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Created by Valérie Toillon

[Le fait est que je connais quelques sophistes qui parlent en mal de moi, disant que tout ce que je fais est d'écrire des discours pour la cour], c'est exactement comme si l'on osait dire que Phidias, celui qui a fait notre statue d'Athéna, est un simple fabricant de figurines, en encore dire que Zeuxis et Parrhasios ont pratiqué le même art que les peintres de tablettes, [quoi qu'il en soit je n'ai jamais pu me défendre contre ces attaques...] (Trad. Reinach)

Annotation Authors and Editors
Created by Valérie Toillon

Commentary

  1. Isocrates was an Athenian orator, who lived ca. 436-338 B.C. The Antidosis or "On the Exchange" is the last speech by Isocrates. Written in 354/53 B.C. when he was 82 years old, this speech is considered autobiographical. It is also the longest speech written by Isocrates. This oration is fictional in nature. Indeed, the trial for tax evasion and the accusation against Isocrates that his oratory teaching has corrupted the young, is pure invention. This speech was inspired by an actual historical trial on liturgy (the funding of a trireme with his own estate) opposing Isocrates to Megacleides, few years earlier (ca. 357 B.C.). The oration is composed in the form of an apology, referring to Plato's "Apology of Socrates" (Mathieu in Isocrate 1991, pp. 87-101; Papillon 1997; Too 2008, pp. 1-26).

  2. The paragraphs 1 to 13 serve as preface in which Isocrates exposes the accusation and explains why he must defend himself. Most notably, Isocrates defends himself against allegations made by "sophists", accusing him of being a "forensics speeches writer". Isocrates wants to show to what extent his oratory skills and his teaching have been valuable for Athenian society. Then, at paragraph 2, just after exposing the first accusation, he compares himself to three great artists of 450-400 B.C. Per se, Phidias (Muller-Dufeu 2002, pp. 279-343), Zeuxis (text 199) and Parrhasios (text 257).

  3. The statue of Athena is the chryselephantine one (made of gold and ivory) of Athena Parthenos, adorning the Parthenon and made between ca. 447 and 438 B.C. It was the most famous work of Pheidias, for which the sculpture was much admired throughout antiquity (LIMC II s.v. Athena 219, p. 1031; Muller-Dufeu 2002, pp. 292-303, texts 815-862; Lapatin 2001, pp. 63-78; Lapatin 2005, pp. 262-279).

  4. A "coroplastos" is a maker of clay statuettes. Mostly those statuettes are votive offerings for sanctuaries. A pinax (dimin. pinakion) is a small wooden or terracotta tablet. Those are mainly votive objects meant to be hung in sanctuaries. The pinakia were also used to write (especially in law court) or to draw on (Karoglou 2010). In Isocrates' text, the word "pinakia" indicates a small or bad picture. Wooden or terracotta tablets as votive statuettes, are the most economic and popular objects made as offerings in sanctuaries. Those objects are the result of craftsman work. In other words, a repetitive work with poor or basic artistic qualities involving cheap material (clay or wood essentially), far from the abilities of sculptors or painters hired for decorating temples or public buildings and working with precious or expensive materials (ivory, gold, marble, rare pigments etc.). To say that Phidias is a "figurine maker" (coroplastos) or Zeuxis and Parrhasios were "pinakia painters" is insulting, just as saying that Isocrates is a "forensics speeches writer" (dikographia). There is some vanity in Isocrates' comment, since he compares the devaluation of the most talented artists of his time to his own devaluation by his detractors. Then, being the good orator he claims to be, he shows to what extent it is false and unsuitable to call him a "forensics speeches writer" (Too 2008, pp. 90-91).

Annotation Authors and Editors
Created by Valérie Toillon

Bibliography

Isocrate, 1991. Discours, Paris: Les Belles lettres.

Karoglou, K., 2010. Attic Pinakes: Votive Images in Clay, Oxford: Archaeopress.

Lapatin, K.D.S., 2001. Chryselephantine Statuary in the Ancient Mediterranean World, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Lapatin, K.D.S., 2005. The Statue of Athena and other Treasures in the Parthenon. In J. Neils, ed., The Parthenon from Antiquity to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 261–291.

Muller-Dufeu, M., 2002. La sculpture grecque: sources littéraires et épigraphiques, Paris: École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts.

Papillon, T.L., 1997. Mixed Unities in the “Antidosis” of Isocrates. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 27(4), pp. 47–62.

Too, Y.L., 2008. A commentary on Isocrates’ Antidosis, Oxford  Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Annotation Authors and Editors
Created by Valérie Toillon