Isocrates on the Power of Homeric Poetry

Isocrates, To Nicocles 48-50

“But this is clear: those who wish to compose or write anything that is cherished popularly need to seek out not the most beneficial types of speech but the most mythical. For people take pleasure in listening to these types of tales and when they witness contests and struggles.  For this reason, it is right to wonder at the poetry of Homer and the first tragedians—because they recognize human nature, they have imbued their poetry with both of these powers. Homer has told tales of the struggles and wars of the demigods while the tragedians have worked the myths into competitions and actions so that we are not just listeners but eyewitnesses as well. Given these types of prior examples, then, it is necessary that those who desire to keep our attention should avoid warning and counseling and should focus instead on those things which they know effectively pleases the crowd.”

᾿Εκεῖνο δ’ οὖν φανερὸν, ὅτι δεῖ τοὺς βουλομένους ἢ ποιεῖν ἢ γράφειν τι κεχαρισμένον τοῖς πολλοῖς μὴ τοὺς ὠφελιμωτάτους τῶν λόγων ζητεῖν, ἀλλὰ τοὺς μυθωδεστάτους· ἀκούοντες μὲν γὰρ τῶν τοιούτων χαίρουσιν, θεωροῦντες δὲ τοὺς ἀγῶνας καὶ τὰς ἁμίλλας. Διὸ καὶ τὴν ῾Ομήρου ποίησιν καὶ τοὺς πρώτους εὑρόντας τραγῳδίαν ἄξιον θαυμάζειν, ὅτι κατιδόντες τὴν φύσιν τὴν τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀμφοτέραις ταῖς ἰδέαις ταύταις κατεχρήσαντο πρὸς τὴν ποίησιν. ῾Ο μὲν γὰρ τοὺς ἀγῶνας καὶ τοὺς πολέμους τοὺς τῶν ἡμιθέων ἐμυθολόγησεν, οἱ δὲ τοὺς μύθους εἰς ἀγῶνας καὶ πράξεις κατέστησαν, ὥστε μὴ μόνον ἀκουστοὺς ἡμῖν ἀλλὰ καὶ θεατοὺς γενέσθαι. Τοιούτων οὖν παραδειγμάτων ὑπαρχόντων δέδεικται τοῖς ἐπιθυμοῦσιν τοὺς ἀκροωμένους ψυχαγωγεῖν ὅτι τοῦ μὲν νουθετεῖν καὶ συμβουλεύειν ἀφεκτέον, τὰ δὲ τοιαῦτα λεκτέον, οἷς ὁρῶσι τοὺς ὄχλους μάλιστα χαίροντας.



Panegyricus 159

“I suspect that even Homer’s poetry acquired a greater reputation because he gloriously promoted the men who fought against the barbarians and thanks to this our forefathers made his art honored in our musical competitions and in the education of the youth so that by hearing his poems often we might learn the ancient enmity towards them and, because we admire the excellence of those who went to war, we might pursue the same deeds.”

Οἶμαι δὲ καὶ τὴν ῾Ομήρου  ποίησιν μείζω λαβεῖν δόξαν ὅτι καλῶς τοὺς πολεμήσαντας τοῖς βαρβάροις ἐνεκωμίασεν καὶ διὰ τοῦτο βουληθῆναι τοὺς προγόνους ἡμῶν ἔντιμον αὐτοῦ ποιῆσαι τὴν τέχνην ἔν τε τοῖς τῆς μουσικῆς ἄθλοις καὶ τῇ παιδεύσει τῶν νεωτέρων, ἵνα πολλάκις ἀκούοντες τῶν ἐπῶν ἐκμανθάνωμεν τὴν ἔχθραν τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν πρὸς αὐτοὺς καὶ ζηλοῦντες τὰς ἀρετὰς τῶν στρατευσαμένων τῶν αὐτῶν ἔργων ἐκείνοις ἐπιθυμῶμεν.

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