Isocrates, an Athenian orator, born in 436 B. C, died in 338. His father, Theodorus, was a rich musical instrument maker of Athens, and gave his son the best education attainable in the city. Tisias, Gorgias, Theramenes, and Socrates were his teachers. His natural timidity and weak voice precluded public speaking, and he devoted himself to lecturing on rhetoric. He first taught in the island of Chios; but his success there was not very great, and he was chiefly engaged in regulating the political constitution of the island. He then returned to Athens, where he soon had 100 pupils at a charge of 1,000 drachma) each. He also derived a considerable revenue from writing orations. Plutarch says that Nicocles, king of Cyprus, gave him 20 talents for his oration He was never willing to take part in public affairs, and, when appointed trierarch in 355, excused himself on account of illness. This refusal, considering his ample means, occasioned much ill will against him. In 362, from policy, he accepted the office, and although it was the most expensive which a private citizen could undertake, he filled it with great liberality and splendor. Isocrates taught principally political oratory. The most eminent statesmen, orators, philosophers, and historians of the time were educated in his school, and he always selected practical subjects, proposing to them chiefly the political events of his own time as a study. His orations, though written to be delivered in his school, were copied and recited in all the countries inhabited by Greeks. In his Are-opagiticus he urges Athens to adopt, as her only safeguard, the ancient democracy of Solon. In his Panegyricus he is equally warm in his exhortations to all the Greeks to unite against the barbarians.
In his "Philip," an oration addressed to the king of Macedon, he entreats the king to unite with the Greeks, and lead them against the Persians. But Isocrates was not a practical statesman, and he was unconsciously urging Philip to become the ruler of the Grecian states, an object which the king was then secretly planning. His Panathena-icus, a eulogy on Athens, was written when he was 94 years of age. After the victory of the Macedonians over his countrymen at Chaeronea, he was unwilling to survive the destruction of their liberties, and destroyed himself. The writings of Isocrates were all carefully studied and elaborated; he is said to have taken over ten years to write his Panegyricus. They are remarkable for their flow of elegance and melody, the precisely turned sentences and periods making the style almost monotonous. Of 28 genuine orations of his, 21 have come down to us, 8 of which were written for judicial cases, and were intended to serve as models for forensic writing. Besides these, there are titles and fragments of 27 others, and also 10 letters, some of which are undoubtedly spurious. His works have been translated into English by Sadlier, Dinsdale, and Gillies, and also into French, but unsuccessfully.
The best text is Bekker's.