Philostratus or Lucius Flavius Philostratus , (ca. 170/172-247/250), called "the Athenian", was a Greek sophist of the Roman imperial period
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

. His father was a minor sophist of the same name. He was born probably around 172, and is said by the Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

to have been living in the reign of emperor Philip the Arab
Philip the Arab
Philip the Arab , also known as Philip or Philippus Arabs, was Roman Emperor from 244 to 249. He came from Syria, and rose to become a major figure in the Roman Empire. He achieved power after the death of Gordian III, quickly negotiating peace with the Sassanid Empire...

 (244-249). His death possibly occurred in Tyre ca. 250 AD.

Name and identity

Some ambiguity surrounds his name. The praenom Flavius is given in The Lives of the Sophists and Tzetzes. Eunapius
Eunapius was a Greek sophist and historian of the 4th century. His principal surviving work is the Lives of the Sophists, a collection of the biographies of twenty-three philosophers and sophists.-Life:He was born at Sardis, AD 347...

 and Synesius
Synesius , a Greek bishop of Ptolemais in the Libyan Pentapolis after 410, was born of wealthy parents, who claimed descent from Spartan kings, at Balagrae near Cyrene between 370 and 375.-Life:...

 call him a Lemnian; Photius a Tyrian; his letters refer to him as an Athenian.

It is probable that he was born in Lemnos
Lemnos is an island of Greece in the northern part of the Aegean Sea. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within the Lemnos peripheral unit, which is part of the North Aegean Periphery. The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality is Myrina...

, studied and taught at Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, and then settled in Rome (where he would naturally be called Atheniensis) as a member of the learned circle with which empress Julia Domna surrounded herself.

Works attributed to Philostratus

Historians agree that Philostratus authored at minimum five works: Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Lives of the Sophists, Gymnasticus, Heroicus and Epistolae. Another work, Imagines
Imagines (work by Philostratus)
Imagines is a work in Ancient Greek in two volumes describing and explaining various artworks. The first volume is generally attributed to Philostratus of Lemnos, or possibly to his more famous father-in-law Philostratus of Athens. The second volume is by the grandson of Philostratus of Lemnos,...

, is usually assigned to his son-in-law Philostratus of Lemnos
Philostratus of Lemnos
Philostratus of Lemnos , also known as Philostratus the Elder to distinguish him from Philostratus the Younger who was also from Lemnos, was a Greek sophist of the Roman imperial period...


The earliest of his works, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, written between 217 and 238 AD, tells the story of Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius of Tyana was a Greek Neopythagorean philosopher from the town of Tyana in the Roman province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor. Little is certainly known about him...

 (ca. 40—ca. 120 AD), a Pythagorean
Pythagoreanism was the system of esoteric and metaphysical beliefs held by Pythagoras and his followers, the Pythagoreans, who were considerably influenced by mathematics. Pythagoreanism originated in the 5th century BCE and greatly influenced Platonism...

 philosopher and teacher. Philostratus wrote the book for Julia Domna
Julia Domna
Julia Domna was a member of the Severan dynasty of the Roman Empire. Empress and wife of Roman Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus and mother of Emperors Geta and Caracalla, Julia was among the most important women ever to exercise power behind the throne in the Roman Empire.- Family background...

, wife of Septimus Severus and mother of Caracalla
Caracalla , was Roman emperor from 198 to 217. The eldest son of Septimius Severus, he ruled jointly with his younger brother Geta until he murdered the latter in 211...

. The book was completed after her death.

Lives of the Sophists, written between 231 and 237 AD, is a semi-biographical history of the Greek sophists. The book is dedicated to a consul Antonius Gordianus, perhaps one of the two Gordians
Gordian I
Gordian I , was Roman Emperor for one month with his son Gordian II in 238, the Year of the Six Emperors. Caught up in a rebellion against the Emperor Maximinus Thrax, he was defeated by forces loyal to Maximinus before committing suicide.-Early life:...

 who were killed in 238. The work is divided into two parts: the first dealing with the ancient Sophists, e.g. Gorgias
Gorgias ,Greek sophist, pre-socratic philosopher and rhetorician, was a native of Leontini in Sicily. Along with Protagoras, he forms the first generation of Sophists. Several doxographers report that he was a pupil of Empedocles, although he would only have been a few years younger...

, the second with the later school, e.g. Herodes Atticus
Herodes Atticus
Lucius Vibullius Hipparchus Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes, otherwise known as Herodes Atticus was a very distinguished, rich Greek aristocrat who served as a Roman Senator and a Sophist. He is notable as a proponent in the Second Sophistic by Philostratus.-Ancestry and Family:Herodes Atticus...

. The Lives are not in the true sense biographical, but rather picturesque 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 embellishes it, and takes it for granted.

Gymnasticus, written after 220 AD, contains accounts concerning the Olympic games
Olympic Games
The Olympic Games is a major international event featuring summer and winter sports, in which thousands of athletes participate in a variety of competitions. The Olympic Games have come to be regarded as the world’s foremost sports competition where more than 200 nations participate...

 and athletic contents in general.

Epistolae, or Love Letters, are letters of an erotic character. The Letters breathe the spirit of the New Comedy and the Alexandrine poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

s; portions of Letter 33 are almost literally translated in Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

's Song to Celia, "Drink to me only with thine eyes." The letters are mainly of an erotic character. Their publication date is unknown.

Internal evidence confirms that the authors of Life of Apollonius and Lives of the Sophists are one and the same. The Lives of the Sophists was to have an enormous impact upon later writers, particularly Neoplatonists.

Further reading

  • Alciphron, Aelian, and Philostratus, The Letters. Translated by A. R. Benner, F. H. Fobes. 1949. Loeb Classical Library. ISBN 9780674994218
  • Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists. Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists. Translated by Wilmer C. Wright. 1921. Loeb Classical Library. ISBN 9780674991491
  • Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyana. 3 volumes. Translated by Christopher P. Jones. 2005-6. Loeb Classical Library. ISBN 9780674996137, ISBN 9780674996144, and ISBN 9780674996175
  • Côté, Dominique. "La figure d’Eschine dans les Vies des sophistes de Philostrate", Cahiers des études anciennes 42 (2005), p. 389-420.
  • Côté, Dominique. "Les deux sophistiques de Philostrate", Rhetorica 24 (2006), 1-35.
  • Bowie, Ewen and Jaś Elsner (edd.). Philostratus. Greek culture in the Roman world (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

External links

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