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."
oak of Dodona implies that it is the respectability of the source itself that is at issue.165 Two points thus emerge from the exchange: it does not matter whether the story comes from Egypt (or whether Socrates made it up); and it does not matter if Egypt (a peculiar, non-Greek country) is where it comes from. All that matters is whether it expresses something true. This provides an interesting counterpoint to Busiris, where a constitutional system resembling that of the Republic was teasingly
the Yoke, but even so it is surprising that in Busiris he could so confidently dismiss the idea that association with him was discreditable. this may refer to the 'Socratics' in general, but probably to Plato above all. Isocrates might well regard Plato's Apology as 'praise in the guise of defence', just as Gorgias' Helen is defence in the guise of praise (Isoc. Helen 14). In Antidosis, a work with clear echoes of the Apology (see Too 1995 pp. 192 f), Isocrates states that he has chosen
37 and note ad loc. the argument — 'how can you demand from others what you have not done yourself — is a relative of the 'Golden Rule': see note on § 46 . Polycrates is unable to perceive general principles or apply them to himself. § 32 corresponds with below, giving § 32~33 a chiastic structure. : used by Isocrates only here and in § 17 above (the verb occurs eight times in his work). The extended use of the noun ('maker' in general, as opposed to 'artisan') is very common in Plato; for a
Isocrates is not a product of mere accident or inadvertence: it is a natural, if not inevitable, consequence of the choice of a paradoxical theme.24 A speech which sets out to praise is under strong pressure to engage with the prevailing to refute the existing negative opinions about its subject. Paradox seems, as Isocrates complains at Helen 8-13, to have dominated the field of sophistic display-encomium (as opposed to 'real' civic encomia such as funeral speeches)—whether because of its
world-view is topsy-turvy: he claims for himself a superhuman power to improve strangers, and attributes to the gods a subhuman indifference to their own offspring. § 43 see note on § 4 an ad hominem argument ( since Isocrates does not seriously accept that sophists have this power; see note on § 42 182 COMMENTARY § 44-50 Epilogue In § 38~43 the Busiris theme is still officially the main topic, the purpose of the arguments being to refute Polycrates' version and simultaneously to show