Eleusis; dedicated by Timothy the son of Conon, before the entry of the porch, with this inscription:

To the fame and honor of Isocrates,
This statue's sacred to the Goddesses:
The gift of Timothy.

This statue was made by Leochares. There are three-score orations which bear his name; of which, if we credit Dionysius, only five and twenty are genuine; but according to Caecilius, twenty-eight; and the rest are accounted spurious. He was an utter stranger to ostentation, insomuch that, when there came at one time three persons to hear him declaim, he admitted but two of them, desiring the third to come the next day, for that two at once were to him as a full theatre. He used to tell his scholars that he taught his art for ten minas; but he would give any man ten thousand, that could teach him to be bold and give him a good utterance. And being once asked how he, who was not very eloquent himself, could make others so, he answered, Just as a whetstone cannot cut, yet it will sharpen knives for that purpose. Some say that he wrote institutions to the art of oratory; others are of opinion that he had no method of teaching, but only exercise. He would never ask any thing of a free-born citizen. He used to enjoin his scholars being present at public assemblies to repeat to him what was there delivered. He conceived no little sorrow for the death of Socrates, insomuch that the next day he put himself in mourning. Being asked what was the use and force of rhetoric, he answered, To make great matters small, and small great. At a feast with Nicoceon, the tyrant of Cyprus, being desired by some of the company to declaim upon some theme, he made answer, that that was not a season for him to speak what he knew, and he knew nothing that was then seasonable. Happening once to see Sophocles the tragedian amorously eying a comely boy, he said to him, It will become thee, Sophocles, to restrain not only thy hands, but thine eyes. When Ephorus of Cumae left his school before he had arrived at any good proficiency, his father Demophilus sent him again with a second sum of money in his hand; at which Isocrates jocosely called him Diphorus, that is, twice bringing his fee. However, he took a great deal of pains and care with him, and went so far as to put him in the way of writing history.

He was wantonly given; and used to lie upon a . . . mat for his bed, and his bolster was commonly made moist with saffron. He never married while he was young; but in his old age he kept a miss, whose name was Lagisce, and by her he had a daughter, who died in the twelfth year of her age, before she was married. He afterwards married Plathane, the wife of Hippias the rhetorician, who had three sons, the youngest of which, Aphareus by name, he adopted for his own, as we said before. This Aphareus erected a bronze statue to him near the temple of Jupiter, as may be seen from the inscription:

In veneration of the mighty Jove,
His noble parents, and the Gods above,
Aphareus this statue here has set,
The statue of Isocrates his father.

He is said to have run a race on a swift horse, when he was but a boy; for he is to be seen in this posture in the Citadel, in the tennis court of the priestesses of Minerva, in a statue. There were but two suits commenced against him in his whole life. One whereof was with Megaclides, who provoked him to exchange of property; at the trial of which he could not be personally present, by reason of sickness; but sending Aphareus, he nevertheless overcame. The other suit was commenced against him by Lysimachus, who would have him come to an exchange or be at the charge of maintaining a galley for the commonwealth. In this case he was overthrown, and forced to perform the service. There was likewise a painting of him in the Pompeum.

Aphareus also wrote a few orations, both judicial and deliberative; as also tragedies to the number of thirty-seven, of which two are contested. He began to make his works public in the year of Lysistratus, and continued it to the year of Sosigenes, that is, eight and twenty years.(3) In these years he exhibited dramas six times at the city Dionysiac festivals, and twice went away with the prize through the actor Dionysius; he also gained two other victories at the Lenaean festival through other actors.

There were to be seen in the Citadel the statues of the mother of Isocrates, of Theodorus, and of Anaco his mother's sister. That of the mother is placed just by the image of Health, the inscription being changed; that of Anaco is no longer there. [Anaco] had two sons, Alexander by Coenes, and Lysicles by Lysias.

1. B.C. 436.

2. B.C. 338

3. B.C. 369-342.

Scanned by Agathon (RSB) from the University of Washington's copy of Plutarch's Lives and Writings, ed. by A.H. Clough and William W. Goodwin, with an introd. by Ralph Waldo Emerson. London, Simpkin, Hamilton, Kent & Co., Ltd. [1914?], vol. 5.

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