Conclusion: Isocrateanism in the Renaissance

The controversies and contests of the Isocratean period left their mark, directly and indirectly, on later European culture. In the immediate, Hellenistic, wake of this period, we may well wonder whether the names “Isocrates,” “Plato,” and “Aristotle” still carried with them traces of their significance in the highly interested struggles—sometimes collaborative, sometimes polemical—of earlier fourth-century intellectuals. For how many Hellenistic Greek readers and writers (or adherents of schools with their own positions on these debates) did these contentious texts complicate the reception of Plato, Aristotle, and Isocrates as mere literary or philosophical classics, as they did for the later authors who conveyed their titles and concerns to us, and so provided the evidence for much of the present study?
Rhetorical and philosophical paideia continued to help define the horizons of intellectual, literary, and political culture. Cicero defined the philosophical inheritance in terms of eloquence, necessitating an important place for Isocrates. This same framework can be applied before and after his time, in antiquity and beyond, yielding a partial but compelling vision of the practical wisdom tradition. By way of conclusion I will make this point by assaying the remarkable vitality of the Isocratean project in the Renaissance. This follows naturally from the previous chapter’s exploration of the dynamics of Isocrates’ princely addresses, a field in which we can see the reception of Isocrates in his truest colors, in an area where he was comfortably preeminent. Isocrates’ easy acceptance among Renaissance writers can remind us that the same urgent issues of the fourth century BC that dominated Isocrates’ career and defined his claim to be in the mainstream of “philosophy”—virtuous self-formation and public political performance—were perennially relevant through later antiquity and beyond. Even when the anxiety about this courtly doctrine’s place vis-à-vis “pure philosophy” returns—as in one of Isocrates’ most attentive students, Castiglione—it is against the backdrop of an essentially Isocratean model of political culture.

Erasmus, Machiavelli, Castiglione

Isocrates’ princely didactics became newly interesting to the generation of Erasmus (The Education of a Christian Prince, or Institutio principis christiani, 1516), Machiavelli (The Prince, 1513, published 1532), and Castiglione (The Book of the Courtier, 1528). Erasmus had presented his Latin translation of Plutarch’s How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend in manuscript to Henry VIII of England in 1513. [1] From this area of attention grew The Education of a Christian Prince, published in Basel in 1516, dedicated to the future Holy Roman emperor Charles V, and bound together with an expanded set of four appropriate Plutarchan essays [2] and a reprint of Erasmus’ Panegyricus to Archduke Philip of Austria. Completing the volume, and placed at its opening, was a Latin translation of Isocrates’ To Nicocles (Isocratis praecepta de regno administrando ad Nicoclem regem). Thus the book was a compendium of ancient and modern truth-telling to princes and a reassertion of the venerable genre of the mirror for princes, or speculum principis, with Isocrates at its head. [3] Erasmus’ dedicatory letter makes clear the close connection between the privileged ancient work and its modern counterpart: “We have presented Isocrates’ precepts on administering a kingdom, in emulation with which we have added our own.” [4] The whole stood as “a manifesto for the crucial role of a ‘philosopher’ (or professional educator) in the administration of a properly run state,” a role to be closely identified with the capacities of Erasmus himself. [5]
When Erasmus’ volume was published, Machiavelli had composed The Prince but had likely not yet written its dedication to Lorenzo II de’ Medici. [6] Although To Nicocles and some other Isocratean works had been known in Latin before this time, [7] Erasmus’ modern and Christian contribution to the genre in rivalry with the pagan classic gave it a heightened relevance to Machiavelli’s project, and it is notable that the dedication is the most certain and conspicuous locus in The Prince of Isocratean imitation. [8] The opening words of To Nicocles set a model that Machiavelli will follow closely in his dedication:
It seems to me, Nicocles, that those accustomed to bring to you, who are kings, garments, bronze, wrought gold, or any other such possession which they themselves need and you have in abundance are evidently not giving gifts but trading, and they are much more skilled at selling these things than those who are acknowledged as traders. I thought that the finest, the most useful, and above all, the most fitting gift for me to give you and you to receive would be if I were able to define what sorts of activities you should aspire to and which ones you should avoid in order to govern your city and kingdom in the best possible way. [9]
To Nicocles 1f. (trans. Mirhady and Too 2000)
It is a frequent custom for those who seek the favor of a prince to make him presents of those things they value most highly or which they know are most pleasing to him. Hence one often sees gifts consisting of horses, weapons, cloth of gold, precious stones, and similar ornaments suitable for men of noble rank. I too would like to commend myself to Your Magnificence with some token of my readiness to serve you; and I have not found among my belongings anything I prize so much or value so highly as my knowledge of the actions of great men, acquired through long experience of contemporary affairs and extended reading in antiquity.
Machiavelli, The Prince, dedicatory epistle (trans. Robert M. Adams)
Isocrates’ confidence in the princely-didactic role, which never left him, stands out in clear relief against the exile’s humbler assertion of his doctrine’s value. The verbal echoes are close and striking. Both authors begin their texts by contrasting their own approach to the prince with the courtiers’ being “accustomed” to offer costly but superficial gifts. [10] Both declare their own most precious gift to be their authoritative judgment (“define,” “knowledge”) about kingly “actions” or “activities.” [11] Machiavelli also sounds an Isocratean note in his defense of his book’s unornamented style:
This work of mine I have not adorned or loaded down with swelling phrases or with bombastic and magnificent words or any kind of meretricious charm or extrinsic ornament, with which many writers dress up their products, because I desire either that nothing shall beautify it, or that merely its unusual matter and the weight of its subject shall make it pleasing.
dedicatory epistle (trans. Allan Gilbert)
Here Machiavelli is less apologetic for the severity of his style than Isocrates (who blames his old age). Burd, despite his caution and general rejection of arguments for Machiavelli’s unproven knowledge of Greek, accepted this as an imitation of Isocrates’ Philip 27f., [12] a work not known to have existed in Latin translation until Lonicer’s Orationes (1529). I was independently struck by the resemblance in thought between Machiavelli’s words and this passage. [13] Isocrates makes the same points in the same order as Machiavelli: no measured cadences or richly embroidered surface (eurhuthmiais kai poikiliais kekosmēkamen), despite the gratifying effects of such devices in the hands of those who learned them from the younger Isocrates (tous logous hēdious an … poioien), but rather a strict attention to the facts (praxeis) worthy of his royal addressee’s attention. When Machiavelli goes on to excuse the presumption of his laying down rules for princes (presunzione se un uomo di basso ed infimo stato ardisce discorrere e regolare i governi dei principi), he perhaps echoes Erasmus’ preemptive answer to charges of fawning or impertinence (adulationis vel procacitatis) on the grounds of his sixteen-year-old dedicatee’s youth and relative inexperience (admodum adolescens, et nuper inauguratus imperio), and both are grappling with the problems of princely didactics on which they could take so many lessons from Isocrates: the pitfalls and vulnerabilities of such speech, set against its nobility and high opportunities.
In Castiglione’s seminal dialogue on Renaissance courtliness, The Book of the Courtier, the prince’s subordinate attendants have come into their own: their teaching of princes is of interest, but their fashioning of themselves is of no less interest, and this process of courtly self-realization, self-empowerment, [14] and performance is at the center of the Courtier (though, just as oratory was no “ordered art” for Isocrates, Castiglione too denies that courtliness could be taught through precepts [15] ). Castiglione’s attention to abito (Latin habitus) also depends upon the idea of virtue as a state (hexis, habitus) in Aristotle’s ethics, so that some of the connections I have suggested between Isocrates and Aristotle in chapter 1 may have seemed evident to him. While Castiglione certainly took great interest in the publication of Erasmus’ 1516 collection and paraphrased the Education of a Christian Prince and the accompanying Plutarchan essays at several points as he developed the 1513–1516 draft version of the Courtier into its finished form, [16] it seems likely that Castiglione had also encountered Isocrates in the original Greek on more intimate terms.
Castiglione’s father Cristoforo’s library (largely bequeathed to his son [17] ) had been overwhelmingly devoted to the Greek and Latin classics, and he sent his son in 1494 to Milan to be given an education in Latin and Greek by the eminent humanists Giorgio Merula and Demetrius Chalcondyles. [18] Chalcondyles’ editio princeps of Isocrates had just been published in 1493. Evidence from Baldassare Castiglione’s library, which focused on Latin and Greek to the exclusion of vernacular literature, indicates that he “probably continued to keep up and improve his [Greek] reading skills until the end of his life” with an assiduity “by no means common, even among men of letters.” [19] Isocrates, then, may well have had a significant place in Castiglione’s childhood education and lifelong study, and is one of the possible backgrounds for the courtier’s education and performance in the Cortegiano.
Book IV of Castiglione’s Courtier opens with a lament for the loss in death of three supremely promising gentlemen from the court of Urbino, Gaspar Pallavicino, Cesare Gonzaga, and Roberto da Bari. This occasions a programmatic reflection on this court’s success in producing great men; if those who died had remained among its excellent company and praiseworthy manners, they too could have expected a meteoric rise in the world. Castiglione delivers this reflection, which announces the theme of his work’s final book, through a figure closely copied from Antonius’ admiration of Isocrates’ school in Cicero’s De oratore 2.94:
Ecce tibi exortus est Isocrates, magister rhetorum omnium, cuius e ludo, tanquam ex equo Troiano, meri principes exierunt; sed eorum partim in pompa, partim in acie illustres esse voluerunt. Atque et illi, Theopompi, Ephori, Philisti, Naucratae, multique alii naturis different, voluntate autem similes sunt et inter sese et magistri, et ei, qui se ad causas contulerunt, ut Demosthenes, Hyperides, Lycurgus, Aeschines, Dinarchus, aliique complures, etsi inter se pares non fuerunt, tamen omnes sunt in eodem veritatis imitandae genere versati, quorum quamdiu mansit imitatio, tamdiu genus illud dicendi studiumque vixit.
Then behold! there arose Isocrates, the Master of all rhetoricians, from whose school, as from the Horse of Troy, none but leaders emerged, but some of them sought glory in ceremonial, others in action. And indeed the former sort, men like Theopompus, Ephorus, Philistus, Naucrates and many more, while differing in natural gifts, yet in spirit resemble one another and their Master too; and those who betook themselves to lawsuits, as did Demosthenes, Hyperides, Lycurgus, Aeschines, Dinarchus and several others, although of varying degrees of ability, were none the less all busy with the same type of imitation of the truth, [20] and as long as the imitation of these persisted, so long did their kind of oratory and course of training endure.
trans. Sutton and Rackham
For truly there did not come forth from the Trojan horse so many lords and captains as from this court have come men singular in worth and most highly regarded by all. Thus, as you know, messer Federico Fregoso was made Archbishop of Salerno; Count Ludovico, Bishop of Bayeux; signor Ottaviano, Doge of Genoa; messer Bernardo Bibbiena, Cardinal of Santa Maria in Portico; messer Pietro Bembo, secretary to Pope Leo; the Magnifico rose to the dukedom of Nemours and to that greatness in which he now finds himself. Signor Francesco Maria della Rovere also, Prefect of Rome, was made Duke of Urbino: although much greater praise may be given the court where he was nurtured because in it he became such a rare and worthy lord in all manner of virtue, as we now see, than because he achieved the dukedom of Urbino; nor do I believe that this is in small part due to the noble company which he continually kept there, where he always saw and heard laudable manners.
The Book of the Courtier IV 2 (trans. Singleton [21] )
As Isocrates’ school nurtured literary and political leaders alike, so the court of Urbino is the nursery of ecclesiastic and temporal lords; as Isocrates’ students are unified in a shared form of “imitation,” so the example of the Urbino court’s “laudable manners” deserves no small credit for della Rovere’s dukedom.
Why, though, should the school of Isocrates serve Castiglione as the type of the court of Urbino? The true answer must be sought in the Isocratean coloration in Castiglione’s picture of the ideal courtier as “his prince’s instructor” (IV 47), a major topic of the final book he has introduced with the Isocratean Trojan horse. [22] When Castiglione constructs Plato and Aristotle as “courtiers,” he may be combining his direct knowledge of Isocrates (whose texts provided a far clearer example of courtly address than anything to be found in the works of Plato and Aristotle) with the same Ciceronian testimony I have made use of for its striking picture of a confrontation between Isocrates and Aristotle around the intersection of eloquence and wisdom. Castiglione, for whom Isocrates was no cipher, would have been better equipped than many to read Cicero deeply in this way.
Castiglione paid close attention to Isocrates’ remarks in To Nicocles about the monarch’s difficulty in gaining the benefit of his subjects’ frank speech (parrhēsia). Ottaviano announces the princely-didactic subject of book IV by insisting that “the aim of the perfect Courtier” is to seek the truth without fear of the prince’s displeasure and “when he sees the mind of his prince inclined to a wrong action … to oppose him and in a gentle manner avail himself of the favor acquired by his good accomplishments” (IV 5). [23] This topic draws inspiration from the proem to To Nicocles (specifically, from the passage that immediately follows the opening quoted as the model of Machiavelli’s dedication). The imitation is most closely literal in Ottaviano’s statement of the problem that “among their friends there are few who have free access to them, and those few are wary of reprehending them for their faults as freely as they would private persons, and, in order to win grace and favor often think of nothing save how to suggest things that can delight or please their fancy” (IV 6). This is directly modeled on Isocrates’ assertion that “The majority of people do not come near them [=turannoi], and those who do have intercourse with them do so with a view to winning favor” (οἱ μὲν γὰρ πλεῖστοι τῶν ἀνθρώπων αὐτοῖς οὐ πλησιάζουσιν, οἱ δὲ συνόντες πρὸς χάριν ὁμιλοῦσιν, To Nicocles 4). [24] Of course, in each case the speaker has the ready solution to this difficulty: not only that the courtier, in the mold of Isocrates, stand fearlessly ready to use his authority in service of the truth, [25] but also that the prince submit graciously to instruction. As Isocrates proceeds to elaborate upon the tasks and qualities that belong to the ruler, so Ottaviano continues to diagnose the fault of princes who in their erroneous efforts to establish their authority render themselves unable to be schooled (IV 7).
From this beginning, book IV of the Courtier leads up to Ottaviano’s conclusion that “we might perhaps say that to become his prince’s instructor was the goal of the Courtier” (IV 47). This is supported with copious ancient exempla derived from Cicero’s De oratore on the marriage of oratory and philosophy, as for example Phoenix’s job of making Achilles a “speaker of words and a doer of deeds” (Iliad 9.443 in De oratore 3.57). [26] For Cicero this leads towards the example of Aristotle as Isocrates’ rival and model of wisdom-cum-eloquence (3.141), which we have considered at length. This must be in Castiglione’s mind as Ottaviano continues, “Nor do I think that Aristotle and Plato would have scorned the name of perfect Courtier, for we clearly see that they performed the works of Courtiership to this same end—the one with Alexander the Great, the other with the Kings of Sicily” (IV 47, cf. I 25). [27] These examples are in De oratore 3.139–141, together with Isocrates as the teacher of Timotheus. Given the suppression of Isocrates’ name where it was clearly in focus in the Trojan Horse simile, Castiglione’s omission of Isocrates here may be part of a pattern. [28] Yet despite Castiglione’s deployment of the superior prestige of philosophy at this point, [29] it is hard not to notice how Isocrates’ addressees—Timotheus in Epistle 7 [30] or Philip in Philip—serve so much more concretely and effectively as examples of the essence of the courtier as Castiglione is defining it. There is perhaps a hint of the mismatch between Aristotelian philosophy (as ordinarily and less imaginatively known to Castiglione and to us) and perfect courtliness in the counterexample of Callisthenes:
And Aristotle was the author of these deeds of Alexander, employing the methods of a good Courtier: which is something that Callisthenes did not know how to do, even though Aristotle showed him; for he wished to be a pure philosopher and an austere minister of naked truth, without blending in Courtiership; and he lost his life and brought infamy instead of help to Alexander.
Courtier IV 47
The same could not be said of those students who issued forth from Isocrates’ Trojan horse! Looking just below the surface, we find Castiglione celebrating the Ciceronian (and Isocratean) idea of the unity of rhetoric and philosophy, as he inquires into human matters whose truths cannot be had by dividing the two.

Elizabeth and Isocrates: “To Meet Every Contingency of Life”

In the following generation, Isocrates’ relevance to the modern world was discovered in England, in terms largely dependent on these European appropriations. [31] Sir Thomas Elyot had already alluded to To Nicocles in his Boke named the Governour (as I have quoted for an epigraph in the previous chapter [32] ), and he translated this Isocratean work in its entirety and published it as The Doctrinall of Princis in 1533. Castiglione also became popular in sixteenth-century England, both through Sir Thomas Hoby’s English translation of 1561 and through Bartholomew Clerke’s Latin translation, commissioned by Thomas Sackville (De Curiali sive Aulico, 1571).
In a 1550 letter to Johannes Sturm, Roger Ascham reports that he has served as Queen Elizabeth’s tutor in Greek and Latin for the previous two years. Isocrates not only occupies a leading position in the queen’s studies but does so because of his relevance to her royal responsibilities: “She used to give the morning of the day to the Greek Testament, and afterwards read select orations of Isocrates and the tragedies of Sophocles. For I thought that from these sources she might gain purity of style, and her mind derive instruction that would be of value to her to meet every contingency of life.” [33] Ascham’s The Schoolmaster gives further information about how Elizabeth would have engaged in double translation from Greek to Latin and back into Greek, a method whose success she proves: [34]
And a better and nearer example herein may be our most noble Queen Elizabeth, who never took yet Greek nor Latin Grammar in her hand after the first declining of a noun and a verb, but only by this double translating of Demosthenes and Isocrates daily without missing every forenoon, and likewise some part of Tully every afternoon, for the space of a year or two, has attained to such a perfect understanding in both the tongues, and to such a ready utterance of the Latin and that with such a judgement as they be few in number in both the universities, or elsewhere in England, that be in both tongues comparable with her Majesty. And to conclude in a short room, the commodities of double translation …
The historian John Bale’s catalogue, contemporary with Elizabeth, recorded the Latin incipits of translations in the queen’s hand of both To Nicocles and Nicocles. [35]
The image of Elizabeth practicing double translation of Isocratean sentences and seeking their “value to her to meet every contingency of life” makes a fitting coda to this episode in Isocratean reception. Isocrates’ royal paideia, and its core principle of the monarch as the philosopher’s willing auditor, has stamped humanistic education so definitively that Elizabeth, freshly on the English throne in her mid-twenties, directs a student’s attention to these discourses in their ancient tongue. In some ways, the Renaissance triumph of scholastic values was the fulfillment of Isocrates’ dream to operate his authority on the conduct of state. At the same time we may question what the royal adoption of this form of authority really means. Isocratean counsel, with all its insistence on success by virtue versus the tyrant’s empty trappings, may have held significant cultural importance for both Elizabeth and Philip of Macedon, but any moderation or softening may have been more in the presentation than in the (more Machiavellian) practice of their authoritarian rule. The difficulties that encumbered Isocrates’ project did not disappear in later times, even as his idealistic aspirations were given new life.


[ back ] 1. Clough 1981:199. Erasmus sent Henry a copy of the first edition of Institutio principis christiani, in which the dedication of this piece to the English king is retained, in 1517. The first reference to the Institutio principis christiani is in a letter of May 1515 (Levi 1986:xxvi).
[ back ] 2. In Erasmus’ intitulation: Quo pacto possis adulatorem ab amico dignoscere, Quo pacto quis efficiat ut ex inimicis capiat utilitatem (How One May Derive Advantage from One’s Enemies), In principe requiri doctrinam (Learning Is Needed in a Prince, now known as Ad principem ineruditum), Cum principibus maxime philosophum debere disputare (A Philosopher Ought to Converse Especially with Princes).
[ back ] 3. On the genesis of this work in its historical context, and its use of Isocrates as a model, see Herding 1966. Erasmus’ only other Isocratean translation was of the To Demonicus (Paraenesis ad Demonicum, 1517).
[ back ] 4. Isocratis de regno administrando praecepta, Latinitate donavimus: ad cuius aemulationem adiecimus nostra. The saturation of both works with commonplace precepts (which Isocrates defends at To Nicocles 40f.) is indeed at the heart of their generic connection (Born 1936:43n91).
[ back ] 5. Jardine 1997:xx.
[ back ] 6. For the consensus date of the dedication (September 1515–September 1516), see Landon 2005:121f. I would be inclined to narrow this further to after the May 1516 publication of Erasmus’ book, a consideration I believe has been neglected because of the widespread but erroneous date of 1515 for Dirck Martens’s unauthorized Louvain edition of Erasmus’ work (given in such Machiavellian studies as Gilbert 1977:479n82), when in fact it followed in August 1516 (see Herding 1974:101). Machiavelli could have selected Lorenzo as the dedicatee before or after the death of the originally intended dedicatee, Giuliano de’ Medici, in March 1516 (Burd 1891:169).
[ back ] 7. Up to and including Erasmus, we have eleven editions of To Demonicus in Latin, eight of To Nicocles, two of the Encomium of Helen, and one each of Nicocles and Evagoras. All these works and a few others are also known in manuscript translations, with the earliest To Nicocles by Carlo Marsuppini dating to 1430. See Mandilaras 2003:123–131. A fuller Latin version did not appear until Johannes Lonicerus’s 1529 Orationes, by which time Petrus Mosellanus’s 1519 Latin On the Peace had also appeared. For the reception of Isocrates in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, see the thorough study and collection of texts by Gualdo Rosa (1984). For the lost medieval version of To Demonicus, known under the title Liber exhortacionum to such writers as Geremia da Montagnone (ca. 1250–ca. 1350) and Walter Burley (ca. 1275–ca. 1345), see Sabbadini 1905:219.
[ back ] 8. Burd 1891:171–173, (A. H.) Gilbert 1938:12, 17, (F.) Gilbert 1977:479n82 (“no possible doubt”). For less certain echoes throughout the work, cf. Burd 1891:230, 335, 347–350, 366.
[ back ] 9. Azoulay (2010) discusses Isocrates’ emphatic application to himself of the terms of gift-exchange and guest-friendship (xenia).
[ back ] 10. Isocrates’ first words οἱ μὲν εἰωθότες … ἄγειν … = Machiavelli’s first words Sogliono il più delle volte coloro … farsegli incontro con quelle cose …
[ back ] 11. Compare Isocrates’ ἡγησάμην δ’ ἂν γενέσθαι ταύτην καλλίστην δωρεὰν … εἰ δυνηθείην ὁρίσαι ποίων ἐπιτηδευμάτων ὀρεγόμενος καὶ τίνων ἀπεχόμενος ἄριστ’ ἂν καὶ τὴν πόλιν καὶ τὴν βασιλείαν διοικοίης with Machiavelli’s Desirando … offerirmi … con qualche testimone della servitù … non ho trovato … cosa quale io abbia più cara , o tanto stimi, quanto la cognizione delle azioni degli uomini grandi.
[ back ] 12. Burd 1891:173, xii–xiv. See Triantafillis 1878 for a less cautious exploration of the connections between The Prince and Isocrates’ Philip.
[ back ] 13. This is the same passage that I have suggested was the butt of Speusippus’ mockery, when in Letter to Philip 4 he gleefully seizes on the superannuated Isocrates’ admission that “discoursing rhythmically” (to eurhuthmōs dialekhthēnai) is a young man’s game.
[ back ] 14. For all the ideology of the courtiers’ power and duty to sway the prince, we must not forget the “constraints of despotism” (Javitch 2002:319–328) within which their power of self-fashioning was limited.
[ back ] 15. “In these books we shall not follow any set order or rule of distinct precepts” (I 1, though the emphasis is on the use of the dialogue form); “it is almost proverbial that grace is not learned” (I 25).
[ back ] 16. See Scarpati 1983; the redactions concerned are in Courtier IV 4–48.
[ back ] 17. Rebecchini 2002:115n96.
[ back ] 18. Rebecchini 2002:110.
[ back ] 19. Rebecchini 2002:115–117.
[ back ] 20. I have modified the translation of this phrase; as Douglas (1973:106n32) observes, a simple reference to the “reality” of verae causae is difficult.
[ back ] 21. I regularly cite The Book of the Courtier in Singleton’s translation from Javitch 2002.
[ back ] 22. Gaylard (2009:89–95) has noticed the echo and taken the “Trojan horse” as an ambivalent and threatening figure, but her premise that “to readers of Cicero, Isocrates epitomizes inane Greek oratory” and served “as a punching bag in ancient Rome” is at odds with Cicero’s acceptance of Isocrates as a stylistic model (see chap. 3 above, where I have also taken a somewhat different perspective on Isocrates’ “empty elegance of style,” inanem sermonis elegantiam, in De oratore 3.141, and Gaines 2009 on Cicero’s overall admiration of Isocratean “sophistic”). I am unpersuaded that Castiglione would have taken this dismissive phrase at face value as the key of his (hidden) interpretation of Isocrates, given his direct knowledge of Isocrates as an author and the admiration of his age for Isocrates precisely as a model of the political relevance of humanistic education.
[ back ] 23. Compare To Nicocles 28: “Consider trustworthy not those who praise everything you say or do, but rather those who censure your mistakes. Grant freedom of speech to those who have good sense, so that you may have persons to examine alongside you those matters about which you are in doubt” (Πιστοὺς ἡγοῦ μὴ τοὺς ἅπαν ὅ τι ἂν λέγῃς ἢ ποιῇς ἐπαινοῦντας, ἀλλὰ τοὺς τοῖς ἁμαρτανομένοις ἐπιτιμῶντας. Δίδου παρρησίαν τοῖς εὖ φρονοῦσιν, ἵνα περὶ ὧν ἂν ἀμφιγνοῇς ἔχῃς τοὺς συνδοκιμάσοντας).
[ back ] 24. See Colclough 2005:64.
[ back ] 25. Compare Courtier I 44 for the Magnifico Giuliano’s warning that the courtier’s dazzling accomplishments he has sketched must not lead him to be shipwrecked by the Siren song of praise and “get the mistaken notion that he knows something he does not know.” This is given the vague support of ancient books “written to show how the true friend is to be distinguished from the flatterer” (with primary reference to the Plutarchan essay conjoined by Erasmus with the To Nicocles).
[ back ] 26. Note the presence nearby (3.59f.) of Isocrates, as the example of those who taught the twofold wisdom (in action and in oratory), in distinction to Socrates, who scorned oratory despite his great eloquence and learning.
[ back ] 27. Their philosophical orientation is made relevant through their knowledge of the prince’s nature; cf. Isocrates’ concern with propriety of fitting discourse to its hearer, whether theoretically (e.g. Against the Sophists 10–18), or in the specific context of his princely addresses.
[ back ] 28. Isocrates’ name occurs only in the passing reference at Courtier I 37.
[ back ] 29. The names “Plato” and “Aristotle” were evidently precisely what was required to persuade signor Gasparo, who, when Ottaviano pauses, replies, “I certainly did not expect our Courtier to be honored so; but since Aristotle and Plato are his companions, I think no one henceforth ought to despite the name. Still, I am not quite sure that I believe that Aristotle and Plato ever danced or made music in their lives, or performed any acts of chivalry” (IV 48). The last part of this gestures towards the fragility of the conceit of Plato and Aristotle as courtiers; Isocrates may have been no more of a knightly lutenist, but he certainly puts much less of a strain on Castiglione’s conception of the courtier.
[ back ] 30. It is interesting that Castiglione mentions Timotheus’ father, and Isocrates’ and Plato’s student, Clearchus, as the type of the fearful and friendless tyrant (IV 24). Could some awareness lie behind this of the astonishing and disappointing change in his student that Isocrates regrets at Epistle 7.12?
[ back ] 31. Erasmus’ literary gifts to Henry VIII did not bring him the position he sought as the royal Latin secretary and were recognized only with the “disappointing reward” of £20 (Jardine 1997:xx–xxiv). Compare how Castiglione’s Ad Henricum Angliae Regem epistola de vita et gestis Guidubaldi Urbini Ducis (also interesting as a specimen of Isocratean eulogistic biography), reaching the English court around the time of Henry VII’s death, apparently “lay forgotten in the Royal Library” (Clough 1967:778f.).
[ back ] 32. The reference is to To Nicocles 36, a passage that may also be in Erasmus’ mind at The Education of a Christian Prince i (Jardine 1997:15).
[ back ] 33. Letter of April 4, 1550, Giles 1865:191f., lxiii. Sturm had not yet published his commentary on Aristotle’s Rhetoric, but Ascham knew it in manuscript; in this same letter he praises the Rhetoric as Aristotle’s best work (in which he would have found the approving use of many examples from Isocrates) and Sturm’s explication of it (Giles 1865:184), giving us another example (to be compared with Castiglione) of Aristotle viewed through a “Ciceronian” or even “Isocratean” lens. In fact, Ascham seconds the chorus of praise Joachim Périon had received for “joining Cicero with Aristotle,” whom he judged to need the rhetorical embellishment (Joachimi Perionii in coniugendo Cicerone cum Aristotele et voluntatem multi probant … Quanquam ut ipse quoque existimo, praeclaram Aristotelis doctrinam et minus ornatam videri …, Giles 1865:185f.). Where Cicero and Aristotle are joined, I would contend, Isocrates is there among them.
[ back ] 34. Ascham justifies the approach with an idiosyncratic interpretation of a loose quotation from Pliny the Younger Letter 7.9.2: Pliny’s vel ex Graeco in Latinum vel ex Latino vertere in Graecum is quoted as ex Graeco in Latinum et ex Latino vertere in Graecum and taken to mean double translation.
[ back ] 35. Poole and Bateson 1902:157. In Elizabeth’s 1563 Sententiae, most of the Isocratean gnomes are from Stobaeus’ Admonitiones de Regno (4.7.28–41), but at least one, adapted from To Nicocles 19, seems independent: see Mueller and Scodel 2009:357.