Isocrates. Isocrates with an English Translation in three volumes, by George Norlin, Ph.D., LL.D. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1929-1982.

But what contributed most to their good government of the state was that of the two recognized kinds of equality—that which makes the same award to all alike and that which gives to each man his due[*](For these two kinds of equality cf. Isoc. 3.14 ff.; Isoc. 2.14; Plat. Rep. 558c, and Plat. Laws 757b; Aristot. Pol. 1301a 26 ff.)—they did not fail to grasp which was the more serviceable; but, rejecting as unjust that which holds that the good and the bad are worthy of the same honors,

and preferring rather that which rewards and punishes every man according to his deserts, they governed the city on this principle, not filling the offices by lot from all the citizens,[*](The method of electing the various magistrates changed from time to time, and is much less simple than Isocrates here represents it to be. For example, election of the chief magistrates, the archons, by lot (though from a previously selected group) is at least as old as Solon. On the other hand, in Isocrates' day officers who had supervision over military and financial affairs were elected by show of hands in the General Assembly. See Gilbert, Greek Constitutional Antiquities(English translation) pp. 216 ff. It seems clear, however, that after Cleisthenes all classes of citizens, the poor as well as the rich, became eligible to the offices (Plut. Arist. 22) and that election by lot became increasingly a device to further pure democracy.) but selecting the best and the ablest for each function of the state; for they believed that the rest of the people would reflect the character of those who were placed in charge of their affairs.

Furthermore they considered that this way of appointing magistrates was also more democratic than the casting of lots, since under the plan of election by lot chance would decide the issue and the partizans of oligarchy would often get the offices; whereas under the plan of selecting the worthiest men, the people would have in their hands the power to choose those who were most attached to the existing constitution.

The reason why this plan was agreeable to the majority and why they did not fight over the offices was because they had been schooled to be industrious and frugal, and not to neglect their own possessions and conspire against the possessions of others, and not to repair their own fortunes out of the public funds,[*](He is thinking of pay, not only for the magistrates, but for attendance at the sessions of the jury courts, of the General Assembly, etc. See Isoc. 8.130. Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 24) states that since the changes which were introduced by Aristides over twenty thousand Athenians earned their livelihood in public service of one sort or another. In the same work (62) he gives a brief sketch of the pay for such services.) but rather to help out the commonwealth, should the need arise, from their private resources,[*](For the public spirit of the old democracy see Isoc. 4.76; Isoc. 8.42 ff.; Isoc. 12.145 ff.) and not to know more accurately the incomes derived from the public offices than those which accrued to them from their own estates.

So severely did they abstain from what belonged to the state that it was harder in those days to find men who were willing to hold office[*](Cf. Isoc. 12.146; Plat. Rep. 347b, Plat. Rep. 520d; Ruskin, Crown of Wild Olive: “No one ever teaches well who wants to teach or governs well who wants to govern: it is an old saying (Plato's but I know not if his first) and as wise as old.”) than it is now to find men who are not begging for the privilege; for they did not regard a charge over public affairs as a chance for private gain but as a service to the state; neither did they from their first day in office seek to discover whether their predecessors had overlooked any source of profit, but much rather whether they had neglected any business of the state which pressed for settlement.

In a word, our forefathers had resolved that the people as the supreme master of the state, should appoint the magistrates, call to account those who failed in their duty, and judge in cases of dispute; while those citizens who could afford the time and possessed sufficient means[*](Aristotle (Aristot. Pol. 1274a 15 ff.) states that Solon gave to the populace the sovereign power of selecting their magistrates and of calling them to account, though the selection had to be made from “men of reputation and means.”) should devote themselves to the care of the commonwealth, as servants of the people,

entitled to receive commendation if they proved faithful to their trust, and contenting themselves with this honor, but condemned, on the other hand, if they governed badly, to meet with no mercy, but to suffer the severest punishment.[*](The same idea is developed in Isoc. 12.147.) And how, pray, could one find a democracy more stable or more just than this, which appointed the most capable men to have charge of its affairs but gave to the people authority over their rulers?

Such was the constitution of their polity, and from this it is easy to see that also in their conduct day by day they never failed to act with propriety and justice; for when people have laid sound foundations for the conduct of the whole state it follows that in the details of their lives they must reflect the character of their government.

First of all as to their conduct towards the gods—for it is right to begin with them[*](This is almost poetic formula. Cf. Alcman fr. 3; Theocr. 17.1; Aratus, Phaenomena 1.)—they were not erratic or irregular in their worship of them or in the celebration of their rites; they did not, for example, drive three hundred oxen in procession to the altar,[*](The reference is, apparently, to special or occasional festivals such as those mentioned in Isoc. 7.10. He may have in mind here the festival held in honor of Chares' victory over Artaxerxes III, since that Athenian general was so generously paid by Artabazus that he could afford to contribute a drove of cattle for the celebration. See Dio. Sic. 16.22.) when it entered their heads to do so,while omitting, when the caprice seized them, the sacrifices instituted by their fathers;[*](Cf. Isoc. 2.20.) neither did they observe on a grand scale the festivals imported from abroad, whenever these were attended by a feast, while contracting with the lowest bidder for the sacrifices demanded by the holiest rites of their religion.

For their only care was not to destroy any institution of their fathers and to introduce nothing which was not approved by custom, believing that reverence consists, not in extravagant expenditures, but in disturbing none of the rites which their ancestors had handed on to them. And so also the gifts of the gods were visited upon them, not fitfully or capriciously, but seasonably both for the ploughing of the land and for the ingathering of its fruits.

In the same manner also they governed their relations with each other. For not only were they of the same mind regarding public affairs, but in their private life as well they showed that degree of consideration for each other which is due from men who are rightminded and partners in a common fatherland.

The less well-to-do among the citizens were so far from envying those of greater means that they were as solicitous for the great estates as for their own, considering that the prosperity of the rich was a guarantee of their own well-being. Those who possessed wealth, on the other hand, did not look down upon those in humbler circumstances, but, regarding poverty among their fellow-citizens as their own disgrace, came to the rescue of the distresses of the poor, handing over lands to some at moderate rentals, sending out some to engage in commerce, and furnishing means to others to enter upon various occupations;

for they had no fear that they might suffer one of two things—that they might lose their whole investment or recover, after much trouble, only a mere fraction of their venture; on the contrary, they felt as secure about the money which was lent out as about that which was stored in their own coffers. For they saw that in cases of contract the judges were not in the habit of indulging their sense of equity[*](That is, their own sense of right and wrong (almost their sympathy) as distinguished from the legal sense. See Aristotle's distinction between equality and justice in Aristot. Rh. 1374b 21. “The arbitrator,” he says, “looks to equity; the judge, to law.”) but were strictly faithful to the laws;

and that they did not in trying others seek to make it safe for themselves to disobey the law,[*](Cf. Isoc. 15.142, where he charges the Athenian juries with condoning depravity in others in order to make depravity safe for themselves.) but were indeed more severe on defaulters than were the injured themselves, since they believed that those who break down confidence in contracts do a greater injury to the poor than to the rich; for if the rich were to stop lending, they would be deprived of only a slight revenue, whereas if the poor should lack the help of their supporters they would be reduced to desperate straits.

And so because of this confidence no one tried to conceal his wealth[*](As now, from the sycophants. See Isoc. 15.8, note. The present state of affairs is described in Isoc. 15.159 ff.) nor hesitated to lend it out, but, on the contrary, the wealthy were better pleased to see men borrowing money than paying it back; for they thus experienced the double satisfaction—which should appeal to all right-minded men—of helping their fellow-citizens and at the same time making their own property productive for themselves. In fine, the result of their dealing honorably with each other was that the ownership of property was secured to those to whom it rightfully belonged, while the enjoyment of property was shared by all the citizens who needed it.

But perhaps some might object to what I have said on the ground that I praise the conditions of life as they were in those days, but neglect to explain the reasons why our forefathers managed so well both in their relations with each other and in their government of the state. Well, I have already touched upon that question,[*](In 20-27.) but in spite of that I shall now try to discuss it even more fully and more clearly.

The Athenians of that day were not watched over by many preceptors[*](See Plato (Plat. Prot. 325c ff.) for a picture of the education of Athenian boys.) during their boyhood only to be allowed to do what they liked when they attained to manhood;[*](In early times, the Council, according to Aristotle (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 3), not only had the duty of guarding the laws, but was the main factor in the government of the city, and punished at its discretion “all who misbehaved themselves.” It even selected the magistrates for the several offices (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 8). Under Solon the Council kept its most important powers: it superintended the laws and guarded the constitution, exercised a censorship over the citizens “in the most important matters,” and corrected offenders, having plenary authority to inflict punishment (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 8). Under Cleisthenes its powers declined, but because of its wise and patriotic initiative in the Persian Wars it became again the supreme influence of the state (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 23), and remained so until, under the leadership of Ephialtes, its important powers of supervision and censorship were taken from it and distributed to the Senate of the Five Hundred, the General Assembly, and the Heliastic juries (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 25).) on the contrary, they were subjected to greater supervision in the very prime of their vigor than when they were boys. For our forefathers placed such strong emphasis upon sobriety that they put the supervision of decorum in charge of the Council of the Areopagus—a body which was composed exclusively of men who were of noble birth[*](The Council was made up of ex-archons, who, after successfully passing an examination at the end of their terms of office to determine their fitness, became members of the Areopagus for life. The archons were at first “selected under qualifications of birth and of wealth.” See Aristot. Ath. Pol. 3. After the “reforms” of Ephialtes, the property qualification was dropped, the only requirement being that of genuine citizenship. See Plut. Arist.) and had exemplified in their lives exceptional virtue and sobriety, and which, therefore, naturally excelled all the other councils of Hellas.

And we may judge what this institution was at that time even by what happens at the present day; for even now, when everything connected with the election and the examination of magistrates[*](With special reference to the archons, who became members of the Areopagus. He means that they were no longer taken necessarily from the best class of citizens. They did, however, have to undergo an examination ( eu)/quna) on their conduct in office at the end of their term, and a further examination ( dokimasi/a) before the Council of the Areopagus to determine their worthiness to become members of that body. See Gilbert, Greek Constitutional Antiquities p. 282. What such an examination was like is described by Aristot. Ath. Pol. 55. Perhaps such examinations became largely perfunctory, and this may be the ground of Isocrates' complaint.) has fallen into neglect, we shall find that those who in all else that they do are insufferable, yet when they enter the Areopagus hesitate to indulge their true nature, being governed rather by its traditions than by their own evil instincts. So great was the fear which its members inspired in the depraved and such was the memorial of their own virtue and sobriety which they left behind them in the place of their assembly.

Such, then, as I have described, was the nature of the Council which our forefathers charged with the supervision of moral discipline—a council which considered that those who believed that the best citizens are produced in a state where the laws are prescribed with the greatest exactness[*](Cf. Isoc. 4.78; Isoc. 12.144.) were blind to the truth; for in that case there would be no reason why all of the Hellenes should not be on the same level, at any rate in so far as it is easy to borrow written codes from each other.

But in fact, they thought, virtue is not advanced by written laws but by the habits of every-day life; for the majority of men tend to assimilate the manners and morals amid which they have been reared. Furthermore, they held that where there is a multitude of specific laws, it is a sign that the state is badly governed;[*](For this idea that the multiplication of laws is a symptom of degeneracy see Tacit. Ann. 3.27: corruptissima republica plurimae leges.) for it is in the attempt to build up dikes against the spread of crime that men in such a state feel constrained to multiply the laws.