The Second Sophistic: A Cultural Phenomenon in the Roman Empire

By Graham Anderson | Go to book overview

5

Hellenic past, Graeco-Roman present

The sophist's expertise in traditional language and literature cannot be isolated from a wider view of the heritage of the past. We can catch a glimpse of one of Philostratus' own sophists enlarging the past of two cities from the following inscription in Argos:

…Publius Anteius Antiochus, having stayed in our city with decorum and generosity, has moreover displayed his virtue and his supreme cultural attainment, not least in his zealous disposition towards his native land, having demonstrated our ancient kinship with the people of Aegeae. He said that Perseus, son of Danae, en route to fight the Gorgons, arrived in Cilicia…and there, bringing the statue of the ancestral goddess…[rest fragmentary]. 1

The people of Argos express satisfaction at the researches of the famous sophist Antiochus of Aegeae, which emphasise the legendary links between themselves and his own home town. Sophists could bolster the pride of their own and kindred communities by underlining an ancient common heritage. But the view of the past available to them was complex and idiosyncratic, and we must look carefully at the different ways they were able to see it and the use they could make of it.

It is a familiarly accepted phenomenon that in the Early Empire the Greek world looked back with nostalgic self-awareness to the classical era, 2 and that it did so as a reaction against the political impotence of the present. Aspects of this picture are authentic enough, and the general diagnosis is at least partly true. But some modification is called for. It is useful in the first place to note the political realities of the Greek

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