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Second Sophistic

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on April 6, 2011 at 1:37:06 pm

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


  • On Longinus:  although the exact author is unknown, the response to a previous work on sublimity, the cultural environment of Rome, the concern with literature, the reference to Jews (which became unlikely after the expulsion of Jews in A.D. 19) and the defense of Plato all point to a date of composition “during the later years of Augustus or the earliest years of Tiberius, up to AD 19” (372).  “”Longinus’ assumes and utilizes the traditional rhetorical system, but his rehtor4ic is a highly philosophical one, and his unembarrassed objective is not technical excellence, but genuine greatness. No ancient critic is so clear about the difference between what is great and what is inferior” (373).

On the second sophistic (SS):

  • Quintilian’s hope for “glorious philosophical eloquence” was shared by others and was one of the reasons for the movement (513).
  • Philostratus does not define the word sophist, but describes the SS as being interested in presenting character types and having “no particular theories” (558). Philostratus writes that Aeschines began the SS with “inspired extemporization” (559).  “Declamation was the most important activity of the later sophists” (560).  Philostratus points to three forms: teaching, speaking in the courts, large scale oratory for special occasions (560-561).


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

  • Included in this textbook: Longinus, from On the Sublime. The introduction to the Classical Rhetoric section gives information about the first Sophistic movement: “ …The Sophists believed that human knowledge relies solely on sense perception and is therefore necessarily flawed. Certainty or absolute truth is not available to humans” (22).  
  • On declamation: “The form of oratory perhaps most characteristic of this imperial period was a highly stylized ceremonial speech called a declamation” (37)  Other characteristics: “traditional values are lauded. Stylistic embellishment was the mark of a good declamation.” (37). Based on the teaching preserved from the fifth century BCE, the period lasted “from around the time of Quintilian to the sack of Rome in 476.” (38).
  • On Quintilian: the last great rhetorician of the classical period, he “attempted to resist its [declamation] values in his one surviving work” (38).
  • On Longinus (parts of On the Sublime are published here): although this name is given to the author, he actually unknown, but lived in the first century CE and may be “a Greek or a Hellenized Jew who taught rhetoric to Roman clients”; the person to whom it is addressed is also unknown. In this time the study of literature was not separate from the study of rhetoric: “The rhetoricians studied history, philosophy, and oratory as well as poetry and drama because they considered any text that had deliberate designs on its audience as suitable for critical evaluation”( 344).
  • “‘Longius’ is able to link technical proficiency and a noble personal character in the study of the sublime because, he says, only a person who possesses both can produce great writing. Moreover, the audience the audience’s character is almost as important as the artist’s. A text’s sublimity is not determined solely by the features of the text; it depends, too, on the effect on the audience, foremost amount whom ‘Longinus’ locates himself” (344).
  • This author “closely resembles the ideal orator described by Quintilian” (345) in that he thinks only a good man can produce a work that is sublime—which Longinus seems to define as that part of the text that “awakens the audience members to their ‘higher natures’ “ (345).





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.






Swain, Simon. "Culture and nature in Philostratus."


Schmitz, Thomas. "Narrator and audience in Philostratus' Lives of the sophists."


Sidebottom, Harry. "Philostratus and the symbolic roles of the sophist and the philosopher." 


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