BMCR 2007.02.30

Isokratês Evagoras: Ermêneutikê Ekdosê

, , Isokratēs Euagoras : hermēneutikē ekdosē. Thessaloniki: University Studio Press, 2005. 259 pages ; 25 cm. ISBN 9601214127.

This book is the first complete scholarly edition of Isocrates’ Evagoras to appear in any language in almost a century. However much one may wish to concede some usefulness to the old commentaries by Schneider and Forster, they are too outdated to offer a starting point for further research and interpretation.1 Alexiou (hereafter A.) has done us all a favour by producing a well-documented commentary on Evagoras, drawing particular attention to wide interpretative issues and significant contextual matters. His full and thoughtful notes on one of Isocrates’ most intriguing works are greatly enhanced by a richly informative introduction and a well-paced translation in Modern Greek. The timely production of the book, coming as it does in the wake of such carefully designed commentaries as those by Livingston, Roth and Zajonz, on Busiris, Panathenaicus and Encomium of Helen respectively, mirrors the recent resurgence of interest in the study of Isocrates’ oeuvre.2 In both the preface and the introduction, A. acknowledges that the critical interpretation of Isocrates as an insightful and polemical Athenian rhetorician and educator of the early fourth century BCE has been especially thin, at least compared to the immense aggregate of scholarship that has accrued in the past century on his most celebrated rival Plato. Thus, he notes, his edition of Evagoras aims not only at casting fresh light on a lesser-known oration by way of a detailed discussion of key themes and concerns but also at giving new impetus to the close examination of Isocrates’ rhetorical output. Given the complete lack of a decent modern edition of the speech for general scholarly readers in Greece itself, the importance of his contribution is greater than it may seem at first.

The substantial introduction includes sections on the development of Greek rhetoric, the main landmarks in the history of Isocratean scholarship, the encomiastic aspects of Isocrates’ oratorical prose and their inextricable connection with an ambitious educational programme, the selection and deployment of the arguments, the date, and the textual tradition of the Evagoras. Going beyond this, A. gives particular focus to the significant influence that the speech exerted on such ancient biographical writings as Xenophon’s Agesilaus and Cyropaedia. Except for the first section on the development of Greek rhetoric (pp. 29-34), which not only stands alone in what purports to be a coherent sequence of interrelated sections, but also presents an imperfect overview of the subject, the survey of the critical scholarship on Isocrates from antiquity to the present day appropriately highlights the striking contrasts in the modern appreciation of the Isocratean corpus. Given the German preoccupation with the Platonic pursuit of truth through dialectic, the common-sense advice of Isocrates and his grand vision of Panhellenic unity remained seriously understressed in the scholarly treatments of Greek oratory throughout the nineteenth century and in the early part of the twentieth century. A. argues that this critical stance has little to recommend itself because the works of Isocrates brought new insights to bear on education and the practice of government in the context of the popular culture of the fourth-century oratory. The outlook of the rhetorician is broad enough to include a vehement critique of the negative aspects of Sophistic training and an urgent call for the introduction of more refinements in the educational system. No wonder the purely practical character of Isocrates’ philosophy allowed him to steer clear of the angry passions of the anti-Philip advocates and anticipate Alexander’s world-empire in spite of the thoughtless provincialism and the unrealistic optimism of most of the Athenian patriots.

In the third and fourth sections of the introduction, A. suggests that Isocrates’ Evagoras should be treated as the culmination of a series of central themes previously developed in the earlier Encomium of Helen and Busiris. A. emphasizes that another Greek scholar, Sykutris, has already investigated the remarkable inventiveness of the speech, in which, for the first time, a historical figure of particular significance not only occupies centre stage in what strikes one as an especially fluent and economical narrative but also acts as a supreme illustration of the immense benefits emanating from the productive fusion of rhetorical schooling and educational claims.3 Furthermore, the recent recognition of Isocrates’ political publication as an extremely important structuring moment in what appears to be a trilogic sequence (known as the Cypriot trilogy), comprising also the interconnected speeches To Nicocles and Nicocles, has tipped the scales in favour of a true appreciation of the merits of the Evagoras as an instructive document of early Greek kingship theory. According to A., it is credible and probable that the close recall of central motifs treated in funerary orations and lyric eulogies in the context of Isocrates’ speech reveals a detailed intertextual resonance. One would wish that A. had incorporated a thorough discussion of the considerable intertextual substrate into his critical appraisal of the oration instead of fragmenting a comprehensive analysis of the potential literary echoes into scattered notes in the commentary. It is to be regretted that A. shuns applying the concepts and terminology of intertextuality and narratology to his otherwise well-argued investigation of Isocrates’ marshalling of fact and fiction.4

Aside from the sixth section on praise and biography, which like the first seems disconnected from the preceding examination of the literary antecedents of the speech, sections five and seven of the introduction address problems of chronology and textual history (pp. 63-68, 71-78). A. argues that the speech was composed at some time in the early 370s, drawing on the thought-provoking discussions by Blass, Buchheit and Eucken.5 His illuminating account of the manuscript tradition assumes a surprisingly sound text; it is unfortunate, nonetheless, that the select textual apparatus did not find its way to the bottom of the original Greek. Given A.’s level-headed discussion of some aspects of the manuscript tradition and his stimulating disagreement with Mandilaras’ recent authoritative edition of the Isocratean corpus in the Teubner series, his more than twenty points of divergence would have made quite a difference in a suitably formulated apparatus criticus.6 In any case, the commentary remedies this lack by way of meticulous notes on various philological points. Without wishing to anticipate my final judgement, my general impression of this volume is that parts of the extensive and enlightening discussions integrated into the extensive comments would have been better off if they had been incorporated into the introduction, thereby consolidating the argument and enlarging our appreciation of the speech’s wider themes.

The commentary is the real strength of the book, not only explaining numerous difficulties of linguistic, literary, rhetorical and philosophical detail in crisp and smooth Modern Greek prose, but also offering a thought-provoking study of Isocrates’ life and place in the evolution of Greek writing style.

More specifically, the commentary reads the speech against its social, political, pedagogical and philosophical contexts and argues that the selection and deployment of the arguments, greatly enhanced by an artful arrangement of words, promote its end in a most effective way. A. strongly believes that Isocrates keeps the speech’s intellectual themes and preoccupations in the foreground by placing particular emphasis on such all-important concepts as philotimia, megalopsuchia, sôphrosunê, andreia, philanthrôpia and megalophrosunê. All these concepts and many more are thoroughly examined in the commentary; in fact, A. suggests that Isocrates has a way of starting with a general idea or a thought removed from the immediate matter and only gradually circling back to the situation of the speech. The Athenian rhetorician knows how to masterfully wed the tale of Evagoras with a hopeful educational vision, thereby painting a picture of personal achievement and communal accomplishments on a grand scale. A.’s continuous stress on the speech’s multiple points of reference implies that the constant unearthing of the moral and political ramifications of the life and times of Evagoras imposes a purposeful pattern on what would have otherwise been a shapeless sprawl. It is no coincidence that in an extensive analysis of sections 10 and 11 of what is indeed a speech of unassuming length (pp. 124-131) A. rightly chooses to lay particular emphasis on the lucid and convincing exposition of argument as the bedrock of good oratorical prose in contradistinction to poetry’s unpredictable variation in structure, complexity and tone. However much one would be inclined to see in the speech a well-plotted excessiveness in the sharp contrast between poetry and prose, its main purpose simply being to throw into stronger relief the difficulties inherent in Isocrates’ ambitious project, the unvarying focus on the innovative character of this short essay on the duties of a king calls attention to the true objective of the Athenian political publicist — that is, the instruction of his pupils in the correct moral and social attitudes through the adjustment of distinctly poetical devices to the special constraints of oratorical laudation.

We may be inclined to rely on the same kind of reasoning when we consider another important aspect of Isocrates’ address to young Nicocles. The Athenian rhetorician is fully conscious of the fact that his liberal praise of the pro-Greek ruler of Salamis, Evagoras I, will contribute to his final evaluation as a heroic figure of considerable distinction. In his succinct analysis of sections 70-72 (pp. 204-210), A. approaches the intriguing passage in terms of its function as precursor to heroic triumph, or even apotheosis, without turning a blind eye to the obvious fact that we cannot hope to recover with an absolute degree of certainty the specific impact that those high praises would have had upon the sensibility of the contemporary audiences. Notwithstanding his willingness to acknowledge the deeper level of meaning in the ineluctable connection between Evagoras’ unimpeachable virtue and god-like brilliance, A. denies the possibility that the Isocratean oration is an indisputable indication of the king-worshipping Hellenistic mood (p. 209). Yet the consecration of heroic honours to historical figures, either politicians or poets, is old enough to justify a less restricted interpretation of the Isocratean passage.7 In truth, there are excellent grounds for believing that the speech should also be read as a valuable source of religious concerns pertaining to the Eleusinian, Bacchic and even Orphic preoccupations with the pursuit of a much improved afterlife through initiatory practices and theological instruction.

A. should be commended for providing the readers with ample notes on all sorts of textual matters. His articulate and persuasive explication of various problems concerning the textual tradition of Isocrates’ speech allows him to diverge from Mandilaras’ magisterial edition on numerous points. To take a few examples: in section 17, A. rightly defends the tradition τούτων δ’ ἑκατέρου in contrast to Mandilaras’ preference for the dual ἑκατέροιν, since the combination of the genitive τούτων with the indefinite pronoun ἑκάτερος is typical in the Isocratean corpus (p. 137). In section 29, unlike Mandilaras, who favours the dubious reading πόλιν, thereby throwing into sharper relief the abundant resources of Salamis in contrast to the small invading army led by Evagoras, he opts for πρᾶξιν, which makes better sense because in this specific context of the oration there is nowhere to be found any direct reference to the wealthy Cypriot city of Salamis (p. 151). Further, it should be noted that A. even adopts the regular use of movable nu at the end of clauses when the next word begins with a consonant, for the reason that Isocrates customarily seeks to obtain a parallelism of sound between two clauses. On pp.77-78 he notes the points of divergence from Mandilaras’ edition.

To sum up: This new edition of Isocrates Evagoras fully merits the company it keeps with those of Busiris, Panathenaicus and Encomium of Helen by Livingston, Roth and Zajonz respectively. Even though some sections of the introduction are unnecessarily displaced and at various places A. presents extended passages of Greek without explaining their function adequately, it should be pointed out that this book is an excellent full-scale scholarly edition that we have needed for so long; it finally offers an up-to-date commentary on a most intricate, yet fascinating Isocratean speech. The edition is admirably free of typos and the detailed indexes are helpful guides in our exploration of the oration’s multiple themes and ideas.


1. See O. Schneider, Isokrates ausgewählte Reden. I: [An Demonikos], Euagoras, Areopagitikos. II: Panegyrikos und Philippos (Leipzig: Teubner, 3rd. ed. 1886-1888); E. S. Forster, Isocrates. Cyprian Orations. Evagoras, Ad Nicoclem, Nicocles aut Cyprii (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1912).

2. See N. Livingston, A Commentary on Isocrates’ Busiris (Leiden: Brill, 2001); P. Roth, Der Panathenaikos des Isokrates: Übersetzung und Kommentar (Munich & Leipzig: Teubner/Saur, 2003); S. Zajonz, Isokrates’ Enkomion auf Helena: Ein Kommentar (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002). On the latest revival of interest in Isocrates’ works with special emphasis on the notion of the Athenian rhetorician as a forerunner of modern theorists of rhetoric and communication, see (e.g.) E. Alexiou, Ruhm und Ehre: Studien zu Begriffen, Werten und Motivierungen bei Isokrates (Heidelberg: Winter, 1995); Y. L. Too, The Rhetoric of Identity: Text, Power, Pedagogy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) and The Pedagogical Contract: The Economies of Teaching and Learning in the Ancient World (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2000); R. Nicolai, Studi su Isocrate: La Comunicazione Letteraria nel IV sec. a.C. e i Nuovi Generi della Prosa (Rome: Quasar, 2004); E. V. Haskins, Logos and Power in Isocrates and Aristotle (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2004); T. Poulakos, Speaking for the Polis: Isocrates’ Rhetorical Education (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 1997); D. Depew & T. Poulakos (eds), Isocrates and Civic Education (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004).

3. See J. Sykutris, “Isokrates’ Euagoras”, Hermes 62 (1927), pp. 24-53 [now in F. Seck (ed.), Isokrates, Wege der Forschung 351 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1976), pp. 74-105].

4. On an interesting, although brief, narrative analysis of the Isocratean corpus, see recently M. Edwards, “Isocrates”, in I. J. F. de Jong, R. Nünlist & A. M. Bowie (eds), Narrators, Narratees, and Narratives in Ancient Greek Literature: Studies in Ancient Greek Narrative, Volume One (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2004), pp. 337-342.

5. See F. Blass, Die attische Beredsamkeit, vol. 2 (Leipzig: Teubner, 2nd ed. 1892); V. Buchheit, Untersuchungen zur Theorie des Genos Epideiktikon von Gorgias bis Aristoteles (Munich: M. Huber, 1960); C. Eucken, Isokrates: Seine Positionen in der Auseinandersetzung mit den zeitgenössischen Philosophen (Berlin & New York: de Gruyter, 1983).

6. See B. G. Mandilaras (ed.), Isocrates: Opera Omnia, Bibliotheca Teubneriana, 3 vols (Munich & Leipzig: Teubner/Saur, 2003). Cf. also P. M. Pinto, Per la Storia di Testo di Isocrate: La Testimonianza d’ Autore (Bari: Dedalo, 2003); A. Carlini & D. Manetti (eds), Studi sulla Tradizione del Testo di Isocrate (Florence: L. S. Olschki, 2003).

7. See recently D. Clay, Archilochos Heros: The Cult of Poets in the Greek Polis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004); B. Currie, Pindar and the Cult of Heroes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).