Thursday, March 29, 2012


Carl Joachim Classen, Herrscher, Bürger und Erzieher. Beobachtungen zu den Reden des Isokrates. Spudasmata, Bd 133. Hildesheim; Zürich; New York: Olms, 2010. Pp. 136. ISBN 9783487143477. €29.80 (pb).

Reviewed by Maddalena Vallozza, Università degli Studi della Tuscia – Viterbo (

Version at BMCR home site

This is a dense, flexible volume, the latest fruit of a long, formidable task of active analysis, direct and personal, on Greek and Latin texts. In particular, it falls into one of the preferred research topics of Carl Joachim Classen, especially in recent years: the reconstruction of the vast system of concepts that gravitate around the area of values, aretai or virtutes. This reconstruction has among its recent expressions a volume on Homer and a collection of essays.1

After a brief introduction, the book is divided into six chapters that only partially reflect the traditional chronological succession of Isocrates' speeches. The first one is devoted to forensic orations, the following to the Encomium of Helen and the Busiris, the third treats the three speeches for the sovereigns of Cyprus, the fourth involves the Against the Sophists, the fifth the Panegyricus, the sixth the Antidosis. A rich conclusion and a dense index of Greek terms complete the volume. Classen excludes other speeches handed down in the corpus because, he asserts (105 n. 1), the data would not have changed the results of his investigation: it is hard to escape a feeling of incompleteness and, dare I say it, of regret.

In an admirable synthesis, Classen explains in the introduction (1-3) the purpose and method of the volume: to reconstruct the values, norms, and ideals behind the philosophia of Isocrates, and the forms chosen to promote and communicate them, starting from the individual speeches and illustrating Isocrates' concepts in context, clarifying Isocrates from Isocrates. It is no coincidence that the bibliography is confined to a few notes on the first page.2 The analysis of the forensic orations is comparatively very large, almost a third of the volume, and of great importance. Classen rightly highlights the continuing tendency of the author to draw on the experience of private trials to reflect on issues and values for the whole community of citizens, not only in the trial involving Alcibiades, but in particular also in those against Euthynus, Callimachus, and Lochites. In this group of speeches, whether in praise or in blame, Isocrates portrays individuals against the background of their relationship with the public power, aiming thereby to emphasize the constant drive towards shared values such as fame and wealth. But, Classen finely observes, it is only with respect to Pericles, in the speech On the Team of Horses (28), that σωφροσύνη, δικαιοσύνη and σοφία come to coalesce in the complete and paradigmatic portrait of the perfect man, the man most worthy of praise among the citizens. In the Encomium of Helen, Classen focuses on the widespread presence of references to desirable forms of education and state organization. Besides the values related to beauty, the characteristic quality of the protagonist, Isocrates unfolds a diverse range of ethical and political qualities, especially for male figures and particularly in the long section on Theseus. Similarly in the Busiris the praise of the individual takes second place to that of the exemplary organization of the state or the religiousness of its citizens. In the third chapter, the good of the community emerges as the fundamental reference for the construction of that articulate and complex Fürstenspiegel that Isocrates develops, according to the chronology accepted by Classen (54 and 106),3 from To Nicocles to Nicocles up to Evagoras, where qualities and actions of the protagonist are interwoven in a framework of unparalleled richness. Along the same lines, Classen illuminates the deepest driving force of the education proposal, developed in the Against the Sophists,4 in the creation of a system of values that assigns responsibility to the individual for collective well-being and, at the same time, to the speaker or to the intellectual the responsibility to train good future citizens. This is a paradigmatic function and a paideutic role which in the Panegyricus the polis as a whole has to fulfil in the Greek world in conducting its struggle against the barbarians. In the Antidosis Classen immediately recognizes the peculiar structure,5 isolating the elements of a true self- praise that stand in contrast to the long list of repeated negative values that dominate the world of fictitious opponents.

From chapter to chapter, the analysis proceeds in a precise manner, following the structure of the speeches, without exceptions or surprises. The notes, numerous despite the small format of the page, are full of references to texts and build a sort of valuable apparatus to the comments developed in the body of the pages, an apparatus often supported by an always careful, elegant translation and enriched with additional references and brief, but useful, observations. The Wortregister, an essential key, comprises a large part of the volume (110-136), unfolding the long list of Greek words cited. The conclusion offers a solid overall vision that, despite its traditional structure, shines a new light on the dense network of concrete values and the constellation of ethical and political virtues that give it substance, which Classen, with measured philological passion, claims for Isocrates as the basis of his philosophia. It is a vision that demonstrates the realization of the intention from which his analysis proceeds: to help put Isocrates in his rightful place alongside the greats of the fourth century.


1.   Respectively C. J. Classen, Vorbilder - Werte - Normen in den homerischen Epen, Berlin / New York 2008, reviewed by W. Polleichtner in BMCR 2009.04.02 and C. J. Classen, Aretai und virtutes. Untersuchungen zu den Wertvorstellungen der Griechen und Römer, Berlin / New York, 2010.
2.   At n. 3 it would be expedient to take a step back from the edition of B. G. Mandilaras, Isocrates. Opera omnia, I-III, Munich 2003, remembered as the new critical edition of Isocrates. Cf. the reviews by S. Martinelli Tempesta in Gnomon 78, 2006, pp. 583-596 and of J. Engels in ExClass 12, 2008, pp. 317-330. At n. 4, where Classen lists monographs which provide a new overview of Isocrates, R. Nicolai should at least be cited for Studi su Isocrate. La comunicazione letteraria nel IV sec. a. C. e i nuovi generi della prosa, Rome 2004.
3.   On the problem cf. E. Alexiou, Der Euagoras des Isokrates. Ein Kommentar, Berlin / New York 2010, pp. 37-39.
4.   Classen believes the final part to be undoubtedly lost. But cf. P. Böhme, Isokrates. Gegen die Sophisten, Wien/Berlin/Münster 2009, pp. 190-209.
5.   Cf. P. M. Pinto in Gnomon 82, 2010, p. 293.

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