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2012 | 15: Leadership in Antiquity: Langauge - Institutions - Representations | 109-121

Article title

Wisdom behind Power. General Remarks on Isocrates as the Self-made Advisor of the Kings


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The article begins with short introduction referring to the role of advisors, teachers and sages in the political life with emphasis on the changes connected with the emergence of Athenian democracy and education offered by the sophists. Athenian state offers excellent opportunities for political education, on the other hand the existence of a sage in the system based on the popular rule in the eyes of some intellectuals proves to be difficult, or impossible. Plato’s reaction on the death of Socrates results in his resigning from public activity, Isocrates however finds his own way of life in accordance with his views. He seemingly retreats from political activity, because he does not present his speeches in the assembly, still he takes part in political life by writing treatises referring to the contemporary issues. The treatises To Nicocles and To Philip prove that his interests were not limited to the Athens; he was eager to consider different political systems and believed that addressing the powerful leaders might be quite an efficient way to influence political reality. In the treatise To Nicocles he offers the general set of principles that should be obeyed by a king in order to preserve his authority and take good care of the state, the treatise To Philip comprises an appeal to the king of Macedon encouraging him to unite Greece in the crusade against Persia. In spite of obvious differences in the historical context, both works present mixture of moral idealism and political pragmatism characteristic for Isocrates, who put en effort in establishing for himself the position of political commentator and advisor. His professional activity added a new quality to the political culture of Athens, where an individual either took active part in assemblies and administration, or chose the life of a private man. Isocrates escaped this alternative and introduced a new model of an intellectual in the public sphere.


  • Jagiellonian University


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