Born in Athens to a wealthy family, Isocrates was to study both under Socrates and Plato, who mentiones him in Phaedrus. He was the head of a rhetoric school in Chios during the reign of the thirty tyrants in Athens, and returned there at the age of 33.
Back in Athens he wrote speeches for lawyers, and founded a school of oratory and essay witing. Famous students of his were Hyperides, Isaeus and Lycurgus. His rivals were the Sophists.
Isocrates firmly believed the Greek city-states must unite. In his speech Panegyricos, he stated that Athens and Sparta should unite against the Persians. When this did not happen, he looked for a strong leader from the outside, and first hoped for the tyrant Dionysius of Syracusae. Dissappointed by this ruler, Isocrates then asked Philip II of Macedonia to join. When Greece lost its independence, and Athens sacked by the Macedonians, Isocrates starved himself to death at the age of 98.