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Philostrati


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Up to four members of this originally Lemnian family can be separated, but not securely. (1) Philostratus son of Verus, a writer of sophistic works of which probably none now survives. (2) His son Lucius Flavius Philostratus (‘the Athenian’), who enjoyed both a distinguished local career and a place in the circle of Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus. She commissioned his ‘Life’ of Apollonius of Tyana, a philosophic holy man of the 1st cent. ad; later he produced ‘Lives of the Sophists’, and he is probably the author of most of a number of minor pieces, including the Heroikos, a dialogue on the heroes of the Trojan War and their cults, a Gymnastikos (On Athletic Training) and ‘Erotic Epistles’; he died under Philip the Arab (ad 244–9) (Suda). He mentions (3) Philostratus the Lemnian, probably great-nephew and son-in-law. Two sets of Eikones, descriptions of pictures, survive, attributed to two Philostrati who were grandfather and grandson, either (2) and the exceptionally well connected (3), or (3) and an otherwise unknown (4). Two Dialexeis and a brief dramatic dialogue ‘Nero’ also survive.

(1) Philostratus son of Verus, a writer of sophistic works of which probably none now survives. (2) His son Lucius Flavius Philostratus (‘the Athenian’), who enjoyed both a distinguished local career and a place in the circle of Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus. She commissioned his ‘Life’ of Apollonius of Tyana, a philosophic holy man of the 1st cent. ad; later he produced ‘Lives of the Sophists’, and he is probably the author of most of a number of minor pieces, including the Heroikos, a dialogue on the heroes of the Trojan War and their cults, a Gymnastikos (On Athletic Training) and ‘Erotic Epistles’; he died under Philip the Arab (ad 244–9) (Suda). He mentions (3) Philostratus the Lemnian, probably great-nephew and son-in-law. Two sets of Eikones, descriptions of pictures, survive, attributed to two Philostrati who were grandfather and grandson, either (2) and the exceptionally well connected (3), or (3) and an otherwise unknown (4). Two Dialexeis and a brief dramatic dialogue ‘Nero’ also survive.

The Life of Apollonius offers pagan hagiography under a sophistic veneer, and remains suspect both in sources and details; the Lives of the Sophists offer the foundation for our knowledge of the Second Sophistic (Greek rhetorical revival of the 2nd–3rd cent.): they are sketches, sometimes affected and tendentious, of prestigious public speakers in action. The Heroikos offers an entertaining aperçu into how a sophistic writer might extend and ‘correct’ still vibrant Homeric materials. The first Eikones are often charming mythological sketches, purporting to instruct a child on the content of perhaps imaginary pictures; the later set are more perfunctory.

The œuvre of the Athenian Philostratus so far as we can judge it offers an illuminating glimpse into sophistic interests and the capacity to infiltrate them into a wide variety of literary fields. But fluency and charm are often at odds with idiosyncrasy and rhetorical bravura, as well as a constantly equivocal attitude to facts and ‘the real world’. Philostratus ranks as something of an arbiter of sophistic tastes and values; he is also an index of sophistic shortcomings.

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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