Philosophy, rhetoric, and cultural memory: Rereading Plato’s Menexenus and Isocrates’ Panegyricus

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The rivalry between Plato and Isocrates has begun to receive scholarly attention, primarily because both Plato and Isocrates used the term philosophia to describe their occupation. However, the efforts to distinguish their respective uses and definitions of the term typically ignore the performative dimension of both Plato’s and Isocrates’ writings and their relationship with other discourses of Athenian public culture. This essay argues that both Plato and Isocrates constructed the domain of philosophy by performing the speech genres constitutive of Greek cultural memory. To support this claim, I offer a reading of Plato’s Menexenus and Isocrates’ Panegyricus, both of which were crafted in response to the same historical event, the Peace of Antalkidas. The essay demonstrates the distinct ways in which Plato and Isocrates appropriated generic conventions of the Athenian funeral oration and panegyric in order to construct the identity of a “philosopher” vis‐à‐vis his polis and to model the relationship between students of “philosophy” and discourses of their culture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-45
Number of pages21
JournalRhetoric Society Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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