Isocrates Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Isocrates (i-SAHK-ruh-teez) studied under such luminaries as Protagoras, Prodicus, Gorgias, and Tisias, and joined the circle of Socrates. Isocrates wanted to play an important role in Athenian politics, but stage fright and a weak voice precluded his participation. As a result, his writings were meant to be read and are considered to be the earliest political pamphlets known. Through these pamphlets, Isocrates espoused a brand of Hellenism that would unite all Greeks together in revenge against Persia.

In 390 b.c.e., Isocrates established the first permanent institution of liberal arts, preceding Plato’s Academy by a few years. Alumni from Isocrates’ academy were among the greatest statesmen, historians, writers, and orators of the day. Cicero and Demosthenes used Isocrates’ work as a model, and through their work, Isocrates shaped generations of rhetorical practice.

Relatively late in his life, Isocrates married the daughter of Hippias, a Sophist. He died in 338 b.c.e., starving himself to death at the age of ninety-eight after hearing the news of Philip II’s victory over Athens in the Battle of Chaeronea.


Isocrates was the first of a series of great teachers who equated rhetoric and education. His method of teaching students to speak well on noble subjects became the standard of excellence for rhetorical education in Europe until the Renaissance.


(The entire section is 453 words.)