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Ekphrasis in the Second Sophistic. Philostratus , Lives of the Sophists (1.481 on name)

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Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists (1.481 on name)

  • ‘Ancient sophistic…discoursed on courage , on justice, on the heroes and gods and how the universe has been fashioned into its present shape. But the sophistic that followed it, which we must not call ‘new’ for it is old, but rather ‘second’, sketched the types of the poor man and the rich, of princes and tyrants, and handled arguments that are concerned with definite and special themes for which history showed the way.’
what is a sophist
What is a sophist?
  • Bowersock 1969: 13, ‘a virtuoso rhetor with a big public reputation’.
  • Teacher of rhetoric
  • Public orator, esp of epideictic rhetoric on themes taken from the past
  • Often also wealthy, important citizens in home or adopted cities.
some famous sophists
Some famous sophists
  • VS 1.8 Favorinus of Gaul
  • VS 1.25: Polemon of Smyrna (born at Laodicea in Caria)
  • VS 2.1 Herodes Atticus (of Athens)
  • VS 2.23 Damianus of Ephesus
some second sophistic writers
Some Second Sophistic writers
  • Lucian
  • Pausanias, Guide to Greece
  • Philostratus –
  • Lives of the Sophists
  • Life of Apollonius of Tyana
  • Imagines
  • Gymnasticus
  • Heroicus
  • Writers of Novels – eg Achilles Tatius
ekphrasis in rhetorical handbooks
Ekphrasis in Rhetorical Handbooks
  • Theon, Progymnasmata 118-119

‘Ecphrasis is a descriptive account which brings what is illustrated vividly (enargos) before one’s sight…the virtues of ecphrasis are in particular clarity and vividness, such that one can almost see what is narrated’


Topics for ecphrasis: persons, circumstances, places, periods

Theon: customs

Hermogenes: crises

Aphthonius: animals and plants

Nicolaos: statues and paintings

key themes
Key Themes
  • Enargeia (vividness)
  • Mimesis
  • Deceptions of Art
  • Connoisseurship
  • Allegory and need for interpretation
  • Rivalry of Words and Images

Pliny, NH 35.65

Zeuxis and Parrhasius entered into competition. Zeuxis exhibited a painting of some grapes so true to nature that birds flew up to the wall of the stage. Parrhasius exhibited a linen curtain which was painted with such realism that Zeuxis demanded that his rival remove the curtain and show the picture. When he realised his error he yielded the victory, admitting that whereas he had deceived the birds, Parrhasius had deceived Zeuxis himself, a painter.

philostratus imagines
Philostratus, Imagines

Proem ‘Whoever scorns painting is unjust to truth’

Comus 1.2.4: ‘I praise the dewy look of the roses, and assert that they are painted fragrance and all’

Cupids 1.6.1 ‘Do you catch any of the fragrance hovering over the garden or are your senses dull ?’

im 1 28
Im 1.28
  • Do not rush past us, you hunters, not urge on your steeds till we can track down your purposes and the game you are hunting....How I have been deceived! I was deluded by the paintings into thinking that the figures were not painted but real beings, moving and loving – at any rate I shout at them as though they could hear and I imagine that I hear some response, and you did not utter a single word to turn me from my mistake, being as overcome as I was and unable to free yourself from the deception and stupefaction in it. So let us look at the details of the painting, so it really is a painting before which we stand.
  • Phil, Im 1.6.3 ‘It is a beautiful enigma. Come, let us see if I can guess the painter’s meaning’ – love and friendship
  • Tabula of Cebes
  • Lucian, On slander
  • Pausanias, 5.17.5f Chest of Cypselus
rivalry words and images
Rivalry Words and Images
  • Lucian, On the Hall 1:
  • Can it be that on seeing a hall beyond compare ...a man would not long to compose speeches in it...
  • The same law does not hold for the ordinary and educated man....the educated man,,will do all he can to linger there and make some return for the sight in spectacle.

Second Sophistic Literature:

S. Goldhill ed., Being Greek under Rome, 2001.

T. Whitmarsh, Greek Literature and the Roman Empire, 2001

S. Bartsch. Decoding the Ancient Novel, 1989. ch. 1.