Philostratus or Lucius Flavius Philostratus (/fɪˈlɒstrətəs/; Greek: Φιλόστρατος Philostratos;[1] c. 170s – 240s AD), called "the Athenian", was a Greek sophist of the Roman imperial period. His father was a minor sophist of the same name. He flourished during the reign of Septimius Severus (193–211) and died during that of Philip the Arab (244–249), probably in Tyre.[2]

Name and life

Bust of Julia Domna, Philostratus' patron in the early third century AD.

Some ambiguity surrounds his name. The nomen Flavius is given in The Lives of the Sophists and Tzetzes. Eunapius and Synesius call him a Lemnian; Photius a Tyrian; his letters refer to him as an Athenian. His praenomen was probably Lucius, although this is not entirely confirmed.[2]

It is probable that he was born in Lemnos, studied and taught at Athens, and then settled in Rome (where he would naturally be called Atheniensis) as a member of the learned circle with which empress Julia Domna surrounded herself.

Works attributed to Philostratus

Historians agree that Philostratus authored at least five works: Life of Apollonius of Tyana (Τὰ ἐς τὸν Τυανέα Ἀπολλώνιον; Latin: Vita Apollonii), Lives of the Sophists (Ancient Greek: Βίοι Σοφιστῶν, Latin: Vitae Sophistarum), Gymnasticus (Γυμναστικός), Heroicus (Ἡρωικός) and Epistolae (Ἐπιστολαί). Another work, Imagines (Εἰκόνες), is usually assigned to his son-in-law Philostratus of Lemnos.

Heroicus (On Heroes, 213–214 AD) is in the form of a dialogue between a Phoenician traveler and a vine-tender or groundskeeper (ἀμπελουργός ampelourgos), regarding Protesilaus (or "Protosilaos"), the first Achaean warrior to be killed at the siege of Troy, as described in the Iliad. The dialogue extends into a discussion and critique of Homer's presentation of heroes and gods, based on the greater authority of the dead Protosileus, who lives after death and communicates with the ampelourgos. Heroicus includes Achilles' "Ode to Echo".[3]

Life of Apollonius of Tyana, written between 217 and 238 AD, tells the story of Apollonius of Tyana (c. 40 – c. 120 AD), a Pythagorean philosopher and teacher. Philostratus wrote the book for Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus and mother of Caracalla. The book was completed after her death.

Lives of the Sophists, written between 231 and 237 AD, is a semi-biographical history of the Greek sophists. The book is dedicated to a consul Antonius Gordianus, perhaps one of the two Gordians who were killed in 238. The work is divided into two parts: the first dealing with the ancient Sophists, e.g. Gorgias, the second with the later school, e.g. Herodes Atticus. The Lives are not in the true sense biographical, but rather picturesque impressions of leading representatives of an attitude of mind full of curiosity, alert and versatile, but lacking scientific method, preferring the external excellence of style and manner to the solid achievements of serious writing. The philosopher, as he says, investigates truth; the sophist embellishes it, and takes it for granted.

Gymnasticus, written after 220 AD, contains accounts concerning the Olympic Games and athletic contests in general.

Epistolae, or Love Letters, breathe the spirit of the New Comedy and the Alexandrine poets; portions of Letter 33 are almost literally translated in Ben Jonson's Song to Celia, "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes." The letters are mainly of an erotic character. Their publication date is unknown.



  1. ^ Flavius Philostratus, Phlauiu Philostratu Bioi sophistōn, Mohr, 1838, p. xxv.
  2. ^ a b Anderson, Graham (2014). Philostratus (Routledge Revivals): Biography and Belles Lettres in the Third Century A.D. Routledge. pp. 1–7. ISBN 978-1-317-74717-8.
  3. ^ Sophia Papaioannou, Redesigning Achilles: 'Recycling' the Epic Cycle in the 'Little Iliad' (Ovid, Metamorphoses 12.1-13.622). Berlin/New York. Paul, George M. (1982) - 2007 Page 153 "Nagy's article comments on an interesting but little known literary reception of Achilles, namely his representation as a lyric poet and lyre-player, singing a song to Echo (a code name for the Muse) in the company of Helen of Troy. ... and the two heroes, now souls distanced from their epic lives/roles, have become bards who sing of their own deeds. Cf. Maclean and Aitken above for a translation of the Heroicus, including Achilles' 'Ode to Echo'."


Further reading