In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Lucius Flavius Philostratus

  • Introduction
  • Career
  • Editions
  • The Question of the Philostrati
  • Reception

Classics Lucius Flavius Philostratus
Owen Hodkinson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 October 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0252


L. Flavius Philostratus (b. c. 170 CE–d. c. 240s), Philostratus II or “the younger,” is one of several related Philostrati; the division of works in the corpus among them is a vexed question (see the Question of the Philostrati). Philostratus was a sophist or rhetor, who may have received patronage from the imperial family, including Julia Domna. Probably beginning his education in Athens, where he held local offices (including hoplite general and prytanis), he was later active as a sophist, performing display oratory and teaching, in Athens, Rome, and Ionia; he has some connection with Lemnos (Life of Apollonius of Tyana [Vita Apollonii] 6.27.4), and was perhaps born there. He coined the phrase Second Sophistic to define a literary and cultural movement, in his Lives of the Sophists, a collection of short biographies of those he considered as representative of the “Second” style of Greek oratory. Its subjects are largely contemporary with his own era but begin with Aeschines in the 4th century BCE; its style is contrasted with that of the “First Sophistic,” including Gorgias. He was especially influenced by Herodes Atticus, whose biography is the most important in Lives of the Sophists (VS), and whose oratory he witnessed personally. But his literary output is large and varied in both theme and genre. It encompasses more biography in the Life of Apollonius of Tyana (VA), the perhaps heavily fictionalized life of a “holy man” and “wonder worker” of the Neronian age; Platonic dialogue mixed with revision of the Homeric version of the Trojan war and cult worship of Greek heroes in the Heroikos; a collection of miniature descriptions of paintings (ekphrases) in the Imagines; a collection of literary Letters including epigram- and elegy-influenced Erotic Epistles as well as letters addressed to historical persons and other authors; and a treatise on Greek athletic history and practice, the Gymnastikos. He wrote at least one extant epigram (Planudean Anthology 110), and may also have been the author of the Pseudo-Lucianic dialogue Nero, and one of the short treatises or Dialexeis transmitted in the Philostratean corpus (these minor and doubtful works are not treated in this article). In addition, he wrote many lost works, including sophistic declamations, discussions and introductions (meletai, dialexeis, prolaliae) to be performed in public. Philostratus wrote in an Atticizing Greek that is, however, stylistically florid and quite idiosyncratic; in style, literary and narrative technique, and choice of subjects, he is one of the most original Greek literary artists of the imperial or perhaps any era, reworking the themes of the classical era in a manner far more creative than simply imitative.

General Studies on Philostratus

Because of the very distinct themes of his texts and the correspondingly specialized scholarship they attract (on ancient athletics, on art history and theory of art, and so on), the majority of scholarship published on Philostratus focuses either exclusively or mainly on one text or occasionally two, so that studies ranging across the corpus are a relatively rare phenomenon. The best general study is Bowie and Elsner 2009, a collected volume that covers Philostratus and the whole corpus, both taken as a whole and with a focus on individual works, with a wide range of scholarly approaches and interests. Another good starting point is the handbook chapter Miles 2017. Miles 2018 is an important work in Philostratean studies, and the first monograph to cover the whole corpus while giving more attention to the “minor” works; since it interprets all works in the corpus from the same, quite particular angle, it should be regarded as a reading of the texts rather than as a starting point. Anderson 1986, although dated, remains useful as a general survey and introduction to Philostratus, though paying disproportionate attention to VA and VS and far too little to the other works. Billault 2000 is similar in scope and balance, though smaller in scale. For Philostratus’s linguistic Atticism (in the context of that of his contemporaries), Schmid 1887–1889 is still the definitive study.

  • Anderson, Graham. 1986. Philostratus: Biography and belles lettres in the third century A.D. London: Croom Helm.

    Good survey-style introduction to all aspects of Philostratus’s life, career, and corpus, in the context of other imperial Greek authors and the Second Sophistic, with chapters or sections on every work—though Lives of the Sophists (VS) and Life of Apollonius of Tyana (VA) get the bulk of the attention—and appendices including on the Philostrati and on Gordian.

  • Billault, Alain. 2000. L’univers de Philostrate. Brussels: Latomus.

    A slimmer, French version of Anderson 1986: surveys and introduces the main issues surrounding Philostratus and the corpus, though giving a more even treatment to the latter, with less bias toward VA and VS.

  • Bowie, Ewen L., and Jaś Elsner, eds. 2009. Philostratus. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Collection of studies covering a wide range of historical, literary, and other approaches, with three chapters on Philostratus’s career and whole corpus, and between one and three chapters on each individual work.

  • Miles, Graeme. 2017. Philostratus. In The Oxford handbook of the Second Sophistic. Edited by Daniel S. Richter and William A. Johnson, 273–289. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Good introduction to Philostratus, focusing on VA, VS, Heroikos, and Imagines, with the unifying theme of Philostratus’s creative engagement with the classical past.

  • Miles, Graeme. 2018. Philostratus: Interpreters and interpretation. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge.

    Monograph approaching all of Philostratus’s works through their authority and authorial figures, reading all as “interpreters” and all texts as thematizing interpretation. All works discussed in at least one chapter. The approach is inevitably more applicable to or successful for some works than others (the forms of VS and Epistles lend themselves less well than VA, Heroikos, Imagines, Gymnastikos; relatively little space given to Gymnastikos).

  • Schmid, Wilhelm. 1887–1889. Der Atticismus in seinen Hauptvertretern von Dionysius von Halicarnassus bis auf den zweiten Philostratus. Vol. 5. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.

    Extensively documented study of the linguistic Atticism exhibited by many Greek authors of the imperial period, including Philostratus.

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