A Commentary on Isocrates' Busiris (Mnemosyne, Bibliotheca Classica Batava Supplementum)
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This volume contains the first scholarly commentary on the puzzling work "Busiris" part mythological "jeu d esprit," part rhetorical treatise and part self-promoting polemic by the Greek educator and rhetorician Isocrates (436-338 BC). The commentary reveals Isocrates strategies in advertising his own political rhetoric as a middle way between amoral sophistic education and the abstruse studies of Plato s Academy. Introductory chapters situate "Busiris" within the lively intellectual marketplace of 4th-century Athens, showing how the work parodies Plato s "Republic," and how its revisionist treatment of the monster-king Busiris reflects Athenian fascination with the alien wisdom of Egypt. As a whole, the book casts new light both on Isocrates himself, revealed as an agile and witty polemicist, and on the struggle between rhetoric and philosophy from which Hellenism and modern humanities were born."
material in accordance with proper rhetorical principles. Hence the alternatives offered in § 49 turn out not to be alternatives at all: to avoid disgrace and harmfulness, Polycrates will have to follow Isocrates' example and observe correct rhetorical procedure; but if he does so, then he will be constrained to treat his themes, as Isocrates has done with Busiris, in such a way that they cease to be This 'lack of alternative' encapsulates the major doctrinal point which underlies the structure
do, not something INTRODUCTION 47 sent participle need not imply that whoever Isocrates has in mind is making the attempt in question now, even as Isocrates writes: the present tense is more naturally understood as timeless, 'those who try (at any time)'. There is no need, then, to follow Eucken in finding an overt reference to Plato at Busiris 17. For his larger thesis—that the sketch of the Egyptian constitution in Busiris parodies a philosophical 'ideal state' similar to that in Plato's
by name, is a recurring feature: Busiris is not in himself a worthy adversary for Heracles, so the latter's heroism consists in prevailing as one man against many. Note also that the killing of Busiris is a Tidpepyov for the hero, an incidental adventure embroidering the account of his journey to a more important goal. In the same period, the episode figured too in the epic Heracleia of Panyassis. This may safely be inferred from an allusion by the scholar Seleucus of Alexandria (first century
in rhetoric which is central to the whole work. Isocrates insists on his good will and desire to help (§ 2 , §4 ). It is a function of a proem to win the audience's good will (Rhet. ad Alex. 1436a33-b28, and e.g. Dem. XVIII On the Crown 1), and one way of doing so is to assert the speaker's good will towards them. Here, however, the , is subverted by irony. This is already clear in § 1, where Isocrates refers pointedly to circumstances a true friend would gloss over ( ); but the gap between
in Isoc. sometimes signifies general thought/awareness (Plat. 61), some particularised branch of mental ability (Antid. 212, 271), or the faculty of judgement (Panath. 196), but more often it means practical, problem-solving intelligence as a whole, rather as in Aristotle (Me. Eth. 1140a24—bll etc.). has a place among the virtues, and hence among the subjects of encomium: see esp. Panath. 204, and Phil. 110, Panath. 127, Ep. IX 7. The enhancement or cultivation of is a recurrent theme of