previous next


2. The most celebrated of the Philostrati is the biographer of Apollonius. The distribution of the various works that bear the name has occupied the attention and divided the opinions of the ablest critics, as may be seen by consulting Vossius (de Hist. Graec. p. 279, ed. Westermann), Meursius (Dissert. de Philostrat. apud Philostrat. ed. Olearius, p. xv. &c.), Jonsius (de Script. Hist. Phil. 3.14. 3), Tillemont (Histoire des Empereurs, vol. iii. pp. 86, &c.), Fabricius (Bibl. Graec. vol. v. pp. 540, &c.), and the prefaces of Olearius and Kayser to their editions of the works of the Philostrati. At the very outset there is a difference regarding the name. The βίος Σοφιστῶν bears the praenomen of Flavius, which we find nowhere else except in Tzetzes. In the title to his letters he is called an Athenian. Eunapius (Vit. Soph. prooem.) calls him a Lemnian, so does Synesius (Vit. Dion.). Photius (Bibl. Cod. 44) calls him a Tyrian. Tzetzes (Chil. vi. Hist. 45), has these words:--

Φιλόστρατος Φλάβιος, Τύριος, οἶμαι, ῥήτωρ,
Ἄλλος δ᾽ ἐστὶν Ἀττικός

where by reading Ἄλλως, we might lessen the difficulty. The best means of settling the point is by consulting the author himself; and here we find no difficulty. He spent his youth, and was probably born in Lemnos (Vit. Ap. 6.27), hence the surname of Lemnius. He studied rhetoric under Proclus, whose school was at Athens (V. S. 2.21), and had opportunities of hearing, if he was not actually the pupil of some of the foremost rhetoricians and sophists of his time (V. S. 2.23. §§ 2, 3, 27. §. 3.) If we may believe Suidas (s. v. Φρόντων), Fronton was his rival at Athens, and probably Apsines, who also was opposed to Fronton, and of whom Philostratus speaks (V. S. 2.33.4) as his intimate friend, was his colleague. It is true that Suidas speaks of this Philostratus as τῷ πρώτῳ, but the time, that of Severus, fixes it to be Philostratus the biographer. As he was called Lemnius from his birth-place, so on his arrival at Rome from Athens, or while teaching there, he was called Atheniensis, to distinguish him from his younger namesake. The account given by Suidas of his having been alive in the time of the emperor Philip (A. D. 244-249), tallies precisely with what we find written in his own works. Clinton conjectures the time of his birth to be A. D. 182 (Fast. Rom. p. 257), but this seems too late a period, and we may fix on A. D. 172 as not improbable. We have no notice of the time of his removal from Athens to Rome, but we find him a member of the circle (κύκλον) of literary men, rhetoricians especially, whom the philosophic Julia Domna, the wife of Severus, had drawn around her. (V. Ap. 1.3.) It was at her desire that he wrote the life of Apollonius. From the manner in which he speaks of her, τοὺς ῥητορικοὺς πάντας λόγους ἐπήνει, καὶ ἠσπάζετο, and the fact that he does not dedicate the work to his patroness, it may safely be inferred that she was dead when he finished the life; she died A. D. 217. That the work was written in Rome is rendered probable, from his contrasting the sudden descent of night in the south of Spain, with its gradual approach in Gaul, and in the place where he is writing, ἐνταῦθα. (V. Ap. 5.3.) That the same person wrote the life of Apollonius and the lives of the sophists, a fact which we have hitherto assumed, appears from the following facts. He distinctive affirms (V. Ap. 5.2) that he had been in Gaul. The writer of the lives of the sophists had also been in Gaul; for he mentions the mirth which the language of the sophist Heliodorus to the emperor Caracalla, while in Gaul (A. D. 213), had occasioned him. (V. S. 2.32.) This is confirmed when (V. S. 2.5) he refers his reader to his work on Apollonius, as well known. (V. S. 2.5.) He states that he wrote these lives while Aspasius was still teaching in Rome, being far advanced in years. (V. S. 2.33.4.) Besides, he dedicates them to a consul named Antonius Gordianus, a descendant of Herodes Atticus, with whom he had conversed at Antiocl concerning the sophists. This Gordianus, Fabricius supposes to have been Gordianus III. who was consul A. D. 239 and 241. (Bibl. Graec. vol. v. p. 552.) But to this Clinton justly objects, that not only would the dedication in that case have borne the title αὐτοκράτωρ instead of ὕπατος, but Gordian, who in A. D. 239 was only in his 14th year, was too young to have had any such conversation as that referred to. (Fast. Rom. p. 255.) It may have been one of the other Gordiani, who were conspicuous for their consulships. (Jul. Capitol. Gordian. 100.4.) As they were slain A. D. 238, the lives must have been written prior to this event. And as Aspasius did not settle in Rome till A. D. 235 (Clinton, F. R. p. 245) the lives of the sophists were probably written about A. D. 237.

Before proceeding to particularize those of his works which have come down to us, it may be more convenient to speak of their general object and style. In all of them, except the lives of the sophists, Philostratus seems to have intended to illustrate the peculiar manner in which the teachers of rhetoric were in the habit of treating the various subjects that came before them. They amplified, ornamented, and imitated without regard to historical truth, but solely as a species of gymnastics, which trained the mental athlete to be reads for any exertion in disputation or speaking, to which he might be called. In the time of Philostratus, the sphere was circumscribed enough in which sophists and rhetoricians (and it is to be observed that he makes no distinction between them) could dispute with safety; and hence arises his choice of themes which have no reference to public events or the principles of political action. That he was intimately acquainted with the requirements of style as suited to different subjects, is proved by his critical remarks on the writings of his brother sophists. One illustration will suffice. While writing of the younger Philostratus, he says (V.S. 2.33.3), "The letter written by Philostratus on the art of epistolary correspondence is aimed at Aspasius; for having been appointed secretary to the emperor (Maximin), some of his letters were more declamatory and controversial (ἀγωνιστικώτερον) than was becoming, and others were deficient in perspicuity. Both these characteristics were unbefitting a prince; for whenever an emperor writes, on the one hand the mere expression of his will is all that is required, and not elaborate reasoning (ἐνθυμημάτων οὐδ᾽ ἐπιχειρήσεων), and on the other perspicuity is absolutely necessary; for he pronounces the law, and perspicuity is the law's interpreter." And in the introduction to his Εἰκόνες, he makes an express distinction between the man βουλόμενος σοφίζεσθαι, and him who inquires seriously regarding the origin of the art of painting. We may infer besides, from an expression in this introduction, where, speaking of painting, he says of it, πλείω σοφίζεται, that in his view the profession of a sophist extended to all kinds of embellishment that required and exhibited invention and the power of pleasing by mere manner. The idea ingeniously stated by Kayser (Praef. ad Oper. Phil. p. vi.), that it was also his aim to restore to Greece her ancient vigour, by holding up bright examples of her past glories, does not seem to be borne out by his works. As to his style, it is characterized by exuberance and great variety of expression. It is sufficiently clear except when he has recourse to irregularities of construction, to which he is somewhat prone, in addition to semipoetical phrases and archaisms, which he employs without scruple. And as he undoubtedly intended to exemplify various modes of writing, we have in him specimens of every species of anomaly, which are apt to perplex, till this peculiarity be understood. He is at the same time well versed in the works of the orators, philosophers, historians, and poets of Greece, many of whose expressions he incorporates with his own, especially Homer, Herodotus, Xenophon, Euripides, Pindar, and Demosthenes.


The following is a list of the works of Philostratus:--

The Life of Apollonius of Tyana.

A full account of this work, which has principally rendered Philostratus distinguished, is given under APOLLONIUS. [Vol. I. p. 242, &c.] It is divided into eight books, and bears the title Τὰ ἐς τὸν Τυανέα Ἀπολλώνιον. In composing it, he seems at first to have followed Herodotus as his model, whom however he forsakes as he gets into those parts where he finds an opportunity to be more rhetorical, as in the appearance of Philostratus before Domitian (8.7). Kayser (ibid. p. viii.) thinks that in the latter part he had Thucydides in his eye, but Xenophon seems rather to have been his model.

It would be endless to enumerate all the works that have been written in whole or in part regarding this life of Apollonius. An examination or notice of them will be found in the prefaces of Olearius and of Kayser.


The work itself was first published by Aldus, 1502, Venice, fol., with a Latin translation by Alemannus Rhinuccinus, and along with it, as an antidote, Eusebius, contra Hieroclem. The other editions having this work contain the whole works of Philostratus, as will be mentioned afterwards.


The life of Apollonius (with a commentary by Artus Thomas) was translated into French by Blaise de Vigenere, 1596, 2 vols. 4to., and repeatedly republished, the translation being revised and corrected by Fed. Morel, one of the editors of Philostratus (Bayle, art. Apollonius Tyanaeus. A translation of the two first books, with notes professedly philological, but only partly so, and partly containing a commentary of bitter infidelity, was published in London, 1680, fol. The translation, and probably the philological notes, both of which evince much reading but not accurate scholarship, are by Charles Blount, whose tragical end is told by Bayle (l.c.). The other notes were partly derived, it is said, from a manuscript of Lord Herbert. This translation was prohibited with severe penalties, in l693, but was twice reprinted on the Continent.

The Lives of the Sophists
(Βίοι Σοφιστῶν).

This work bears the following title in its dedication in the best MSS. :-- τῷ λαμπροτάτῳ ὑπάτᾳ Ἀντωνίῳ Γορδιανῷ Φλάυϊος Φιλόστρατος. Of Antonius Gordianus mention has been already made. The author states the object of his hook to be twofold--to write the history of philosophers who had the character of being sophists, and of those who were par ercellence (κυρίως) sophists. This distinction, which is well marked by Synesius (in Vita Dionis), was first pointed out in more recent times by the acute Perizonius (in his preface to Aelian, V. H. ed. Gronov. 1731, p. 48, &c.), and is essential to elucidate the chronology of the Lives. In his Prooemion Philostratus makes an instructive distinction between the philosophers and the sophists. Philosophy doubts and investigates. The sophist's art takes its grounds for granted, and embellishes without investigation. The former he compares to the knowledge of futurity, carefully formed front the observation of the stars, the latter to the divine afflatus of the oracular tripos. Again, in the history of this art, he has two periods, characterized by their subjects. The sophists of the first period discussed such subjects as courage, justice, divine and human, and cosmogony; the second presented lively representations of the rich and the poor, and in general individualized more the subjects presented by history. In this respect the sophists seem to have borne to philosophers much the same relation that, in modern times, historical fiction does to history. He also states that the main distinction of a sophist was the power which he had over language, and discusses, in connection with this, the introduction of extemporaneous eloquence. Suidas states that this work is composed of four books, but this must be a mistake, as we have only two. Nor have two books been lost, for not only does Philostratus bring down the history to his own times, but in the dedication he expressly mentions two books, as comprising the whole work. Of course, we have not, in a biography expressly authentic, the embellishments which we find in the life of Apollonius. The best description that can be given of them is that of Eunapius (Vit. Soph. p. 5), that Philostratus has written the lives of the most distinguished sophists, without minuteness and gracefully (ἐξ ἐπιδρομῆς μετὰ χάριτος). Olearius, following the suggestion of Perizonius, and attending to the distinction made by Philostratus between the oldest and the more recent schools of rhetoric, with great propriety divides the Lives into three parts, of which the first is the shortest, and contains mere notices, in most cases, of the sophistic philosophers, beginning with Eudoxus of Cnidus, B. C. 366, and ending with Dion Chrysostom and Favorinus, a contemporary of Herodes Atticus, on whom he dwells a little more fully--eight lives in all. He then begins with the sophists proper of the old school, commencing with Gorgias (born about B. C. 480), and ending with Isocrates (born B. C. 438), who (eight in all) may be said to belong to the school of Gorgias. He begins the newer school of sophists with Aeschines (who was born B. C. 389), which seems mainly introductory, and to prove his position that the modern school was not entirely new, but had its origin so far back as the time of Aeschines. He passes immediately thereafter to the time of Nicetas, about A. D. 97, and the first book ends with Secundus, who was one of the instructors of Herodes Atticus, bringing the sophists in ten lives down to the same period as the sophistic philosophers. The second book begins with Herodes Atticus, about A. D. 143, and continues with the lives of his contemporaries and of their disciples, till the reign of Philip, about A. D. 247, as has been already stated. It consists of thirty-three lives, and ends with Aspasius. The principal value of this work is the opinion which it enables us to form of the merits of the parties treated of, as the taste of Philostratus, making allowance for his prepossessions as a rhetorician, is pure, and is confirmed by the remains we have of some of the productions to which he refers, as in the case of Aeschines. The work is tinctured with rhetorical amplification, from which, probably, he could not wholly free his style. His opportunities of knowledge regarding the personages of his second book, stamp it strongly with genuineness. Beginning with Herodes Atticus, he had conversed with parties that knew him (2.1.5), and so of Aristocles (2.3), Philager (2.8.2), and Adrianus (2.23.2). He was personally acquainted with Damianus (2.9.3), and had received instruction from, or was intimate with Proclus (2.21.1 ) and Antipater (2.24.2); he had heard Hippodromus (2.27.3) and Heliodorus (2.32), and, in all probability, Aspasius. Hence, another valuable characteristic of these Lives is the incidental glimpses they give us of the mode of training rhetoricians ; and of this Kayser has made a judicious use in his preface to the works of Philostratus.


This treatise first appeared, along with the works of Lucian, the ἐκφράσεις of Callistratus, our author's Ἡρωικὰ and Εἰκόνες, at Florence, in 1496; the Aldine edition at Venice, in 1503; and, by itself, in 1516, ex Aedibus Schurerianis, in a Latin translation by Antonius Bonfinius. Then in Greek, along with the Ἡρωικὰ and Εἰκόνες, and the same translation, at Venice, in 1550 (Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. v. p. 553).

Kayser, in 1831, published at Heidelberg critical notes on these Lives. In 1837, Jahn contributed at Berne Symbolae to their emendation and illustration; and Kayser published at Heidelberg, in 1838, an elaborate edition, with Notae Variorum, edited and inedited, and two treatises, commonly ascribed to Lucian, one of which he claims for Galen, and another, to be hereafter noticed, for Philostratus.

III. or

Heroica or Heroicus (Ἡρωικὰ, Olear.; Ἡρωικὸς, Kayser). The plan which Philostratus has followed in this work is to introduce a Phoenician merchant conversing with a Thracian vintager, near the town of Eleus (Prooem. iii.). The latter invites the merchant to his vineyard, and when seated, they discourse concerning the heroes engaged in the Trojan war. The vintager is under the especial patronage of the hero Protesilaus, with whom he is intimately acquainted, and who spends his time partly with him (Eleus was sacred to Protesilaus), and partly with the shades below, or at Phthia, or at the Troad. He then proceeds to discuss many points connected with the Trojan war, on the authority of Protesilaus, to the great astonishment and delight of his guest, dwelling longest on the great merits of Palamedes, and the wrong done to him by Homer, in concealing his fame and exalting that of his enemy Ulysses. He introduces numerous incidents from the cyclic poets, from the tragedians, and of his own invention. It is on the whole not a pleasing work; and the source of the unpleasant feeling is rightly traced by Göthe as quoted by Kayser (p. iv. of the Prooemium to the Ἡρωικὸς in his edition of the whole works of Philostratus). Various conjectures have been formed as to the object which Philostratus had in view in writing this treatise. Olearius thinks that his object was to expose the faults of Homer. Kayser thinks it was written partly to please Caracalla, who deemed himself another Achilles,--and hence he conjectures that it was composed between A. D. 211-217,--and partly to furnish an antidote against the false morality of Homer. In the last notion he may be correct enough; but there is nothing to support the first, as there is not a sentence that can be strained to have any allusion to Caracalla, and Palamedes is the great object of the vintager's laudations. If one might hazard a conjecture as to the main object that Philostratus had in view, if he actually intended anything more than a mere rhetorical description of mythological incidents, collected from various sources, it is that he wrote this work to illustrate a collection of pictures having mythological subjects,--perhaps in the palace of Julia Domna. It is certain that a great part of it is written much as the letterpress description of engravings is often composed in our own day. The vineyard in the introduction might be suggested by a landscape. Then, throughout he dwells on the personal appearance of the heroes. Hence Grote (History of Greece, vol. i. p. 611) draws the inference that the real presence of the hero was identified with his statue. The truth seems to be that the statue or picture furnished the portrait of the hero. Every page of the Heroica furnishes instances of this : one will suffice. In the fifth year of the war Antilochus requests Achilles to intercede for him with Nestor, that he may he allowed to take a share in the enterprize. Achilles obtains permission for him, and Nestor, proud of his son, introduces him to Agamemnon. Then occurs the following picture :--"Antilochus stood close beside and lower than his father (ὑπὸ τῷ πατρὶ), blushing and looking down on the ground, and gazed on by the Greeks, with no less admiration than that which Achilles himself inspired. The godlike appearance of the overawed, that of the other was pleasing and gentle" (3.2).


The first edition of this work was that already stated under the Βίοι σοφιστῶν. It was translated into Latin by Stephanus Niger, Milan, 1517.


There is an edition by Boissonade, Paris, 1806.

IV. (εἰκόνες).

This is certainly the author's most pleasing work, exhibiting great richness of fancy, power and variety of description, and a rich exuberance of style. The subject was suited to him, and he to the subject. He has escaped from the trammels of an artificial criticism by which he is fettered in the Heroica. Alike in grouping and in depicting single objects, he manifests a complete mastery of what a picture ought to be. The frame-work of the dissertation, which consists of two books (Suidas erroneously says four), is briefly as follows. After an introduction in which he compares poetry to painting and statnary, he represents himself as having gone to Naples, with no intention of practising his art as a rhetorician. He lived in a villa out of the city, where there was an excellent collection of paintings. His host had a son who used to watch him while examining the pictures. At once to gratify him, and to free himself from the importunities of some youths that had besought him to exercise his art, he employed himself in explaining the subjects of the paintings; and this explanation forms the work. The paintings present various subjects in which he can display his acquaintance both with poets and historians,--they are mythological, historical, biographical, landscapes with figures, and allegorical. They consist of thirty-one in the first, and thirty-three in the second book. Though Sillig (s. v. Euphranor I.) gives an unfavourable view of Philostratus as a judge of paintings, the opinion of critics seems to be all but unanimous in his favour. He is fond of referring to works of art, and his writings abound with proofs that he had studied the subject carefully. It is less certain whether his description refers to an actual collection, or whether he had not invented the subjects. The question is a difficult one to decide. On the one hand is the great distinctness and vividness of the details; on the other he mentions no artist's name--he alludes to no picture which is certainly known or described by any other, and in his description of Pantheia (2.9) he shows how any man may follow out the mere statement of an historical fact (in this case made by Xenophon), so as to draw a picture of each incident. We may therefore expect that his object was to rival the painter's art by the rhetorician's, as he rivals the poet's by the painter's. On the other hand, it has been properly remarked by Kayser that no objection to the reality of the pictures can be drawn from the fact that a few of the descriptions contain two or more sinmltaneous actious, for that was not unknown to the ancient artists. (Praefat. p. iv.)


The first edition of the Greek text has been already noticed. It was translated into Latin by Stephanus Niger, along with the Heroica and parts of other authors, and published at Milan in 1521. It was translated into French along with the similar work of the younger Philostratus, and the ἐκφράσεις of Callistratus. with engravings and a commentary by Blaise de Vigenere in 1578, and often reprinted. But Olearius speaks slightingly one of all that Vigenere has done. These three works have generally gone together.


The best edition is that of Jacobs and Welcker, Leipzig, 1825, in which the latter explained the artistical details illustrative of the archaeological department. The text is revised, and a commentary of great value added by Jacobs.

Further Information

Heyne published illustrations of Philostratus and Callistratus, Göittingen, 1786-1801. The following list of illustrative works is taken from Kayser's Prooemium : -- Torkill Baden, Comment. de Arte, &. Philostrati in describ. Imagin. Hafn. 1792; C. O. Müller, in Archacologia, passim, e. g. 18, 702; Welcker, Rheinisches Muscum, 1834, p. 411; Raoul-Rochette, Peint. Ant. inedit. 160; Creuzer, Symbolik, 2.82, 3.427, &100.3d edit.; Gerhard, Aeusserl. Vasengem. 1.12; Heyne, Opusc. Acad. v. pp. 15, 28, 193 ; Göthe, Werke, vol. xxx. p. 426, Stuttgart, 1840 ; Fr. Passow, Zeitschrift für die Alterthumswissenschaft, 1836, p. 571, &c. The practicability of painting from the descriptions of Philostratus has been proved by Giulio Romano and by M. de Schwind, the latter of whom has adorned the walls of the Museum of Carlsruhe with several paintings borrowed from them. (Kayser, l.c.

V. (ἐπιστολαί).

These were probably composed before he settled in Rome, as the best MSS. bear the title Φιλοστράτου Ἀθηναίου. They are seventy-three in number, and are chiefly specimens of amatory letters; hence Suidas calls them ἐρωτικάς ; or perhaps he had not the fall collection. Kayser thinks that he published in his life-time two editions, the one in his youth, of which the letters are full of fire, and the other more contemplative, and issued in his old age. The cast of them, however, seems to be no otherwise varied than to suit his aim of showing the versatilityof his powers. They present, in general, the same subjects, and are treated in the same ways as amatory epigrams, with a few that are satirical, and one to Julia Domna in defence of the sophists. To these is added a letter on letterwriting, which Olearius attributes to Philostratus Lemnius, and Kayser to our Philostratus, with a fragment on the union of Nature and Art, which is probably a portion of a rhetorical exercise.


Sixty-three of these letters, including the letter to Aspasius, were published by Aldus, 1499. Meursius added eight, which he published, with a dissertation on the Philostrati, at the Elzevir press in 1616, and supplied the lacunae of several others. Olearius added three more in his edition of the collected works. There is a separate edition of these letters by Jo. Fr. Boissonade, Paris and Leipzig, 1842.


Of the collected works of Philostratus, there is: --

1. The edition of Fed. Morellius, Paris, 1608, containing all the works above mentioned, along with Eusebius contra Hieroclem, the Εἰκόνες of the younger Philostratus, and the ἐκφράσεις of Callistratus, accompanied with a Latin translation. This edition is of little value.

2. That of Olearius, in 2 vols. folio, Leipzig, 1709. It has the letters of Apollonius added to the list of works contained in the edition of Morellius, the additional letters spoken of above, and a revised Latin translation. Previous to this edition, Bentley and others had contemplated an edition. Indeed Bentley had gone so far as to publish a specimen sheet. Unhappily, the design was not executed; but he freely communicated to Olearius both his conjectural criticisms, and his notes of various readings. The edition is a very beautiful specimen of typography, and in spite of many faults, and the accusation that the editor has been guilty of gross plagiarism, which has been repeatedly brought against him, is very valuable, especially for its exegetical notes.

3. The last edition, and, critically, by far the best, is that of C. L. Kayser, Zurich, 1844, 4to. It contains introductory remarks on each book, the Greek text, and notes which are principally critical. As he has already published several of the treatises of Philostratus separately, the notices and notes are in some cases briefer than might have been desired. Philostratus seems to have occupied his attention for years, and scholars in various parts of Europe have aided him in collating manuscripts. He has retained all that Olearius has published, and has added the brief dialogue on Nero, commonly attributed to Lucian (Ed. Reiz. p. 636), which he assigns to Philostratus on grounds by no means convincing.

Other works mentioned in antiquity

Of other works of Philostratus, Photius (Phot. Bibl. 150) takes notice of a Λεξικὸν Ῥητορικόν ; and he himself speaks of Λόγους Κορινθιακούς (V. Ap. 4.14.) Kayser has published as his a fragment Περὶ Γυμναστικῆς (Heidelberg, 1840), but has not included it in the collected works.

Suidas mentions epigrams among his productions. Of these one only remains bearing his name, and which is probably his. The subject is a picture of Telephus wounded (Jacobs, Anthol. Graec. vol. iii. p. 108). Both Olearius and Kayser have inserted it.


The works of Philostratus have been twice translated into German, by Seybold, 1776, and by Jacobs, Stuttgart, 1828-33.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
239 AD (4)
217 AD (4)
97 AD (2)
249 AD (2)
244 AD (2)
238 AD (2)
237 AD (2)
235 AD (2)
213 AD (2)
211 AD (2)
182 AD (2)
172 AD (2)
143 AD (2)
480 BC (2)
438 BC (2)
389 BC (2)
366 BC (2)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: