Philostratus – Greek Sophist of Roman Imperial Period

Philostratus or Lucius Flavius Philostratus was a Greek sophist of the Roman imperial period and called “the Athenian”. His father was a minor sophist of the same name. 

Philostratus was born probably around 170 and is said by the Suda to have been living in the reign of emperor Philip the Arab (244–249). His death possibly occurred in Tyre c. 250 AD.

Name and Identity

The praenomen Flavius is given in The Lives of the Sophists and Tzetzes. Eunapius and Synesius call him a Lemnian; Photius a Tyrian; his letters refer to him as an Athenian.

He was probably born in Lemnos, studied and taught at Athens, and then settled in Rome as a member of the learned circle with which empress Julia Domna surrounded herself.

Works Of Philostratus

Philostratus authored at least five works: 

Another work called Imagines (Εἰκόνες) is usually assigned to his son-in-law Philostratus of Lemnos.

Heroicus By Philostratus

Heroicus is in the form of a dialogue between a Phoenician traveler and a vine-tender or groundskeeper regarding Protesilaus (or “Protosilaos”), the first Achaean warrior to be killed at the siege of Troy, as described in the Iliad. 

The dialogue unfolds into a conversation and critique of Homer’s presentation of heroes and gods, based on the greater authority of the dead Protosileus, who lives after death and communicates with the ampelourgos. Heroicus includes Achilles’ “Ode to Echo”.

Life of Apollonius of Tyana

Life of Apollonius of Tyana tells the story of Apollonius of Tyana, a Pythagorean philosopher and teacher. Philostratus authored the book for Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus and mother of Caracalla. The book was completed after her death.

Lives of the Sophists

Lives of the Sophists is a semi-biographical history of the Greek sophists. It is devoted to a consul Antonius Gordianus, maybe one of the two Gordians who were killed in 238. 

The work is split into two parts: 

  • the first dealing with the ancient Sophists, e.g. Gorgias, 
  • the second with the later school, e.g. Herodes Atticus. 

It is a dramatic impressions of leading representatives of an attitude of mind full of curiosity, alert and versatile, but lacking scientific method, preferring the external excellence of style and manner to the solid achievements of serious writing. The philosopher, as he says, investigates truth; the sophist exaggerates it and takes it for granted.

About other works of Philostratus

Gymnasticus contains accounts regarding the Olympic Games and athletic contests in general.

Epistolae, or Love Letters, breathe the spirit of the New Comedy and the Alexandrine poets; portions of Letter 33 are nearly directly translated in Ben Jonson’s Song to Celia, “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes.” The letters are mainly erotic. Their publication date is unknown.

Internal evidence proves that the authors of Life of Apollonius and Lives of the Sophists are the same. The Lives of the Sophists was to have an immense impact upon later writers, notably Neoplatonists.

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