The Curious Case of Hermogenes of Tarsus: Philostratus on the Aphastic Aging Philosopher

from Philostratus’ Lives of the Philosophers, 577

“Hermogenes, whom the Tarsians produced, had advanced to so great a reputation among the sophists by the time he was fifteen years old that even Marcus [Aurelius] the Emperor had to hear him speak. So, Marcus went to listen to him and was delighted by his discourse, though he was amazed when he spoke extemporaneously and gave him valuable gifts.

But when Hermogenes reached adulthood, he lost his abilities without the cause of any obvious affliction—and this provided those who had envied him material for mockery. They used to say that words were simply “winged”, taking this up from Homer, and that Hermogenes had shed them like feathers. And Antiochus the sophist, once when he was insulting him, said “This Hermogenes was an elder among the boys, but is a child among the old men.”

Here is an example of the speech which he once cultivated. When he was speaking before Marcus, he said, “Look, I come before you, king, a speaker lacking a teacher, an orator waiting to come of age”. He said many other things in the same satirical manner. He died at an extreme old age, but was considered one of the masses, since they held him in contempt after his skill abandoned him.”

ζ′. ῾Ερμογένης δέ, ὃν Ταρσοὶ ἤνεγκαν, πεντεκαίδεκα ἔτη γεγονὼς ἐφ’ οὕτω μέγα προὔβη τῆς τῶν σοφιστῶν δόξης, ὡς καὶ Μάρκῳ βασιλεῖ παρασχεῖν ἔρωτα ἀκροάσεως· ἐβάδιζε γοῦν ἐπὶ τὴν ἀκρόασιν αὐτοῦ ὁ Μάρκος καὶ ἥσθη μὲν διαλεγομένου, ἐθαύμαζε δὲ σχεδιάζοντος, δωρεὰς δὲ λαμπρὰς ἔδωκεν. ἐς δὲ ἄνδρας ἥκων ἀφῃρέθη τὴν ἕξιν ὑπ’ οὐδεμιᾶς φανερᾶς νόσου, ὅθεν ἀστεισμοῦ λόγον παρέδωκε τοῖς βασκάνοις, ἔφασαν γὰρ τοὺς λόγους ἀτεχνῶς καθ’ ῞Ομηρον πτερόεντας εἶναι, ἀποβεβληκέναι γὰρ αὐτοὺς τὸν ῾Ερμογένην καθάπερ πτερά. καὶ ᾿Αντίοχος δὲ ὁ σοφιστὴς ἀποσκώπτων ποτὲ ἐς αὐτὸν „οὗτος” ἔφη „῾Ερμογένης, ὁ ἐν παισὶ μὲν γέρων, ἐν δὲ γηράσκουσι παῖς.” ἡ δὲ ἰδέα τοῦ λόγου, ἣν ἐπετήδευε, τοιάδε τις ἦν· ἐπὶ γὰρ τοῦ Μάρκου διαλεγόμενος „ἰδοὺ ἥκω σοι”, ἔφη „βασιλεῦ, ῥήτωρ παιδαγωγοῦ δεόμενος, ῥήτωρ ἡλικίαν περιμένων” καὶ πλείω ἕτερα διελέχθη καὶ ὧδε βωμόλοχα. ἐτελεύτα μὲν οὖν ἐν βαθεῖ γήρᾳ, εἷς δὲ τῶν πολλῶν νομιζόμενος, κατεφρονήθη γὰρ ἀπολιπούσης αὐτὸν τῆς τέχνης.