Antiphon of Rhamnos–Good Man or Bad Man? Philostratus Doesn’t Know

From the Lives of the Sophists 498

“I don’t know if Anitphon of Rhamnos should be called a good man or a bad one. He may be called good for the following reasons: he was a general many times and was victorious for the most part, increasing the Athenian fleet with sixty fully-equipped triremes. He seemed to be the most capable of men at speaking and reasoning. For these reasons, he merits praise from me or any other. But he rightly appears a wicked man on these counts: He destroyed the democracy, he enslaved the Athenian people, he was a friend to the Spartans, at first secretly but later in the open, and he foisted upon the Athenian state the constitution of the Four-hundred Tyrants.”

᾿Αντιφῶντα δὲ τὸν ῾Ραμνούσιον οὐκ οἶδ’, εἴτε χρηστὸν δεῖ προσειπεῖν, εἴτε φαῦλον. χρηστὸς μὲν γὰρ προσειρήσθω διὰ τάδε· ἐστρατήγησε πλεῖστα, ἐνίκησε πλεῖστα, ἑξήκοντα τριήρεσι πεπληρωμέναις ηὔξησεν ᾿Αθηναίοις τὸ ναυτικόν, ἱκανώτατος ἀνθρώπων ἔδοξεν εἰπεῖν τε καὶ γνῶναι· διὰ μὲν δὴ ταῦτα ἐμοί τε ἐπαινετέος καὶ ἑτέρῳ. κακὸς δ’ ἂν εἰκότως διὰ τάδε φαίνοιτο· κατέλυσε τὴν δημοκρατίαν, ἐδού-λωσε τὸν ᾿Αθηναίων δῆμον, ἐλακώνισε κατ’ ἀρχὰς μὲν ἀφανῶς, ὕστερον δ’ ἐπιδήλως, τυράννων τετρακοσίων δῆμον ἐπαφῆκε τοῖς ᾿Αθηναίων πράγμασιν.

I don’t know, Philostratus, whether or not I should consider this opening a purely rhetorical question or not. On the one hand, you do well in the creation of your dichotomy, but on the other hand, the merits of the case seem to render this grammatical balance rather false and forced.  Perhaps add the teaching of Thucydides into the mix?

Protagoras of Abdera, Agnostic and Behavioral Economist? (Philostratus, Vita Sophist. 495-6)

“Protagoras of Abdera, the sophist, was also a follower of Democritus at home; and he spent time among the Persian magi as well when Xerxes invaded Greece. His father Maiandros had acquired more wealth than most in Thrace; he entertained Xerxes at his home and used gifts to ensure an audience for his son with the magi. The Persian magi do not teach even Persians unless the king says so.

It seems to me that when Protagoras used to say that he was whether there were gods on not he was borrowing it from the Persian education. For the magi worship the gods in the acts they perform secretly, but they do not confess open belief in the divine because they do not wish to seem to derive power from them. For saying this, Protagoras was exiled from all the lands under Athens’ power, after he was convicted according to some in a trial, but according to others there was a vote without a trial. He moved from shore to shore among the islands, all while watching out for Athenian triremes which were spread in every part of the sea. He drowned while sailing in a small skiff.

He was the first to give a lecture for a fee and as the first to give to the Greeks a practice which should not be criticized, since we pursue those things we paid for more eagerly than we welcome whatever comes free. Plato believed that while Protagoras spoke with dignity, he obscured himself with his dignity and was somewhat more verbose than was fit, and he characterized the type of man he was by using a long myth.”

[The last bit is a reference to Protagoras 349a and Gorgias 530c]

Πρωταγόρας δὲ ὁ ᾿Αβδηρίτης σοφιστὴς καὶ Δημοκρίτου μὲν ἀκροατὴς οἴκοι ἐγένετο, ὡμίλησε δὲ καὶ τοῖς ἐκ Περσῶν μάγοις κατὰ τὴν Ξέρξου ἐπὶ τὴν ῾Ελλάδα ἔλασιν. πατὴρ γὰρ ἦν αὐτῷ Μαίανδρος πλούτῳ κατεσκευασμένος παρὰ πολλοὺς τῶν ἐν τῇ Θρᾴκῃ, δεξάμενος δὲ καὶ τὸν Ξέρξην οἰκίᾳ τε καὶ δώροις τὴν ξυνουσίαν τῶν μάγων τῷ παιδὶ παρ’ αὐτοῦ εὕρετο. οὐ γὰρ παιδεύουσι τοὺς μὴ Πέρσας Πέρσαι μάγοι, ἢν μὴ ὁ βασιλεὺς ἐφῇ. τὸ δὲ ἀπορεῖν φάσκειν, εἴτε εἰσὶ θεοί, εἴτε οὐκ εἰσί, δοκεῖ μοι Πρωταγόρας ἐκ τῆς Περσικῆς παιδεύσεως παρανομῆσαι· μάγοι γὰρ ἐπιθειάζουσι μὲν οἷς ἀφανῶς δρῶσι, τὴν δὲ ἐκ φανεροῦ δόξαν τοῦ θείου καταλύουσιν οὐ βουλόμενοι δοκεῖν παρ’ αὐτοῦ δύνασθαι. διὰ μὲν δὴ τοῦτο πάσης γῆς ὑπὸ ᾿Αθηναίων ἠλάθη, ὡς μέν τινες, κριθείς, ὡς δὲ ἐνίοις δοκεῖ, ψήφου ἐπενεχθείσης μὴ κριθέντι. νήσους δὲ ἐξ ἠπείρων ἀμείβων καὶ τὰς ᾿Αθηναίων τριήρεις φυλαττόμενος πάσαις θαλάτταις ἐνεσπαρμένας κατέδυ πλέων ἐν ἀκατίῳ μικρῷ.

Τὸ δὲ μισθοῦ διαλέγεσθαι πρῶτος εὗρε, πρῶτος δὲ παρέδωκεν ῞Ελλησι πρᾶγμα οὐ μεμπτόν, ἃ γὰρ σὺν δαπάνῃ σπουδάζομεν, μᾶλλον ἀσπαζόμεθα τῶν προῖκα. γνοὺς δὲ τὸν Πρωταγόραν ὁ Πλάτων σεμνῶς μὲν ἑρμηνεύοντα, ἐνυπτιάζοντα δὲ τῇ σεμνότητι καί που καὶ μακρολογώτερον τοῦ συμμέτρου, τὴν ἰδέαν αὐτοῦ μύθῳ μακρῷ ἐχαρακτήρισεν.

Favorinus Was A Hermaphrodite Tried for Adultery (Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists 489)

While waiting for students to come to office hours today (and they never did), I was reading Philostratus’ Lives of the Sophists and came across the following anecdote about the sophist Favorinus.

“Similarly, eloquence enrolled Favorinus among the ranks of the sophists. He was one who came from the Gauls in the west, from the city of Arelatus [Arles] near the Eridanus river [the Rhone]. He was born double-formed, that is, a hermaphrodite, and this was clear also in his appearance since his face was beardless as he grew old. It was also clear from his voice—it sounded high-pitched, thin, and shrill, the type of voice nature fits to eunuchs. But he was so hot about sex that he incurred a charge of adultery from a man of consular rank. Despite the fact that he argued with the emperor Hadrian, he suffered no ill. For this reason he used to prophesy that his life had these three paradoxes: Even though he was from Gaul, he lived as a Greek; even though he was a eunuch, he had been to court for adultery; and he had fought with a king and lived….”

῾Ομοίως καὶ Φαβωρῖνον τὸν φιλόσοφον ἡ εὐγλωττία ἐν σοφισταῖς ἐκήρυττεν. ἦν μὲν γὰρ τῶν ἑσπερίων Γαλατῶν οὗτος, ᾿Αρελάτου πόλεως, ἣ ἐπὶ ᾿Ηριδανῷ ποταμῷ ᾤκισται, διφυὴς δὲ ἐτέχθη καὶ ἀνδρόθηλυς, καὶ τοῦτο ἐδηλοῦτο μὲν καὶ παρὰ τοῦ εἴδους, ἀγενείως γὰρ τοῦ προσώπου καὶ γηράσκων εἶχεν, ἐδηλοῦτο δὲ καὶ τῷ φθέγματι, ὀξυηχὲς γὰρ ἠκούετο καὶ λεπτὸν καὶ ἐπίτονον, ὥσπερ ἡ φύσις τοὺς εὐνούχους ἥρμοκεν. θερμὸς δὲ οὕτω τις ἦν τὰ ἐρωτικά, ὡς καὶ μοιχοῦ λαβεῖν αἰτίαν ἐξ ἀνδρὸς ὑπάτου. διαφορᾶς δὲ αὐτῷ πρὸς ᾿Αδριανὸν βασιλέα γενομένης οὐδὲν ἔπαθεν. ὅθεν ὡς παράδοξα ἐπεχρησμῴδει τῷ ἑαυτοῦ βίῳ τρία ταῦτα· Γαλάτης ὢν ἑλληνίζειν, εὐνοῦχος ὢν μοιχείας κρίνεσθαι, βασιλεῖ διαφέρεσθαι καὶ ζῆν. τουτὶ δὲ ᾿Αδριανοῦ ἔπαινος εἴη ἂν μᾶλλον, εἰ βασιλεὺς ὢν ἀπὸ τοῦ ἴσου διεφέρετο πρὸς ὃν ἐξῆν ἀποκτεῖναι. βασιλεὺς δὲ κρείττων,

This is truly a strange tale about Favorinus and I am not quite sure what to make of his hermaphroditism (which seems treated here without prejudice or extensive comment). The term Philostratus uses to describe it (ἀνδρόθηλυς) only occurs in one other place (Schol. To Lykophron 212.48). The anecdote itself is funny—but I think it might be a really interesting place to start a cultural history of the motif of hermaphroditism in the ancient world.

Alas, I am not a cultural historian….

Pythagoras Saw Homer and Hesiod Punished in Hell! (plus an etymology for his name)

Diogenes Laertius, 8.21 (Lives of the Sophists)


“Hieronymos says that when Pythagoras went down into Hades he saw the ghost of Hesiod bound to a bronze pillar, squeaking, and that Homer’s ghost was hanging from a tree surrounded by snakes. They were being punished for the things they said about the gods. And in addition he saw men who were not willing to have sex with their own wives. This is the reason, that Pythagoras was honored by the inhabitants of Croton. Aristippos of Cyrene in his work Peri Physiologoi says that Pythagoras was given his name because he spoke the truth publically [agoreuô] no less than the Pythian oracle.”

φησὶ δ’ ῾Ιερώνυμος (Hiller xxii) κατελθόντα αὐτὸν εἰς ᾅδου τὴν μὲν ῾Ησιόδου ψυχὴν ἰδεῖν πρὸς κίονι χαλκῷ δεδεμένην καὶ τρίζουσαν, τὴν δ’ ῾Ομήρου κρεμαμένην ἀπὸ δένδρου καὶ ὄφεις περὶ αὐτὴν ἀνθ’ ὧν εἶπον περὶ θεῶν, κολαζομένους δὲ καὶ τοὺς μὴ θέλοντας συνεῖναι ταῖς ἑαυτῶν γυναιξί· καὶ δὴ καὶ διὰ τοῦτο τιμηθῆναι  ὑπὸ τῶν ἐν Κρότωνι. φησὶ δ’ ᾿Αρίστιππος ὁ Κυρηναῖος ἐν τῷ Περὶ φυσιολόγων Πυθαγόραν αὐτὸν ὀνομασθῆναι ὅτι τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἠγόρευεν οὐχ ἧττον τοῦ Πυθίου.


The sacrilege of Homer and Hesiod is an ancient motif finding its earliest extant articulation in the pre-Socratic poet Xenophanes:

Xenophanes, fragments 9-11


“From the beginning, according to Homer, since everyone has learned [from him…]

*          *          *

“Homer and Hesiod have attributed everything to the gods
that is shameful and reprehensible among men:
theft, adultery and deceiving each other

*          *          *

How they have sung the most the lawless deeds of the gods!
That they steal, commit adultery and deceive one another…


Fr. 9

ἐξ ἀρχῆς καθ’ ῞Ομηρον, ἐπεὶ μεμαθήκασι πάντες …


Fr. 10

πάντα θεοῖσ’ ἀνέθηκαν ῞Ομηρός θ’ ῾Ησίοδός τε,
ὅσσα παρ’ ἀνθρώποισιν ὀνείδεα καὶ ψόγος ἐστίν,
κλέπτειν μοιχεύειν τε καὶ ἀλλήλους ἀπατεύειν.


Fr. 11

ὡς πλεῖστ’ ἐφθέγξαντο θεῶν ἀθεμίστια ἔργα,
κλέπτειν μοιχεύειν τε καὶ ἀλλήλους ἀπατεύειν.

Demosthenes Drank Water; Aeschines Drank Wine (Philostratus, Livesof the Sophists 507-8)

“The conflict between Aeschines and Demosthenes began in part because of the fact that the one acted on behalf of the King and the other acted for another—as it seems to me. But there was also a difference of character: and hatred always seems to develop from characters that are strongly opposed to one another without any other cause. And the two were opposed for these reasons. Aeschines was a man who liked to drink, but he was sweet and had kind manners and he had the general charm of Dionysus; indeed, when he was in his youth he played parts for the tragic actors. But Demosthenes had a downcast face, a heavy brow, and he drank water: and for this reason he was assumed a ill-tempered and bad-mannered man….”

διαφορᾶς δ’ ἦρξεν Αἰσχίνῃ καὶ Δημοσθένει καὶ αὐτὸ μὲν τὸ ἄλλον ἄλλῳ βασιλεῖ πολιτεύειν, ὡς δ’ ἐμοὶ φαίνεται, τὸ ἐναντίως ἔχειν καὶ τῶν ἠθῶν, ἐξ ἠθῶν γὰρ ἀλλήλοις ἀντιξόων φύεται μῖσος αἰτίαν οὐκ ἔχον. ἀντιξόω δ’ ἤστην καὶ διὰ τάδε• ὁ μὲν Αἰσχίνης φιλοπότης τε ἐδόκει καὶ ἡδὺς καὶ ἀνειμένος καὶ πᾶν τὸ ἐπίχαρι ἐκ Διονύσου ᾑρηκώς, καὶ γὰρ δὴ καὶ τοῖς βαρυστόνοις ὑποκριταῖς τὸν ἐν μειρακίῳ χρόνον ὑπετραγῴδησεν, ὁ δ’ αὖ συννενοφώς τε ἐφαίνετο καὶ βαρὺς τὴν ὀφρὺν καὶ ὕδωρ πίνων, ὅθεν [ἐν] δυσκόλοις τε καὶ δυστρόποις ἐνεγράφετο…

Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists 1.502 (Critias): On the Importance of Harmony in Word and Deed

In discussing the life and death of Critias (relative of Plato, one of the Thirty Tyrants of Athens), Philostratus writes.

“I claim that no man can die nobly if he does so for the wrong beliefs. This seems to me to be the reason that [Critias’] wisdom and thoughts are less well esteemed by the Greeks. For, if our words are not in accord with our character, we seem to speak with a foreign tongue, like flutes.”

ἐμοὶ δὲ ἀποπεφάνθω μηδένα ἀνθρώπων καλῶς δὴ ἀποθανεῖν ὑπὲρ ὧν οὐκ ὀρθῶς εἵλετο, δι’ ἅ μοι δοκεῖ καὶ ἡ σοφία τοῦ ἀνδρὸς καὶ τὰ φροντίσματα ἧττον σπουδασθῆναι τοῖς ῞Ελλησιν• εἰ γὰρ μὴ ὁμολογήσει ὁ λόγος τῷ ἤθει, ἀλλοτρίᾳ τῇ γλώττῃ δόξομεν φθέγγεσθαι, ὥσπερ οἱ αὐλοί.

Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists 1.480-481: The Difference between a Sophist and a Philosopher is Swagger

“It is necessary to consider the ancient sophistic art as a kind of rhetoric. For it presents discourses on the same things philosophers cover, but where the philosophers, in setting forth questions and in making small advances on their objects of investigations, assert that they still do not know anything, the ancient sophist claims that he does know the things he describes. At least, he recites as a beginning of his discourse phrases like “I know”, “I recognize”, and “I have noticed for some time,” or “Nothing is certain for man”. This species of introduction furnishes a sense of nobility and certainty to a speech along with implying a clear sense of what is real.”

Τὴν ἀρχαίαν σοφιστικὴν ῥητορικὴν ἡγεῖσθαι χρὴ φιλοσοφοῦσαν• διαλέγεται μὲν γὰρ ὑπὲρ ὧν οἱ φιλοσοφοῦντες, ἃ δὲ ἐκεῖνοι τὰς ἐρωτήσεις ὑποκαθήμενοι καὶ τὰ σμικρὰ τῶν ζητουμένων προβιβάζοντες οὔπω φασὶ γιγνώσκειν, ταῦτα ὁ παλαιὸς σοφιστὴς ὡς εἰδὼς λέγει. προοίμια γοῦν ποιεῖται τῶν λόγων τὸ „οἶδα” καὶ τὸ „γιγνώσκω” καὶ „πάλαι διέσκεμμαι” καὶ „βέβαιον ἀνθρώπῳ οὐδέν”. ἡ δὲ τοιαύτη ἰδέα τῶν προοιμίων εὐγένειάν τε προηχεῖ τῶν λόγων καὶ φρόνημα καὶ κατάληψιν
σαφῆ τοῦ ὄντος.