Second Sophistic Analysis

At Issue

The Pax Romana, or “Roman peace,” brought a general prosperity, including the proliferation of theaters and private schools and safety of travel, permitting the flourishing of itinerant philosophical orators. Artful and eloquent public speaking on philosophical topics and ancient themes became a popular form of entertainment, and its masters, who were also teachers, won high praise and the patronage of emperors and the elite. These men were compared by the historian Flavius Philostratus to the great sophists (“wise men” or “professors”) of Classical Greece, who also traveled and taught philosophy and rhetoric, hence his coining of the phrase “Second Sophistic.” The phenomenon traditionally begins with Nicetes of Smyrna under Nero and ends with Apsines under Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander, but the most famous practitioners were Dio Chrysostom, Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes, Aristides, and Maximus of Tyre. Experts were expected to be able to give speeches extemporaneously and to defend either side of an argument. They also had to be widely read so that they could talk on antiquated subjects and spice their speeches with literary allusions and forms.

Additional Resources

Anderson, Graham. The Second Sophistic. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Sandy, Gerald. The Greek World of Apuleius. New York: Brill, 1997.

Swain, Simon. Hellenism and Empire. New York: Clarendon Press, 1996.