Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.03.28

David Mirhady, Yun Lee Too, Isocrates I.   Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2000.  Pp. xxix, 279.  ISBN 0-292-75237-7.  $50.00.  ISBN 0-292-75238-5.  $22.95.  

Reviewed by Emiliano J. Buis, Facultad de Derecho, Instituto de Filología Clásica, Universidad de Buenos Aires (
Word count: 904 words

Greek oratory is an interesting field of study that many times remains darkened by more popular topics in ancient literary critical standpoints, like epic or tragedy. However, its study may provide an enormous amount of information on a wide range of subjects such as politics, law and philosophical thinking. Ancient life and culture breathes in this genre, as oratory is one of the main sources for a concrete profile on real social dynamics of democracy. Different scholars have shown during the last centuries many thoughtful analyses of rhetoric discourse in the orators' works, but there has always been a deep problem--sometimes explicitly acknowledged--concerning the readers to whom they were directed: their comments were either oriented towards a narrow community of wise classicists, or devoted to an ordinary audience. This new translation of Isocrates succeeds in blending both traditional approaches.

As the fourth volume in the Oratory of Classical Greece series, undertaken by the University of Texas Press, the purpose of this book is to be useful to everyone interested in the subject. As Michael Gagarin, the series editor, explains, "the aim of the series is to make available primarily for those who do not read Greek up-to-date, accurate, and readable translations with introductions and explanatory notes of all the surviving works and the major fragments of the Attic orators of the classical period..." (ix).

Under the light of this proposal, we find a very enjoyable work. Two parts give shape to this edition. The first one comprises ten speeches (13-133), translated by David C. Mirhady, Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities at Simon Fraser University, while the second one deals with five speeches (135-264), translated by Yun Lee Too, Assistant Professor in Classics at Columbia University. Each part is preceded by a translator's Introduction, and the whole book is framed by a general Series Introduction on Greek Oratory written by Michael Gagarin at the initium and a small glossary, bibliography and index at the end. The entire book constitutes the first of two volumes on Isocrates, the second one being given to Terry Papillon.

What startles perhaps the unaware reader in the beginning is the distribution of speeches. This is explained in the specific "Introduction to Isocrates", where we are told that the numbers accorded by manuscripts will remain untouched, but that "Mirhady translates the earlier speeches; Too, the speeches that concern education in its various manifestations; and Papillon the remainder" (9). As these categories do not necessarily exclude each other, hesitations arise on some orations. If we are to describe the organization, we face an order that presents in the first place Speech 1 "To Demonicus", but that goes on through speeches 10, 11, 13, and 16 to 21; the second part presents speeches 9, 2, 3, 7 and 15. This distribution, although explained in lists that head the volume (v-vi, vii-viii), causes some difficulty when trying to locate a particular work. Table 1 at page 10, presenting orations classified by traditional numbers and the translation volume where it is included, becomes then an indispensable tool. Nevertheless, the short introduction to each speech is excellent, because it helps to establish similarities and differences with the other ones previously read. Thus the unity lost by an arbitrary distribution is welcomed once again through the internal relationship set up by the particular prefaces to each speech.

The work is extremely rich for students who do not read Greek, but not only for them. Even for those classicists trained in dealing with original texts the experience of handing this English version is deeply recommended: the translation is fluent almost everywhere, and it respects mostly the original movements of Isocrates' oratory. The appearance of Greek words between parentheses to explain a lexical choice is always appropriate, since it allows the reader to trace significant vocabulary throughout the speeches and it draws the attention of those interested in revealing and comparing the chosen English words with their Greek forms. This avoids the general problem which most translators face of being forced to find one only word in English to replace the same expression, even when contexts do not make it easy to understand its meaning: in this case words may change according to the sense--and in fact they do--but the reader is aware that both translations refer in fact to the same Greek. This observation may seem superficial, but the inclusion of transliterated forms will provide better grounds to achieve a more precise study of the speeches among Greekless students of rhetoric, history or law who know the text only through this modern English edition.

The bibliography remains quite short but carefully selected and updated, but to proceed with further research very little advice is given: only works in English are quoted, and many of them are strangely missing: that might be the case of Ostwald (1986) or Todd (1993). Footnotes and commentaries, though not exhaustive, are mostly illuminating. It is unfortunate that some expressions within certain speeches that could have been analysed in its original meaning and technical scope (like sykophantein p. 68, hetaireia p. 69, or hybris p. 70, for instance) remain unexplained.

To summarize, this book is a very reliable and instructive example of Isocrates' works. It shall become a useful tool to a wide number of teachers and students who wish to have access to a readable and widely accurate translation of some of the most outstanding speeches in Greek oratory and education.

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