Isocrates, Antidosis

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As a former gymnast I can attest to the fact that philosophy is much like mental version of this sport. The different theories are like the different aspects of a complicated move: Hundreds of push-ups at one time prepare the shoulders. Months of drills on the wooden bar rip the hands until they build enough calluses to permanently prevent them from bleeding mid-swing. Strengthening the abdominals and constant attention to keeping the legs straight mold the body into feeling as though strong, long, and straight lines are its natural form. Each one of these steps is grueling and painful until the body builds enough muscle to master it with a level of ease that still makes it work. Put them all together, and a gymnast can mount a set of uneven bars with merely the pull of her shoulders and the momentum of her body in one swift movement.

This reading depressed me a little bit, however. His claim that teachers “can contribute in some degree to these results, but these powers are never found in their perfection save in those who excel by virtue both of talent and of training” (185) exacerbates some of my anxiety over learning rhetoric well. It is a confusing and complex multi-faceted subject which often makes me feel like I have no natural talent for it. Does that mean I should drop out of this program? Does that mean that I will always have to struggle to make it sound like I know what I’m talking about? Even more importantly, does that mean that I will be an inadequate teacher?

Oration, getting ones ideas out clearly, eloquently, and confidently is an important part of teaching. This too, is something that I struggle with. I know for a fact that I have absolutely no natural aptitude for oration. When I do have to speak in front of an audience, it is a highly stressful and awkward time for me. Isocrates says that if anyone is “excel in oratory or in managing affairs or in any line of work, they must, first of all, have a natural aptitude for that which they have elected to do; secondly, they must submit to training and master the knowledge of their particular subject, whatever it may be in each case; and, finally, they must become versed and practised in the use and application of their art; for only on these conditions can they become fully competent and pre-eminent in any line of endeavor” (187).

So, if all I can do is work and practice at my art, then will my inadequacy only harm my future students? What about the fact that Isocrates evidently was not a master orator himself, yet he is trying to tell his audience how to be one (190)? Maybe part of his philosophy should include, “Those who can’t do teach” ? He evidently thinks himself qualified to point out what good and bad oration is. Is that because he knows what good oration is, or because he knows what bad oration is? Could teaching be the passing on of remedied mistakes and not just the passing on of knowledge?

Mariana Abuan

1 comment for “Isocrates, Antidosis

  1. mcalou
    March 1, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Mariana, I liked the comparison of rhetoric to gymnastics. If you re-read your description of gymnastics training, then how would you answer this question: were you naturally talented at gymnastics? The fact that you are in a graduate program attests to the fact that you have quite a bit of aptitude for writing. I think you lack confidence in your scholastic abilities. Hang in there, the fact that you are asking the questions you did in your commentary prove that you’ll be a good teacher.
    Mike Calou

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