Sunday, August 23, 2020


The Power of Speech

Isocrates, Nicocles 5-9 (tr. George Norlin):
[5] For in the other powers which we possess we are in no respect superior to other living creatures; nay, we are inferior to many in swiftness and in strength and in other resources;

[6] but, because there has been implanted in us the power to persuade each other and to make clear to each other whatever we desire, not only have we escaped the life of wild beasts, but we have come together and founded cities and made laws and invented arts; and, generally speaking, there is no institution devised by man which the power of speech has not helped us to establish.

[7] For this it is which has laid down laws concerning things just and unjust, and things base and honourable; and if it were not for these ordinances we should not be able to live with one another. It is by this also that we confute the bad and extol the good. Through this we educate the ignorant and appraise the wise; for the power to speak well is taken as the surest index of a sound understanding, and discourse which is true and lawful and just is the outward image of a good and faithful soul.

[8] With this faculty we both contend against others on matters which are open to dispute and seek light for ourselves on things which are unknown; for the same arguments which we use in persuading others when we speak in public, we employ also when we deliberate in our own thoughts; and, while we call eloquent those who are able to speak before a crowd, we regard as sage those who most skilfully debate their problems in their own minds.

[9] And, if there is need to speak in brief summary of this power, we shall find that none of the things which are done with intelligence take place without the help of speech, but that in all our actions as well as in all our thoughts speech is our guide, and is most employed by those who have the most wisdom. Therefore, those who dare to speak with disrespect of educators and teachers of philosophy deserve our opprobrium no less than those who profane the sanctuaries of the gods.

[5] τοῖς μὲν γὰρ ἄλλοις οἷς ἔχομεν οὐδὲν τῶν ἄλλων ζῴων διαφέρομεν, ἀλλὰ πολλῶν καὶ τῷ τάχει καὶ τῇ ῥώμῃ καὶ ταῖς ἄλλαις εὐπορίαις καταδεέστεροι 6τυγχάνομεν ὄντες·

[6] ἐγγενομένου δ᾿ ἡμῖν τοῦ πείθειν ἀλλήλους καὶ δηλοῦν πρὸς ἡμᾶς αὐτοὺς περὶ ὧν ἂν βουληθῶμεν, οὐ μόνον τοῦ θηριωδῶς ζῆν ἀπηλλάγημεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ συνελθόντες πόλεις ᾠκίσαμεν καὶ νόμους ἐθέμεθα καὶ τέχνας εὕρομεν, καὶ σχεδὸν ἅπαντα τὰ δι᾿ ἡμῶν μεμηχανημένα λόγος ἡμῖν ἐστιν ὁ συγκατασκευάσας.

[7] οὗτος γὰρ περὶ τῶν δικαίων καὶ τῶν ἀδίκων καὶ τῶν αἰσχρῶν καὶ τῶν καλῶν ἐνομοθέτησεν· ὧν μὴ διαταχθέντων οὐκ ἂν οἷοί τ᾿ ἦμεν οἰκεῖν μετ᾿ ἀλλήλων. τούτῳ καὶ τοὺς κακοὺς ἐξελέγχομεν καὶ τοὺς ἀγαθοὺς ἐγκωμιάζομεν. διὰ τούτου τούς τ᾿ ἀνοήτους παιδεύομεν καὶ τοὺς φρονίμους δοκιμάζομεν· τὸ γὰρ λέγειν ὡς δεῖ τοῦ φρονεῖν εὖ μέγιστον σημεῖον ποιούμεθα, καὶ λόγος ἀληθὴς καὶ νόμιμος καὶ δίκαιος ψυχῆς ἀγαθῆς καὶ πιστῆς εἴδωλόν ἐστιν.

[8] μετὰ τούτου καὶ περὶ τῶν ἀμφισβητησίμων ἀγωνιζόμεθα καὶ περὶ τῶν ἀγνοουμένων σκοπούμεθα· ταῖς γὰρ πίστεσιν αἷς τοὺς ἄλλους λέγοντες πείθομεν, ταῖς αὐταῖς ταύταις βουλευόμενοι χρώμεθα, καὶ ῥητορικοὺς μὲν καλοῦμεν τοὺς ἐν τῷ πλήθει δυναμένους λέγειν, εὐβούλους δὲ νομίζομεν οἵτινες ἂν αὐτοὶ πρὸς αὑτοὺς ἄριστα περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων διαλεχθῶσιν.

[9] εἰ δὲ δεῖ συλλήβδην περὶ τῆς δυνάμεως ταύτης εἰπεῖν, οὐδὲν τῶν φρονίμως πραττομένων εὑρήσομεν ἀλόγως γιγνόμενον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν ἔργων καὶ τῶν διανοημάτων ἁπάντων ἡγεμόνα λόγον ὄντα, καὶ μάλιστα χρωμένους αὐτῷ τοὺς πλεῖστον νοῦν ἔχοντας· ὥστε τοὺς τολμῶντας βλασφημεῖν περὶ τῶν παιδευόντων καὶ φιλοσοφούντων ὁμοίως ἄξιον μισεῖν ὥσπερ τοὺς εἰς τὰ τῶν θεῶν ἐξαμαρτάνοντας.
On this "hymn to logos" see Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, tr. Gilbert Highet, Vol. III: The Conflict of Cultural Ideals in the Age of Plato (New York: Oxford University Press, 1944), pp. 88-91, and Takis Poulakos, Speaking for the Polis: Isocrates' Rhetorical Education (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997), pp. 9-25.

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