2. A Syracusan, son of Archonides or Archomenides (Suid. v. Φίλιστος
; Paus. 5.23.6
), one of the most celebrated historians of antiquity, though, unfortunately, none of his works have come down to us.
The period of his birth is not mentioned, but it can hardly be placed later than B. C. 435, as Plutarch expressly speaks of him as having been an eye-witness of the operations of Gylippus, during the siege of Syracuse by the Athenians, in B. C. 415, and also tells us that he was an old mant at the time of his death in B. C. 356. (Plut. Nic. 19
It seems also probable that he was considerably older than Dionysius.
The first occasion on which we hear of his appearance in public life was after the capture of Agrigentum by the Carthaginians in B. C. 406, when Dionysius, then a young man, came forward in the assembly of the people to inflame the popular indignation against their unsuccessful generals, and the magistrates having imposed on him a fine for turbulent and seditious language, Philistus not only discharged the fine, but expressed his willingness to do so as often as the magistrates should think fit to inflict it. (Diod. 13.91
.) Having by this means paved the way for the young demagogue to the attainment of the supreme power, he naturally enjoyed a high place in his favour during the period of his rule; so great indeed was the confidence reposed in him by Dionysius, that the latter entrusted him with the charge of the citadel of Syracuse, upon the safe custody of which his power in great measure depended.
According to one account, also, it was Philistus who, by his energetic and spirited counsels, prevented Dionysius from abandoning Syracuse in despair, when besieged by the Carthaginians, B. C. 396 (Diod. 14.8
; Plut. Dio 35
), and this account may be substantially correct, even though the saying attributed to him, that a despot should not abandon his power unless dragged from it by main force, seems to be more correctly ascribed to Megacles or Polyxenus.
But at a later period he excited the jealousy of the tyrant by marrying, without his consent, one of the daughters of his brother Leptines, and was in consequence banished from Sicily.
He at first retired to Thurii, but afterwards established himself at Adria, where he previously possessed friendly relations : and it was here that he devoted the leisure afforded him by his exile to the composition of the historical work which has given celebrity to his name. (Diod. 15.7
; Plut. Dio 11
; the latter author, however, in another passage, de Exil.
p. 605d. speaks of him as spending the period of his exile in Epeirus.)
But he always bore his exile with impatience, and is accused both of indulging in abject lamentations over his hard fate and fallen fortunes, and of base and unworthy flattery towards Dionysius, in hopes of conciliating the tyrant, and thus obtaining his recal. (Plut. Tim. 15
; Paus. 1.13.9
These arts, however, failed in producing any effect during the lifetime of the elder Dionysius, but after his death, and the accession of his son, those who were opposed to the influence which Dion and Plato were acquiring over the young despot, persuaded the latter to recal Philistus from his banishment, in hopes that from his age and experience, as well as his military talents, he might prove a counterpoise to the increasing power of the two philosophers. Nor were they disappointed Philistus seems quickly to have established his influence over the mind of the young Dionysius, and was consulted by him in the most confidential manner, while he exerted all his efforts to alienate him from his former friends, and not only caused Plato to be sent back to Athens, but ultimately succeeded in effecting the banishment of Dion also. (Plut. Dio 11
; Corn. Nep. Dion,
3; Pseud. Plat. Ep. 3. p. 671.) From this time the influence of Philistus became paramount at the court of Dionysius, but he was unfortunately absent from Sicily, in the command of a fleet in the Adriatic, when Dion first landed in the island, and made himself master of Syracuse, B. C. 356.
He thereupon hastened to return to Sicily, but was unsuccessful in an attempt to recover Leontini, which had revolted against Dionysius, and afterwards joined the latter in the citadel of Syracuse. Here he directed all his efforts to the formation of a powerful fleet, and having equipped a force of 60 triremes, proceeded to give battle to the Syracusan fleet, which had been lately reinforced by Heracleides with a squadron of 20 ships from the Peloponnese.
The contest was long and obstinate, but at length the ship of Philistus was surrounded by the enemy, and finding himself cut off from all hopes of escape, he put an end to his own life to avoid falling into the hands of his enraged countrymen. His body was treated with the utmost indignity, and dragged through the streets by the populace in an ignominious manner (Diod. 16.11
; Plut. Dio 35
; Tzetz. Chil
10.358 ; Suid. s. v. Φίλιστος
erroneously represents his death as having occurred in a sea-fight against the Carthaginians).
It is perhaps too much to represent Philistus, as has been done by some writers of antiquity, as a man naturally disposed in favour of absolute power ("hominem amicum non magis tyranno quam tyrannidi," says Cornelius Nepos, Dion,
3); but it is clear that he was desirous to uphold by every means a despotism under the favour of which he enjoyed wealth and power, and had the opportunity of indulging his natural taste for luxury and magnificence.
There seems no doubt that he possessed very considerable talents of a practical as well as literary kind, but he wholly wanted the lofty and generous spirit which should animate the citizen of a free republic : and this character was reflected in his writings, which presented a marked contrast to those of Thucydides in their spirit and sentiments, notwithstanding a close imitation in style. (Plut. Dio 36
; Dionys. de Vett. Script.
p. 427, Ep. ad Pomp.
p. 780, ed. Reiske.)
Works attributed to Philistius
In regard to the writings of Philistus much confusion has been caused by a passage of Suidas (v. Φίλιστος
,) where that author has confounded him with the orator PHILISCUS, the pupil of Isocrates, and has in consequence attributed to him various rhetorical works, which may unquestionably be assigned to the latter.
The statement that the historian Philistus was also a pupil of Isocrates, is derived solely from a passage in Cicero (Cic. de Orat. 2.22
), where it seems certain that we should read Philiscus :
for Cicero himself has in another passage distinctly mentioned Philistus in opposition to the pupils of Isocrates, Theopompus, and Ephorus. On chronological grounds also it seems impossible to admit the assertion. Suidas, on the contrary, calls him a pupil of Evenus, an elegiac poet, but this also seems to be a mistake (Goeller, de Situ Syrac.
Suidas also enumerates several historical works, especially a history of Egypt, in 12 books, one of Phoenicia, and another of Libya and Syria; all which he expressly ascribes to the author of the Sicilian history.
But as no trace of any of these works is to be found in any other authority, it has been reasonably doubted whether the whole statement is not erroneous. (Wesseling, ad Diod.
xiii. p. 615; Goeller, l.c.
pp. 106, 124.) Some authors, however, have supposed that these writings are to be attributed to a second Philistus, who was really a native of Naucratis in Egypt, which would account also for the error of Suidas, who calls our historian Ναυκρατίτης ἢ Συρακούσιος.
(Bayle, Dict. Crit. s. v. Plilist.
It is certain, however, that no mention is elsewhere found of any other writer of the name of Philistus; nor does any ancient author except Suidas allude to any work of his composition besides his celebrated Sicilian history.
History of Sicily
Philistius' History of Sicily consisted of two portions, which might be regarded either as two separate works, or as parts of one great whole, a circumstance which explains the discrepancies in the statements of the number of books of which it was composed.
The first seven books comprised the general history of Sicily, commencing from the earliest times, and ending with the capture of Agrigentum by the Carthaginians, B. C. 406. Diodorus tolls us that this portion included a period of more than 800 years : he began with the mythical times, and the alleged colonies in Sicily, founded by Daedalus and others before the Trojan war; besides which he appears to have entered at some length into the origin and migrations of the original inhabitants of the island-the Sicanians and Sicels. (Dionys. Ant. Rom.
1.22; Diod. 5.6
; Theon Progymn.
The second part, which formed a regular sequel to the first, contained the history of the elder Dionysius in four books, and that of the younger in two : the latter was necessarily imperfect, a circumstance which Dionysius of Halicarnassus absurdly ascribes to his desire to imitate Thucydides.
As it ended only five years after the accession of the younger tyrant, it is probable that Philistus had not found time to continue it after his own return from exile. (Diod. 13.103
; Dionys. Ep. ad Pomp.
p. 780, ed. Reiske; Suid. s. v. Φίλιστος ;
Steph. Byz. s. v. Κραστός ;
Goeller, de Situ Syrac.
pp. 125-132, who has carefully examined and reconciled the conflicting statements of ancient authors, and given a clear idea of the arrangement and division of the work of Philistus.)
In point of style Philistus is represented by the concurrent testimony of antiquity as imitating and even closely resembling Thucydides, though still falling far short of his great model. Cicero calls him "capitalis, creber, acutus, brevis, paene pusillus Thucydides." (ad Q. Fr.
2.13.) Quintilian also terms him (Inst. Or.
10.1.74) "imitator Thucydidis, et ut multo infirmior, ita aliquatenus lucidior."
This qualified praise is confirmed by the more elaborate judgment of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who censures Philistus also for the unskilful arrangement of his subject, and the monotony and want of art displayed in his ordinary narrative. (Ep. ad Pomp.
5, p. 779-782, de Vett. Script.
p. 427.) Longinus, who cites him as occasionally rising to sublimity, intimates at the same time that this was far from being the general character of his composition. (De Subl.
40.) His conciseness also led him not unfrequently into obscurity, though in a less degree than Thucydides; and this defect led many persons to neglect his works even in the days of Cicero. (Cic. Brut. 17
.) Dionysius of Halicarnassus, however, associates his name with those of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Theopompus, as the historians most deserving of study and imitation (Ep. ad Pomp.
p. 767); but his writings seem to have been almost wholly neglected by the rhetoricians of a later period; and Hermogenes (de Formis,
p. 396) passes over his name in common with Ephorus and Theopompus as wholly unworthy of attention.
It is more remarkable that he does not appear to have been included by the Alexandrian critics in their canon of historical authors. (Creuzer, Historische Kunst d. Griechen,
p. 225; Goeller, l.c.
But the reputation that he enjoyed in Greece itself shortly before that period is attested by the fact that his history was among the books selected by Harpalus to send to Alexander
in Upper Asia. (Plut. Alex. 8
The gravest reproach to the character of Philistus as an historian is the charge brought against him by many writers of antiquity that he had sought to palliate the tyrannical deeds of Dionysius, and give a specious colour to his conduct in order to pave the way for his own return from exile. Plutarch calls him a man eminently skilled in inventing specious pretences and fair speeches to cloak unjust actions and evil dispositions. (Dion,
He was severely reprehended on the same account by Timaeus. How far the history of Dionysius transmitted to us by Diodorus is founded on the authority of Philistus it would be interesting to ascertain ; but we have no means of doing so.
It is probable, however, that much of his narrative of the wars of Dionysius against the Carthaginians is derived from Philistus, who was not only a contemporary but an eye-witness of the scenes which he described, and sometimes an important actor in them. (Wesseling, ad Diod.
xiv. p. 675; Theon Progymn.
p. 19 ; Arnold's Rome,
vol. i. p. 466, not.)
The fragments of Philistus have been collected, and all the circumstances transmitted to us concerning his life and writings fully examined and discussed by Goeller in an appendix to his work, De Situ et Origine Syracusarum (8vo. Lips. 1818)
; the fragments are reprinted from thence, together with a life of the author by C. Miller, in the Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum, published by Didot at Paris, 1841.