“I hear You’re a Lover of Learning”: An Unlikely Letter to a Leader

Isocrates, Letter to Alexander, 5

“I hear everyone saying how you are a man of goodwill to humanity and lover of learning, not foolishly so, but in practical fashion. For they add that you welcome some of our citizens who have not neglected themselves by pursuing base interests but those in whose presence you would not feel any grief by staying and whose alliance and shared goals would bring you neither harm nor injustice. Indeed, these are the sorts of men wise people should choose to be near.

When it comes to schools of philosophy, people report that you do not despise the practice of eristic argumentation, which you think is right to value in individual conversations, you do think that it is not proper for those in charge of many people or those who rule in monarchies. For, it is not advantageous or proper for those who think that they are greater than others to strive with politicians on their own or to allow others to disagree with them.

I hear that you do not take pleasure in this training, but instead have selected for yourself education about arguments which you might use in response to events which transpire on any given day and which help us us make plans about common affairs. Through this, it is possible to form an appropriate opinion about what will happen in the future and to give commands competently to the people you rule as to what is best for each person to do, you will learn how to make good judgments about what is right and just and opposite to both. In addition, you will learn when to honor and criticize as is fitting for each group.

You are wise, then, in showing concern for these things. For you provide hope to your father and the rest that, as you get older if you persist in these studies, you will outpace others as far in prudence as your father has surpassed all people [in war].”


Ἀκούω δέ σε πάντων λεγόντων ὡς φιλάνθρωπος εἶ καὶ φιλαθήναιος καὶ φιλόσοφος, οὐκ ἀφρόνως ἀλλὰ νοῦν ἐχόντως. τῶν τε γὰρ πολιτῶν ἀποδέχεσθαί σε τῶν ἡμετέρων οὐ τοὺς ἠμεληκότας αὑτῶν καὶ πονηρῶν πραγμάτων ἐπιθυμοῦντας, ἀλλ᾿ οἷς συνδιατρίβων τ᾿ οὐκ ἂν λυπηθείης, συμβάλλων τε καὶ κοινωνῶν πραγμάτων οὐδὲν ἂν βλαβείης οὐδ᾿ ἀδικηθείης, οἵοις περ χρὴ πλησιάζειν τοὺς εὖ φρονοῦντας· τῶν τε φιλοσοφιῶν οὐκ ἀποδοκιμάζειν μὲν οὐδὲ τὴν περὶ τὰς ἔριδας, ἀλλὰ νομίζειν εἶναι πλεονεκτικὴν ἐν ταῖς ἰδίαις διατριβαῖς, οὐ μὴν ἁρμόττειν οὔτε τοῖς τοῦ πλήθους προεστῶσιν οὔτε τοῖς τὰς μοναρχίας ἔχουσιν· οὐδὲ γὰρ συμφέρον οὐδὲ πρέπον ἐστὶ τοῖς μεῖζον τῶν ἄλλων φρονοῦσιν οὔτ᾿ αὐτοῖς ἐρίζειν πρὸς τοὺς συμπολιτευομένους οὔτε τοῖς ἄλλοις ἐπιτρέπειν πρὸς αὑτοὺς ἀντιλέγειν.

Ταύτην μὲν οὖν οὐκ ἀγαπᾶν σε τὴν διατριβήν, προαιρεῖσθαι δὲ τὴν παιδείαν τὴν περὶ τοὺς λόγους, οἷς χρώμεθα περὶ τὰς πράξεις τὰς προσπιπτούσας καθ᾿ ἑκάστην τὴν ἡμέραν καὶ μεθ᾿ ὧν βουλευόμεθα περὶ τῶν κοινῶν· δι᾿ ἣν νῦν τε δοξάζειν περὶ τῶν μελλόντων ἐπιεικῶς, τοῖς τ᾿ ἀρχομένοις προστάττειν οὐκ ἀνοήτως ἃ δεῖ πράττειν ἑκάστους, ἐπιστήσει, περὶ δὲ τῶν καλῶν καὶ δικαίων καὶ τῶν τούτοις ἐναντίων ὀρθῶς κρίνειν, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις τιμᾶν τε καὶ κολάζειν ὡς προσῆκόν ἐστιν ἑκατέρους. σωφρονεῖς οὖν νῦν ταῦτα μελετῶν· ἐλπίδας γὰρ τῷ τε πατρὶ καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις παρέχεις, ὡς, ἂν πρεσβύτερος γενόμενος ἐμμείνῃς τούτοις, τοσοῦτον προέξεις τῇ φρονήσει τῶν ἄλλων, ὅσον περ ὁ πατήρ σου διενήνοχεν ἁπάντων

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