Historical Rhetorics/A Little Aristotle and the Other Socrates/The Praise of Isocrates

Coulter, James A. "Phaedrus 279A: The Praise of Isocrates." Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 8 (1967): 225-236.

In “Phaedrus 279A: The Praise of Isocrates,” James A. Coulter attempts to reexamine a specific portion of the text that classical scholars up to the point he was writing in 1967 had speculated but never before tried to conclude that Socrates’ judgment of Isocrates’ character in section 279A of the Phaedrus contained any trace of sarcasm about or irony within it. As such, the aim of Coulter’s article is to reexamine this passage in light of his position that Socrates’ seemingly well-intentioned “praise” towards Isocrates actually reveals deeply embedded jabs at his rhetorical counterpart.

Coulter analyzes closely and methodically a series of references Socrates makes that signify he used in a very subtle and inferential manner hints of intertextuality referring to previous negative encounters Isocrates has had in the past with his other counterparts, particularly Alcidamas and Antisthenes. Coulter concludes that while on the surface Socrates’ assessment of Isocrates’ thought and character may seem flattering and quite frankly rather innocent, in actuality Socrates’ choices of nuanced terminology, textual organization, and subtle intertextuality within the paragraph length pseudo-encomium contain elements that would intentionally “infuriate the recipient” (225).

While Coulter does not take the time to evaluate the overall usefulness of his arguments within the field as a whole, it can only be assumed that rightly repositioning Plato as infinitely disdainful and oppositional of Isocratean rhetorical philosophy only serves to reinforce our own previously – and comfortably – held belief that Plato (not even while on a long, relaxing walk outside the friendly confines of Athens) would never truly “praise” Isocrates.