Themistius Analysis

Life

Born into a rich rural family, Themistius (thuh-MIHS-chee-uhs) spent most of his life in Constantinople. He remained a pagan but was respected by the Christian authorities and held many high offices, including senator and, in 384 c.e., prefect of Constantinople. He admired Aristotle and used Aristotelian philosophy to mediate among classical pagan Platonism, Christian Neoplatonism, and fideistic Christianity. He ran his own school of philosophy and rhetoric, wrote interpretations and paraphrases of Aristotle, and served the emperor Theodosius the Great as tutor to his son, the crown prince Arcadius, later the first emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. He was renowned in his lifetime for his political speeches, at least thirty-two of which survive.

Influence

Themistius’s best-known work is his eulogy of his friend and former student, Julian the Apostate. Arabic scholars translated and carefully studied this eulogy and many of his other works either written about or addressed to Julian. In philosophy, his main importance was as a popularizer of Aristotle, not as an original thinker. Around 400 c.e., Vettius Agorius Praetextatus translated Themistius’s paraphrase of Aristotle’s Analytica posterioria (335-323 b.c.e.; Posterior Analytics, 1812) into Latin.

Additional Resources

Dihle, Albrecht. Greek and Latin Literature of the Roman Empire from Augustus to Justinian. London: Routledge, 1994.

Vanderspoel, John. Themistius and the Imperial Court: Oratory, Civic Duty, and Paideia from Constantius to Theodosius. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.