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Second Sophistic

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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 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." 




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: http://books.google.com/books?id=vsgUAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22Aelius+Aristides%22&hl=en&ei=zf-cTYyAM5CEtgfxz4nJBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false.  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.

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