Is Regret a Inevitable Dish for the (Very) Old? Isocrates…

Isocrates Panathenaicus, 7-9

[Isocrates delivered this speech at the age of 94]

“I will not hesitate to describe either the confusion that afflicts my thought right now nor the strangeness of the thing I am experiencing currently, nor even if I am accomplishing anything that needs to be done. For I have had my share of the greatest goods which everyone would pray to share: first, health of the body and the mind (and I have enjoyed a degree of this similar to those who have been the luckiest); and second, being well-supported in life—I have never lacked for any reasonable thing a sensible man might desire; and third, I’ve been one of those no one would scorn or ignore, but one of those of whom the most sophisticated Greeks might remember or mention as being serious men.

But while all these things have happened for me–some in excess and some in good measure–I do not cherish them, but I have come to such a disagreeable and pusillanimous and fault-finding old age, that I often complain about my own nature, a life no other would reject, and I mourn my fate, even though I am able to say nothing against it other than the fact that there have been unfortunate and partisan-based attacks on the philosophy which I have taken as my own.

But because I knew that my own character was not strong enough for public affairs and took weak for what was needed, and was not useful nor prepared for public speeches, but it did seem capable of developing a sense of the truth more than those who say they know, even though, if I may admit it, deficient at speaking about the same things in a gathering of so many people.

I was also lacking of the two things which have the greatest power among us—a strong-enough voice and confidence–perhaps more than any other citizen. Men who are not imbued with these traits endure with less honor regarding public repute than those who owe money to the state. For debtors, at least, retain the hope of paying back what they owe; we can never change our nature.”

Οὐκ ὀκνήσω δὲ κατειπεῖν οὔτε τὴν νῦν ἐγγιγνομένην ἐν τῇ διανοίᾳ μοι ταραχὴν οὔτε τὴν ἀτοπίαν ὧν ἐν τῷ παρόντι τυγχάνω γιγνώσκων, οὔτ’ εἴ τι πράττω τῶν δεόντων. ᾿Εγὼ γὰρ μετεσχηκὼς τῶν μεγίστων ἀγαθῶν, ὧν ἅπαντες ἂν εὔξαιντο μεταλαβεῖν, πρῶτον μὲν τῆς περὶ τὸ σῶμα καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν ὑγιείας, οὐχ ὡς ἔτυχον, ἀλλ’ ἐναμίλλως τοῖς μάλιστα περὶ ἑκάτερον τούτων εὐτυχηκόσιν,  ἔπειτα τῆς περὶ τὸν βίον εὐπορίας, ὥστε μηδενὸς πώποτ’ ἀπορῆσαι τῶν μετρίων, μηδ’ ὧν ἄνθρωπος ἂν νοῦν ἔχων ἐπιθυμήσειεν, ἔτι τοῦ μὴ τῶν καταβεβλημένων εἷς εἶναι, μηδὲ τῶν κατημελημένων, ἀλλ’ ἐκείνων περὶ ὧν οἱ χαριέστατοι τῶν ῾Ελλήνων καὶ μνησθεῖεν ἂν καὶ διαλεχθεῖεν ὡς σπουδαίων ὄντων, τούτων ἁπάντων μοι συμβεβηκότων, τῶν μὲν ὑπερβαλλόντως, τῶν δ’ ἐξαρκούντως, οὐκ ἀγαπῶ ζῶν ἐπὶ τούτοις, ἀλλ’ οὕτω τὸ γῆράς ἐστι δυσάρεστον καὶ μικρολόγον καὶ μεμψίμοιρον ὥστε πολλάκις ἤδη τήν τε φύσιν τὴν ἐμαυτοῦ κατεμεμψάμην, ἧς οὐδεὶς ἄλλος καταπεφρόνηκεν, καὶ τὴν τύχην ὠδυράμην, ταύτῃ μὲν οὐδὲν ἔχων ἐπικαλεῖν ἄλλο, πλὴν ὅτι περὶ τὴν φιλοσοφίαν, ἣν προειλόμην, ἀτυχίαι τινὲς καὶ συκοφαντίαι γεγόνασιν, τὴν δὲ φύσιν εἰδὼς πρὸς μὲν τὰς πράξεις ἀρρωστοτέραν οὖσαν καὶ μαλακωτέραν τοῦ δέοντος, πρὸς δὲ τοὺς λόγους οὔτε τελείαν οὔτε πανταχῇ χρησίμην, ἀλλὰ δοξάσαι μὲν περὶ ἑκάστου τὴν ἀλήθειαν μᾶλλον δυναμένην τῶν εἰδέναι φασκόντων, εἰπεῖν δὲ περὶ τῶν αὐτῶν τούτων ἐν συλλόγῳ πολλῶν ἀνθρώπων ἁπασῶν ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν ἀπολελειμμένην.

Οὕτω γὰρ ἐνδεὴς ἀμφοτέρων ἐγενόμην τῶν μεγίστην δύναμιν ἐχόντων παρ’ ἡμῖν, φωνῆς ἱκανῆς καὶ τόλμης, ὡς οὐκ οἶδ’ εἴ τις ἄλλος τῶν πολιτῶν· ὧν οἱ μὴ τυχόντες ἀτιμότεροι περιέρχονται πρὸς τὸ δοκεῖν ἄξιοί τινος εἶναι τῶν ὀφειλόντων τῷ δημοσίῳ· τοῖς μὲν γὰρ ἐκτείσειν τὸ καταγνωσθὲν ἐλπίδες ὕπεισιν, οἱ δ’ οὐδέποτ’ ἂν τὴν φύσιν μεταβάλοιεν.


From the Suda:

“Isocrates said: the man who has a poor understanding of his own affairs will never provide good counsel about another’s.”

᾿Ισοκράτης εἶπεν· ὁ γὰρ φαύλως διανοηθεὶς περὶ τῶν ἰδίων, οὐδέποτεκαλῶς βουλεύσεται περὶ τῶν ἀλλοτρίων.


Suda Entry on Isocrates

“Isocrates, the son of Theodoros the flute-maker, Athenian, orator born during the 86th Olympiad, which was after the Peloponnesian Wars. Because of the weakness of his voice and his resigned character, he did not deliver forensic speeches, but he taught many and wrote 32 speeches. After living a century, he died in his 106th year. His brothers were Tisippos, Theomnestos, and Theodorus.  His teacher was Gorgias. Some claim it was Tisias or Erginos; others say it was Prodicus or Theramenes.”

᾿Ισοκράτης, Θεοδώρου αὐλοποιοῦ, ᾿Αθηναῖος, ῥήτωρ, γενόμενος ἐπὶ τῆς πϚ′ ὀλυμπιάδος, ὅ ἐστι μετὰ τὰ Πελοποννησιακά. καὶ διὰ μὲν τῆς φωνῆς τὴν ἀτονίαν καὶ τὸ ἀπαρρησίαστον δίκας οὐκ εἶπεν, ἐδίδαξε δὲ πλείστους, καὶ λόγους γέγραψε λβ′· βιώσας δὲ ἔτη Ϛ′ πρὸς τοῖς ρ′ ἐτελεύτησεν. ἀδελφοὶ δὲ αὐτῷ ἐγένοντο Τίσιππος καὶ Θεόμνη-στος καὶ Θεόδωρος· διδάσκαλος δὲ Γοργίας, οἱ δὲ Τισίαν φασίν, οἱ δὲ
᾿Εργῖνον· οἱ δὲ Πρόδικον ἔφασαν, οἱ δὲ Θηραμένην.

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