BMCR 2005.02.43

Isocrates II

, , Isocrates II. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004. 1 online resource (xxix, 302 pages).. ISBN 0292797370 $22.95 (pb).

The series of translations of the Greek Orators by the University of Texas Press has so far produced six excellent volumes, ranging from Antiphon and Andocides (vol. 1) to Lysias (vol. 2) and Demosthenes (vol. 6) . This series under the editorial guidance of Michael Gagarin appears at a time of revival in the study of Greek Law and Oratory on both sides of the Atlantic and seeks to meet the needs of a wider audience not proficient in the original language. These new, up-to-date translations are addressed not only to students and scholars but also to a more general public fascinated by Ancient Greek politics, social and legal history and the practice of oratory.

This is the seventh volume of the series and the second volume covering the works of the fourth century rhetorician Isocrates. The translation by Terry L. Papillon (P.) follows up vol. I, co-authored by David Mirhady and Yun Lee Too (BMCR 2002.03.28), and shares several features with it, like a helpful chronological table of Isocrates’ speeches and a general Introduction to Isocrates written jointly by the three translators and the series editor. The volume in question is prefaced by the Series Introduction (pp. i- xxix), common to all the volumes produced so far. Although this might seem redundant to avid buyers of the series and more informed readers, it is a feature addressed to the occasional reader and furnishes valuable information on background issues, like the development of oratory in Classical Athens, the lives and works of the Attic orators, and a brief overview of the Athenian legal system as well as a short, general bibliography.

The general Introduction to Isocrates provides an overview of overarching themes of his work and general notes on his style and rhetorical technique. This is followed by yet another, shorter introduction, the Introduction to vol. II, which informs the reader about issues ranging from the composition to the dramatic dates of the speeches covered in this volume and sets out the translator’s agenda. P.’s use of the term “discourse” to translate logos is probably the most significant departure from the approach of the translators of vol. I, who mostly render it as “speech”.

Although the division of speeches between vols. I and II does not follow the numerical order of Isocrates’ speeches, the logic behind it is probably clearer than that of the Loeb translations of Norlin and van Hook, which the two volumes aspire to supersede.1 While vol. I contains speeches composed early in Isocrates’ career, those illustrating his educational views and his six forensic speeches (16-21), vol. II contains the political speeches of the orator and his nine letters. His political orations could be further categorized into epideictic ( Panegyricus (4) and Panathenaicus (12)) and deliberative ( To Philip (5), Archidamus (6), On the Peace (8) and Plataicus (14)). In his Introduction to vol. II (p. 15-18) P. illustrates further unifying features of these speeches.

Each of the speeches and the nine letters are preceded by a short introduction covering historical, compositional and rhetorical issues and giving an overview of the main themes as well as a brief, up-to-date bibliography. In the case of the nine letters, the introductions also broach issues of genre and authenticity.

The bibliographical section is more extensive than vol. I and provides a helpful guide for deeper enquiries into issues only touched upon in the introductions or the footnotes interspersed throughout the translation. This volume is concluded by an index of proper names and technical terms (both English and Greek transliterated). I think that an expanded form of the useful glossary of vol. I would further enhance the utility of this work.

From a plethora of helpful features, I should single out the informative footnotes (e.g. p. 43 n. 59) on points of style and arrangement. These give the reader a sense of the acoustic effect in the original language and help him appreciate Isocrates’ rhetorical strategy. An excellent example of this can be seen on p. 158 where P. highlights the pun on the word archê. P. also provides informative footnotes on specific historical events alluded to by Isocrates, thus placing the speeches in their historical context. These footnotes strike the right balance between issues of history, rhetoric and prose-style and avoid the risk of becoming a text in their own right.

P. is very successful in creating a sense of continuity of the orator’s works despite their genre-specific differences (the cross-references to other works within vol. II or in vol. I clearly contribute to this effect). In addition, P. manages to focus the reader’s attention on the rhetorician’s fundamental ideas as they are expressed in and evolve throughout his different works.

Doubtless, the most difficult issue any translator of Isocrates has to deal with is his long and elaborate periodic style. P. addresses this problem very effectively by breaking up the longest periods in order to render them more readable without spoiling the feel for the orator’s distinct style. A good example of how he deals with the Isocratean longwindedness is a passage from the speech To Philip — a single sentence in the Greek:

[73] You see, I know that you are being slandered by those who are envious of you and who also are in the habit of keeping their own cities in disarray, because they think that a common peace for all would be an attack on their own personal interests. These men disregard everything else and speak only of your power, saying that it grows simply for its own sake and not for the benefit of Greece and that you have been plotting against us for a long time now; [74] according to them you say your intent in taking control of affairs in Phocis is to help the people of Messene, but in fact you want to put the Peloponnese under your control. They say that the Thessalians and the Thebans and all the members of the Amphictionic League are ready to follow you; the Argives and the Messenians and the Megalopolitans and many of the others are ready to fight alongside you and destroy Sparta; and if you accomplish this, you will easily control the rest of the Greeks too.

There are very few, minor infelicities, which I note for the benefit of future reissues. P. 61 n. 112: the revolt of the Chians occurred in 411 (Thuc. 8.14.2), not 415; p. 66: “Ceryces” instead of “Cerukes”; p. 120: a cross-reference to earlier discussions of the Heracles’ myth would be preferable; p. 136: Symmachikos, symmachoi instead of Symmakikos, symmakoi; p. 163: symmoriai should rather be translated as “tax groups” or left without translation, while the footnote explaining their function is rather imprecise; p. 274: “Diophantus” instead of “Diophantes”; p. 276 a footnote on Conon, Timotheus and Diophantus would be very helpful.

These by no means reduce the merits of this work. All in all, P. has produced not only a lucid, accurate and fluent translation but also a valuable tool and an easy-to-use introduction to the works of Isocrates. It will certainly be welcomed by students of the Greek Orators and the general public and it will hopefully attract more attention to this admittedly difficult, at times obscure and often misunderstood rhetorician of fourth century Athens.


1. The difficulty of the scholars in classifying Isocrates’ speeches is noted on pp. 9, 11 of the general Introduction to Isocrates.