This week I received the third volume of the existing corpus of the Greek rhetorician Isocrates.
With this acquisition, I have the whole published set.
On the one hand, this may seem like a very obscure victory - which, to be fair, it is. On the other, hand, at least to me, it represents something more critical.
If you have not heard of Isocrates, do not worry - up to about two years ago, when I found the first volume as a prize find in my local bookstore, I cannot say I had heard of him either, or at least remembered that I did. Which is a shame, really.
Isocrates, an Athenian and considered one of the Ten Attic Orators lived from 436 B.C. to 338 B.C. which, if you remember your Greek history, was a time of massive upheavals and changes. Just think of it: during his life (98 years) he saw the end of Periclean Athens (480 B.C. to 404 B.C.), the Peloponnesian War (431 B.C. to 404 B.C.), the Spartan Hegemony (404 B.C. to 371 B.C.), the Theban Hegemony (371 B.C. to 362 B.C.), The Third Sacred War (356 B.C. to 346 B.C.), and another eight years of unrest which finally resulted in the Battle of Chaeronea (338 B.C.), where Philip of Macedon cemented the growing power of Macedon over the Greek City States, supported by his son Alexander (whom we later encounter as Alexander the Great, conqueror of the Persian Empire). As if someone born in Germany in the 1840's lived to see the Rise of Prussia and German Empire, World War I, the Weimar Republic, and the Rise of Hitler into World War II.
Isocrates taught rhetoric, the art of speaking in the ancient world. It is believed that he did not actually present most of his speeches, but wrote them as letters or in some cases for others to read.
It is a shame, really that he has fallen out of fashion as he is a good speech writer, good enough that the first volume of his work convinced me to purchase the second and third volumes. He is good enough, i would argue, that one could read his speeches today and put to shame most of the "public speakers" we currently have. Reading his speeches gives one a flavor of his times (in one speech he calls for the unification of Greece; in another letter he writes to Philip of Macedon - it strikes me as somewhat funny that two historical figures would have some kind of letter writing relationship, even so very long ago).
That is great, you may say: you found an obscure author that you like. I am glad for you, but not really sure why this is a victory of any kind.
For me, this is a victory because it means that in some small way, the foundation of Western Civilization is preserved.
The West is no longer a people of the past. We can scarcely look beyond the last 10 years for references on how we got to where we are and how we live. We dwell in the social media, instant-internet age of the Now (not even the present). Anything that does not inform the Now is considered old, and out of date.
Be cautious lest you think that this applies to merely the old works of the Western World. In the Now's need to continue to be relevant, it will destroy anything it considers irrelevant, old, and passé. The works of today will not be seen as relevant in another ten years - they will be not "Now" enough.
This is how knowledge is lost. This is how civilizations collapse.
In my own way, I view getting and keeping these books as a practice no less relevant than the monasteries of medieval Europe preserving the texts of the past in a world that neither appreciated them not thought that they needed them - until, it turns out, they did. They probably did not think of it as anything more than the preservation of knowledge. But then again, they did not have 2,000 years of history and a realization of what a Dark Age could look like.
We, on the other hand, know better.