BMCR 2008.01.09

Isaeus. The Oratory of Classical Greece, 11

, , Isaeus. 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, TX: University of Texas Press, 2007. 1 online resource (xxxi, 229 pages).. ISBN 9780292794849 $22.95 (pb).

“The speech is short and bald and built on hackneyed lies”: so claimed William Wyse of one of Isaeus’ orations in his definitive — and hostile — 1904 commentary on the Athenian logographer.1 Ever since the publication of Wyse’s work, Isaeus’ reputation has been in need of rescuing. He is still read considerably less often than his fellow Attic orators, and his corpus has, until now, been translated into English only twice: by William Jones in 1779 and by Edward Seymour Forster (F.) in his 1927 Loeb.2

Michael Edwards’ (E.) work marks both the third English translation of Isaeus and the 11th volume in the Oratory of Classical Greece series, edited by Michael Gagarin (G.) and published by University of Texas. In G.’s words, “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 major fragments of the Attic orators of the classical period (ca. 420-320 BC)” (xi). Isaeus is a welcome addition to this series, providing a wide range of readers insight not only into Athenian inheritance law (Isaeus’ field of expertise), but also into topics like adoption, family politics, marriage, concubinage, adultery, bastardy, citizenship, and the rights of women and slaves.

This volume includes a brief Series Editor’s Preface; a brief Translator’s Preface; a Series Introduction; an Introduction to Isaeus; Isaeus’ eleven complete speeches, plus one long fragmentary speech preserved by Dionysius of Halicarnassus; Isaeus’ lost speeches and fragments; an appendix with arguments ( hypotheses) from the manuscripts for the eleven speeches; and a detailed index. The Series Introduction (G.) is essentially the same as in the other ten volumes, providing an introduction to oratory in classical Athens, the ten canonical orators, the Attic oration as text, government and law in Athens, the translation of Greek oratory, the common abbreviations for Greek texts and authors, and the Athenian monetary system. The volume’s Introduction (E.) discusses Isaeus’ life, works, style and method, and modern reputation; family, property, and Athenian inheritance law (a relatively long section); and the text of Isaeus on which the translation is based (namely, F.’s Loeb). The Introduction ends with a list of further reading, primarily in English but including some recent works in Italian.3

Each speech has its own very clear introduction; this is particularly appreciated with Isaeus, since the points of law and the details of each family require careful explanation. In each introduction, E. maps out the speaker’s arguments and evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the case, including potential stumbling blocks for the speaker. E. also considers the effectiveness of Isaeus’ rhetoric and the construction of each speech, both of which he evaluates considerably more positively, on average, than does Wyse. Where we have indications of the outcome (speeches 6, 8, 9, 11), E. tells us who won, or probably won, the case. Moreover, E. gives the presumed date for each speech, based both on R. F. Wevers’ statistical analysis of rhythms at the end of clausulae, and, whenever possible, on internal historical evidence. The introductions are so thorough that each speech can essentially be read in isolation, although there are some cross-references to other speeches or other introductions. Each speech has quite a few footnotes — ranging from 22 to 70 notes per complete speech — in which E. explains legal processes and provides historical context, useful social-historical information, and suggestions about what underlies particular arguments (for a particularly good example, see p. 22 n. 14). It is helpful that E. glosses technical legal terms each time they appear, especially since the volume does not have a glossary.

The volume ends with the speeches’ hypotheses. This placement marks a change from the texts of F., Wyse, and Thalheim (the editor of the 1903 Teubner), all of which include the hypothesis at the start of each speech. However, because these arguments were not written by Isaeus himself but were added later in the manuscript tradition, they occasionally get details wrong. For this reason, I think it was a wise editorial choice to relegate the hypotheses to an appendix, where they can be consulted but where they are less likely to mislead the reader.

The translation itself is excellent. E. is very good at simultaneously rendering the Greek syntax and also providing colloquial English: e.g., translating kai tauta ou mikra dapanêmata estin (12.3) as “and this involves no small expenditure” (cf. F.’s “all of which represents considerable outlay”) and anaschoit’ an akouôn (12.4) as “would put up with listening” (cf. F.’s “would listen”). A handful of common terms are translated more colloquially than in F.’s translation: e.g., “relatives” for sungenoi (cf. F.’s “kinsmen”) and “foreigners” for xenoi (cf. F.’s “aliens”). In addition, E. often uses contractions — a minor touch, but one that lends the language an appropriately spoken quality. For the most part, as mentioned above, E. follows F.’s text, and he indicates the few places where he adopts less-conventional emendations (i.e., 4.7, his own emendation; 5.9, Buermann; 5.26, Weissenborn; 5.42, Dobree; 9.5, Dobree); for the lost speeches and fragments, he follows Thalheim’s numbering.

There are only a few points I think E. might have done well to clarify. Thus, for example, on p. 16 n. 6, he writes, “If Cleonymus did not wish to annul the will, he was insane, and it should therefore be declared void by the jurors,” a point which might have been clarified by explaining the law (Dem. 46.14) that a will was void if it was composed by someone who was insane, under the influence of drugs, or swayed by a woman. About speech 3, E. writes, “A more accurate title would in fact be Against Nicodemus for False Witness” (p. 42); this is true, but why doesn’t he say the same thing about speech 2, which is also a dikê pseudomartyriôn ? Finally, on p. 197, a note on the significance of the term astê in light of Pericles’ citizenship law would have been useful.

The text on the whole is well edited, although I noted a couple of peculiar editorial decisions. A number of footnotes read “see the Introduction,” and it is not immediately clear whether the series, volume, or speech introduction is meant (it’s the last one). Some of the speech introductions contain brief textual footnotes, the content of which might have been included less distractingly in the text itself (e.g., p. 44 n. 3 “or at least explain his current absence”; p. 44 n. 4: “we have no other evidence for an arrangement of this kind”). I found only three minor typographic errors in the volume: on p. 16, the footnotes in text are not in superscript font; on p. 61, Metageitnion should not be in italics; and on p. 82, a space is needed after n. 18 in text.

But these are extremely minor quibbles. Overall, this is an excellent translation, equipped with very useful notes. Even with the best possible translation and commentary, Isaeus is difficult reading: the technical nature of his arguments, the extended and often convoluted family trees, and the intricacies of Greek law provide obstacles even for the professional classicist. Fortunately, E.’s text clears away many of these obstacles, allowing a relatively large audience access to a rich source of material on Athenian social, cultural, and institutional history.


1. W. Wyse (ed.), The Speeches of Isaeus (Cambridge 1904) 652.

2. W. Jones, The Speeches of Isaeus in Causes Concerning the Law of Succession to Property at Athens, with a Prefatory Discourse, Notes Critical and Historical, and a Commentary (London 1779) and E. S. Forster (ed. and trans.), Isaeus. Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass. 1927).

3. The only notable omission is J. M. Lawless, Law, Argument and Equity in the Speeches of Isaeus. Diss. Brown University (Providence, RI 1991).