Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.01.29 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.01.29

Edward Schiappa, David M. Timmerman, Giles Laurén (ed.), Jebb’s Isocrates. Newly Edited.   Sophron Editor, 2016.  Pp. cxxvi, 430.  ISBN 9780989783651.  $17.50 (pb).  

Reviewed by Christopher Moore, Penn State University (

“Sophron Editor” names a self-publishing venture of Giles Laurén, providing digitally re-typeset editions of public-domain translations and monographs in Classical rhetoric, history, and literature. The present text collects Jebb’s Introduction to the Attic Orators (xxxviii–cxxv), including his “Annals” (giving for each year 436–338 bce the Athenian archon, key literary or Isocratean milestone, and military and political events); the Life of Isocrates (1–248), and Isocratean Greek passages and English commentary in the Selections from the Attic Orators (251–423). It uses the second edition of both, from 1893 and 1888 (not mentioning the first editions of 1876 and 1880). These works are already available for free online on Perseus, and many libraries have older versions, and at cost in the 2010 Cambridge reprint of the Attic Orators and the 2005 reissue of the Selections introduced by Pat Easterling and Michael Edward (Bristol Phoenix Press, not mentioned in this volume). So the present volume has its niche as a low-cost legible hardcopy of Jebb’s major Isocrates materials. Any scholarly value it might have depends, of course, on its formatting and its editorial materials, so to them this review now turns.

The English font and text is clear, and page-position appropriate. The Greek font, by contrast, is unappealing and (in the footnotes) backed by light grey highlighting. The “Contents” has dropped the accents from all Greek words. The absence of running heads makes the Selections difficult to use. Many lines in the Annals have their lower portions sheered off. The “Works Cited” indents the authors’ names rather than uses hanging indents, which slows use. I ran into many typos and proof-reader’s highlighting.

This is a lightly edited volume. In the five-hundred fifty pages, there are seven footnotes.1

The Introduction (x–xxxiv) starts with one page of canned biography and two pages of quotations from recent authors concerning scholarly interest in Isocrates over the past two decades.

Besides an encomium to Jebb’s extensiveness (xi, xxxiii–iv), the editors offer no discussion of the nature, structure, or quality of Jebb’s texts, responses to them in the 1870s and 1880s, the earlier or later history of Isocratean scholarship, or recent scholarship on Jebb (see for example BMCR 2014.03.49 and 2006.04.36).The vast bulk of the Introduction (xiii–xxxiii) concerns Isocrates’ picture of philosophia (to which the footnote at p. 29 cited below refers). These twenty pages reprint a version of Timmerman’s “Isocrates’ Competing Conceptualization of Philosophy,” which I find quite problematic and to which I will now turn.2

In his Life of Isocrates, Jebb has a section on Isocrates’ “Theory of Culture,” his analysis of philosophia — which Jebb refers to as “philosophy,” with the quotation marks denoting the English word’s role as mere transliteration (28–41; he is not using them as scare-quotes, as the editors insist [xiii]). Jebb does a fine job presenting Isocrates’ way of distinguishing his mode of philosophia from the modes of philosophia of his contemporaries; the way Isocrates uses speeches and verbal exercises to train his students; the way he cares both for practical activity and “the largest public interests”; and in general the moral and political content of his instruction. Timmerman and Schiappa take issue with Jebb’s account. In their footnote on p. 29, they disagree with

tak[ing] the common step of believing [Isocrates] really meant to use the term rhetoric, [and with] this step that Jebb takes which is to speculate that what he was really after was a theory of culture. Rather, we believe his use warrants understanding it on its own terms, as philosophy.

This note mystifies me, since Jebb is hardly speculating about what Isocrates was after; he is saying that Isocrates generated a broad and systematic outlook (a “theory”) about the education of his students (their “culture”), and that in practicing philosophia he endeavored to advance that education.

A similarly misguided remark concludes the editors’ Introduction: with his language of philosophia, they say, “Isocrates was out to define not culture, but philosophy” (xxxii–iii, 3). No doubt Jebb is not the final word on Isocrates’ philosophia.4 In his defense, however, Jebb does not say that Isocrates was trying to define “culture,” construed as pedagogy or as anything else. Jebb wanted mainly to understand how Isocrates used the term philosophia. I must add that Isocrates could not have been out to define philosophy (as the editors say), since philosophy as the concept referred to specifically by an English word would not yet have existed.

In sum, for under twenty dollars one can get a lot of Jebb on Isocrates, which seems a pretty good thing. It is a pity the present volume does not do a better and more elaborate job arguing in favor of doing so.


1.   Listed by the page on which they appear, these contain: P. lxvi: observation of the existence of a distinction between Attic and Asiatic styles, with a longish garbled quotation from John Kirby. P. lxxxii: dates and jobs given for the “unfamiliar” George Canning, Henry Grattan, Thomas Erskine, and Edmund Burke. P. cix: reference to two Schiappa works that contest the Sicilian origin of rhetoric. P. cxii: reference to same Schiappa works contesting Corax as the founder of rhetoric. P. cxxiv: note calling attention to the limits of Athenian democratic franchise and citation of works by Timmerman and Blundell. P. 29: claim that Jebb was wrong to interpret Isocrates’ philosophia as part of his theory of culture, and that it should be – as the Introduction argues – taken as “philosophy.” P. 147: bare reference to two articles by Haskins and Usher on Panegyricus.
2.   Philosophy and Rhetoric 31 (1998), 145-159 — not cited in this volume — a paper that was in turn reprinted in Timmerman and Schiappa, Classical Greek Rhetorical Theory and the Disciplining of Discourse (Cambridge University Press, 2010), chapter 3 — which the present volume does cite (p. xiii n.1).
3.   Incidentally, the editors have as their explicit target of this remark “Jaeger and Forster,” who are hardly otherwise discussed, practically forgetting Jebb!
4.   Important studies include Stephen Halliwell, “Philosophical Rhetoric or Rhetorical Philosophy? The Strange Case of Isocrates,” in B.D. Schildgen’s The Rhetoric Canon (Wayne State University Press, 1997), 107–125 (not cited in the present volume), and Kathryn Morgan, “The Education of Athens: Politics and Rhetoric in Isocrates and Plato,” in Takis Poulakos’ and David Depew’s Isocrates and Civic Education (University of Texas Press, 2004), 125–54.

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