Flavius Philostratus c. 179 (?)-c. 244-49
(Full name Lucius Flavius Philostratus) Greek philosopher and biographer.
Known as one of the leading sophists, or popular philosopher-orators, of his time, Philostratus was an important member of the Roman imperial court. He is best remembered as the author of two works, a collection of biographies titled Vitae Sophistarum (1921; The Lives of the Sophists) and Vita Apollonii (1809; Life of Apollonius of Tyana), the life of a charismatic miracle worker. Although neither work is well regarded among classicists, most scholars agree that Philostratus's texts offer important information about the history of ancient rhetoric, and that his biography of Apollonius is one of the best historical sources available about the first-century sage. Not much is known about Philostratus's other writings, mostly because his father, son-in-law, and grandson—all named Philostratus as well—were also well-known authors, making it difficult to say precisely which Philostratus was responsible for what work. While authorship of several works remains disputed, other texts most likely written by Philostratus include Gymnasticus, an essay on sport (written after 220), the Heroikos, a dialogue on the heroes of the Trojan War (date unknown), Imagines [1931; Imagines], a description of thirty-four paintings on mythological themes (date unknown), and several collections of letters.
Not much is known about Philostratus's life—most of the information available has been culled from his own writings, but because the authorship of most of these texts continues to be disputed, the details of his life are difficult to confirm. Philostratus was probably born around the year 179 on the Greek island of Lemnos and spent at least part of his youth there. His father, also a sophist, sent him to Athens as a young man to study rhetoric under Proclus of Naucratis. His other teachers included Damianus of Ephesus and Antipater of Hierapolis. Philostratus began his career as a sophist after completing his education and when, between 203 and 208, he was introduced by Antipater into the court of the Emperor Septimius Severus. The Emperor's wife, Julia Domna, was Philostratus's patron until 217.
When Septimius Severus went to Britain to fight against the Picts, Philostratus accompanied the royal family and he remained at the court even after the Emperor died during the war. He continued to travel with the royal family, and at one point visited Tyana (in modern Turkey), where a temple was dedicated to the charismatic teacher Apollonius. Scholars speculate that it was during this trip that Julia Domna commissioned the Life of Apollonius. Philostratus also spent some time in Antioch, although it is unknown when, where he met the future Emperor Gordian. Lives of the Sophists is dedicated to him. Little information is available about Philostratus in the years immediately following Julia Domna's death in 217. He may have spent some time in the Phoenician city of Tyre and then returned to Athens, where he was associated with the leading cultural and political circles of Greece. He published his two major works at this time. A statue was erected in his honor in Olympia before his death, which probably occurred between 244 and 249.
Although several works have been attributed to Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana and Lives of the Sophists are the only two texts that were unquestionably composed by him. Critical commentary in English has therefore concentrated on these two works, although there has been some discussion of the Heroikos by scholars who view the treatise as his. In addition to being a biography of the first-century teacher, Life of Apollonius is also a travel romance and novel that highlights the divine powers of the sage. In the work Philostratus quotes Apollonius's disciple Damis. While there is some discussion among scholars about the existence of the notebooks of Damis, most classicists agree that “Damis” is a fictional figure, a literary device used by Philostratus to lend authenticity to his account. Philostratus's other major work, Lives of the Sophists, is a collection of essays on famous sophists of the second and third centuries. In these biographies, Philostratus expostulates on the technical capacities of his subjects and includes personal anecdotes from their lives. Philostratus distinguishes two ages of the art of speaking, the “first sophistic,” founded in the fifth century by Gorgias, and the “second sophistic,” founded by Aeschines in the fourth century While classical scholars do not regard these sketches as works of high literary merit, they are considered an invaluable source of information about the state of rhetorical speaking at a time when it was a high art and when its practitioners, the sophists, were some of the most popular, wealthy, and influential men in Greece. The Heroikos, a text that is sometimes ascribed to Philostratus, is a dialogue about the cult of the mythical hero Protesilaos. In this work a Phoenician merchant and a vine-grower discuss the reality of heroes and giants before talking about Protesilaos himself, whom the vine-grower believes is real. The work has been discussed by several scholars in relation to ancient attitudes toward heroes.
The importance of Apollonius of Tyana and Lives of the Sophists as historical sources have preserved continuing interest in Philostratus since ancient times. Although much of the debate surrounding these texts is focused on issues of authorship, modern critics writing about Philostratus have tended to examine the authenticity of Apollonius of Tyana as a biography, examining the extent to which the work can be considered fictional or historical. Other areas of critical interest include study of the attitude toward magic and heroes as displayed in the work. Discussions of the Lives of the Sophists have concentrated on the differences between Philostratus's depictions of the sophists and those of other ancients; the accuracy of the biographies; the sources used by Philostratus; the author's attitudes toward politics and philosophy; and the idea of the “sophistic” used in the work. Although questions of accuracy are central to most discussions of Philostratus's work, it continues to be regarded as the best source of historical information available on his subjects.
Vita Apollonii [Life of Apollonius of Tyana] (biography) c. 217
Vitae Sophistarum [Lives of the Sophists] (biographies) c. 231–37
Erotic Epistles (fictional letters) date unknown
Gymnasticus (essay) date unknown
Heroikos [Heroicus, On the Heroes] (dialogue) date unknown
Imagines. 2 vols. (art criticism) date unknown
On Nature and Law (essay) date unknown
The Life of Apollonius of Tyana (translated by Edward Berwick) 1809
Philostratus and Eunapinius; Lives of the Sophists (translated by Wilmer Cave Wright) 1921
Imagines (translated by Arthur Fairbanks) 1931
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SOURCE: Conybeare, F. C. “Introduction.” In The Life of Apollonius of Tyana: The Epistles of Apollonius and the Treatise of Eusebius, by Philostratus, translated by F. C. Conybeare, pp. vii-xvii. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1912.
[In the following essay, an introduction to his translation of Philostratus's Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Conybeare summarizes the work and evaluates the veracity of Philostratus's account.]
The Life of Apollonius of Tyana has only been once translated in its entirety into English, as long ago as the year 1811, by an Irish clergyman of the name of E. Berwick. It is to be hoped therefore that the present translation will be acceptable to the English reading public; for there is in it much that is very good reading, and it is lightly written. Of its author, Philostratus, we do not know much apart from his own works, from which we may gather that he was born in the island of Lemnos about the year 172 of our era, that he went to Athens as a young man to study rhetoric, and later on to Rome. Here he acquired a reputation as a sophist, and was drawn into what we may call the salon of the literary and philosophic Empress Julia Domna, the wife of Septimius Severus. She put into his hands certain memoirs of Apollonius, the sage of Tyana, who had died in extreme old age nearly 100 years before during the reign of the Emperor Nerva, and she begged...
(The entire section is 2342 words.)
SOURCE: Wright, Wilmer Cave. “Introduction.” In The Lives of the Sophists, by Philostratus and Eunapius, translated by Wilmer Cave Wright, pp. ix-xli. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1952.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1921, Wright offers an overview of Philostratus's Lives of the Sophists, discussing the date of composition, its style and content, as well as including summaries on several sophists who were overlooked by Philostratus in his treatise.]
The island Lemnos was the ancestral home of the Philostrati, a family in which the profession of sophist was hereditary in the second and third Christian centuries. Of the works that make up the Philostratean corpus the greater part belong to the author of these Lives. But he almost certainly did not write the Nero, a dialogue attributed by Suidas the lexicographer to an earlier Philostratus; the first series of the Imagines and the Heroicus are generally assigned to a younger Philostratus whose premature death is implied by our author who survived him and was probably his father-in-law; and the second series of the Imagines was by a Philostratus who flourished in the third century, the last of this literary family.
There are extant, by our Philostratus, the Gymnasticus, the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, the Lives of the Sophists, the Erotic...
(The entire section is 9266 words.)
SOURCE: Bowersock, G. W. “The Biographer of the Sophists.” In Greek Sophists in the Roman Empire, pp. 1-16. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969.
[In the following essay, Bowersock discusses Philostratus's notion of the “sophistic,” characterizing his writing as a “reliable evocation of a grand baroque age.”]
Literature, illuminating the society of an age through acquiescence or dissent, must always have its place in history as a reflection of attitudes and taste. The relation of literature to politics, however, has not been uniform throughout the ages; from time to time there have developed close alliances between literature and politics,—in England, for example, in the early eighteenth century. Similarly, in the second century of the present era, literary men helped to determine the destiny of the Roman empire and never enjoyed more public renown. Their social and political eminence was not necessarily matched by superior literary attainments. The quality of the second-century works we possess (and they are many) is not high:1 they are often over-elaborated productions on unreal, unimportant, or traditional themes. Such works were rhetorical showpieces, whose authors, highly trained in oral presentation, were showmen. Yet this fact does not preclude composition for important persons and occasions. The authors were themselves important men.
These were the...
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SOURCE: Jones, C. P. “The Reliability of Philostratus.” In Approaches to the Second Sophistic: Papers Presented at the 105th Annual Meeting of the American Philological Association, edited by G. W. Bowersock, pp. 11-16. University Park, Pa.: The American Philological Association, 1974.
[In the following essay, Jones examines the reliability of Philostratus's account of the second sophistic, comparing it to other sources from the time, and contends that the value of Philostratus's text lies in the individual details preserved by the sophist, rather than the manner in which he presents them.]
Philostratus' Lives of the Sophists are the principal source for the phenomenon which we know by the name he gave it, the Second Sophistic. We have indeed an abundance of other material: inscriptions, coins, allusions in such writers as Galen and Lucian, and in a few cases the works of the sophists themselves. But for our knowledge of the general history of the Second Sophistic and of many of its details, we rely on Philostratus. It therefore becomes a matter of considerable importance to know how much we can depend on him where our other sources fail, and it is to this question that the following paper is addressed.
It will help to judge Philostratus' achievement if we can tell what he was trying to do. Something that he was not trying to do, it seems clear, is to write biographies...
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SOURCE: Bowie, Ewen Lyall. “Apollonius of Tyana: Tradition and Reality.” Aufstieg und Niedergang der Romischen Welt 2, no. 16, 2 (1978): 1652-71.
[In the following excerpt, Bowie asserts that although Philostratus's work is a primary source of information on Apollonius of Tyana, the writer altered and amplified the subject of his biography, and therefore, the information contained in this text must be studied with discrimination.]
Modern accounts of Apollonius of Tyana are necessarily dominated by the biographic work of Philostratus1. Earlier independent testimony is exiguous, and much of the later tradition in antiquity betrays the influence of his work. But it is clear that the sophist Philostratus has greatly altered and amplified the picture of a Cappadocian magician such as must have been presented to him by part at least of his material: investigators of Apollonius must try to determine how much belongs to the first century character and how much is attributable to elaborations in the second century and to Philostratus himself, while a student of Philostratus will wish to concentrate on the latter part of the enquiry and add the question how far and with what intent Philostratus was perpetrating a work of fiction. This paper does not concern itself with the tradition after Philostratus except where it is pertinent to an assessment of the questions outlined above: recent work has made...
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SOURCE: Swain, Simon. “The Reliability of Philostratus's The Lives of the Sophists.” Classical Antiquity 1, no. 2 (1991): 148-63.
[In the following essay, Swain provides a summary of the sources Philostratus used in compiling his Lives of the Sophists, and how he interpreted and presented the information available to him.]
For those interested in investigating the Greek society and culture of the first three centuries a.d. Philostratus's record of sophistic activity in the Lives of the Sophists (VS) is unavoidable. There have been a number of important treatments of the Lives, including most recently a useful commentary on those of the sophists who held an official chair of rhetoric at Athens or Rome.1 The question of the reliability of Philostratus's testimony is still open. In particular, his relationship with his sources, which are so far as we can tell oral, has not been properly explored. In what follows here I wish to consider the material that was available to Philostratus, and how it is packaged by him. The value we place on Philostratus's sources is closely connected with the value he places on them himself. If the Lives are intended to be read primarily as a species of literary creation, mention of sources will be seen as part of a standard Beglaubigungsapparat. Clearly, the Lives can be read in this way. In Reardon's...
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SOURCE: Flinterman, Jaap-Jan. “The Writer.” In Power, Paideia & Pythagoreanism: Greek Identity, Conceptions of the Relationship between Philosophers and Monarchs and Political Ideas in Philostratus's Life of Apollonius, pp. 29-51. Amsterdam, Netherlands: J. C. Gieben, 1995.
[In the following excerpt, Flinterman summarizes the preface and introduction to Philostratus's The Lives of the Sophists, discussing the author's attitude toward the sophists and various Greek literary and political issues, and finally, challenges scholarly analyses that claim Philostratus did not identify with his fellow sophists.]
The Suda (Φ 421) calls the author of the VA (Apollonius of Tyana) and the VS (The Lives of the Sophists) a sophist,1 and the mere fact that Philostratus is also referred to as such in inscriptions honouring himself and his son is enough to show that he was attached to this title. Attempts to formulate a comprehensive definition of the phenomenon of the sophistēs as it is known from the imperial age usually run up against the problem of individual cases to which (some) contemporaries considered the title applicable, but which evade part of the definition. It is clear at all events that the term was primarily used for individuals who earned recognition from a broad public as exceptionally gifted orators; that this reputation was...
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SOURCE: Flinterman, Jaap-Jan. “The Main Character.” In Power, Paideia & Pythagoreanism: Greek Identity, Conceptions of the Relationship between Philosophers and Monarchs and Political Ideas in Philostratus's Life of Apollonius, pp. 60-66. Amsterdam, Netherlands: J. C. Gieben, 1995.
[In the following excerpt, Flinterman discusses Apollonius of Tyana, examining the ontological status of the main character, and expounding on Philostratus's attitude toward magic and his hero.]
At numerous points in his work Philostratus explicitly states his intention of offering his readers a view of Apollonius which deviates from current opinion; in fact, it is at odds with it. Philostratus' view can be summarised as follows: Apollonius was a Pythagorean philosopher whose exceptional wisdom earned him the reputation of being a supernatural, divine being.1 Philostratus provides an explicit statement of this objective in the programmatic chapters which introduce the book. VA (Life of Apollonius of Tyana) 1.1 deals with Pythagoreanism, and is directly followed by an outline of the main features of Philostratus' image of Apollonius (1.2). The succeeding chapters, on Apollonius' youth, focus on his choice of Pythagoreanism and the consequences it entails for his life-style: he abstains from meat and wine, adopts celibacy, and observes a strict rule of silence for five years (1.7f....
(The entire section is 5568 words.)
SOURCE: Francis, James A. “Truthful Fiction: New Questions to Old Answers on Philostratus's Life of Apollonius.” American Journal of Philology 19, no. 3 (1998): 419-41.
[In the following essay, Francis critiques the assumptions and methods of scholarship often applied to Apollonius of Tyana, theorizing that new ideas about the nature of history and ancient fiction have opened up unexplored avenues for research into the text.]
Within the past twenty years four extensive works have appeared treating Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana (VA) from various literary, historical, and cultural perspectives. These include E. L. Bowie's “Apollonius of Tyana: Tradition and Reality,” Maria Dzielska's Apollonius of Tyana in Legend and History, Graham Anderson's Philostratus: Biography and Belles Lettres in the Third Century A.D., and my own lengthy chapter in Subversive Virtue: Asceticism and Authority in the Second-Century Pagan World.1 The popularity of what has often been considered an “offbeat” text is striking—and largely explicable given concurrent interest in such subjects as the Second Sophistic, the novel, holy men, and asceticism. At this juncture it is thus appropriate to ask: how far have these studies advanced our appreciation and understanding of this text? In answer to this question, I propose first to critique the...
(The entire section is 9083 words.)
SOURCE: Jones, Christopher. “The Emperor and the Giant.” Classical Philology 95, no. 4 (October 2000): 476-81.
[In the following essay, Jones argues that a passage from Philostratus's Heroikos can help identify an emperor mentioned in a treatise by Pausanias; the critic claims that the man described is in fact Lucius Verus.]
A passage of the periegete Pausanias mentions an “emperor (βασιλεύs) of the Romans” who discovered, or caused to be discovered, the bones of a giant in the bed of the river Orontes. Though the identification of the emperor has been discussed inconclusively for well over a century, it involves the history and topography of Antioch, one of the great cities of antiquity, and is therefore more than a mere puzzle. The present study argues that a passage of Philostratus' Heroicus, noticed in this connection but not read with sufficient care, may help to solve the problem.1
Pausanias' testimony can be translated as follows (8.29.3-4):
The Syrian river Orontes does not flow to the sea over a level course throughout, but is borne towards a precipitous cliff and downwards from it. The emperor of the Romans wanted ships to sail up [the river] from the sea to the city of Antioch. So he had a canal suitable for navigation up-stream dug with labor and expense of money, and diverted the river into it. But...
(The entire section is 2781 words.)
SOURCE: Benediktson, D. Thomas. “Phantasia: Plato and Aristotle, Cicero and Other Romans, Dio Chrsysostom, and Philostratus.” In Power, Literature and Visual Arts in Ancient Greece and Rome, pp. 185-88. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.
[In the following excerpt, Benediktson explores Philostratus's ideas on the relationship between literature and the visual arts as they are expressed in Apollonius of Tyana.]
The traditions of Plato, Cicero and Dio come together in Philostratus, the author of the Life of Apollonius of Tyana. … Along with his relative of the same name, who wrote the Imagines, Philostratus has received a great deal of study by art critics. The Life is a biography of a priestly man; the Imagines, … is a series of ekphrases or descriptions of paintings in a museum-guide format. Both treatises are written in Greek for a highly educated and sophisticated reader. A modern critic has tried to ground modern “reader reception” theory in the Life of Apollonius 2.20-41.1
In his Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Philostratus has Apollonius raise the same objection to the non-Greek gods that Dio had raised: the Egyptians deify animals (6.19; Butcher in fact cites Dio and Philostratus as exceptions to “how little notice the Greeks took of symbolical art”). Apollonius' interlocutor, Thespesion,...
(The entire section is 1404 words.)
SOURCE: Jones, Christopher P. “Philostratus' Heroikos and Its Setting in Reality.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 21 (2001): 141-49.
[In the following essay, Jones examines the social and historical background of the events described in the Heroikos, first summarizing the work and then focusing on the date of composition, geographical setting, and the views expressed in it regarding heroes.]
As recently as 1987, the dialogue Heroikos (On the Heroes), usually attributed to Philostratus ‘the Athenian’ or ‘the Younger’, was ‘more often dismissed than discussed’. Since then the situation has changed. An Italian translation with short commentary and a German commentary have recently appeared, and further publications are expected.1 Yet many aspects of the work continue to remain problematic. In the early twentieth century, some scholars held that it reflected the visit of Caracalla to Ilium in 214, and was essentially a piece of court literature written to celebrate the visit and to please the emperor. Others have held that it is merely a sophistic showpiece with only the barest connection to real life. Teresa Mantero, in what is still the best overall study of the work, did not contradict the political view, but also held that Philostratus intended to revive the cult of heroes. Robin Lane Fox has recently argued that the Heroikos has no relation to...
(The entire section is 5792 words.)
Francis, James A. Apollonius of Tyana: The Rehabilitated Ascetic. In Power, Subversive Virtue: Asceticism and Authority in the Second-Century Pagan World, pp. 83-189. University Park: Pennsylvania University Press, 1995.
Claims that with his biography of Apollonius of Tyana, Philostratus rehabilitates the ascetic Pythagorian philosopher into a model of classical ideals and social order, thereby admitting him into the literature and society of the cultured classes.
Raynor, D. H. “Moeragenes and Philostratus: Two Views of Apollonius of Tyana.” The Classical Quarterly 34, 1 (1984): 222-26.
Considers why Philostratus disapproves of and dismisses the four books by the historian Moeragenes on Apollonius of Tyana despite certain similarities in their accounts.
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