Second Sophistic

Goldhill, Simon. “Rhetoric and the Second Sophistic.” The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Rhetoric. Ed. Erik Gunderson. Cambridge UP (2009): 228-241.





O’Gorman, Ned. “Longinus’s Sublime Rhetoric, or How Rhetoric Came into Its Own.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 24.2. (2004): 71-89.


Author analyzes text Peri Hypsous, literally On Height, but more commonly known as On the Sublime, “typically treated by historians of rhetoric as a ‘manual of style’ discussed in common with those attributed to Dionysus, Demetrius, and others; its stress on grandiose rhetoric and its lament for the ‘decline’ of rhetoric are noted (these are common topics of the style manuals of the Roman period)” (72). However O’Gorman suggests that On the Sublime marks an important transition “in the evolution of rhetoric in Western culture, not primarily for its relationship to the sublime, but for its positioning of rhetoric itself” (72). He considers this text foundational to the development of “the rhetoric of rhetoric.” Rhetoric is “made the sublime object” (72). “Rhetoric as the Aristotelian art-of-the-available-means-of-persuasion, as the broad Isocratean philosophico-literary art for earthy political life, or as the Ciceronian artis for the res publica, are not the Longinian conceptions of rhetoric. Longinus's treatise might as well have been entitled Beyond Persuasion, for its stated subject is not the available means of persuasion or the well-being of the public per se, but the road (methodos) to ecstasy (ekstasis) via ‘height’ or hypsos” (73). Elevation of the speaker in ekstasis, “a mental state beyond reason (logos)” (74). “The result of [On the Sublime’s] amalgamation of Isocratean/Ciceronian and the Gorgianic traditions... is that Longinus moves rhetoric beyond the traditions of charaeter and persuasion, traditions which directly or indirectly bind rhetoric to external criteria for judgment, and brings rhetoric to autonomy. This happens through a sort of elevation” (75). The focus is no longer on the audience or the rhetor; rhetoric becomes an end in and of itself. Rhetoric is made the object of desire. The author suggests that “in response to the demand for rhetoric to justify its own existence, Quintilian institutionalized rhetoric, and thus preserved it. Longinus monumentalized it, and lost it” (84).




Berry, Edmund. “Dio Chrysostom the Moral Philosopher.” Greece & Rome 30.1 (1983): 70-80.


     “The Second Sophistic members have little connection with the sophists of the time of Socrates; rather their work is a continuation, under different circumstances and with a different view of the function of philosophy, of the old rhetorical debate between Atticism and Asianism, but even this distinction is blurred by the time of Dio so that it is impossible to say to which of the two old schools a given work belongs; just as, in content, the philosophy of the speeches, such as it is, is roughly Stoic but often really anamalgam of Stoicism, Cynicism, and Epicureanism” (70-71). Dio was initially more of the showy school of oratory. “Synesius divides Dio's career into two with his exile and distinguishes between his sophistic period before his exile and his philosophic period, after the exile; he says that Dio was earlier a sophist, if by that term is meant one who pays attention to the sound of his speeches, and ended up by becoming a philosopher, in spite of his earlier castigation of the philosophers” (71). Berry identifies the principle quality of Dio’s speeches as moderation--a reasonable calm tone. Berry then details various aspects of Dio’s well-known speeches. “The characteristic of many of Dio's speeches which makes him fail to gain the reader's interest is his philosophic withdrawal from the immediate circumstances. He was famous and highly respected; cities which were neighbours of Prusa gave him honorary citizenship or even membership in their city council, but even in Prusa itself his efforts to embellish and beautify the city were attacked by politicians who saw in his work merely self-aggrandizement or an attempt to ingratiate himself with the imperial government” (79). “It is this generalizing of the facts to a principle, the preaching tone, which makes Dio sometimes seem dull but which at the same time raises him above the ordinary display orator. The theme of his sermons, harmony and peace, is not an exciting one and has become so familiar to us that it seems commonplace. What redeems it is the obvious sincerity and moral earnestness of much of his writing. He writes from conviction and one gets the impression that among the inter-city rivalry and strife of the Eastern Empire, Dio is one of the few who see the wider implications of the petty disagreements and who called for reason and commonsense, order and purpose--in fact for genuine democracy--as the only means of securing the good life for both city and citizens (80).



Eshleman, Kendra. “Defining the Circle of Sophists: Philostratus and the Construction of the Second Sophistic.” Classical Philology 103.4 (2008): 395-413.


     Eshleman argues “that Philostratus’ “creation” of the Second Sophistic as we know it can best be understood as a form of self-fashioning” (395). He spotlights his academic advisers to the exclusion of others, and establishes an intended sophistic canon. Both of these “depend on an aspect of Philostratus’ construction of the Second Sophistic that has been little explored: his vision of the circle of sophists as an almost incestuously self-contained, self-generating, self-regulating community” (396). Eshleman attempts to determine “how” and “by whom” the assignment of “sophist” was determined; she understands Philostratus to be engaged in a community-building. He includes very few men in his canon; this is a “selective portrait.” She considers various aspects of each included rhetor and ponders what rhetorical purpose Philostratus might have had in their inclusion. Not everyone valued certain of these men to the extent that Philostratus did. Nevertheless, “it is easy to be misled into expecting disinterested, “reliable” truth from Philostratus, however, because he goes out of his way to present his sophistic canon as a reflection of cold, hard fact—which is to say, of the consensus opinion of everyone who matters. The deft manipulations that permit this tacit claim are richly on display in the defensive panegyric that begins his Life of Scopelian” (401). “With a very few exceptions, encounters between sophists come in three varieties: (1) one good sophist expresses approval of another, (2) an inferior sophist attacks a better one, thereby revealing his own ineptitude, or (3) a superior sophist puts down an inferior one. Very rarely do we see sophists of equal stature going head to head, and Philostratus virtually never records a successful hit against one of his favorites” (402). He is clearly being selective and deliberate, suggests Eshleman. Furthermore, “quarrel anecdotes participate in a naturalizing discourse that promotes Philostratus’ idiosyncratic version of the sophistic canon as the inevitable opinion of everyone admirable, everyone trustworthy, everyone who counts” (404). Eshleman then lists various figures/networks Philostratus considers. Her main point? “Rhetorically, however, that vulnerability does not exist for Philostratus or his colleagues. Even when they diverge in their evaluation of the status of their peers, they share the assumption that there is no room for legitimate disagreement: as a matter of simple, self-evident fact, orators are lovgou aßxioi or they are not, they deserve to be counted as sophists or they do not. In theory, there can be only one canon, which commands automatic universal assent, a result achieved by excluding from participation nearly everyone who dissents (411). In other words, this is an attempt by Philostratus to legitimize his own position. 



 From Kennedy, George A. The Art of Rhetoric in the Roman World. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1972.


On the second sophistic (SS):


From Bizzell, Patricia and Bruce Herzberg, ed. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2001.





Bowie, Ewan and Jas Elsner. Philostratus. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Print.


This book is a collection of papers about the work of Philostratus, a man the editors offer as, ". . . the great essyist, biographer and historian of Greek culture in the Roman world, and the most scintillating writer of Greek prose in the third century A.D."  While Philostratus himself is a prime exemplar and figure within the Second Sophistic, and studying every aspect of his writings could glean valuable perspectives on practices and individuals, I am going to present summaries of the four papers that most directly address our collective project; i.e. "The Second Sophistic is. . . "


Bowie, Ewan. "Philostratus: the life of a sophist." p. 19-32.     Bowie gives background on Philostratus ( Athenian, b. A.D. 170, a pupil of Proclus, Damianus, Antipater, and Hippodromus) and also draws parallels between Philostatus' live and that of other well known sophist. He was a prominent figure in both Rome and Athens, though he did not "hold a chair", that is have an official teaching post, in either city. He, unlike most sophists, was an elected official in Athens, his home town, where he is honored by a statue at Olympia. In Rome he was a practicing rhetor and familiar to the court of Emperor Septimius Severus, which he travelled with. Bowie's presents  the Second Sophistic as business that is interested in increasing the wealth, and the influence of teachers. Though ostensibly educators, men like Hippodomus, Heaclides, and other sophists, rise and fall is measure in terms politics/wealth/influence/students/talent. They were neither educators, nor scholars in a way we recognize. These men produced "literature," consisting of declamations, historiography, poetry, letters, and handbooks. They also are tracked according to their political acts.   


Swain, Simon. "Culture and nature in Philostratus." p. 33-48.      Swains views Philostratus' work against the backdrop of political realities of his times. His thesis positions Philostratus as a defender and preserver of Hellenistic culture and influence, threatened by an expansion of Roman power. Specifically, Philostratus is attempting to ". . . bring forward a more exclusive model of Hellenic culture that had been accepted before and to present this as the natural culture of his elite peers." Philostratus wrote this in reaction to the "Edict of Caracalla," of 212 A.D., through which the Emperor Caraculla extended Roman citizenship to all freemen in the empire, and the same rights of Roman women to all free women. This was seen as a crass expansion of the tax base of Rome, however, by bringing new people, cultures and nations into the citizenry Caraculla diluted the power of the existing groups, in this case the Greeks. Philostratus writes therefore to differentiate and elevate his culture, the livelihood, and political power of his fellow Greek rhetoricians. All of this reminds me of the way France tries to influence the world today. Their arguments are based more on sophistry/philosophy, cultural residue, and snobbery than on raw economic/military or demographic power. Such power is a pretense, an elitist veneer. Swain's argument in essence, is that the Second Sophistic was a PR construction. 



Schmitz, Thomas. "Narrator and audience in Philostratus' Lives of the sophists." p. 49-68.      This is a literary analysis of Lives of the Sophists in which Schmitz addresses the ambiguity found in the text, an ambiguity that is reflected in our question. Schmitz sees Philostratus as a "somewhat flippant, yet basically serious historiographer." Philostratus' narrative sometimes appears to be little more than gossip about orators, sometimes though it becomes a classical reference to important figures. Schmitz says the book comes off to readers as a confusing blend of entertainment/imagination/and fact. Schmitz then sets forth his thesis that Philostratus is writing with a created narrative voice designed to "impress his readers with the knowledge and the perspective of an insider." Philostratus is in the know, the reader is not. He is the authority, and the reader's confusion about tone is evidence of their ignorance. "Its a Greek thing, you wouldn't understand." This theory fits well with Swain's view of posturing, and elitism.


Sidebottom, Harry. "Philostratus and the symbolic roles of the sophist and the philosopher." p. 69-99.     Sidebottom compares and contrast the roles of the two main types of intellectuals during the Second Sophistic. Philostratus writes of figures who are either philosopher or sophist, and he writes of men who combine the role, with emphasis on one over the other (sophistic-philosopher or philosophical-sophist). Sidebottom says modern scholarship claims the two role were not very different.  They were educated the same, from the same classes, executed the same functions (both were orators and both could "deploy philosophical acumen). The main distinction coming from how typical one of those functions were for the man in question.  Sidebottom disagrees, and instead argues the two roles, while in reality not very different, need to be understood symbolically as very distinct, and those distinctions are necessary for understanding the text. His main point is "When sophists and philosopher are brought into proximity the semantic motivation comes from the latter and the former becomes downgraded." That is, the term "sophist" to a philosopher is a derogatory term, and therefore combining is nonsense to a philosopher and an act of legitimization for a sophist. For our question, Sidebottom gives three useful definitions:


Rhetors: "First and foremost teachers of eloquence, sometimes to a destined practical end (law or politics). They could also be declaimers or forensic orators."


Sophist:  "The title of sophist went to rhetors of surpassing eloquence. . . they are "sophists" because of the virtuosity with which they practice their art. . . Sophists, then, can be seen as rhetors especially skilled in their art."


Philosopher: The education of a philosopher began after studying oratory under a rhetor. "The philosopher was thought to deal with general issues, while the sophist with particular ones. . .advise to individuals, including consultation, could be seen as primarily a philosophic activity, while declaiming would be considered as primarily a sophistic activity."Second Sophistic  






Aelius Aristides:


Greek orator, lived in Roman Empire 117-181 AD. Well respected orator, considered the best of his day and an exemplar of the Second Sophistic.


Devoted to the study of rhetoric as a child and throughout his life. Was an orator until the age of 26 when illness prevented him from practicing. He had a close personal relationship with the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. As a scholar and orator, he was well traveled and regarded and rather famous, and people would erect monuments in his honor when he visited. A weak constitution and illness led him to the baths at Smyrna, and when an earthquake destroyed much of the town he used his influence with the Emperor to garner assistance in rebuilding the city. The citizens erected a bronze statue in their agora in his honor for his assistance, and they referred to him as the city’s founder.


Works: 55 orations and declamations, 2 treatises on rhetoric. Sacred Tales is a type of diary about his illnesses, and is the only mention of an ancient spa settlement, Allianoi, in modern day Turkey; this work is important in understanding medicine and treatments of the time. He was known as a superior orator to many of his time because he preferred thought to style. Studied the ancients because he despised the witticisms and ornamentation of his contemporaries. His style is remembered as concise, but unable to connect with his audience, and often he seems like he just liked to listen to himself talk. But he is still considered the best orator of his time. His work is important now for casting light on social history of the area he traveled.


His (surviving) Complete Works is available from a Dutch publisher. Aristides, Aelius, and Allison Behr, Charles. The Complete Works: Orations I-XVI. 1986. The book begins with a “brief sketch” of Aristides’ life, available here:  These works include: The Panathenaic Oration; To Plato: In Defense of Oratory; To Plato: In Defense of the Four; The Third Platonic Discourse: To Capito; On Sending Reinforcements to those in Sicily; The Opposite Argument; On Behalf of Making Peace with the Lacedaemonians; On Behalf of Making Peace with the Athenians; To the Thebans: Concerning the Alliance I; To the Thebans: Concerning the Alliance II; The First Leuctran Oration: The First Speech on Behalf of the Lacedaemonians; The Second Leucratan Oration: The First Speech on Behalf of the Thebans; The Second Leuctran Oration: The Second Speech On Behalf of the Lacedaemonians; The Third Leuctran Oration: The Seconds Speech on Behalf of the Lacedaemonians; The Fourth Leuctran Oration: The Second Speech on Behalf of the Thebans; The Fifth Leuctran Oration: In Defense of Aiding Neither Side; The Speech of the Embassy to Achilles.


If you’re interested in this guy, see Vernon Harris, William, and Holmes, Brooke. Aelius Aristides between Greece, Rome, and the gods. New York: U Columbia P, 2008. Petsalis-Diomidis, A. Truly Beyond Wonders: Aelius Aristides and the Cult of Asklepios. Oxford, 2010. Wells, Louise. The Greek Language of Healing from Homer to New Testament Times. Gruyter, 1998. There’s also the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology available online.



Ancient Greek and Roman Rhetoricians: A Biographical Dictionary



An unknown author of the treatise commonly called On the Sublime. Longinus asserts that great writing is achieved through five different means, two of which, vigorous mental conception and inspired emotion, are innate; the other three, proper use of figures of speech, noble diction, and careful arrangement of words, can be learned. The central theme is interrupted by three digressions--one on Homer, the second a comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero, and the third a discussion as to which is preferable, impeccable mediocrity or faulty genius. The last chapter seeks to explain the decline of eloquence; moral decadence, rather than loss of individual freedom, is the chief cause.



Satirist and author of Dialogues of the Dead. About 165 he abandoned rhetoric, feeling it too artificial and pretentious, and found philosophy more to his liking. It was because of his success as a rhetorician that he was able to assume the contemplative and leisurely life of a philosopher in Athens and become anti-rhetorician. Although he makes many admiring references to Herodes the Athenian, there is no evidence that Lucian ever studied under him. Treating the three canons, inventio, dispositio, and elocutio, he emphasizes the importance of subject matter for the young man aspiring to be an orator. “How does one become an orator?” he asks. It is simple. The first requirements are presumption and impudence; there is no place for decency and modesty; they may even detract. Further, get a healthy set of lungs and much confidence. Wear fine clothes, have an entourage of servants following you, and always carry a book in your hands. In a day or two once can be the complete orator! Forget about reading the ancients (Demosthenes, Isocrates, Plato); read only the moderns. And never write down what you want to say; extemporaneous speaking can excuse your faults. In private life, gambling, adultery, and homosexuality can all be yours--or at least you can boast as though they are. Act effeminate. If one behaves thus, he will in short order be the orator.


Polemon of Laodicea

Polemon was one of the chief luminaries of the Second Sophistic period. Although he adopted the Asian style of oratory, he was free from its worst excesses. As a result of Timocrates’ influence he emphasized the importance of the orator’s physical appearance. To Polemon, natural talent and practice were more important than theory, and his instruction concentrated mainly on student exercises. Of the many speeches attributed to him only two declamations are extant.



He studied under and greatly admired Herodes Atticus in Athens. In his teaching he was an Atticist, speaking with a strong Greek accent. His declamations have not come down to us. He died in Rome at an advanced age.


Dio Chrystostum

A much traveled sophist, orator, and philosopher and grandfather of the historian by the same name. He reflected on the training needed for the public speaker. He suggested that 1) there is no need for toil or exacting labor; one should read the orators, poets, historians, and philosophers; and 2) sometimes, as for his wealthy friend, it is best to dictate to a secretary one’s speech rather than write it out in the speaker’s own hand. One should not, however (in contradistinction to Quintilian’s advice) do this with school declamations. As an itinerant philosopher-teacher he lacked originality, but did take philosophy seriously enough for it to shape his life.


Aelius Aristides

His style in speaking was strongly influenced by Demosthenes, Isocrates, and others. As a speaker, he valued content and ideas more than most of his contemporaries; he despised silliness and striving after effect, yet his orations indicate that he liked to hear himself talk. Perhaps his unpopularity as a teacher is partially explained by his impatience with unappreciative audiences. In the 4th century, Libanius was his imitator. Several of his works survive including a treatise on political speaking and another on unaffected speaking. The first discusses such matters as dignity, diction, trustworthiness, vehemence, emphasis, shrewdness, diligence, pleasantness, and clearness and perspicuity. The second deals with dignity, diction, pleasantness, beauty, trustworthiness, arrangement, power, and interpretation. Four speeches serve as convenient means of praising rhetoric, with the first two seeking to answer Plato’s attack on rhetoric in the Gorgias.



Much of Libanius’s work remains; these works provide a considerable insight into the rhetorical training of the times. Libanius admired Aristides, the imitator of Demosthenes, and therefore his style was somewhat more Attic that that of his contemporaries. Through the years he trained above two hundred known students.