(Ἰσοκράτης). The fourth among the ten Attic orators (q.v.). He was born at Athens in B.C. 436, the son of Theodorus, the wealthy proprietor of a flute manufactory, who provided for his son a thorough education. Accordingly, he had the advantage of being instructed by Prodicus, Protagoras, Theramenes, and above all by Gorgias, his character was also moulded by the influence of Socrates, although he never belonged to the more restricted circle of that philosopher's pupils.
Bashfulness and a weak voice prevented him from taking part in public life. After the fall of the Thirty, as his father had lost his means in the calamitous years that closed the Peloponnesian War, he turned his attention to composing forensic speeches for others. After having taught rhetoric at Chios (probably about B.C. 404), he returned to Athens in 403, and there opened a regular school of rhetoric about 392. It was largely attended by both Athenians and non-Athenians, and gained for him considerable wealth. The total number of his pupils has been given at one hundred, including Timotheus, son of Conon , the orators Isaeus , Hyperides, and Lycurgus, and the historians Ephorus and Theopompus. Each pupil paid him 1000 drachmae. Isocrates also had friendly relations with foreign princes, especially with Evagoras of Cyprus and his son Nicocles, who loaded him with [p. 889] [figure in text: Isocrates (Villa Albani.)]
favours. He kept himself completely aloof from any personal share in the public life of his day; yet attempted to influence the political world, not only within the narrow bounds of his native land, but also throughout the whole of Greece, by a series of rhetorical declamations, not intended to be delivered, but only to be read. This he did in the first place in his Panegyricus (Πανηγυρικός), which he published in B.C. 380, after spending ten or, according to another account, as many as fifteen years over its preparation. It is a kind of festal oration, eulogizing the services of Athens to Greece, exhorting the Spartans peacefully to share the supremacy with Athens, and calling on the Greeks to lay aside all internal dissensions and to attack the barbarians with their united strength. In the ninetieth year of his age, in a discourse addressed to Philip in B.C. 346, he endeavoured to induce that monarch to carry out his policy by reconciling all the Greeks to one another and leading their united forces against the Persians. Other discourses relate to the internal politics of Athens. Thus, in the Areopagiticus (B.C. 354), he recommends his fellow-citizens to get rid of the existing weaknesses in their political constitution by returning to the democracy as founded by Solon and reconstituted by Clisthenes, and by reinstating the Areopagus as the supreme tribunal of censorship over public decorum and morality. He retained his mental and bodily powers unimpaired to an advanced age, and in his ninety-eighth year completed the Panathenaicus, a discourse in praise of Athens. He lived to see the total wreck of all his hopes for a regeneration of Greece, and died B.C. 338, a few days after the battle of Chaeronea. He is said to have died of voluntary starvation, owing to his despair at the downfall of Greek liberty; but this account of his death, made familiar to the English world by Milton in his fifth English sonnet, must be considered as doubtful.
There were sixty compositions bearing his name known to antiquity, but less than half that number were considered genuine. Of the twenty-one which have come down to us, the first, the letter to Dominicus, is often regarded as spurious, but there is no reason to doubt the genuineness of nine of the ten other letters. It is only the letter prefixed to the nine in the older editions that is not genuine, having been really written by Theophylact Simocatta early in the seventh century A.D. Of the speeches, six are forensic orations, written to be delivered by others; the rest are declamations, chiefly on political subjects. By his mastery of style, Isocrates had a far-reaching influence on all subsequent Greek prose, which is not confined to oratorical composition alone. His chief strength lies in a careful choice of expression, not only in his vocabulary, but also in the rhythmical formation of his flowing periods, in a skilful use of the figures of speech, and in all that lends euphony to language. Even in Latin the oratorical prose of Cicero is, on its formal side, based chiefly on that of Isocrates; and as modern literary prose has, in its turn, been largely modelled on that of Cicero, the influence of Isocrates has endured to the present day.
The first separate edition of isocrates is that of Demetrius Chalcocondylas (Milan, 1493). The best modern editions are those of Lange (Halle, 1803); G. S. Dobson, with a Latin rendering, notes, and scholia, 2 vols. (London, 1828); Baiter and Sauppe, 2 vols. (Zrich, 1850); and separately by BenselerBlass (Leipzig, 1882). There are good editions, with English notes, of the Demonicus and Panegyricus by Sandys (London, 1872); of the Areopagiticus, with German notes by Rauchenstein (5th ed. Berlin, 1882); of the Philippus by Schneider (1875). There is an Index Graecitatis by Mitchell (Oxford, 1827). See Henn, De Isocrate Rhetore (1861); Gehlert, De Elocutione Isocratea (1874); Spengel, Isokrates und Platon (1855); Susemihl, De Vita Isocratis (1884); Blass, Attische Beredsamkeit; and Jebb, Attic Orators, vol. ii. pp. 1-34.