Polemon The Sophist Was Rather Impolite (Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists 535)

“Once when an actor of tragedy from the Olympian games in Asia presided over by Polemon, promised to sue him because he had kicked him out at the beginning of his play, the Emperor [Marcus Aurelius] asked the actor what time it was when this happed. When the actor said that it occurred around midday, the Emperor responded wittily: “Well he kicked me out of his house in the middle of the night and I didn’t sue him.”

Let these details be a clear sign of both a mild emperor and an arrogant man. Polemon was so conceited that he talked to cities as if they were beneath him, to rulers as if they were not above him and to gods as if an equal.

When he gave a performance of improvised speeches to the Athenians upon his first visit to the city, he did not deign to offer praise for the city even though there are many things which one might say on Athens’ behalf. Nor did he expatiate on his own fame, even though this approach often benefitted sophists in their performances. No, because he knew well that it was natural for Athenians to need to be restrained rather than be encouraged, he spoke as follows: “They say that you, Athenians, are wise audiences of speeches. I will test this.”

And when a man, who ruled the Bosporus and was outfitted with all types of Greek learning, came to Smyrna to learn about Ionia, Polemon not only failed to take his place among the attendants, but he put the man off frequently even when he requested an audience until he forced the lord to come to his own house carrying a payment of ten talents.

When he arrived in Pergamon, because he was sick in his joints, he convalesced in a temple. When Asclepius appeared to him and advised him to refrain from cold drinks, Polemon said, “Dear man, what if you were tending to a cow?”

ὑποκριτοῦ δὲ τραγῳδίας ἀπὸ τῶν κατὰ τὴν ᾿Ασίαν ᾿Ολυμπίων, οἷς ἐπεστάτει ὁ Πολέμων, ἐφιέναι φήσαντος, ἐξελαθῆναι γὰρ παρ’ αὐτοῦ κατ’ ἀρχὰς τοῦ δράματος, ἤρετο ὁ αὐτοκράτωρ τὸν ὑποκριτήν, πηνίκα εἴη, ὅτε τῆς σκηνῆς ἠλάθη, τοῦ δὲ εἰπόντος, ὡς μεσημβρία τυγχάνοι οὖσα, μάλα ἀστείως ὁ αὐτοκράτωρ „ἐμὲ δὲ” εἶπεν „ἀμφὶ μέσας νύκτας ἐξήλασε τῆς οἰκίας, καὶ οὐκ ἐφῆκα.”

᾿Εχέτω μοι [καὶ] ταῦτα δήλωσιν βασιλέως τε πρᾴου καὶ ἀνδρὸς ὑπέρφρονος. ὑπέρφρων γὰρ δὴ οὕτω τι ὁ Πολέμων, ὡς πόλεσι μὲν ἀπὸ τοῦ προὔχοντος, δυνασταῖς δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ μὴ ὑφειμένου, θεοῖς δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ ἴσου διαλέγεσθαι. ᾿Αθηναίοις μὲν γὰρ ἐπιδεικνύμενος αὐτοσχεδίους λόγους, ὅτε καὶ πρῶτον ᾿Αθήναζε ἀφίκετο, οὐκ ἐς ἐγκώμια κατέστησεν ἑαυτὸν τοῦ ἄστεος, τοσούτων ὄντων, ἅ τις ὑπὲρ ᾿Αθηναίων ἂν εἴποι, οὐδ’ ὑπὲρ τῆς ἑαυτοῦ δόξης ἐμακρηγόρησε, καίτοι καὶ τῆς τοιᾶσδε ἰδέας ὠφελούσης τοὺς σοφιστὰς ἐν ταῖς ἐπιδείξεσιν, ἀλλ’ εὖ γιγνώσκων, ὅτι τὰς ᾿Αθηναίων φύσεις ἐπικόπτειν χρὴ μᾶλλον ἢ ἐπαίρειν διελέχθη ὧδε· „φασὶν ὑμᾶς, ὦ ᾿Αθηναῖοι, σοφοὺς εἶναι ἀκροατὰς λόγων· εἴσομαι.” ἀνδρὸς δέ, ὃς ἦρχε μὲν Βοσπόρου, πᾶσαν δὲ ῾Ελληνικὴν παίδευσιν ἥρμοστο, καθ’ ἱστορίαν τῆς ᾿Ιωνίας ἐς τὴν Σμύρναν ἥκοντος οὐ μόνον οὐκ ἔταξεν ἑαυτὸν ἐν τοῖς θεραπεύουσιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ δεομένου ξυνεῖναί οἱ θαμὰ ἀνεβάλλετο, ἕως ἠνάγκασε τὸν βασιλέα ἐπὶ θύρας ἀφικέσθαι ἀπάγοντα μισθοῦ δέκα τάλαντα. ἥκων δὲ ἐς τὸ Πέργαμον, ὅτε δὴ τὰ ἄρθρα ἐνόσει, κατέδαρθε μὲν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ, ἐπιστάντος δὲ αὐτῷ τοῦ ᾿Ασκληπιοῦ καὶ προειπόντος ἀπέχεσθαι ψυχροῦ ποτοῦ ὁ Πολέμων „βέλτιστε,” εἶπεν „εἰ δὲ βοῦν ἐθεράπευες;”

I must confess that I couldn’t convey Polemo’s nastiness to the Athenians well enough in the translation. In addition, I really don’t know what is going on with his comments to Asclepius.

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