The Theory and Practice of Life: Isocrates and the Philosophers

  Wareh, Tarik. 2013. The Theory and Practice of Life: Isocrates and the Philosophers. Hellenic Studies Series 54. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Speusippus’ Letter to Philip


Epistula Socratica 30 Hercher, ed. Bickermann and Sykutris 1928

A complete translation of this text is offered here, since frequent reference will be made to it in the following chapter.

[1] Antipater, the bearer of this letter, is a Magnesian by birth, but he has been writing his Greek History at Athens for some time, and he says that he is being done wrong by someone in Magnesia. So hear this matter out from him, and help him as zealously as you are able. There are many reasons why you would do right to help him, and in particular because when the discourse sent to you by Isocrates was read out among us in school [en diatribēi] he praised the subject it proposed [tēn hupothesin] but laid to its charge its omission of the benefits [euergesias] you and your family have brought about for Greece. I will attempt to speak of a few of these. [1] [2] For Isocrates, in contrast, has neither set forth the benefits you and your ancestors have brought about for Greece, nor dispelled the false accusations made against you by some, nor kept away from Plato in the discourses he has addressed to you.

And yet, in the first place, your friendship towards our city ought not to have escaped his attention, but rather he ought to have made it conspicuous to your descendants as well. For Heracles, since we had a law in ancient times that no foreigner be initiated into the mysteries, wishing to be initiated, became Pylius’ adopted son. [3] This being so, Isocrates could have addressed his discourses as to a fellow citizen, since your family’s descent is from Heracles. In the next place, he ought to have made known the benefits brought about for Greece by your ancestor Alexander and by your other ancestors. But in fact he has kept silent about them as if they were unspeakable misfortunes. For when Xerxes sent ambassadors to Greece asking for earth and water, Alexander killed the ambassadors; later when the barbarians advanced in arms, the Greeks faced them at Macedonian Heracleum; and when Alexander revealed to the Greeks the treachery of Aleuas and the Thessalians, the Greeks withdrew and were saved because of Alexander. [4] And yet these benefits ought to have been mentioned not only by Herodotus and Damastes, but also by him who declares in his tekhnai that his hearers must be well disposed towards you because of [your ancestor the benefactor of Greece]. [2] It would have been fitting to have set forth also the benefit done at Plataea in the time of Mardonius and that great series of benefits done by your ancestors. For in this way the discourse written about you would have gained the goodwill of the Greeks rather than saying nothing good about your family’s kingdom. And discoursing about ancient matters would be proper to Isocrates’ old age, whereas discoursing rhythmically, as he himself says, [3] belongs to a speaker’s purpose in its prime.

[5] Furthermore, it would have been possible for him to dispel the false accusations made largely by the Olynthians. For who would consider you so simpleminded as to begin a war against the Olynthians at a time when Illyrians and Thracians, and the Athenians and Spartans and other Greeks and barbarians besides, were making war on you? I needn’t go on at length about this in a letter to you; but the things that the common run of speakers do not find it in their way to say, [4] and which have been passed over in silence by everyone for a long time, but which it is to your advantage to learn, I think that I will tell forth and will claim the reward of these good tidings, a just return of the favor, to be given from you to Antipater. For concerning the country that came to be the Olynthians’, the bearer of this letter is the first and only to have told trustworthy stories [muthous] [5] showing that in ancient times it belonged not to the Chalcidians but to the sons of Heracles. [6] For he says that Neleus in Messene and Syleus around the region of Amphipolis were both in like manner killed by Heracles as being violent men, and that Messene was given to Neleus’ son Nestor to keep in trust, and the country of Phyllis to Syleus’ brother Dicaeus, and that many generations later Cresphontes recovered Messene, whereas the country of Amphipolis, although it belonged to the Heraclidae, was taken by the Athenians and Chalcidians. And he says that in just this way, as wrongdoers and lawbreakers, Hippocoon was killed while tyrant in Sparta, and Alcyoneus in Pallene, and that Sparta was entrusted to the keeping of Tyndareus, and Potidaea and the rest of Pallene to Sitho the son of Posidon, and that during the restorations of the Heraclidae the sons of Aristodemus recovered Laconia, and the Eretrians, the Corinthians, and the Achaeans returning from Troy took possession of Pallene, although it belonged to the Heraclidae. [7] And he makes known how likewise Heracles killed the tyrants Tmolus and Telegonus, the sons of Proteus, around the country of Torone, and, when he had killed Clides and his sons around Ambracia, how he assigned the country of Torone to the guardianship of Aristomachus the son of Sitho, a country which the Chalcidians colonized although it belongs to you and yours; and how he put the country of Ambracia in the hands of Ladices and Charattes, with the requirement to return to his own descendants what was given in trust. Furthermore, all Macedonians know Alexander’s recent acquisitions of the land of the Edoni. [8] And these are not the excuses of Isocrates, or a mere noisy sounding of names, but discourses with the capacity to benefit your rule.

[10] In addition, in exhorting you to just actions, the sophist approves and sets forth as an example the exile and restoration of Alcibiades, [7] while omitting the greater and fairer deeds done by your father. For Alcibiades was exiled for impiety and returned to his country after having done it the greatest harm, but Amyntas, when he had been defeated in factional strife over the kingdom, withdrew for a short time and afterwards ruled Macedonia again. Then, Alcibiades went back into exile and ended his life shamefully, whereas your father grew old as king. And he cites to you the monarchy of Dionysius, [8] as if it were befitting for you to imitate not the most serious men, but the most impious, and to become an imitator not of the most just men, but of the worst. And he says in his tekhnai [9] that it is fitting to apply examples that are within your family and familiar, but he takes no heed of his tekhnē and uses examples from outside that are most shameful and as opposite as can be conceived in relation to his account. [11] And yet, in writing such stuff, the most ridiculous thing of all is when he says that he “gracefully fended off” those of his students who found fault with it. [10] Those of his associates who had been defeated, able to say nothing to this despite being in the very prime of rhetorical power, approved so fully of his discourse that they have bestowed on it the first prize for speeches. [11] You may understand in brief compass Isocrates’ historical work and learning [paideia]: for by their means he makes the Cyrenaeans, who are called Theraeans by everyone, into Spartan colonists, [12] and he has appointed his Pontic student as the successor of his wisdom, [13] than whom you, who have seen many sophists, have not seen one more loathsome.

[12] And I hear that Theopompus is with you, being exceedingly frigid, and that he is slandering Plato, and that as if Plato had not constructed the beginning of your rule during Perdiccas’ reign and invariably borne it hardly if anything ungentle or unbrotherly arose between you. In order, then, that Theopompus may cease being uncouth and savage, bid Antipater read out to him his own Greek History in comparison [paranagnōnai], and Theopompus will recognize that by right he is erased by everyone, while it is unjustly that he receives your generous patronage.

Be well, and, having taken care of Antipater in good speed, send him to us.


[ back ] 1. I.e. the benefits (feminine), not the criticisms (Natoli).

[ back ] 2. In the corrupt τησασιν πρόγονον ητους, there is certainly some reference to Isocrates Philip 76f., which declares how unseemly and provocative it would be to accuse Philip of plotting against those whom his ancestor Heracles chose to benefit at risk to himself (ἁπάσης τῆς Ἑλλάδος εὐεργέτης … ὁ πρόγονος αὐτοῦ προείλετο κινδυνεύειν … τὴν μὲν εὔνοιαν, ἣν ἐκεῖνος κατέλιπεν τοῖς ἐξ αὐτοῦ γεγενημένοις). I would rather see εὐεργέτους in ητους than Sykutris’s suggestion ἤθους (in apparatu). The use of tekhnai in reference to Isocrates’ epidictic political oration is striking and exemplifies the intellectual terms of engagement I emphasize in my interpretation of Speusippus’ letter. Compare the use in §10, in more straightforward reference to Isocrates’ (traduced) standards of rhetorical propriety, and Too 1995:166f. and Natoli 2004:144.

[ back ] 3. Speusippus seems to refer directly not only to Isocrates Philip 10, but also to Philip 27, in which Isocrates says he has not adorned his discourse with the eurhuthmiai and poikiliai he would have used when younger, blaming his old age (hēlikia as here) and claiming it is fitting in any case for Philip to devote his attention to just the facts (praxeis). This may also be taken to support Dobree’s emendation εὐρύθμως for εὐρυθαλῶς/εὐθαλῶς (MSS). Against the Sophists 16f., with its assertion that the speaker’s intelligent composition of the forms (ideai) of speech and subsequent rhythmic performance of the result (εὐρύθμως καὶ μουσικῶς εἰπεῖν) is the work of a brave and imaginatively conjecturing soul (ἀνδρικῆς καὶ δοξαστικῆς ἔργον), also deserves close comparison, especially given the possible echo of it in Plato Gorgias 463a6–8 (cf. Dodds ad loc., Hutchinson 1988:29f.). Cf. Natoli 2004:122.

[ back ] 4. Sykutris’s translation accepts a more usual meaning for empodōn (“But what can be told to anyone, and yet has been passed over …”), followed by Pina Polo and Panzram (2001:360), but (1) the word order estin ouk empodōn (as opposed to ouk estin empodōn) would be extremely unusual for “there is no obstacle”; (2) it is quite a strain to take the following te adversatively; and (3) it would be strange to tout how Antipater will be the “first and only” from whom Philip can “learn” what is commonly available knowledge. Natoli (2004:124) agrees with the general thrust of this interpretation, citing Harder 1930:251 in agreement. Compare Euripides Phoenician Woman 706 (ἃ δ’ ἐμποδὼν μάλιστα, ταῦθ’ ἥκω φράσων).

[ back ] 5. Of the muthoi offered to Philip in this letter, Nilsson (1951:105) remarks, “These tales are certainly invented by Antipatros, for they are not mentioned elsewhere. This letter is unusually full of references to myths, some of them are bold inventions, one invented for the purpose of giving reasons for an enterprise which failed. This is an extreme and most flagrant instance of the use and abuse of mythology for political propaganda. The author knew it, for finishing his account of the myths he says that they may be useful for Philip’s power.”

[ back ] 6. Isocrates Panegyricus 8.

[ back ] 7. Isocrates Philip 58–61.

[ back ] 8. Philip 65.

[ back ] 9. Philip 113.

[ back ] 10. Philip 22.

[ back ] 11. Philip 23.

[ back ] 12. Philip 5.

[ back ] 13. See chap. 3 above on the identification of this successor as Isocrates of Apollonia, whose literary output as listed in the Suda (Amphictyonic Speech, Protrepticus, and the work on Philip’s taphos) corroborates his topicality for Speusippus.

[ back ] 14. Isocrates Philip 7.

[ back ] 15. Philip 33.

[ back ] 16. Philip 149.

[ back ] 17. Philip 26f. (cf. ibid. 1, 81), where Isocrates says that by sending the Philip as a written discourse, he risks the persuasive failure that is always possible without the living speaker’s ēthos and other contributions, when “someone” reads it “unpersuasively” and “as if ticking off a list.” Speusippus (building on his sarcastic point above about the ineptitude of the “flower of rhetoric” in Isocrates’ school) willfully finds a reference in this to a particular poor reader, whom he identifies as Isocrates of Apollonia (the teacher’s designated successor and thus chosen deputy).

[ back ] 18. Philip 105.