The Life of the Sophist Aelian: Writer, Coward, Homebody

We’ve quoted a lot on this site from the Varia Historia of Claudius Aelianus. Here’s the mixed praise delivered in his honor.

Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists 31

“Aelian was a Roman, but he used Attic just as well as the Athenians in the middle of the region. This man seems to me to be worthy of praise, first because he toiled to achieve a pure version of Greek even though he lived in a city that spoke a different language, and second because, although he was called sophist by those who flatter in this way, he did not believe them and he neither kept the same opinion of himself nor was inflated by the title—even though it is impressive—but once he examined himself well as unsuited for public speeches, he set himself to writing and earned wide respect from this. Simplicity is the overwhelming nature of the style, at times nearing the attractions of Nikostratos, at others he favors Dio and his tone.

Once Philostratos of Lemnos* met him when he had a book in hand and was reading it aloud with anger and a striking voice—he asked Aelian what he was pursuing and he answered “I have written a condemnation of Gynnis*, for that’s what I call the tyrant who has just been killed, since he shamed the Roman Empire with every type of disgusting behavior.” And Philostratus answered, “I would be more impressed if you had condemned him when he was alive!” For it takes a brave man to stand up to a living tyrant, while anyone can attack him when he’s dead.

Aelian used to say  that he had never traveled abroad anywhere outside of the Italian peninsula, and that he had never stepped on a ship or got to know the sea—for this reason he was praised in Rome on the grounds that he valued their lifestyle. He was a student of Pausanias but he respected Herodes the most varied of sophists. He lived until he was sixty years old and without children, for he avoided child-rearing by never marrying. Whether this is a blessing or a curse it is not the right time to consider.”

*Likely a relative of the Philostratus writing this Vita.

*”Womanly-Man”, for the Emperor Heliogabulus who was assassinated in 222 (and ascended to power at age 14!).

Yo, Aelian…

λα′. Αἰλιανὸς δὲ ῾Ρωμαῖος μὲν ἦν, ἠττίκιζε δέ, ὥσπερ οἱ ἐν τῇ μεσογείᾳ ᾿Αθηναῖοι. ἐπαίνου μοι δοκεῖ ἄξιος ὁ ἀνὴρ οὗτος, πρῶτον μέν, ἐπειδὴ καθαρὰν φωνὴν ἐξεπόνησε πόλιν οἰκῶν ἑτέρᾳ φωνῇ χρωμένην, ἔπειθ’, ὅτι προσρηθεὶς σοφιστὴς ὑπὸ τῶν χαριζομένων τὰ τοιαῦτα οὐκ ἐπίστευσεν, οὐδὲ ἐκολάκευσε τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γνώμην, οὐδὲ ἐπήρθη ὑπὸ τοῦ ὀνόματος οὕτω μεγάλου ὄντος, ἀλλ’ ἑαυτὸν εὖ διασκεψάμενος ὡς μελέτῃ οὐκ ἐπιτήδειον τῷ ξυγγράφειν ἐπέθετο καὶ ἐθαυμάσθη ἐκ τούτου. ἡ μὲν ἐπίπαν ἰδέα τοῦ ἀνδρὸς ἀφέλεια προσβάλλουσά τι τῆς Νικοστράτου ὥρας, ἡ δὲ ἐνίοτε, πρὸς Δίωνα ὁρᾷ καὶ τὸν ἐκείνου τόνον.

᾿Εντυχὼν δέ ποτε αὐτῷ Φιλόστρατος ὁ Λήμνιος  βιβλίον ἔτι πρόχειρον ἔχοντι καὶ ἀναγιγνώσκοντιαὐτὸ σὺν ὀργῇ καὶ ἐπιτάσει τοῦ φθέγματος ἤρετο αὐτόν, ὅ τι σπουδάζοι, καὶ ὃς „ἐκπεπόνηταί μοι” ἔφη „κατηγορία τοῦ Γύννιδος, καλῶ γὰρ οὕτω τὸν ἄρτι καθῃρημένον τύραννον, ἐπειδὴ ἀσελγείᾳ πάσῃ τὰ ῾Ρωμαίων ᾔσχυνε.” καὶ ὁ Φιλόστρατος „ἐγώ σε” εἶπεν „ἐθαύμαζον ἄν, εἰ ζῶντος κατηγόρησας”. εἶναι γὰρ δὴ τὸ μὲν ζῶντα τύραννον ἐπικόπτειν ἀνδρός, τὸ δὲ ἐπεμβαίνειν κειμένῳ παντός.

῎Εφασκε δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ οὗτος μηδ’ ἀποδεδημηκέναι ποι τῆς γῆς ὑπὲρ τὴν ᾿Ιταλῶν χώραν, μηδὲ ἐμβῆναι ναῦν, μηδὲ γνῶναι θάλατταν, ὅθεν καὶ λόγου πλείνος κατὰ τὴν ῾Ρώμην ἠξιοῦτο ὡς τιμῶν τὰ ἤθη. Παυσανίου μὲν οὖν ἀκροατὴς ἐγένετο, ἐθαύμαζε δὲ τὸν ῾Ηρώδην ὡς ποικιλώτατον ῥητόρων. ἐβίω δὲ ὑπὲρ τὰ ἑξήκοντα ἔτη καὶ ἐτελεύτα οὐκ ἐπὶ παισίν,  παιδοποιίαν γὰρ παρῃτήσατο τῷ μὴ γῆμαί ποτε. τοῦτο δὲ εἴτε εὔδαιμον εἴτε ἄθλιον οὐ τοῦ παρόντος καιροῦ φιλοσοφῆσαι.

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